As a National Childbirth Trust trained Breastfeeding Peer Supporter, Lisa Lessware volunteered at her local Sure Start Centre for three years, counselling new mothers on breastfeeding issues...
She would often see women embarrassed about feeding in public, wearing intricate breastfeeding clothes that restricted the feeding access for the baby. Eventually Lisa started making breastfeeding undershirts for friends and over the last few years, alongside her good friend and now business partner, Philippa Doyle. They have developed a unique design and thriving business - Bshirt.
As a part of its development Lisa and Philippa were connected with an UnLtd volunteer advisor and mentor, David Green, at the end of 2017. David is a retired business owner with 30 years’ experience running SMEs in the fast-moving Consumer Goods sector, particularly in the textiles and clothing industry.
Now over a year in, they are all still meeting regularly. With the support of a dedicated mentor and the hard graft of both Lisa and Philippa, Bshirt is expanding into the U.S. online marketplace, an exciting phase as the venture grows from their hub in beautiful Devon.
We spoke to Lisa and David about the relationship, and the incredible difference that mentorship made to their work.
David: “Now I am retired, I have the luxury of time and the desire to be useful, I was restless! When it comes to fashion manufacturing, there’s not much I haven’t faced during my career. So when I was introduced to Lisa and Phillippa, I got a good vibe from two intelligent women who I felt had done brilliantly to get the business to where it was, but who I felt could now benefit from my specific industry experience to take the business forward.”
Lisa: “We needed some insight into the fashion and manufacturing industry as this was completely new to us and we hadn't a clue. Our expert knowledge around breastfeeding and clothes that support the mother and baby was spot on! We needed help understanding processes, terminology, how to build relationships with factories - basically everything we didn't know. That first meeting with David literally saved our business from going under – he noticed straight away that we weren’t going to make any profit in the first year of trading! He advised on where to make the right cuts, and therein, so much value was added from the get-go.”
What goals did you set at the beginning?
Lisa: “During the first year of trading, we were unusually cash rich and stock poor. Our main goal was to improve our manufacturing processes with the right factory to keep up with the demand for the garments. David advised us to renegotiate price and terms with our existing overseas factory and if possible, to source a second overseas factory to work with. We ironed out those kinks quickly and are now starting discussions with the second factory to further improve business relations and productivity”.
David: “Once we had identified two major issues – profit and cash flow and manufacturing processes – Lisa and Philippa astounded me with their resilience and bravery. Making such major changes to a business so quickly takes guts, and they did it, with such positive results! I was so happy I could help, a totally rewarding experience and continues to be.”