Emilienne’s youngest daughter, Lotte, was just seven months old when her mother was diagnosed with grade 3 advanced breast cancer. At 31 and with no family history of cancer, it came as a shock to everyone. The following year was a roller-coaster of emotions and scans, hospital visits, operations and chemotherapy.
Losing her hair during chemotherapy Emilienne felt very cold, especially at night. “I struggled to fine suitable head wear,” she says. “Scarves would slip in bed and woollen hats I found too itchy and hot. My wig was incredibly uncomfortable and I ended up wearing it on just two occasions. I wanted to cover up for my family and to keep warm – I needed something soft and simple, yet stylish, to slip on around the house and wear in bed.
“The idea for Bold Beanies was born. When I started to regain my life and energy I decided to start making them for fellow sufferers … to make a bad situation just a little bit more bearable.
“I always knew I wanted to have my own business and I guess having cancer makes you less fearful to try the things you want to do. I never found the soft stretchy beanie I was looking for when I needed it. I found a local seamstress, Ann, and we worked together to make the basic pattern and sizing. Then she made up a run of about 100 hats, which I listed on eBay. They sold! I knew other people were searching for this product.
“I very quickly outgrew Ann and, through networking my idea, I found a local manufacturer of sportswear. The initial meeting was with the owner of the company, who I very sadly never had the opportunity to meet as he passed away from complications of chemo… very ironically sad… the subsequent meeting with them was understandably very emotional, but they gave me their full support and have been amazing for my little business… making not hundreds of one particular style, but a more manageable stock level number of different colours and styles in one order.”
Bold Beanies are UK made, with the fabrics sourced in the UK, mainly Liberty of London, and are manufactured in Oswestry on the Welsh border, just 20 minutes away from Emilienne’s home and office, which allows for a good work life balance with her two little girls, not to mention the Bold Beanies’ carbon footprint.
The range of Bold Beanies has developed from not just a chemotherapy hair loss product, but as a general beanie for all types of hair loss as well as outdoor sports and a useful liner for wearing under all types of helmets… great for example to keep the ears warm when out skiing, horse riding or for the kids under cycling helmets. The range now includes more kids’ and men’s hats and it’s growing all the time.
“I received many bouquets of beautiful flowers when I was going through my year of operations, chemotherapy and radiotherapy” said Emilienne. “While it was so very lovely to know family and friends from all over the world were thinking of me, I did not have energy to deal with them… it’s that simple. So I thought how wonderful would it be for carers to give the beanies in a gift in some way. I’m a naturally creative person, so the idea for the rose and bouquet was just an easy progression… after many versions! My attempts at Lollipops for the kids have yet to be successful though!
“There are many challenges to overcome when starting your own business, and it's a steep learning curve! I am the financial director, the creative department, head of distribution… and also make the tea. Making all the decisions myself is sometimes stressful… do I want to do trade fairs? Sell wholesale? Where do I want this business to go?
“Major hurdles include the website… developing one where I can be in control and not rely on others to always make changes (my background in software project management helps a little). The website was hacked and damaged recently… although not a personal attack (these things are automated) it had a devastating effect on sales, morale and work load… I’m still dealing with it weeks down the line.
“The biggest difficulty I have at the moment is marketing… getting the name Bold Beanies out there… especially within the original market, cancer patients, at the time when they need them and to friends and family. But then also within the non-cancer market; trying to target potential customers who need them for other reasons.
“I think my next innovation will have to be someway of manipulating a few extra hours of time in the day.
“I’m currently also introducing new products to the website, including a range of organic natural Aloe supplements, hygiene and topical skin creams, that I’ve used since my diagnosis and also very soon a range of confectionary designed to aid nausea.
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