Since we’ve started up this exciting new venture CheltenhamMaman HQ has had the pleasure of meeting some inspiring women many of whom are hiding away right on our doorsteps! One such lady was kind enough to meet for coffee and talk me through her fascinating journey from Mum to two to MumBoss of 4. Sarah Curtis is the owner of online store Lush Stuff and this is our chat.
CMHQ: Welcome Sarah, it’s such a treat to have a child free hour to chat with you about being a Mumpreneur. What’s your morning drink of choice?
Sarah: A Mocha, always a mocha. I can’t get by without some caffeine to kickstart my day.
CMHQ: For those that don’t know you how would we go about introducing you?
Sarah: First and foremost I’m Mum to Em 19, Luke 17, Lily 7 and Jess 5. Oh and wife to Kev! They’re my everything and without them I would no way be able to do the things I do at work….. which is all home based, running my online store Lush Stuff. I live in Woodmancote and I love friends, family, having a little drink and a giggle. But things are pretty busy for me and I’m forever thinking ‘oh my God I must hoover the stairs’ but there just never seems to be enough time in the day!
CMHQ: Aha! Another loopy Mama like me with a massive age gap! What made you start all over again when you were safely past the baby and toddler years?
Sarah: Well that’s all part of my story you see, it’s not been an easy one. Em and Luke’s Dad died suddenly in a car crash on his way to a new job in Eastbourne when they were 8 and 9, I was 33 and it was of course, awful. It’s not some tragedy that I want people to hear so that they feel sorry for me but it really has shaped me into the Mum, wife and person that I am now. He was only 29 and my world just fell apart. The year after he died I struggled to do anything, I let everything go, nothing seemed to matter. Eventually it was my friends who rescued me and Kev (father to the little ones) was part of that group of friends. He was like the first breath of air I had after being underwater for such a long time. We got together when I was 36 and he gave up everything to look after me and my two children, he saved me, he saved us, I knew he wanted babies of his own; he’s been the most amazing father figure to Em and Luke, having the smaller girls just completed our family.
CMHQ: And how did the business evolve in the midst of all of this emotional trauma?
Sarah: My professional background had always been in visual merchandising. I worked for Habitat and Topshop so I’ve always had an eye for design. When the girls were born I wanted to buy them a personalised photo frame, you know the ones with their dates of birth and names and I had a look on Not on The High Street and just couldn’t believe how expensive they were. I convinced Kev to buy me an Apple Mac so that I could have a go at designing one and I knocked out a few initially giving them to friends and family as gifts for births and weddings. Kev hated giving these home made gifts! Eventually word spread and I set up a Facebook page and through word of mouth I was making more frames than I could keep up with.
CMHQ: So had you intended to start a real business or did it all sort of happen by accident?
Sarah: No! It was a hobby. It kept me out of trouble and I was knocking up these frames in my Dad’s garage. I’ve been so lucky that this has all happened without the risk and worry of having to take on a business loan and not knowing whether it would take off. That computer was my only start up cost and I didn’t need it to bring me an income, it was just a talent that I had that I thought I might make a few extra quid from. The only investment that’s gone into my business is huge amounts of time and effort from me and my family.
CMHQ: So when did that change, when did it change from that to the real deal, the name, the website?
Sarah: I suppose it was a couple of years ago. It felt like it was time to make or break. I sat down with my sister in law who has been such a support through this whole thing, she does my website and helps me out with marketing and she urged me to try a few new things and get myself out there. The name came first – Kev is very Bristolian – Lush Stuff just seemed like the right name.
Then there was the logo and the site and I started creating a few different designs, the makeup bags, cake flags, birth prints and babygros. Kev’s family run a sportswear printing company so all of the equipment was available to me and the manpower was there when I needed it (though I often had to beg Kev to help!) I started doing pop up shops in local village halls or at craft fairs – the stock was flying off the shelves and I would be sat there with my pink plastic early learning centre till – cringing at being the face of the business but also pinching myself that so many people had come.
CMHQ: And then one day things went a little bit crazy for you…. tell me what happened?
Sarah: I can laugh about it all now as it really was the most amazing thing. It was all Debbie (my sister in law), she told me about the blogger Zoella and suggested I send her one of the makeup bags. I wasn’t sure and thought about it for ages. Se was getting a lot of flack at the time from haters and eventually Deb persuaded me to send her a bag with a little note that said ‘keep your chin up’ or something along those lines – I can’t even remember!
One morning about three weeks later I just woke up to an inbox literally over flowing with orders for my War Paint makeup bag. They just kept on coming and I was asking Kev to do more and more of them. He thought it was a joke but the money was going into my PayPal account so we just kept posting them out. Eventually I asked one of the customers where they’d seen it and they told me Zoella had featured it for about two seconds in one of her vlogs. Because it wasn’t sponsored she didn’t list where it was from so the American website The Hunt tracked it down and the rest is really history!
I couldn’t print them quickly enough and we were bracing ourselves for the bubble to burst but the traffic keeps on coming – I sell as many now as I did then. She featured it twice more on her vlog and then took it on holiday and the sales have kept coming. I honestly can’t thank her enough! It’s not made me into a millionaire but it’s changed me from a stay at home Mum dabbling in a bit of DIY retail to a business woman (who still has to get the washing in and decide what’s for tea…. which I am SO shit at by the way.)
CMHQ: And you’ve evolved the product to make it fresh and to keep up with demand?
Sarah: Yes we did a black and gold version for Christmas and a red one for Valentines. We sell loads of printed t-shirts now and I’ve just started doing patches which look like they will be really popular. We ship products abroad every day but we also have so many loyal local customers and I’m in the process of building a small extension to my house which from next year will be a little shop front where people can come and browse during certain hours and take products away – great for picking up a last minute gift or for stocking up at christmas.
CMHQ: So what does the future hold for Mrs Curtis and all her lush stuff?
Sarah: Well most importantly a bloody holiday! Kev plays cricket all summer so we don’t go away- thank god we have a much needed family holiday in half term – I can’t wait! I still do the frames for the people who come back time and time again but they’re not my main product. It’s the slogan clothing, bags and things but I also design logos for businesses – that’s where my talent really lies – in the design.
I’m at the point now where I can’t really do it all. I need to get some help on the home front and get the older children set up with whatever they’re doing next and then I can spend a bit more time thinking a little bigger. I’m so so happy though – that’s really all that matters. Life is mad, completely and utterly mad and I do struggle with stress, especially when I can’t find time to empty the dishwasher but I wouldn’t change any of it for the world. I know how things can change in an instant so I’m all for enjoying the here and now.
Thanks so much for sharing your story Sarah. The Mums of Cheltenham wish you all the best and look forward to seeing more Lush Stuff – coz we’re a bit partial to a spot of retail therapy!
Sarah has been kind enough to offer CheltenhamMaman readers 10% off all Lush Stuff stock using the code lushmaman at the checkout! You can visit Lush Stuff online at this link. You can also follow them on Instagram or like their Facebook page.