From Iconic Brand to Own Label

“Life is for living. I'd always wanted to have my own business... so what was I waiting for?”

Image of Laura Bonnell
From Iconic Brand to Own Label

After a difficult year and a painful redundancy, Laura Bonnell was forced to re-evaluate. Now she says she's never been happier – but the journey to her new career wasn't easy. This is her story.

What work were you doing previously?

I've been working as a fashion designer for the past 17 years.

I've mostly designed womenswear, but also some childrenswear and accessories, for heritage brands like Ralph Lauren, Barbour and Jack Wills.

I lived in New York for six years while working for Ralph Lauren – that's where I really found myself as a designer. Working for such an iconic brand really trained my creative eye, and taught me how to be inspired by all things authentic and vintage. It taught me a taste level that I've carried with me since.

What are you doing now?

I am working as a freelance design consultant and also running my childrenswear brand, Muklet, which I launched last year.

Why did you change?

I'd had a pretty rubbish year.

When I was five months pregnant with my second little boy, I discovered a malignant melanoma. I had to go through surgery when he was just a couple of weeks old.

That was my first wake up call – life is short, and we have to appreciate what is truly important in this life. We can't control what life throws at us sometimes, but we can choose how to deal with it.

I returned to work when my youngest was about eight months old. Not long after that my dad suddenly got very poorly very quickly. He was eventually rushed to hospital where they discovered he had pancreatic cancer. Two weeks later he passed away.

And then the icing on the cake – there had been some management changes at work, and I was made redundant. I lost a little faith in humanity that day. I just couldn't quite understand how it was somehow OK to put someone out of a job shortly after they'd been through one of the toughest experiences of their life.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

After a bit of a cry at the pub with my gorgeous husband, I decided to dust myself off, get back up and get going.

There was no point in wallowing in self-pity. Life is for living. I'd always wanted to have my own business, and my dad always said I should, so what was I waiting for? I guess the security of a regular income, and needing to provide financially for the family had stopped me taking the leap before.

Are you happy with the change?

This is the happiest I have ever been work wise.

I truly believe this is what I am meant to do. I feel like life has led me to this point, and everything has happened for a reason.

That said, I am really tired if I'm honest! I'm pretty much always working, every spare second I get. I've started to build traction with Muklet, and there are some great opportunities coming up, so I'm going to see what happens in the next 12 months.

I get so much satisfaction from seeing a photo from a happy little person wearing my clothes, or hearing stories from my customers. One of my favorites is a lady who had two girls, and was pregnant with number three. She didn't know the sex until he was born, and was delighted to have a boy because she could now buy lots of boy things! She had a special request for what she wanted made, and I was able to do that, because I'm small and can make bespoke items. I love that Muklet is now a part of that little person's story!

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

It's difficult switching your brain off from it.

And I miss the regular income.

How did you go about making the shift?

I worked on the concept for the business and took it along to a local networking group to get some feedback.

It was all positive, so I then decided to go for it, and made my first few t-shirts and cushions which I then took to a local school fair to see if people then wanted to actually buy what I had designed and made.

What didn't go well? What 'wrong turns' did you take?

I haven't spent enough time planning.

I've reacted to opportunities as they've arisen.

And I've probably overstocked.

How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?

I managed eventually to secure some regular freelance work a couple of days a week which paid the basic bills, and covered childcare.

I then invested some of my own money to get the business started. I've grown the business slowly and organically reinvesting every penny I make.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

Worrying about needing to financially support my family.

Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of being able to survive on one income. We have a young family, two boys aged five and two. The cost of childcare is crushing, being self-employed I don't have access to childcare vouchers which can take a bite out of the bill. So I'm constantly juggling looking after the boys, and trying to find child-free time to work on things.

Fortunately, there are a lot of things I can do with them, like meeting other small business owners with kids in the park, or doing photo shoots with them. I've found some great child-friendly networking groups too. And I love that they can be a part of it; they can see Mummy happy, and they can be involved. My goal is to build Muklet so I can then work on it while they are both in school in a few years' time.

What help did you get?

I talk to anyone and everyone I meet.

I started off connecting with other local small businesses I met at networking events. This then led me to other groups, workshops, events where I met more people doing similar things. I met a bunch of people through social media, and fostering those friendships has helped me with so many things and provided a consistent source of advice, support, and recommendations.

What resources would you recommend to others?

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Find and connect with your 'tribes' – people who are doing what you're doing, people you aspire to be like, people that can advise you.

Social media is all about building a community and building collaborations. Try to find things that are tailored to your area of expertise. I try to focus any workshops or networking opportunities on people offering a 'tribe' that I connect to, whether that's mums, dads, bloggers, childrenswear businesses, etc.

What have you learnt in the process?

You have to be prepared to work really hard.

Luckily, I'm a grafter. I like getting stuck in; I like learning. I realise now I'd kind of got stuck in a work Groundhog Day, doing the same thing just for a different company. I've always loved my jobs, but some of them just didn't love me back!

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

Just go for it!

Get an idea, talk to your friends, talk to people you don't know about it. If they think it's a good idea, give it a try. Set parameters on how much you want to invest, and how much time you are going to spend on it, then do it!

What lessons could you take from Laura's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at hello@careershifters.org. and you could win a £25 / $35 Amazon voucher in our monthly draw.