What did you do before setting up your business?
I work for a charity called ACTES where I oversee employment and training projects managing different teams ensuring we are meeting contractual outcomes.
What inspired you to set up your business?
I am bereaved by addiction; I have lost a nephew and a sister to substance misuse. The deaths affected me and made me think about a crossroads in my career. I was always of the opinion that addicts needed a job to help them remain abstinent, so I decided to set up a company that gives jobs to recovering addicts.
I started Katwalk Kimberleys CIC in 2014 so that I could train recovering addicts in the sewing machine industry and then employ them to make jeans.
What makes this business different?
This is a pioneering fashion charity - it’s the first of its kind in the UK. We are an ethical company and we meet demands of many market segments. We manufacture garments in Middlesbrough England, which is a movement that people are in favour of as it prevents people being overworked and underpaid in far eastern countries with no health and safety measures.
We use organic denim which means the dyes are from natural products instead of chemical products and are kinder to our waters. Our main unique selling point is that we train and then employ recovering addicts with a particular emphasis on women who are struggling to find work.
What inspired you to enter the If We Can You Can Challenge?
I entered it a couple of years ago and was unsuccessful in reaching the second round. I received an email about it and just thought that I would give it another try, if you don’t persist and keep trying you’re not going to get anywhere.
Where do you see your business in three years’ time?
I really believe in this company and know that it is going to be a success, I anticipate emulating the model around other high deprivation parts of the country, opening up more factories to manufacture jeans giving jobs to recovering addicts. The fashion industry is cut throat but we are different - we are an ethical company and people will be proud to wear our jeans called ‘recover’. I envisage stockists selling them and also selling online through our website.
What has been the most rewarding part of your journey so far?
Running a 10-week domestic sewing machine programme with recovering addicts, who gave 100% attendance and are keen to start the next training programme. It was nice to see the appreciation in them and the feeling that somebody actually cared about them. They encourage me as much as I encourage them. The next highlight has been securing awards for all funding to purchase industrial sewing machines.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Funding and getting stockists on board.
Who/what gave you support or advice?
Jeremy Walford, a mentor allocated to me via the Cranfield Trust. He has given me lots to think about and research to do. Jeremy has got me through a journey where I now feel ready to get this company off the ground.
What advice would you give to someone looking to set up their own business?
Keep believing in your idea, God gave you it for a reason. Keep pursuing because one day the door will open, you will meet the right people and receive that bit of advice you needed. Good business ideas work when your helping people.
The competition is now open to all pre-start business ideas or start-ups established in the North East within the last 3 years, regardless of the business leader’s age or experience.
For information on how to apply, the competition and its benefits please visitwww.ifwecanyoucan.co.uk Deadline for entries is 16th of October 2016.