How to run a business in lockdown: Ciorstaidh and Ruth, SÒLAS Sleepwear

Ciorstaidh of SÒLAS Sleepwear cutting fabric to make scrubs for the NHS

How to run a business in lockdown is our series about how small business owners are leading their companies through the coronavirus crisis. To share your story, message us: hello@tide.coFacebook or Twitter.

At Tide, 125 of our members are fashion designers, 325 members make or sell textiles, clothes and footwear, and more than 800 who run ‘artistic creation’ enterprises. During the coronavirus confinement, many of these members have had to change how they work.

Ruth Mitchell (left) and Ciorstaidh Monk of SÒLAS Sleepwear
Ruth Mitchell (left) and Ciorstaidh Monk,
Founders of SÒLAS Sleepwear

Tide members Ruth Mitchell and Ciorstaidh Monk are fashion designers, the founders of SÒLAS Sleepwear. Back in November 2019, the duo from the Outer Hebrides introduced us to their luxury sleepwear company based in Glasgow. (Read the post: Meet the founders of SÒLAS Sleepwear

We caught up with Ruth and Ciorstaidh to ask how they’ve adapted their work during lockdown and how they’ll adapt their plans for 2020.

How is your business affected by the lockdown?
How have you adapted your work during lockdown?
Will you get any Government support?
What have you learned about yourselves from working in isolation?
What’s next for SÒLAS?

How is your business affected by the lockdown? 

As well as selling online, SÒLAS Sleepwear’s clothing and accessories are sold in a network of small shops. While online sales continued, with customers buying scrunchies and sleepmasks as gifts for distant friends, the income stream from retail outlets was cut off overnight when shops had to close to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Ciorstaidh and Ruth collaborate on their products and packaging with freelancers so there are no staff to furlough and, where they can, they’ve continued working with their network of freelancers.

However, they spent some of the lockdown time away from the business, reflecting:

“We took a few weeks to get our heads around the new normal. Like many people, we spent some time away from the business to let things settle. Our main focus became connecting with family and friends.”

How have you adapted your work during lockdown?

Ciorstaidh and Ruth both wanted to do something practical to help during the pandemic. Both are equally community-minded so they accepted that volunteering means they’ve had less time to spend on SÒLAS.

Ciorstaidh cutting fabric to make scrubs for the NHS
Ciorstaidh cutting fabric to make scrubs for the NHS

Ciorstaidh is part of a group of volunteer seamstresses making scrubs and laundry bags for front-line medical staff with two groups, For the Love of Scrubs in Scotland. 

“The initiative started at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak due to concern there was a lack of PPE for nurses, doctors, GPs, carers and cleaners working in the NHS.”

The project has been crowdfunded by donations from the public. At 1 June, For the Love of Scrubs had raised over £46,299

Ruth, along with designers Freya Alder and Isabella Bunnel, launched the Makers Raffle in March, raising over £16,000 for foodbanks in Glasgow.

Will you get any Government support?

Ciorstaidh and Ruth paid themselves in dividends from the profits of their young limited company and this means they don’t qualify for the Government’s Self Employed Income Support grants. And as they work from Ruth’s studio/showroom and their homes, they don’t qualify for a Small Business grant or a Retail, Hospitality and Leisure grant.

“Although we won’t get a Government coronavirus support grant, we’ve had support from Creative Scotland, which is the main funder for creative activity in Scotland.”

What have you learned about yourselves from working in isolation?

Both Ciorstaidh and Ruth have used the lockdown time to reflect and reassess. Ciorstaidh says, 

“It’s easy to continue down a path without coming up for air. I’ve reassessed my own creative practice in the short and long term and realised I need more time drawing and making artwork. It’s easy to become product focussed and neglect being creative just for fun.

“I’ve got to know my neighbours much better, and there’s a much stronger sense of community, which makes tenement living in Glasgow feel much more connected. I hope that continues post-lockdown – I’m looking forward to a full street BBQ together!”

Similarly, Ruth says,

“I’ve been thinking a lot about my creative practice and how to work in new ways. In some ways, it’s been good to have time to take a step back from a busy life and think about things and move at a slower pace. I miss my friends and it’s made me realise how fortunate I am to have such good people in my life.”

What’s next for SÒLAS? 

Like most small businesses, SÒLAS hadn’t planned for a pandemic so they’ve had to plan and adapt reactively.

“We have goals that we work towards through the year but we hadn’t ever considered anything throwing us off that path. So this was a huge shock.

“We were due to launch our new organza gradient collection but we’ve put that on hold due to suppliers shutting down. It just didn’t feel right to push new things.”

With Ruth focused on raising money with the Makers Raffle and Ciorstaidh making scrubs and laundry bags for the NHS, they only regrouped in early May to make plans for the rest of the year. 

“We’ve just this week started to talk about how we’re going to move forward. It’s going to be a complete rethink.”

When businesses can reopen and the UK emerges from lockdown, Ciorstaidh and Ruth hope people will have realised that where they choose to spend their money is important:  

“We hope that where people can, they support local and small businesses. Even if it seems more expensive – pay a little bit more and buy a little bit less.”

Sleepmasks and scrunchies from SÒLAS Sleepwear

At Tide we’re proud to serve SÒLAS Sleepwear and we wish them every success. Meanwhile, if you’d like to treat yourself or a friend to some luxury sleepwear to see out the lockdown in style, visit www.solassleepwear.com

Have your say

How is the coronavirus affecting you and your small business? We’re keen to hear from you – get in touch with us on LinkedInFacebook or Twitter.

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Suzanne Worthington

Senior Writer

Tide Team

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