I felt like a tiny cog in a massive machine…I wanted to have more of an impact on the world.
In 2018, UEA alumna Lucy Jeffrey was working full time at a bank. Now, Lucy is saving the world one sock (or two) at a time through her company, Bare Kind. We chat to Lucy about starting her own business, loneliness and the difference that the UEA Enterprise Fund made to her.
Lucy,why did you decide to start Bare Kind?
I graduated from UEA in 2016 where I studied Biological Sciences. From there I took a gap year and travelled around New Zealand (which was amazing) before starting on a graduate programme with HSBC.
HSBC was a great opportunity, but I felt like a tiny cog in a massive machine. I wanted to have more of an impact on the world, to have the freedom to pursue my ideas without any of the red tape. That’s why I started Bare Kind in 2018 and in 2020 I made the leap to run my business full time!
Can you tell me a bit about Bare Kind?
At Bare Kind, we sell bamboo socks where 10% of the profits help save the animal on the sock. Every design is linked to a specific conservation or rescue charity that supports the species we feature. For example, for every four pairs of Orangutan socks sold, we can fund the protection of an acre of forest for a whole year through the Orangutan Foundation’s Protection Programme.
Why do you think Bare Kind has been so successful?
A lot of hard work and commitment. It’s coming up to four years now that I have been running this company, and only in the past year has the company been strong enough to support me outside of other work. You may hear of these ‘get rich quick’ scenarios, or unicorns that completely take off, but they are rare (hence the name unicorn). Business requires a lot of dedication and you have to keep banging that drum.
The other thing that has helped is being able to pivot. When I actually started the company I was selling reusable straws and recycled t-shirts. Although they were nice products, they weren’t going to take me anywhere fast, so I started diversifying into the socks you can see now. That was when I realised I was on to something different, and put all of my energy and cash into building out that proposition.
What barriers and challenges have you faced running your own business?
When starting out, the common barrier that I think a lot of entrepreneurs face is that you have no idea what you’re doing! It would be very easy to say ‘I don’t know how to do this’ and just stop. But the key is to take one step at a time. I still don’t always know what’s next, but I have learned so much on this journey and that’s one of the most valuable parts.
The naivety at the start of my journey was also a bit of a blessing in disguise; it means you have to try things without knowing the results. Now I have more of an understanding of the business, I might start to block my own ideas because ‘this didn’t work before’ or ‘I’ve done it this way already so let’s continue’. I have to be careful to not institutionalise myself and keep an open mind to new directions.
Another thing that was quite challenging was being a solo founder. It can be pretty isolating and, before I had a team around me, I was feeling pretty lonely in the role – especially during lockdown! I overcame that by making more of an effort to get in touch with people after work and I would join business support groups and start connecting with similar stage businesses on Instagram.
How did you hear about the UEA Enterprise Fund and why did you decide to apply?
Something as simple and effective as a newsletter. I was subscribed to one of UEA Career’s Central newsletters and at the start of 2021 I read about the funding options available to students and recent alumni running or looking to start their own business. It was a no-brainer for me.
I started by applying for the £7,500 Grow It grant, which I was awarded in April. This allowed me to buy much more stock than I had planned and really accelerated growth. In July I was ready to apply for the £50,000 Scale It grant. I pitched my business again in September and the panel agreed to invest the money! It was perfect timing as I was ordering 30,000 pairs of stock for Christmas and needed to pay my supplier.
How did the UEA Enterprise Fund and the Enterprise team support you to create Bare Kind?
As a product-based business, I rely heavily on my inventory and making sure I stay in stock. Before receiving the initial grant from the UEA Enterprise Fund, I was struggling with cash flow and really needed that boost to keep my stock in and my customers happy. It would have been very difficult for a young company to get this kind of money from a bank. The £50,000 investment was necessary for me to have a huge Christmas, and as a result the company has grown by five times the amount of revenue compared to last year.
But more than just the money, the support of the UEA Enterprise Fund gave me a real confidence boost. A panel of people who have experience in working with businesses decided that I am worth the investment, it certainly makes you take stock of what you are achieving.
To everyone who is considering donating or has already donated to the UEA Enterprise Fund – thank you. What an amazing thing to do for someone. This is truly a life changing fund. It has certainly changed my life - I am now running a company I am passionate about full time. It has changed the lives of the people I employ, who didn’t previously have jobs. And, of course, we are saving animals. We had an extraordinary impact in 2021 with the socks we sold, and I encourage you to read our impact report to find out more about how the animals were helped by this funding.
What’s the future for Bare Kind?
More socks! Plan is for world domination on the sock front. I want to put every species imaginable on a sock and have the largest range of animal socks in the world, all supporting the species we feature. In the short-term, that means expanding sales and operations in Europe, then the USA and Australia. I’ve got all kinds of animal designs to release this year so you will have to follow my channels to see which species I will be saving next!
Discover Bare Kind’s latest socks at www.barekind.co.uk