LUCY WILLOUGHBY – DOING GOOD THINGS
Lucy Willoughby is an amazing human. You know those people that the moment you meet them, you just know they are good down to their bones? She’s one of them. This initial gut-instinct of mine was more than backed up when I recently sat down to talk with Lucy about recently setting up children’s gift company Good Things, winning the 2019 Fast Track 2 Growth (FT2G) Pitch Event and what her plans for this start-up business look like. She is friendly, warm, selfless, envisioned and morally sturdy and all by the age of just thirty-one. Like I said, an amazing human.
Lucy was born and brought up near South Brent in a beautiful rural village. Always interested in equality, fairness, travel and other cultures, she studied English and French at University, spent a year in Switzerland as part of her studies and then moved to Germany after graduating where she had accepted an internship at an online dating company, working in their marketing team.
She returned to the UK where she started her career in the charity sector, working for Oxfam and then Family Links, a charity who work with children, parents and teachers around the issue of emotional wellbeing. She enjoyed her role and ended up staying there for almost five years before reaching the point where she felt that she wanted to start something of her own. She was of the opinion that this was probably the time to do it – when she was young, free and single.
ON A MISSION
So, she set off on a mission to learn and gain as much experience as possible within relevant areas. In 2017, she started with a month in Costa Rica performing research and gathering data on Sea Turtles. Based on a beach called Ostional, her job was to monitor, track and gather data on as many turtles as possible. In particular, they had hoped for an ‘arribada’ (Spanish for ‘arrival’) where hundreds of thousands of Olive Ridley turtles come to shore to lay and nest their eggs. Within a couple of weeks of being there, they had an arribada and the team feverishly went about observing, measuring and gathering data on the phenomenon.
Lucy had always been aware of plastic pollution but this trip hugely increased her awareness of the issue. Every morning, the beach that they were based on would be freshly covered in plastic waste, having been cleared away completely the night before. And it wasn’t the industrial or corporate waste that you might imagine it to be, but mostly household items. This made Lucy think deeply about the impact of her personal choices upon the planet – a very sobering and thought-provoking experience.
After leaving Costa Rica, she spent several months in early 2018 in Tanzania where she led a team in a rural area, delivering a programme of business education to around seventy villagers. Focused on entrepreneurship and business support, Lucy and her team helped the villagers to think about businesses that they could set up, then trained them on managing cash flow, business planning and carrying out market research to gauge viability of their ideas. The villagers then pitched their business ideas and some received funding as a result.
This really interested Lucy as it showed her the ability to help shift the whole economy of a location. The money that these small businesses started to generate enabled the families connected to these businesses to send their children to school and get healthcare when needed. Money has a huge capacity for evil in the wrong hands but a huge potential for good in the right ones. By putting power in the hands of the villagers, their quality of life improved significantly.
MEANINGFUL SOCIAL IMPACT
Whilst in Tanzania Lucy came across several craft businesses. She was impressed with the quality of their handiwork and felt that lots of them could easily sell well in the UK as they were lovely products with a great story. Lucy explained,
“This made me sit up and realise that I could look at sourcing these types of products and bring them under one roof in the UK to sell. This would, in turn, support international micro-economies whilst also starting my own business. Essentially, this is where Good Things was born!”
“I also had a lot of friends who were having kids at the time and when I went on the hunt to buy presents for some of them, I was met with a sea of blue and pink plastic toys and gifts. I couldn’t believe it. There had to be a better option! Both in terms of creativity and ethics, this surely couldn’t be the best that there was out there?”
Evidently the seeds of a good idea had been planted and what better to grow those seeds than some water! Lucy moved to Nepal for six months to work within water infrastructure teams after the devastating earthquakes there before returning to the UK at the end of 2018 and really starting to think in earnest about what her next steps would be towards setting up her own business.
Through her experiences over the previous few years, she knew that she didn’t simply want to set up a profit making business but wanted to make a meaningful social impact too. So, backed up with some market research and some investigation of her own, the idea for Good Things seemed to develop organically. She had established some powerful fundamental facts, namely that: people care about what they give to their children; people care about reducing plastic; 90% of children’s toys are plastic; most of those are made from hard-to-recycle plastics and consumers wanted more ethically and sustainably sourced products.
PITCHING AN IDEA
It was around this time that Lucy became aware of FT2G, an annual business festival which offers free advice, networking opportunities and expert workshops. Lucy attended the 2019 festival in April and, so embryonic were her business plans, that the business name on her name badge was ‘TBC’ as she didn’t have one yet! Things were still very much at the conceptual stage and Lucy lapped up every last bit of advice and inspiration to try and continue developing her concept.
Further to the business festival, FT2G offer twenty places on their business support programme culminating in a Pitch Session each year, where people pitch their business ideas for a potential grand prize of £10,000 worth of business support ranging from marketing, sales, accountancy, legal services and financial advice. Lucy explained,
“On June 13th at Buckfast Abbey I had four minutes to pitch this brand new business idea, talk about my growth plans and what I needed to accomplish those plans. I hadn’t realised but I was the only start-up within the group of companies pitching. I was totally pre-sales, didn’t have a website and had no stock to sell. I was literally pitching an idea.”
“Preparing for the pitch helped me to refine my messaging and offering. The pitch seemed to go well and I was totally gobsmacked to find out at the end that I had won the whole thing and secured that £10,000 of business support. This enabled me to get support during the launch of Good Things and I will continue to receive this support during my first year in business. Having that support has been invaluable as it is overwhelming how much you have to think about and do when you first start a business.”
ALL GOOD THINGS
So, on July 15th, Good Things officially launched, opening their online shop, fully stocked and ready to go. Since then, Lucy has been trying to drive sales and build brand awareness as well as educating the market on the mission behind Good Things.
“I’ve started with kids products ranging from magnetic wooden robots, plastic bottles made into submarines and fair trade fabric cooking sets. But I believe that there is scope to expand the range eventually and also expand our geographical coverage. One day I’d love to be selling ethically and sustainably sourced products for adults including household items and also selling a range of children’s clothing. I’m currently working with particular suppliers but would love to work directly with manufacturers around the world to support projects and commission certain items. From day one, 20% of my profits will go to charity and I’m aiming to support three charities per year who are aligned with the Good Things mission.”
“I use fair trade suppliers who are rigorous in terms of what materials they use and the conditions they provide for their workers. Hand-made items are almost always better for the environment but, as a result, are usually more expensive to make. There is always a cost somewhere in the production chain, whether that is a cost to the environment or a cost to the people who make the products. I’d prefer to spend a little more on the product but know that the environment hasn’t had to count a cost in the process of that item being made.”
So, what makes someone like Lucy tick then? She told me that she is a ‘nature nerd’ and loves being out in nature as often as possible. Whether rowing on the River Dart, exploring some woodland or sitting in a field, there is something within Lucy that feels at home when in nature. She is also a big fan of live music and cites Björk as a particular favourite. In terms of her ethos, she had an alternative upbringing and has always been vegetarian (you know, before it was cool!). She was raised to consider environmental issues and humanity’s impact on their surroundings.
Now looking forward to a hopefully bright and exciting future, Lucy brought our conversation to a close, stating,
“It’s also a dream of mine to offer work experience opportunities to younger people. This has been a key part of my journey and most young people have a strong vision but need experience to explore/practice what they are passionate about. One day, I’d love to offer the opportunity to a handful of young people to gain this type of ethos-driven experience.”
All power to you Lucy. May your future hold many, many good things.
p.s apologies for the terrible dad joke.
Find out more about Good Things and browse their range online at https://www.goodthingsgifts.co.uk
All content by Joff Alexander-Frye
Additional photos supplied by Good Things