These three Lisburn mummies have made the most of lockdown with creative new businesses working from home

The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown restrictions proved to be very challenging for many local businesses.

Friday, 21st May 2021, 11:07 am
Enjoy a teepee party with Little Dreams NI
Enjoy a teepee party with Little Dreams NI

However, the last year has also seen the rise of new businesses, and particularly ‘mumpreneurs’, mums who have started their own business from home.

‘Mummy and Me’, which holds markets across the country, also provides a platform which aims to boost local small business, many of which are born out of maternity leave or the desire to stay home with small children whilst also having a creative outlet.

Established by friends Catherine and Laura, Mummy and Me has proven to be a great success and three local businesses - Harlo Designs, Little Dreams NI, and Ditsy Little - have been taking advantage of the opportunities on offer.

Laura Johnston from Little Dreams NI

“Both myself and Laura were stay at home mums who were craving community outside of our own circle, and so we paired this with a passion for small business,” explained Catherine. “We started with a one off family friendly market event which had 21 small businesses showcasing their products, a free coffee and cake corner to encourage our shoppers to stay and relax a while and a play area for little ones too.

“We knew there and then that we had found a niche and that people were craving community as much as we were.

“Since then we have held various market events, including one in Lisburn’s Market Square and have gone bigger with each event; providing more opportunities for small businesses to showcase what they offer as well as even more fun for kids.

“Our goal with each event is to be as family friendly as possible, making our market accessible for small businesses and providing much needed networking and brand awareness throughout and ensuring that we have lots of happy customers and stallholders.

Little Dreams NI

“When the pandemic hit we changed everything up and had a market event online, this was a roaring success - reaching over £13000 sales for our participating brands. Our most recent platform is called the Collective.

“This is an online market place for small businesses, we have removed the competition factor with only one business per category and also don’t charge any commission, making sure we are giving the business as much success as possible. During their time on the Collective each business also gains publicity across our socials as well as a networking and business courses element as well.

“We have three wonderful businesses from Lisburn area. Ditsy Little is run by a local mum who creates teething jewellery and teethers for little ones and has lately expanded business to supply various baby items including dummies, stacking cups and bibs.

“We have seen Zoe go from strength to strength in business and know that her story will inspire readers.

Linzi Morton from Harlo Designs

“Harlo Designs is a hand sewn ladies accessories business, born out of lockdown. This was our most successful business on the Collective over the past three months and we have seen Linzi expand her product offering as well. Again, a fantastic story of juggling motherhood and business, in a pandemic none the less.

“Finally, Little Dreams NI is a brand new business to the Collective. We love how this brand has created gorgeous party and event packs, making the most of nights in as a family. We are really excited about this brand and once again, believe it will inspire readers.”

Laura Johnston from Little Dreams NI explained: “I sell teepee sets that people buy and keep, so that they can make memories again and again.

“I supply everything they need to have a teepee sleepover with lots of different themes available. And most recently a teepee picnic set.

One of the srunchies from Harlo Designs

“I also sell treat boxes, my most popular is a weekend treat box which has s’mores, movie night goodies and hot chocolate, it is all about making special memories with friends or families. I have recently launched little picnic baskets. There are lots of options to choose between.

“I have a beauty business and with lockdown I had to close and while playing with our daughters and setting up teepees and making movie boxes for them to have special treats over the weekends, I thought it would be lovely now I had time to source an affordable set for people to buy or make treat boxes. I always love being creative so to have the time to spend doing it, with Abbie and Jodie was amazing! That’s how “Little Dreams” was born. It was inspired by our beautiful girls.

“Lockdown gave me the chance to spend time on making this new venture and it has resulted in me having more time at home with my family and reducing my beauty hours.

“Little Dreams is very much a business that my daughters love to be involved in, we enjoy making things, or the girls and I will think of ideas together, after all they know my target audience best. I am able to fit it around the family.

“I had seen Mummy and Me Market and loved all the amazing businesses that have been in it, so many amazing local businesses that I have shopped from and thought what a wonderful thing to be involved with. I was delighted I am going to be in it.

“I was very lucky to supply the Fitzwilliam Hotel with teepees for their family rooms as a new option they are offering, which was amazing. I have also been in talks with family accommodation that would be interested in having my treat boxes as an add-on option for their customers stay. I have recently invested in a Cricut machine to be able to offer personalised items, which is very exciting.

Just some of the products created by Harlo Designs

“I have loved every minute of this business and hearing and seeing photos of how happy and excited the families and kids have been when getting a teepee or a treat box is the most wonderful feeling.”

Linzi Morton, who lives in Hillsborough, is mostly known for her handmade pure silk face coverings, scrunchies and pillowcases, which are all made to order, but she also recently started to stock jewellery and silk hair accessories through Instagram @harlodesignsni and on the Mummy & Me Market.

“My background is in textile and fashion design and I have always wanted to have my own business,” explained Linzi. “I was made redundant at 37 weeks pregnant and when I was ready to start back to work again, the pandemic had hit so it gave me the encouragement I needed to make a go of self employment as it was now or never.

“Having struggled with getting used to wearing masks and finding them uncomfortable, I wanted to design my own which were comfortable, let skin breathe and look nice. Silk is the perfect fabric for keeping skin and hair healthy so I started sampling and Harlo was ‘born’ in September.”

Juggling family life and the new business isn’t always easy for Linzi but it has proven to be very satisfying, especially during the lockdown. “Life is busy,” Linzi continued. “But I feel really fortunate to be working for myself and still being so hands on with my boys. They get looked after by their grandparents two days a week so I plan my workload around those days and when they’re in bed.”

When she started her business, a recommendation led Linzi to Mummy & Me and she has thoroughly enjoyed being part of the collective. “I applied after seeing the ad on Instagram and I feel really fortunate to be part of it, especially because I don’t have a website yet. It’s been brilliant for sales and networking and I’ve loved getting to know other small business owners from Northern Ireland.”

Zoe Cunningham, who owns Disty Little and lives near Moira with her husband George and two children James (6) and Elsie (4), creates gorgeous teething necklaces that are both stylish for mum and soothing for baby. She has also expanded to include new products such as silicone and beech wood ring teethers and other essentials such as dummies, toys and weaning items.

“I began Ditsy Little when I was on my second maternity leave four years ago and my daughter Elsie was teething,” Zoe explained. “I found that I never wore jewellery as she would always try to eat it or pull on it. I had heard of a teething necklace and thought I would have a go at making one for myself. It was a huge hit with Elsie so I bought enough supplies to make ten more necklaces and things just spiralled from there. I set up Instagram and Facebook accounts, designed myself a logo and off I went!”

When the business first started, Zoe was working in corporate PR but as Ditsy Little grew, she decided it was time to give it her full focus. “As things have progressed with Ditsy Little, I took a major leap of faith about 18 months ago and decided to leave my 16 year career in corporate PR and communications behind to build my business at home and spend more time with my children,” Zoe continued.

“I am the one woman designer, maker, packer, poster, marketer and everything else here at Ditsy Little and I juggle managing my growing business with school runs, homework, building lego, making snacks and everything else that being a mum boss entails!

“ It’s all about the juggle over here, it’s not conventional, it’s ever-changing and it involves a lot of late nights, early starts packing up orders before the kids wake up and feeling like I never get to the end of my to do list - but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

During lockdown Zoe found that, despite the challenges it posed, her business continued to flourish. “Lockdown has definitely been a challenge, especially with homeschooling thrown into the mix and routine going out the window. However, like many others I’ve spoken to, I think it has given small creative businesses like mine the opportunity to flourish as people shopped from their sofas and made conscious decisions to shop locally.

“As the nation proudly displayed rainbows in their windows as a symbol of positivity and togetherness I created a ‘Hope’ collection of rainbow coloured teething necklaces and teethers as a gift for new mums bringing their little ones into the world during lockdown.

“For every ‘Hope’ item sold I made a donation to local perinatal mental health charity We Are Pangs (now named The Parent Rooms) as my small way of supporting new parents during such a challenging and uncertain time.

“These proved to be hugely popular and it was both heartwarming and humbling to hand-write all the little notes to go with them as friends wished their loved ones well and welcomed new additions from afar.”

Whilst running a business and looking after a family certainly has its challenges, Zoe would encourage any mums out there with a business idea to give it a shot. “I’m really happy with how things have progressed so far for Ditsy Little and can’t believe how far it has come from those first ten necklaces I made sitting at my kitchen table,” she said. “In the future I would love to collaborate more with other small businesses and perhaps expand my product range to other mum and baby items.

“My parting words would be to people like me - if you have a tiny seed of an idea, a little what if, a creative flicker that just won’t go out - you really should explore it, do some research, put some ideas on paper. Start small, give it a go...what’s the worst that could happen?”

Find out more about the Mummy & Me Market Collective online at www.mummyandmemarket.co.uk.

Zoe Cunningham from Ditsy Little
Ditsy Little's popular 'Fable' teething ring
Teething necklaces from Ditsy Little