‘Going into business with my mum wasn’t plain sailing’
My careers advisor at school once told me off for saying I didn’t want to go to university – I wanted to work with my mum instead. But I always knew we’d make a great team. My parents divorced when I was nine and I see my dad a lot, but Mum and I have always been as thick as thieves. My birthday is the day after hers – I am 25 and Mum is 48 – and we always celebrate together with a cake at midnight.
I did end up going to university, but before I went I did some work for Mum’s interior design business, so
I had worked for her. But when we set up our brand Kinn three years ago, selling organic aromatherapy-based home-cleaning and body-care products, both of us were the boss. And it definitely took a while to navigate our new relationship.
Mum needed convincing that, then aged 22, I should leave university to start a business with her. But I’d spotted a gap in the market: while people are careful about what they eat, many still buy cleaning products that aren’t environmentally friendly. I put together a business plan for a range of eco-friendly organic cleaning and beauty products that don’t cost a fortune.
That was the turning point. She could see I was serious and agreed to go into business with me. I left university and we used the business plan to raise money from an investor. We found British manufacturers and packaging companies with an ethos in line with ours, and launched in June last year.
It wasn’t all plain sailing and we had a few arguments at the start. I remember one about bottles: Mum was hell-bent on a particular shape and I got fed up searching for it. I told her I’d looked everywhere and she said, ‘It doesn’t sound like you have.’ Infuriating! But a couple of days later, I found the shape she was after. She was right! I sometimes felt I had to prove myself and, at first, when Mum asked me about work I’d feel she was checking up on me and react like a stroppy teenager.
Another time, when we were sending documents to an investor, I suggested doing one thing differently and she reminded me of all the years of experience she had – speaking to me very much like my mum. I reacted badly and left the office. Eventually I explained how I’d felt and Mum said she didn’t realise she was coming across that way. After that, I stopped storming off and she spoke to me differently. Now she’s always saying how proud she is watching me evolve into a businesswoman.
Mum and I say we don’t look anything alike – but we are often mistaken for sisters. Some people, when they hear that we are mother and daughter, speak to her, assuming she’s the boss. We got around that by splitting up our day-to-day roles to play to our strengths, which also means people deal with us individually. Mum focuses more on finance; I do the social and PR side. Most people are pleasantly surprised and react very positively.
We haven’t had a holiday together since launching Kinn; if one of us is away the other keeps things going. But when you have your own business there is no such thing as a real holiday. We’ve realised that it’s important to keep our work and family life separate, so we try to stick to talking about Kinn during working hours, which is easier said than done. Still, far from damaging our relationship, working together has made it better.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen social media updates from friends at uni and found myself wondering why I left. But when Waitrose recently contacted us about stocking our products I realised all the hard work has been worthwhile.
I don’t know any other mother and daughter business partners so I know we are unusual. And a lot of my friends say it would drive them insane to go into business with their mums. I think Mum and I are very lucky.
‘At first, when Mum asked me about work I’d feel she was checking up on me’ Left Marie Lavabre (left) and Sophie Lavabre-Barrow