Loughborough University
Leicestershire, UK
LE11 3TU
+44 (0)1509 263171
Loughborough University

Inspiring Enterprising Graduates

Graduate profiles

Katy Widdowson Video Interview
Year of Study

Bojangle Beads was launched during the early days of the recession in 2009 – and, thankfully, continues to grow from strength to strength. We sell beautiful beads and all of the equipment needed to make gorgeous jewellery. We also offer workshops which have proved really popular.

What prompted you to set up on your own?

I have always enjoyed being creative and took up jewellery making as a hobby while I was studying. Once I had developed a taste for beading, I started to incorporate it into my textiles and loved the results.

So that I could learn more about the business I secured a job – following graduation – as a buyer with an online bead retailer. After a couple of years, I decided that I actually wanted to take the plunge, be my own boss and launch my own bead retail venture.

How did you get started?

I had some personal funding, but not enough to realise my dream. I researched possible funding sources and found the Leicester-based Sir Thomas White Loan Charity which provides loans for new business ideas and young businesses needing investment. I was thrilled that my application was approved – I received £6,000.

Starting out in business isn’t just about money though. There was a lot I didn’t know about launching my own company, but I was lucky to receive fantastic support from my family and friends. Marina Pickles, the University’s Student and Graduate Enterprise Manager, was also an invaluable help – supportive and full of really sound advice.

My first job was to compile a detailed business plan. I researched my options and planned my time efficiently so that I could get everything done and allocate my funds wisely.

Where is your company at now?

On the face of it, we couldn’t have launched Bojangle Beads at a less auspicious time, but we have thrived despite – or maybe because of – the recession. There seems to have been a real shift towards homemade-gift-giving and an increased culture of make-do-and-mend.

In 2011, demand for our beads and workshops was so great, we had to move to a larger shop to accommodate both a wider product range and the growing number of people wanting to join our classes.

We have also grown from two to five employees to keep up – and increase the creative input to our workshops.

Our shop on Loughborough’s Church Gate is open six days a week, but being your own boss does give you a certain amount of flexibility. Anyway, the shop is a lovely place to be and I do enjoy being with my colleagues – which is just as well as they include my Mum, Dad and husband!

The shop is busy, and our online store sees a lot of traffic. We have an extensive email database of customers who we keep in regular touch with, sharing updates on promotions, new product lines and upcoming workshops.

We also use social media – Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest – to keep in touch. With careful use, these channels can be an invaluable communication tool – they have a wide reach and, best of all, are free.

Now that we are settled into our shop and business is good, continuing to grow the online side of things is a priority for us.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Acknowledge your limitations and weaknesses – you need to realistically assess what you are good at and what you need support with. The key is to surround yourself with people who have the expertise to do the things you can’t.

If you need funding to get started, apply for grants and charitable business loans. They can make a real difference – particularly in the early days.

There is a lot of work in starting your own business – there’s no such thing as nine-to-five anymore – but being your own boss is fantastic. It’s fun and incredibly liberating!

How would you describe your Loughborough experience?

The School of the Arts has a fantastic reputation. Having grown up in Loughborough, I had always been aware of it and – from a young age – dreamed of studying there.

My degree – Woven Textiles – was so varied and exciting. I loved the opportunities it gave me. We explored so many mediums, we could really make an informed choice about our specialism. The travel and cultural trips on offer were fantastic and are some of my most treasured memories.

My studies have definitely helped me with my business, Bojangle Beads. My work is very creative and I draw on what I learnt every day – trend awareness, design ideas, using colours and textures effectively.

However, it’s the life lessons picked up during my three years as a student that have really helped in managing the business.

My course was self-directed and very hands-on. We spent most of our time in studio, designing and creating. This required a great deal of self-discipline to put the hours in and meet deadlines.

So, when I started the business, it wasn’t really much of a shock to the system. I was used to managing my time and motivating myself.

During my degree, the support from the School was fantastic and, although our work was self-led, we always knew that we only had to ask if we needed any advice or help.

When I set up the business the Enterprise Office was a brilliant resource. Marina Pickles, the Student and Graduate Enterprise Manager, was always on hand with support and answers!

The free workshops she runs are fantastic and offer plenty of useful information. Anyone setting up their own business should go to as many as they can – these sorts of seminars are usually really expensive.

Loughborough is a wonderful university with a diverse student population, studying a huge range of subjects. There is so much to get involved with and the support is fantastic.

What’s more, once a Loughborough University student, always a Loughborough University student. I’m still getting support and guidance six years after graduating!