Posted: Thu 7th Sep 2023
Enterprise Nation partnered with Mastercard and Strive to deliver an online 'One Stop Shop' for entrepreneurs.
An initiative of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, Strive will give 650,000 British micro and small enterprises the support they need to thrive in the digital economy over the next three years and beyond.
We're catching up with some of the business owners who have been using the initiative's Make a Plan discovery tool to find out about how it's benefited them so far.
Here, we talk to Melanie Luxton-Brookes, whose business Lady Survivors designs and makes fashionable swimwear for women who have undergone a mastectomy.
When and how did you make the move into owning a business?
Back in 2017, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 39 at the time, and my children were three and eight. I had six rounds of chemotherapy, three major surgeries and six weeks of daily radiotherapy.
After my recovery, we went on a family holiday to Italy. Before my diagnosis, I'd loved the run-up to a holiday, choosing swimwear and beachwear. But now it became apparent that, after a mastectomy, looking for swimwear wasn't going to be fun anymore!
All the garments on the market were aimed at much older women. This is when I had my first vision of "Lady Survivors mastectomy swimwear".
As soon as we returned from holiday, I started designing my first style of swimwear. I researched swimwear manufacturers and found a company in Leeds that would do all the CAD drawings for me and take control of the ordering from the factory. Because this was all new to me. I took my first delivery of swimwear in 2020.
Did you know where to go for support?
I didn't know where to start, as I'd been a beauty therapist since leaving school and I had no experience of using computers. All I had was a vision! So I sat for hours and hours on the internet researching until I found what I needed to evolve this idea into a reality.
What help did you seek when setting up your new business?
After the initial idea, I started looking for ways to fund my new business venture. I eventually went through GOV.UK and found a company that helped new start-ups with low-interest loans and also gave me a support worker too.
This was so helpful as my support worker helped me fill in all the paperwork and gave me lots of business and financial advice.
In the early weeks and months, what went well? What didn't? How did you overcome any problems?
I decided to use some of the money from the loan to get a website up and running, As I didn't know much about website design, I looked for someone to do it for me. This was my first mistake!
I paid a lot of money for this person to host and manage the website, only for him to go bust. That meant I lost my website and domain name as he had total control over all of it.
Since then, I've spent many hours teaching myself how to design and build my own website. It's the best thing ever and much more affordable!
You used the Make a Plan tool. What specifically has it helped with?
The Make a Plan tool helped me to stay focused and keep everything organised. It's also kept me on track in terms of all the things I need to do, as starting a new business can be quite daunting and overwhelming at first.
What do you see as the next steps for your business?
Now Lady Survivors is up and running and progressing nicely, I feel I'm ready to take the next steps into expanding my swimwear range by adding new designs. I've also been looking at adding beach accessorywear to the range and I'm just in the process of getting the finances in place.
What are your more longer-term plans?
My long-term goal is to see Lady Survivors in department stores across the UK and then hopefully become a brand that's well known worldwide.
What are the most important lessons you've learned from going into business for yourself?
Throughout my journey, I've learnt so much. I'm still learning every day and there's still a great deal more to do. I was naïve and thought it would be as simple as launching a brand and watching everything fall into place when the sales come rolling in. But it doesn't work like that. It takes hard work and patience.
And you have to stay positive and focus on your vision, especially when you have knock-backs. But it's totally worth all the hard work. You just have to go for it and follow your dream.
About Strive Make a Plan
Create an account, answer some quick questions about your business, get personalised feedback, then build an action plan that will help accelerate your business's growth. Take the Make a Plan tool today