My Story So Far …
I set up the Tiny Box Company from scratch in a bedroom 14 years ago, to now turning over circa £10m. Winner of the 2020 Natwest Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the 2020 Rural Business Award and the 2021 Entreprenuerial Business of the Year Award at the UK Packaging Awards, my mission is to now encourage and mentor other female entrepreneurs to follow their dreams and passions.
I advocate for sustainability and the Circular Economy. Described as an eco-entrepreneur, I ensure that not only the products she sells have strong green credentials, but also the workforce and company ethos mirror these beliefs. All damaged products / seconds are donated to schools and nurseries for arts and crafts projects and Tiny Box Company were the proud winners of National Small Business Recycler of the Year as far back as 2010. The company has gone on to win many “green” awards since.
Born in Devon in the early 70’s, I experienced an extremely traumatic early childhood and spent my formative years in a children’s home. My parents, desperate for a new start, asked for me and my siblings to be returned from care and relocated the family to Suffolk. Unfortunately, financial pressures mixed with alcohol, led to a physically and emotionally abusive environment, along with continual moves, from caravans to mansions and then back to humble beginnings. This meant a very disrupted education, swinging from private schools to state schools, but I learnt to adapt quickly to any environment and despite the horrific home environment, managed to put myself through A levels and on to university to study Business Studies.
I knew from childhood that she wanted to set up my own business and be an entrepreneur, but being unsure of how to achieve this, did a year with the John Lewis Partnership on a graduate management training scheme, focussing on accounting. Quickly learning that accounting didn’t offer me enough variety.
I moved into treasury roles and then into selling financial systems for a large software company. This last role allowed me to travel to Africa where she was responsible for implementing a new financial system for the Government of Sierra Leone in 1998-1999. This was a pivotal moment for me as I witnessed another level of poverty. Although my childhood had been traumatic, I always had a roof over my head and food, although sparse at times. In Sierra Leone, a civil war was raging violently at this time, and there were literally people starving and many people injured and maimed by the rebel soldiers. I realised, whilst working with the ministers in Sierra Leone, that although huge amounts of aid were being sent into the country, very little was reaching the masses, and vowed to myself that she would help in my own small way, if and when I was able.
Whilst formulating a plan of a fairtrade type business in jewellery to assist people in Africa, I went in for a routine appendix operation. What happened is unclear, but complications led to me being pretty much bedridden for 9 months. It then took a further 3 years for me to regain my strength and be in a position to work again and she was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I then took some temporary jobs whilst I went back to formulating a plan and build my energy, and worked in clothing retail, an art gallery and for a champagne company.
In 2006, I was ready to launch a jewellery business and my sister suggested that she would need ethical, environmentally friendly packaging. This proved to be a much bigger problem than first thought, and after scouring the UK, I discovered it was almost impossible to buy “off the shelf” eco-friendly jewellery boxes, in small quantities, with low lead times. After months of research, out of pure frustration, I decided I would set up a box company to help not only the fairtrade business she had started, but also to help all the other fledgling businesses that were in the same situation of not being able to find a packaging solution. In 2007, Tiny Box Company was born from my bedroom whilst I was back living with my parents.
In 2007 Robin Banks (broadcaster) joined me to work in the Tiny Box Company, but Robin quickly realised this was not the best long term solution for him as he missed broadcasting. Looking for a solution where he could exit the business, without letting me down, he decided to apply for the TV show Dragons’ Den, without mentioning anything to me. I then received a call from the BBC and, although confused as to why they were contacting me, I went with the flow explaining why investment was needed. We were invited onto the show which aired in September 2008 where two of the Dragons (Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis) had offered investment of £60k for 40%. Robin, feeling proud that he had found a solution, then left the business to go back into broadcasting. The Dragons stated very early on that they would forward the investment money but leave me to run the business, with little involvement and interference.
Tiny Box Company grew rapidly, to now employing over 90 staff and having a turnover circa £10m per annum.
In 2016, I was frustrated with the manufacturers she was working with and stumbled across a factory in Cornwall that had gone into liquidation. The original intention was to buy the equipment and move the equipment to Sussex, where a new manufacturing plant would be operated. However, I realised that with no experience in manufacturing, the expertise of the staff in Cornwall was far more valuable than the equipment so pledged to try and make the factory a successful business in Cornwall. This proved to be a shrewd move and Tiny Box Maker has been profitable from initial takeover.
In 2020 COVID hit. Due to good fortune and contingency planning, when the UK Government announced that people should work from home where possible, I was able to send all office staff home immediately. All systems, including the phone system and call centre, were cloud based and so the Tiny Box Group were back up and running within the hour.
I soon realised however that there was a fundamental problem. Many of the Tiny Box customers were small businesses who made their money at markets, street fairs, church halls etc. Suddenly there was no opportunity for them to sell their wares and therefore no need for packaging. Coming up with a rapid solution for both Tiny Box and for their customers, me and my team created an online platform specifically for their customers to be able to list their products easily on the Tiny Marketplace platform and therefore carry on selling their products. This would in turn keep the staff at Tiny Box employed. 10% of the profits from the platform go to helping small businesses hit by the COVID crisis.
Whilst running the Tiny Box empire, I unfortunately experienced breast cancer in 2016 and lung cancer in 2019, but is currently in remission and looking forward to the launch of another business in 2022.
As an outspoken advocate for female led small businesses, I run free business clinics on a Thursday for any small business owners who want advice, or often just to chat through hurdles they are experiencing and gain some confidence.
I launched Tiny Box Company after realising it was impossible to source recycled cardboard packaging for the Fair trade jewellery business she was trying to launch. My care for the environment has raised my awareness of the limited accessibility for easy-to-find sustainable activewear.
Being a change-maker, I felt something had to be done to shake up the industry and help make sustainable sportswear easier to find, whilst helping bring visibility to many brands doing such exciting things. So Chief and Turtle was born.
The Chief part of the name represents us being a voice of reason and knowledge in promoting sustainable fashion and leading the way for change within the industry. We are here for the consumer to look to for advice and education in making better choices. The Turtle represents our care for the natural world and all living things. Globally, the turtle is a strong symbol in terms of environmental issues, the turtle is also strong yet graceful with a long lifespan, a great representation of the brand from many angles.
Chief and Turtle launched in April 2022 and can be found at https://chiefandturtle.co.uk/