Movers and Shakers | Janet Douglas | Feed My Creative CIC
Janet is the founder of Feed My Creative, a multi award winning social enterprise, who work with young people and adults demonstrating ways to be more sustainable with fabrics.
Their aims are to reduce waste and create more sustainable communities, and inspire creativity through craft workshops focused on using recycled fabric and materials.
They run creative textile workshops with community groups, educational establishments and charities.
Janet says: What we do is not just about the sewing – its about people coming together reducing social isolation, learning new skills, being in a comfortable relaxed environment and having the opportunity to talk about common issues and/or experiences, bereavement etc whilst being creative.
What drove you to start your own business?
During 2015 I was tired, tired of being unhappy, tired of feeling unwell, tired of being in a job I was beginning to dislike, tired of the system that was setting certain groups of young people to fail and tired of just being tired. I didn’t want my boys to be affected by how I was feeling, so I had to make changes.
My eldest son couldn’t find an apprenticeship programme that fit in with his interests and what he wanted to do. College wasn’t working out for him and he and his friend asked me to help them make a pair of trousers.
By the end of the week both had drafted a pattern from an existing pair of trousers, I taught his friend how to use a sewing machine (my son already knew how to use one) and they both made trousers for less than £8.
Education doesn’t work for everyone and I wanted to offer a platform for young people to be creative without the pressure of statistics and data.
So after a pretty stressful couple of years I left my fulltime teaching post, went part-time and on January 1st 2016 I wrote down what I wanted Feed My Creative to be and started testing the model.
What was your career path prior to starting your business?
I was a textile teacher in secondary schools for 10 years. It’s only now that I’ve left teaching that I can concentrate on the business full time. I missed out on a lot of opportunities due to them clashing with my teaching days.
Tell us about the business planning stage
I had a notebook and created a two page mind map of what I wanted Feed My Creative to be, also to see what a 1, 2 and 3 year plan would look like.
A former colleague told me to apply to the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE Midlands) as they had a start-up programme with start up funding.
I applied and was successful, which helped me to get started with more sewing machines, as I only had three at the time. I built my website myself and ran free sessions with my local YMCA.
At the start of that year I had contacted my local IKEA as I needed fabric for projects I wanted to do at the school I was currently teaching at. The sheer volume of what I had received helped shift the direction of how I wanted to work. I was able to pass on a large percentage of the soft furnishings such as bedding, curtains, cushions and quilts etc (with their permission) and started to experiment making different types of products with the fabric.
How far ahead do you plan and what keeps you on track and motivated?
To be honest I plan ahead for 6 months and work backwards. I take bookings weeks in advance so I can manage each week better. I plan for every two weeks in advance so not to double book and plan childcare etc. I love what I do so the feedback I receive motivates me and my boys telling me how proud they are of me.
Can you describe a typical working day?
Every day can be different as I juggle so many things. I could have a day prepping for workshops which usually meant writing a list of what I need, sampling the item that will be used as an example for the workshop, packing up the car with the sewing machines, tools and fabric. Another could consist of me procrastinating when I should be doing other important things, sometimes I catch sight of some fabric (from a cushion or a sofa cover) and then trial out a new product or shape for a bag.
Another day could be when I go to collect my donations. The car is usually full to the brim (boot, back seat and passenger seat), I’ll then offload at the studio, weigh and sorted ready to be donated on or reused for making. At most I could work a 12 hour day some could be slightly shorter after I’ve picked up my son from school either way my brain doesn’t really switch off.
What has been the most amazing day in your entrepreneurial life so far?
I’ve had a few but I think the very first most amazing day was when I found out I had been selected as one of Theo Paphitis’s (a previous dragon on Dragons Den) Small Business Sunday (SBS) winners in 2018. You had to send him a tweet about your business, which he would personally read and then he’d then pick six to retweet the following evening. People had been sending tweets to him for years so I didn’t really think he would notice mine anytime soon but after trying for six months I had a message asking if I’d checked my twitter. At that moment I cried, little ole me still in the early days of business had caught the attention of such a successful business man. That was truly overwhelming.
What has been your scariest moment?
My scariest moment was making the decision to finally leave teaching.
Feed My Creative was always going to be my exit out of it but to finally leave was scary. What was even scarier was my contract at my last school ended just before lockdown.
I had quite a few panic moments as I had some cancellations and workshop postponed until further notice. It’s given me time to think about direction and what comes next in terms of growth and what I can offer.
How do you work on making your business grow?
Alongside the existing work I currently deliver the next stage is to work on an e-commerce presence. I’ve made small batches of products for resale but never anything on a larger scale. The plan is to be able to take on staff to not only help create a small range of products for reselling but also delivery of more sessions to a wider range of people. As I am the only person working on everything, I really need a staff team so Feed My Creative can do more, reach more and so that I personally don’t burn out trying to tackle all services.
What is the best thing about being your own boss?
Being accountable for myself, if I want to be successful I have to be the one in control of what I do. I plan the model and execute it and being able to sit back and see what I’ve achieved over a few years is an amazing feeling.
What are the challenges of working for yourself and how do you tackle them?
I’d say my main challenge is time management, having a child in primary school sometimes I have to work around school hours. This can be difficult at times as some workshops can run until early evening. Being the only person running sessions I have to ensure I have sufficient time to collect him or arrange childcare hence planning for events a couple weeks in advance.
At times I have issues with tennis elbow which can be really painful, so I have to make sure I take breaks which can delays. The way I get around this is to do little and often and have set hours to make rather than trying to do everything in a day.
Who do you admire or look to for inspiration as a business owner?
There are quite a few business owners I know and their work ethics inspire me often. In particular in the Midlands Tru Powell is making waves with the work that he does with his businesses. He is a multi award winning entrepreneur, he has an amazing work ethic, is doing great things and has his hands in so many ventures. He did a live recently and found myself writing notes on his presentation and how I could raise my PR profile.
What piece of advice has had the most impact on your business? And who was it from?
In July 2017 I had a meeting with Justice Williams MBE who is also a phenomenal entrepreneur. I’d handed in my notice to leave a school at the end of the summer term and was at the point of thinking about work spaces.
I was working out of my car; the fabric was taking over the house (and my mums house) and the lack of space was getting unbearable. I needed somewhere static to work from and to store the mass of textile donations and equipment. She said, ‘right you have three months, here is a list of commercial properties, find a few and arrange some viewings before you leave our meeting!’.
Three months later I had a secured a studio space in Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter and I’ve never looked back since.
What are the three books, websites or resources (professional or personal) that you would recommend to other business owners?
Kettorah and the Autom Scrolls of Light, written and self-published by a very close friend of mine Sandra Carter,
Social Enterprise – How to successfully set up and grow a social enterprise by Heidi L. Fisher and Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki
What other passions do you have away from your business? How do you relax?
Short answer is I don’t, I know it’s terrible and I get cussed at all angles.
I really want to start swimming, I only go for walks when I’m stressed or angry so now that I’m in this full time I need to find an outlet so I don’t burn out like I have many times before. I haven’t had a proper holiday since 2004 so I’m way way way overdue for a well earned break. Aside from that I need to have a regular ‘Janet day’ where I can switch of being mum and a business woman for a few hours.
Feed My Creative won the Creative Business of the Year Award at the 14th Annual PRECIOUS Awards
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