CORONAVIRUS has wrecked havoc with business, pushing many small companies to the brink of collapse.
But three female business founders are showing things aren't doom and gloom – with a surge in sales for sex toys, CBD-infused gin and pregnancy safe teas.
They spoke to Fabulous for #BOSSINGIT, our series about ordinary women who have launched extraordinary businesses.
People are bored at home – they want to spice things up with a sex toy
Monika Makarewicz, a 36-year-old mum-of-two from Leicester, founded Godemiche with her partner Adam Breedon, 35, in 2015.
The parents transformed their bathroom into a makeshift sex toy factory. They turned over £131,000 last year – and their sales are rising faster than ever during lockdown…
I used to work as a barista and Adam was a traffic warden, but he really hated his job.
It was his idea to launch Godemiche, which means 'dildo' in French, he has a background as a make-up artist so would play with silicone and started making his own toys.
We started by selling dildos and lingerie on Facebook – at the time everything was black, purple or flesh-coloured and we wanted to do something different.
So we designed a toy together and brought it out in 10 different colours.
We had our first website, selling products from wholesalers, from 2012 and launched Godemiche in July 2015, learning from experience.
That's when we officially became self-employed, I was already at home with the kids, Joey, now six, and Lena, four, and Adam immediately quit his job.
We invested £2,000 of personal savings and started working from our bathroom. We had an old vacuum cleaner and three moulds and it started like that, just mixing and pouring.
We only have a two-bed flat so it was very crowded, running a company from home with two kids was chaos, but we started selling our toys at London's fetish market and they were a hit.
Godemiche made £35,000 in 2016-2017 then we got our first office in Queniborough.
Adam still designs all the toys and we have another part-time dildo maker who works two days-a-week. We employ a guy to work on our website, a girl to do our social media, a teenager who cleans our pots, a book keeper and an accountant.
Coronavirus has definitely helped us. I think people want to try something new or spice up their sex lives with a new toy, because they're bored and locked down in their houses
At first our families were like 'why would you want to do that?' but they're very supportive now, as long as we make money and put food on the table for the kids they are fine.
It's just like any other normal job. Our friends and family love it – they're always popping into our office and we tell them to help themselves to products.
Adam and I noticed other sex toy companies are quite serious, so we wanted everything to be fun, even our educational videos. And if our customers have sexual problems, we will create products for them.
Godemiche made £67,000 in 2017-18, £87,000 in 2018-19 and £131,000 in 2019-2020.
So the business is growing month on month, but we're still 20 per cent up on sales during lockdown.
We were really worried people wouldn't have money to buy sex toys because of coronavirus, but we are really busy.
The orders just keep coming in. Adam and I are working alternate days in the office alone, while the other looks after the kids as the schools are closed, and we're struggling to keep up.
Coronavirus has definitely helped us. I think people want to try something new or spice up their sex lives with a new toy, because they're bored and locked down in their houses.
What else can you do? You can read a book, watch all the Netflix series but then at night time, people want something else.
It’s surprising, I really thought that we were going to struggle, so I think it shows we are in a good industry.
Obviously it’s hard to listen to the news about people losing jobs, but we're thankful people are still supporting us. I’m sure we are going to see a baby boom in the next few months after this lockdown.
People are stressed – a gin and tonic helps them relax
Sally Wynter, 25, from Watford, Herts, launched the UK's first CBD-infused gin, MUHU, while working three or four jobs to make ends' meet last autumn.
She has seen sales of her £34.99 gin increase 12-fold during lockdown – from £2,000 in the first six weeks of 2020 to £20,000 in the next six…
When I came back from travelling around South East Asia, I worked in media production but started making drinks at home for friends.
I got stuck in a storm for two weeks in Thailand so started playing around and making drinks with local ingredients like hibiscus and lemongrass, that was the inspiration.
Eventually, more and more friends were asking me to bring my blends to parties.
I realised there was a demand so spent a year from Christmas 2018 trying to find a distillery to produce my gin, while designing the brand myself.
Gin is so versatile, everything you mix it with helps to elevate the flavour. I started playing around with caffeine blends for when you want to dance all night and CBD for a more chilled evening.
The whole thing is definitely bittersweet. You don't feel like celebrating when everyone else is having such a difficult time
I did it all on a budget, with £1,000, which I saved by putting away £200 a month.
I was working three or four different freelance jobs at the time – anything from a production assistant to a script writer – and none of them paid much, I'd only just graduated from Leicester University.
I taught myself how to do everything on the cheap – I even learned the basics of trademark law on the gov.uk website. I had companies quoting me £20,000 just to do label design, but there was no way I could pay that.
I launched at the beginning of November and sold 100 bottles in December, then had a massive drop in January. I only sold 50 bottles in the first six weeks of 2020, which is around £2,000 of sales.
But since February 25, I've had a huge amount of orders. Some retailers have been selling 150 bottles in just three days.
From mid-February until the end of March, I sold almost 600 bottles – which adds up to £20,000 of sales.
I realised maybe people were starting to stockpile, I've noticed alcohol sections in supermarkets are half empty since Brits were warned not to go to pubs on March 16.
People still want to have a good time, having a G&T with your mates on the House Party app is pretty much the closest you can get to being in a pub right now.
It's hard to say if people are turning to alcohol to cope or just stockpiling, but we're looking quite seriously at the prospect of having to stay in for months on end.
Some of my customers say the CBD gin helps them sleep. People are naturally stressed and anxious right now, so it's not surprising they want a drink.
Just over half the sales have come from the Craft Gin Club. It hasn't been hard to keep up, I'm in regular contact with my distillery in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, but I do worry about staff sickness.
The whole thing is definitely bittersweet. You don't feel like celebrating when everyone else is having such a difficult time – and all my wholesale orders to bars and restaurants have fallen through.
Obviously the spike in sales is great to keep things afloat, but I may need to rely on this for the rest of the year, so I'm not cashing in just yet.
Pregnant women need a pick-me-up
Former tea buyer and blender Bethan Thomas, 37, from Oxford, launched HotTea Mama while on maternity leave with her second child.
She and co-founder Kate Achilles, 38, have seen their sales for pregnancy-safe teas – which cost £6 for 15 bags – quadruple during lockdown, despite still doing everything from their kitchen tables…
When we launched in November 2017, I was on maternity leave from my job as a tea buyer and blender – my son Hector, now two, was just three months old.
I had my lightbulb moment during my first pregnancy with daughter Cerys, five, when I realised a lot of caffeine-free teas have liquorice in them for sweetness, which can give mums-to-be high blood pressure and put you at risk of pre-eclampsia.
I realised a lot of my friends were drinking these drinks thinking they were better for them, when they were in fact potentially worse.
My good friend Kate, who had two kids Poppy, six, and Tilly, five, in the space of a year, said "why doesn't someone make teas designed for pregnancy? We could do it".
I have a huge amount of sympathy with mums-to-be who are struggling – but a cup of tea can do wonders
We just went for it. I've known Kate since we met at Oxford University almost two decades ago. We thought it was a really good, niche market that was being ignored by the bigger companies.
We spent nine months developing specific blends, one to help with morning sickness, one to prepare you for birth and labour, and one to take while you're breastfeeding.
I do the tea blending and manage our Instagram.
Kate does all our accounting and managing brands like Amazon. She's got a marketing background and had another business before.
When we launched, we invested £7,500 each, then Kate quit her job when she was pregnant with her third baby Margot, now six months, and I left mine last May.
A really good friend of our's did the branding and packaging. It wasn't easy, I have the contacts but had a newborn baby, but Kate was incredible.
We turned over £24,000 in our first year and in our second year, when we launched on Amazon, that almost doubled to £46,000.
We don’t have loads of money, we aren’t Unilever or Tetley, so we have been growing everything organically and focusing on building a strong mum-base on Instagram. We just did one post-a-day, that was our marketing.
After getting a £50,000 investment last year, we were able to get a warehouse. Before that, I was keeping all the stock in our spare bedroom or the attic at my parents' house in Birmingham.
If we got a big order, I would have to drive to Birmingham, pack it up, get my mum and dad to drop it off at the Post Office and then drive to Oxford to be back in time to do breakfast.
That's not exactly easy when you've got a little baby.
Normally we make about £2,500 every fortnight, but since lockdown that's gone up to £6,000. Last week alone we turned over £4,000 – but that's partly down to a baby show called The Online Baby Event.
We noticed a spike as soon as the government told pregnant women to self-isolate. Sales always pick up around Mother's Day, but we were expecting that to drop off and it hasn't.
Our bestseller in The Final Push birth preparation tea, we've seen sales for that go up and the breastfeeding one.
I think The Final Push is a way for mums to practically prepare themselves for labour, as they can't go to an NCT class or see their midwife or friends at the moment.
We're also getting a lot of gifts being sent, that's the really lovely side of COVID-19.
Obviously we're going to see much lower orders from the wholesalers we work with, but at the moment the positives are outweighing the negatives.
This is a scary time for mums-to-be and it's a very British thing to put the kettle on. A cup of tea is very calming and soothing, I think it's really important to take some time for yourself during a crisis.
We've been lucky with the timing, our warehouse is sat on stock at the moment but I did have to put in an extra order for our Milks Up breastfeeding tea.
The warehouse is a really remote converted barn on a farm in Herefordshire, so the lady who runs it has been able to carry on pretty much as normal.
Our box producers have been under a huge amount of pressure with the supermarkets ordering so much extra stock, but fingers crossed everything will be OK.
I have a huge amount of sympathy with mums-to-be who are struggling, obviously I have kids myself and I remember crying on the first day of maternity leave, thinking 'what do I do with myself?'
It is already such a big change in a woman's life, especially when you've been working for so long, it makes me quite emotional to think they can't see their mum or close friends at the moment.
So I'm really pleased people can find comfort in our teas but I'm also very wary, it feels like we shouldn't be celebrating when something so terrible is happening.
I spoke about that on our Instagram stories and lots of mums said 'don't be silly, if you've got a product that cheers people up then you should promote it'.
My husband Jake, 42, works in public health and my brother is a doctor, a paediatric anaesthetist, so I see the reality of coronavirus and find it hard not to dwell on that.
But at the same time, a cup of tea can do wonders.
We previously spoke to a woman who was working two jobs when she set up her beauty company with £200 – now she create Boohoo’s make-up and is set to turn over £750k.
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