Having had four children and launched two successful businesses by the age of 33, Farnaz Khan now wants to help save Bradford’s world-renowned textile industry.
Never one to shirk a challenge, Farnaz believes her most recent business venture will be the springboard to achieve this ambition.
Launched earlier this year Fit Britches – a revolutionary female undergarment which helps women lose weight – has got off to a searing start, being featured on TV and in the national press.
Farnaz explained how it came about: “I had my fourth child in 2009 and struggled to regain my pre-pregnancy figure after giving birth. At the same time, my family had yet again arranged a big family wedding just after I’d given birth and I hated looking at the photos of myself.
“I tried every kind of dieting and fitness, like boxercise, pilates and swimming, but they didn’t tackle the right areas of the body. So I started doing more research, because Google has been my best friend throughout my business life.
“Through all the research I found clear symmetry between heat and weight loss. If you think about it, when you go to the gym it is all about raising your core body temperature. That increases your circulation and increases your metabolism and you end up losing weight. ‘OK I need to get heat to those areas’, I thought.
“My first prototype was to wrap myself up in cling film and wear big knickers from M&S.
“My husband was wondering what I was doing in the bathroom every day. Getting stuff on and off was quite challenging. Mr Singh at the corner shop was wondering why I was buying so much cling film. My excuse that I was making sandwiches was running thin!
“The last straw was when I turned up to a wedding and mum asked why my dress was making such strange noises?
“In principle I believed the theory was going to work. I had to do something about it.”
Over the coming months Farnaz beavered away on the idea, consulting world-leading textile experts at mills, factories, and universities at home and abroad.
She continued: “The world of technical textiles kind of had me hooked, similar to my earlier journey with the internet.
“When I started discovering the innovations in textiles it really got me excited about it, and all the different things I could do with it. I managed to find a way of infusing heat and many other things into textiles.”
Farnaz designed prototypes, wore them, and went down from a size 14 to an 8 now. Family and friends started noticing the transformation and asking how?
But Farnaz wanted to refine her invention and enlisted a Brazilian university to help.
She continued: “Trials were carried out on women between the ages of 20 to 60. They were told to make no changes to their diets or lifestyle. They were advised to use the product for six hours every day and we assessed them at 30 day intervals. We found conclusive results.
“The average volunteer lost between 4cm to 6cm off waist, hips and thighs, saw an 11% improvement in cellulite, a 16% improvement in skin elasticity and collagen, and 92% in blood microbe circulation.
“When we got the results back we thought – ‘now, we are ready for the market.”
After working with a major European retailer Farnaz thought its emphasis on price was to the detriment of the product and so went the online route, with the product sourced from a factory in Italy.
Business is now booming, but if it hadn’t been for the money she was making from her first online business eResponse, and her online marketing and e-commerce expertise it may have been different.
She continued: “All of the work setting up Fit Britches has actually been self-funded. I have taken a ridiculous amount of money from the other business eResponse.”
Farnaz’s skills in e-commerce had seen her seconded as a British representative on a digital mission to New York in 2010.
She said: “I participated in round tables with the likes of Pepsi and Nokia. We were predicting that social and mobile were going to explode. This was back in 2010, just look where we are now.”
eResponse is now a well-established online marketing operation securing high quality leads for major retail and service companies. It works with the likes of Ipsos Mori, Orange, Ladbrokes, Next and the RSPB.
Farnaz explained how it all began: “My journey in business kind of started off accidently. At the time I wasn’t really thinking about business.
“I’m on my fourth child at the moment but going back to 2000 I was on my second and what I was searching for was flexible employment.
“I had a successful spell in financial services but was looking for flexible employment because one of my sons was actually born with a kidney condition. I needed flexible employment because the possibility of him having surgery and being in and out of hospital was very real.
“I was practically registered with every single agency in Yorkshire and what I found was that I’d get shortlisted, go into interviews and then I’d shoot myself in the foot saying ‘yes, I’m a mum of two’. ‘I’ve got a son with such and such a condition’, ‘I need flexibility but hey I can hit all your targets’.
“I found upfront didn’t work for me, because to them you’re a woman of child bearing age, you’ve got responsibilities, and you are a liability.
“So after two years of looking for full-time, flexible employment, I thought it is time to do something for myself. That’s when I started thinking about business.”
After being offered deferred financial support from the Prince’s Trust for an e-commerce idea Farnaz decided to crack on and do it herself.
“I’ve been told one of the traits of being an entrepreneur is that you have no patience.
I certainly don’t have any. I want things done yesterday.
“My plan was to run promotional campaigns and develop a commission-based model for advertisers to connect with consumers.
“I tested the model with an insurance litigation firm. I ran campaigns for them and 18 months down the line we realised that we were contributing to 25% of this company’s turnover and they were growing rapidly.
“Then we worked with a loans company. I worked up a campaign, through my general online portal, generated fresh prospects for them, cleansed and then verified the leads before they got sent to the client. When we did a review with the client they said we were actually one of their top performers.
“At that point I knew my model was working but I didn’t want to limit myself to financial services. I started approaching other companies. We got Ipsos Mori, one of the largest market research organisations, on board. We were able to secure other clients like Next, RSPB, and Orange, and it kind of snowballed from there.
“We had 1.5 million consumers who opted in online and had annual revenues of £300,000.”
Farnaz says platforms like the internet, email and social media have been instrumental to her success.
These helped with the launch of Fit Britches earlier this year and within days of the distribution of a press release and samples Farnaz was contacted by ITV This Morning.
She continued: “Gemma Collins, from the Only Way is Essex, described them as amazing. She was raving about Fit Britches. It was a fantastic launch for us.“
Since then the product has been featured in most glossy magazines, newspapers and trade publications and, driven by bloggers, Fit Britches has gone viral.
It now has customers in over 50 different countries and is launching in the US in January.
Farnaz is continuing to develop the product and ranges and is now looking at medical and male applications and further developments around micro circulation.
Farnaz mapped out her vision for taking the business forward. She said: “We’re also looking at bringing manufacturing back to the UK. We’re going to bring it back to Bradford.
“Bradford has actually got a very, very rich textiles heritage. One hundred years ago it was one of the richest textiles industries in the world. It’s really unfortunate to see all of that gone.
“We’ve got this heritage here, and we’ve got this knowledge that needs to be transferred to people who want to work within the sector, but we’ve only got a window of eight to nine years left.
“Mary Portas, the TV retail consultant, said we’ve got people in pockets within the textile industries, in cities and towns like Nottingham, Bradford, and Oldham, with experience.
“But these people are reaching an age in their life where we’ve only got about eight years to utilise the wealth of their experience and knowledge and transfer that to young people to work in the industry.
“If we don’t use this window of opportunity now it will go. It’s hard to pull these people back once they’ve gone into retirement.
“We’ve got to do something about getting that knowledge and transferring those skills to people right now.”
Her success with eResponse has led to many awards including Yorkshire Enterprise diversity award and female entrepreneur of the year.
Fit Britches currently employs around 10 people and Farnaz hopes this will grow as she brings production home.
The business is currently grossing around £300,000 per year and is up for a best shape brand of the year award in the prestigious UK lingerie awards, with TV adverts planned for next year.
Farnaz hopes to take revenues past the £2m mark by the end of next year and says she hopes to grow the business to £100m by the end of the decade and then hopefully sell it.
Investing in entrepreneurial spirit
Neil Sengupta, partner in Grant Thornton’s entrepreneurial tax team in Leeds, comments: “It’s fantastic to see brave new entrepreneurs like Farnaz emerging who, with the right support and advice, can transform their innovative ideas into viable businesses which create jobs and help the regional economy to flourish.
“Working with these young, dynamic businesses is one of the most exciting parts of our work.
“As a firm that prides itself on our understanding of entrepreneurial business owners, we are only too aware of the importance of investing in relationships, giving robust support in the early stages of development and providing a tailored services as it grows.
“Much of Yorkshire’s reputation for manufacturing excellence is built on its long heritage in textiles, so it’s even more pleasing to see new business initiatives coming through in this sector, particularly ones which use new technologies.”
For someone who likes things done yesterday you sense tomorrow cannot come soon enough for Farnaz Khan.