For Francesca Aiken, creativity has always been an essential part of her day to day life. She enjoys anything from sewing and dressmaking to knitting and crochet. She had, however, never felt confident enough to make clothes. This all changed with the birth of her first child.
After Scarlett was born, the first time mum found herself increasingly conscious of the divide between the clothes and toys of young boys and girls.
She explained: ‘Why do boys get Space, Dinosaurs, Aeroplanes and Bugs?! All the fun things, all those great starting points for enjoying Science and History. Why for girls do we fill every birthday and Christmas with pink, princesses and smug unicorns? Ultimately I didn’t want Scarlett to think being passive and looking good was important.’
Francesca quickly began addressing the issue by making her own baby clothes. These included ‘dinosaur skirts, space bunting for her room, patchwork quilts covered in woodland animals rather than fluffy kittens and vacant princesses.’ This consequently led to the idea behind Sewing Circus, making comfortable unisex play-wear, and specialising in clothes for girls in themes and prints that the high street only sells to boys. However, the road to self-employment was not an easy one.
She had worked in Museums for almost 10 years and was responsible for curating the exhibition on Liverpool’s Chinese community in the Global City Gallery – part of the new Museum of Liverpool. Only 2 weeks after the museum opened in 2011, Francesca was made redundant.
‘Despite a steady stream of applications and interviews I eventually ended up on JSA. For the first time in my life I had no direction.’
The Liverpool woman used her redundancy money to fund her passion for sewing. She bought a new sewing machine and various materials to experiment with, along with instructional books. Her intention was to make gifts for her friends and family, not feeling she had the confidence to take it any further.
The mother of 2 told us: ‘By January 2013 I was starting to feel like I’d lost control of my future – my career had totally disappeared and I wanted to move forward my way, my ideas, my work. I worried about how Gareth and my girls would come to view me – I felt like a shell of my former self. ‘
That was when Francesca decided it was time to progress with her idea and beliefs, so joined Liverpool based social enterprise The Women’s Organisation’s Accelerating Women’s Enterprise programme which is part funded by European Regional Development Fund.
‘I knew what I wanted Sewing Circus to be about, what I wanted to make – the look and feel, but for the business side I was clueless. Bookkeeping, pricing, tax, marketing – where to start? The Women’s Organisation changed all of this and gave me the confidence to take my ideas forward.’
She continued: ‘The Women’s Organisation has been integral to the building of Sewing Circus as a viable business. Two years ago I had no direction, just an idea and this insurmountable feeling that I would never be able to start my own business. With the Women’s Organisation there was no waiting around, it was clear attainable steps towards building my plan, and making Sewing Circus a reality.’
A few months on, Francesca is now working to a waiting list and is receiving interest from as far as Australia. Furthermore, she has achieved all of this whilst juggling her business with her family.
‘I am Mum to two girls – Scarlett 5, and Evie 6 months. It is HARD. I work all the time and have very little “me” time – but I love it! I cut fabric during naps, sew only in the evening when I know I won’t be interrupted and I’ve found breast feeding my youngest has been fantastic. It has allowed me a lot more freedom and time to grow my business.’
‘My oldest Scarlett is really supportive… I regularly tell her to go and see what is hanging up in the lounge and hear her scream “THANK YOU!” at the new skirt or dress I’ve made her. I love telling her – look what you can make if you put your mind to it.’
With the success of her business, the mother of two is now enjoying the financial stability and is keen to continue expanding her business.
‘I love my business. Sewing Circus is something I am incredibly proud of and has given me back my place in the world.’
Due to the amount of requests Sewing Circus has had, it is now providing adults clothing and is offering to work with community groups, museums and campaign groups that share her passion for giving all children the same opportunities and choices.
You can also follow the wider campaign here: www.mysewingcircus.blogspot.co.uk
By Beckie Kinsella