Cruelty-free bath product start-up Gaea opened their first shop in Caerphilly town centre at the end of February, with the support of a £10,000 micro loan from the Development Bank of Wales.
Owner Bridget Lewis used the money to rent her shop space and to purchase materials to make her range of bath and beauty products as well as providing working capital for her first few months as a new business.
When the United Kingdom went in to lockdown in March this year, Bridget’s shop had been open for just three weeks. When she closed her doors that week, she did not know what to expect over the next few months.
Nearly three months later, she has launched an online shop delivering Gaea’s products across the UK to meet demand, which has grown over the UK’s lockdown.
“I really thought 2020 was going to be my year, and it has been, just not as I expected,” explained Bridget. “I used my own money and a micro loan from the Development Bank to cover start-up costs, including purchasing items I need to make our signature Gaea products. I’m glad I had that backing, especially as so much changed for us as a business and the whole retail landscape in a very short time.”
The move from physical store to online retailer happened after she was overwhelmed by support from customers.
“When we opened at the end of February we had great local support... But by early March it was clear that the disease we’d heard about as a distant problem in January was spreading at an alarming rate.”
Bridget began plans for selling-off remaining stock by offering local delivery via her Facebook and Instagram pages. Fully expecting that would be it for a while.
“As all of our products are handmade, using only natural ingredients and fragrances, the smell can fade after a year if they’re not used. I was unsure of how long we would be closed and I didn’t want to waste stock I had worked hard to create. I offered to deliver locally. I thought a few of our existing customers may get in touch, but I was floored by the amount of messages I received. It was clear there was plenty of demand and I was helping to bring a bit of happiness and normality to people’s lives.”
The Development Bank micro loan was arranged for her by investment executive Donna Strohmeyer with ongoing support from portfolio executive Kelly Jones.
Donna said: “Bridget has been amazing. Faced with an incredibly difficult and unexpected turn of events at a critical time for her new business she has used her natural entrepreneurial skills to not just keep going but to thrive. Her first thoughts were about how she could help her customers and everything has expanded from there. We’re here as an organisation to support the ambitions of people like Bridget to start, grow and diversify their business. That continues through the Covid 19 pandemic.
“Bridget has some great ideas for the growth of Gaea,” added Kelly. “I’m really looking forward to working with her over the coming months and years as she grow her business. At the Development Bank we offer on-going and personal portfolio support to all our customers. We like to invest in our customer long term, to help them achieve their ambitions. At the moment adaptability is really important. It allows companies to survive and even grow during the pandemic. We’re here to work with our customers to help them through the impact of lockdown and beyond.”
Bridget, whose business runs on a zero waste principle, believes that demand for her products has been partly driven by a need to remain connected to loved ones outside of your own household and to take valuable time for self-care.
On top of this, Bridget has also been making local free deliveries to frontline NHS workers at the University Hospital of Wales, Royal Gwent and Velindre Hospital. Inspired by some of her customers, she has also been sending free care hampers for careworkers and residents at a number of south Wales care homes.
Shoppers can buy and browse Gaea’s full range online at: www.shopgaea.com