We are so so proud to announce that our very own Lucy Jewson (Frugi’s mum and founder) has just been awarded an MBE for services to Ethical Clothing Design in the Birthday 2020 Honours List. Wahoooo!
From the back bedroom of their little cottage in Constantine, Cornwall, Lucy and Kurt nurtured Frugi from an (energy saving) light bulb moment into the UK’s leading organic and ethical children’s clothing brand…Proving that business can be ethical, sustainable and super successful!
We caught up with Lucy for a quick chat before she takes her new corgis out for a walk and starts practicing her royal curtsy…
Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m married to Kurt (we founded Frugi together 16 years ago) and have two grunty teenage boys, Tom 17yrs and Sam 14yrs – we live in Constantine in Cornwall on a small holding with horses, chickens, a dog called Jake and a cat called Percy!
What gave you the inspiration to start the business?
It was Tom’s big cloth nappy bum that inspired us to start Frugi – we called it Cut4Cloth at the beginning as we made clothes to fit over cloth nappies. We had no background in clothing/fashion at all but having joined various cloth nappy forums on the (dial up!) internet, we realised that lots of people were struggling to find clothing to go over their slightly bulkier cloth nappies. We thought “Aha! A real gap in the market, let’s see if we can solve this problem!”
How did you make it happen? Did you ever have any doubts that you were doing the right thing?
We knew we needed to do it “properly” if we were to give up our jobs and make it work, so we did lots of research on line to find out how you go about getting a clothing range made. It was a very steep learning curve! We were using cloth nappies to try and minimise our environmental footprint, so it made sense that we should try and make our clothing as sustainable as possible too. We found an amazing organic cotton manufacturer in India (Amit) who was prepared to work with us (and teach us!) and we are truly proud that Frugi is working with him still today! We both gave up our jobs, re-mortgaged our house and threw everything we had at it! Our friends and family thought we were completely mad and we lived on beans for the first couple of years – but we were determined to give it our all. It felt like we’d regret it if we didn’t.
How did you juggle being a mum and running a business?
Ha ha! I naively thought that running your own business would give you a better work/life balance! How wrong was I? It is really really hard work 24/7 and I often felt that I was torn in two… not being there enough for the children or the business sometimes! It’s not easy, but I was really lucky that Kurt took the role of “primary parent” and did most of the school runs, made dinner etc, so my guilt was assuaged a little knowing that they had one of us at home when they needed us. I always tried to get home for the bed-time story and made sure weekends were full of us doing things together. I only had a week off when I had my youngest and he came to work with me for the first few months. We were quite literally juggling the baby, the phone and packing boxes!
Now the kids are older, I’ve asked them if they wish I was around more when they were younger, but they say they are proud of what we’ve built and don’t feel they’ve missed out – that was a huge relief! I think most mums have guilt ingrained deeply in them, I certainly do!
Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of starting an ethical business?
My advice is don’t under-estimate the hard work and commitment it takes to get a business off the ground. But if you are prepared to give it your all, go for it! For me, it was something that I felt I needed to do, I wanted to be able to see how far we could take something on our own merits and I didn’t want to always work for someone else. Life is short and I believe in squashing as much interesting stuff into it as possible! If that’s you, then make sure you don’t regret not being brave enough to give it a go. We can all always go and get another job if it doesn’t work out.
How important was it to you that the clothing was ethically sourced/organic?
Hugely important! We were out to prove that you could run a profitable, successful business in a green and ethical way. We wanted to try and be a beacon to other businesses and show that being ethical, giving 1% of your turnover to charity etc was actually actively GREAT for business! A different business model really. We took huge inspiration from a book by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, called “Let my people go surfing”, which we read very early on. I really recommend it to any other budding entrepreneurs out there!
Cotton is THE most heavily pesticide laden crop and decimates biodiversity. Buying organic cotton can really help us on the mission to improve our environment.
What do you love most about Frugi?
I love that Frugi means colour and fun to everyone that comes across it. You see Frugi clothing out and about and it just makes you smile. The team are incredible, bonkers in the main, but wonderful, passionate people who really care – I think that shines through in everything the brand does. We are really really proud of them.
What does receiving an MBE mean to you?
Wow! It’s a bit of a shocker! I suppose it means that we have in our own small way managed to prove what we set out to prove; that you can be successful and ethical at the same time. I know everyone is talking about sustainable business now, but 16 years ago, notsomuch. This MBE is for Frugi, not for me, and I hope that the team at Frugi feel proud that the brand has got such a meaningful badge of approval for all their hard work.
How will you celebrate?
Ha ha! I’m really not sure! We aren’t ones for big parties – which is lucky ‘cos they aren’t on the cards right now. Perhaps we’ll pop out for our favourite brand of pasty and have a little tipple to go with it! ?
Does this mean we have to call you Lady Lucy Jewson now?