‘Go­ing into busi­ness with my mum wasn’t plain sail­ing’

The Sunday Telegraph - Stella - - NEWS - By So­phie Lavabre-Bar­row

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

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