Flexible working is normally conceived as working part time, compressed hours or starting earlier/finishing later. But what if your work was so flexible that it meant you could move to the other side of the world with virtually no impact? Lysette Parbhu has done just that.
Flexible working is normally conceived as working part time, compressed hours or starting earlier/finishing later. But what if your work was so flexible that it meant you could move to the other side of the world with virtually no impact?
That is what Lysette Parbhu has done. She set up her ethical children’s clothes company, Babies in Sheep’s Clothing
, and has just moved to South Africa for her husband’s business and is still able to work more or less as normal around her two children.
Her husband is a partner in a law firm and the family will be based in South Africa for three years. Lysette says that as most of the business is online, with a retail and distribution point in East Sussex which she is in constant contact with via email and phone, things have been running smoothly. She plans to visit the UK several times a year for trade shows which is where she has her main face to face contact with clients. She also plans more international travel in general as the business expands, including a show in New York and a deal with Mothercare in Belarus.
“It’s like a virtual business,” she says. “It works well with phone and email plus the website. Retail orders come in via the web and wholesale orders by phone or email. All the back-up systems are set up electronically. It is totally possible to do it from here as long as you have a laptop.”
Lysette set up the business 18 months ago when her first son Jacob was a year and a half years old and her second son Sam was just four months old. She had worked for an insurance brokers in the City before having children, beginning as an assistant for the CEO and then moving on to PR.
Both her sons were born prematurely. Jacob was born at just 32 weeks after she developed severe pre-eclampsia. He weighed just over 1.4 kilos and she couldn’t see him for 36 hours after he was born because her blood pressure had rocketed.
Lysette was admitted to hospital two weeks before he was born because her blood pressure had suddenly started rising. She was allowed to stay in the hospital for just a week after he was born and after that spent from 7am to 10pm visiting the hospital in order to care for him. This included expressing milk for the two night feeds when she was at home.
Jacob spent three weeks in the special care unit and Lysette says it was a worrying and stressful time. “The support available from the hospital was great,” she says, “but the stress was enormous. I was shattered and just getting through the days.”
Her husband could only take one week’s paternity leave. Sam was born at 34 weeks through an elective Caesarean – a preventive measure taken in case Lysette developed severe pre-eclampsia again – so she was well prepared.
She says she is deeply grateful to the hospital staff who helped out and to the premature baby charity BLISS
, which provides advice, support and facilities for parents of premature babies, including providing for parents to spend the night before their child comes home from hospital with them and for essential first aid training. So much so that she is donating £1 of every order for her ugg-style booties, boots and slippers to the charity.
The idea for Lysette’s business came to her just after Jacob was born. His feet were very tiny and he couldn’t keep most booties on. Her mother-in-law sent him some New Zealand lambskin booties which were perfect. “They were so soft, ethically produced and natural,” says Lysette. “Everyone around me was starting to think more about the kinds of food we fed our children, about giving them non-processed, organic food, and clothes seemed a natural extension of that.”
The booties were not available in the UK, but Lysette spotted a gap in the market for them and started devising plans for her business.
Apart from her distribution depot which is run by family members, Lysette does most of the work, although she subcontracts her IT work and employs people who know about the goods to help represent the company at trade shows.
“It’s been a big learning curve,” she says, citing things like building the website as things she would not normally have been au fait with. “You have to be on top of everything from budgeting to business plans. You build a lot of skills,” she says. However, she says she wouldn’t go back now to being an employee.
She loves the freedom to be able to work around the children. She says she worked long hours at her City job and probably does the same hours for her own company, but differently distributed. Jacob goes to pre-school and has adapted well to South Africa. She has a live-in au pair who looks after Sam in the mornings and for part of the afternoon. She has time with the boys in the afternoon and puts them to bed before going back to work from 7-10pm. Weekends are strictly reserved for the family.
She says her future plans include international expansion. She already has a contract with Mothercare in Belarus through a contact. Belarus stipulates that children up to one year old should wear only naturally produced materials. “They have a lot of cotton clothes, but the winters in Belarus are very harsh so our products are perfect.”
Lysette also has plans to attend a New York childrenswear show in October and works with another brand called Weebits which markets hand-made merino wool baby clothes. She hopes to bring more of their products to the UK in the next 18 months. In February she is launching a knitted singlet dress and some lambskin bootie-like ballet slippers for babies. “We are hoping to go global,” she says. Operating a UK business from South Africa certainly seems a good preparation.