Former Bishop's Stortford Independent writer Eleanor Kent hopes for room to expand her preloved children's clothing business The Little Attic
The Indie's former business reporter Eleanor Kent has set up a new enterprise of her own.
The Little Attic began as she and husband Lewis, a carpenter, came to terms with their younger daughter's Alice's serious heart condition – and the coronavirus crisis kick-started the project.
Eleanor, who is also a former communications officer for St Clare Hospice at Hastingwood, near Harlow, has come up with a fashion format for kids based on sustainability and social media.
The 34-year-old mother of two said: "Our younger daughter Alice was born in March 2019 with a serious heart defect and, because of her condition, was very slow to gain weight, at one point falling out of the bottom percentile of the growth chart.
"When she was born she was given lots of lovely new clothes, but because she was so tiny she never got the chance to wear any of them as by the time they fitted her it was the wrong season.
"I've always been an eBayer, so instead of leaving them to hang unworn in her wardrobe, I started selling them to help top up my maternity allowance.
"More than just a way to earn some extra pocket money, it helped me to feel that I had some control over something in what became the whirlwind of our family life when, at 10 weeks old, it was confirmed that Alice had a very large hole in her heart that would need to be surgically closed."
Eleanor, who is also mum to three-year-old Edie, said: "Waiting for Alice to have her open heart surgery at the Royal Brompton Hospital was the most stressful time I have ever experienced, but finding a little time each week to sort, list, package and post each item helped bring a bit of order to my often chaotic mind and gave me, for a short time, something to focus on other than the constant merry-go-round of hospital stays, consultant appointments, ecograms, weigh-in clinics, calls to the GP and pharmacy about her medication, visits from the community nurses to sort out her NG [nasogastric] tube."
As she was exclusively breastfeeding Alice, now 18 months, the 20 minutes she spent in the post office queue often felt like the only 20 minutes she had to gather her thoughts, and it became clear her hobby had the potential to become a cottage industry.
"Having started off selling my own girls' bits that they had outgrown, or in Alice's case never worn, I started looking out for other really good quality second-hand clothing from certain high street brands, buying bundles on Facebook marketplace and cherry-picking the best stuff, or picking up things at boot sales or charity shops that looked as-new or gently worn.
"Having successfully recovered from her surgery, and Alice's heart function finally back within the normal range, life had started getting back to some semblance of normality at the start of the year – and then we went into lockdown.
"During the pandemic, I've seen lots of other mums starting their own successful side hustles, particularly with Instagram businesses. I don't knit, sew, bake or do anything crafty, but I've found this hobby that I feel in many ways has helped save my sanity, so I thought I had nothing to lose by giving it a go myself."
For now, Eleanor's business is based on Instagram, where she can showcase her stock of adorable, affordable preloved children's clothing for under-fives from high street brands like Zara and Next.
If her customer base continues to grow, she would like to develop her own website and is considering a pop-up shop or stalls at events like school fetes in the future.
"I've wondered if there might be interest in a preloved children's clothing boutique, especially with the growing trend for sustainable and slow fashion," said Eleanor.
"Oxfam recently put out some really eye-opening statistics on the amount of clothing that goes to landfill during its #secondhandseptember campaign."
The charity estimates that every week, 13 million items of clothing end up in UK landfill – and over the course of a year that weighs the same as the Empire State Building in New York.
To find out more about Eleanor's business, see @thelittleatticpreloved on Instagram.