Fleur Netley, founder of sustainable events and design business Thstle, talks to Wandsworth Enterprise hub about setting up a business during the pandemic, the benefits of The Prince’s Trust and the need for sustainability in the events industry.
How would you describe your business in one sentence?
Beautifully sustainable event curation, design and consultancy.
When did you launch and who is behind it?
Just me – for now at least! After being made redundant from my job in wellness events when Covid started, and seeing how the industry was still so uncertain a year on, we launched earlier this year.
When did your ‘lightbulb moment happen’?
Initially, post-redundancy I tried setting up a company that created handmade, one-off sustainable items, anything from baby accessories to decorative interiors; but once I started the Prince’s Trust scheme, my mentor was honest in just how hard it is to have a thriving business that focuses on products, so we went back to my events experience to be able to offer services too – that’s when it all really clicked and formed organically into what it is today.
What did you do prior to starting your business?
I spent five years studying Interior Architecture, but once graduated realised it wasn’t the life for me. Since then, I have worked in fashion merchandising and then moved into wellness events at a wonderful wellbeing venue in west London.
What type of support have you received since starting your business?
I have been on the Prince’s Trust mentoring scheme which has been invaluable. Other than that friends and family have been my biggest advocates!
Why should more businesses consider sustainability and what some of the first steps they can take?
If you can’t hear the noise that is being made worldwide on sustainability right now, or if you don’t want to listen, then you have to ask yourself why this is. We each have a responsibility to do ‘our bit’, and that is just the bare minimum. The events industry is responsible for a scary amount of waste and CO2 production annually in the UK, with many elements being seen as disposable and single use. We want to change the conversation around this, and remove the association that people have with upcycling and repurposing, seeing it as ‘dirty’ or ‘lazy’; when it is such an achievable approach to starting to make change for the better.
What would you say were three of the most challenging aspects of setting up the business?
Depending on the nature of your business, whether you provide a service, or product, or both, funding can be a huge barrier. A small personal investment will only ever take you so far, and that may not be re-cooped for some time. Funding is out there, but you have to be persistent and committed to the bigger picture, and decide if the sacrifice is worthwhile, and if you really want this.
Starting as a one-man-band can be tough. If you’ve come from a role that involves teamwork, collaboration and delegation, it can be overwhelming to then take every role on yourself. Unless you have a business partner, or are able to hire a team from the off, be very prepared to become a social media manager, marketing manager, managing director, head of PR and so much more!
Self-criticism can be hard to avoid; and whilst this is a journey and you are constantly learning, it can be all too easy to doubt the skills and uniqueness that makes your business special. But keep the faith – it can sometimes take just one lovely comment to see you through!
What happened to your business during lockdown?
We launched! Some people said we were crazy to focus on events at this time, but equally it seemed like the perfect opportunity, as when they were back, they would be back with a bang!
What business lessons have you learned from Covid?
You absolutely have to have a long-term plan as well as short-term. Covid has taught us all that we never know what may happen tomorrow, next month, or next year, and events especially have had a pretty bleak time during the pandemic, but in having a sustainable business plan, this should set you up well for unforeseen circumstances.
What type of support (if any) have you received from the council in relation to your business?
We receive emails highlighting free online courses, talks and support, some with large corporations and individuals with decades of experience which has been great. Something that would have been amazing would have been to have offered small business and start ups physical space in vacant retail spaces to help with visibility – and also to offer a little more freedom to those that are working from the kitchen table!
If you had the opportunity to do it all again, what would you do differently?
I really don’t think anything – I am so grateful for lessons that have been learnt this whole time, but if I had to say one thing, then it would be to outreach far more and not have so much fear of rejection!
What three tips would you offer to aspiring entrepreneurs?
- Go at your own pace
- Don’t compare your progress to that of businesses on social media – it’ll only make you feel lousy
- Don’t be afraid of change. The initial vision you had for your business may evolve and emerge into something slightly or totally different, but this is likely as a result of market research, competitor’s offerings or simply from growth; don’t be too set on what it is you want to say.
Finish this sentence. I like being based in Wandsworth because…
Of the abundance of green spaces, proximity to the river for a moment to pause, the never-ending choice of small business across our high streets, and for the sense of community you feel, even when life is not quite normal.
How can people find you?
Thstle on Instagram at: @thstleevents
Or say hello to me personally on Insta! On: @fleurnetley
Our website https://thstle.co.uk/ is currently undergoing maintenance for a new launch, so keep your eyes peeled!