Mum turns £1,000 savings into global £1million luxury business | Personal Finance | Finance

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Helen Chapman

DFG (Image: Helen Chapman)

A mum from Hampshire is projected to turn over more than £1million this year from a business she launched with just £1,000.

Helen Chapman, 50, is the founder of the award-winning million-pound baby shoe brand Dotty Fish, which sells podiatry-tested, luxury baby shoes at an affordable price.

After receiving leather baby boots as a gift after her second child’s birth, Ms Chapman fell in love with them but found similar high-quality shoes too expensive.

In 2006, she founded Dotty Fish with £1,000 from her savings. Ms Chapman told “As a mother with two young children at the time, it was important for me to spend time with them, and I wanted to be my own boss.

“Armed with just £1,000 from my savings and no e-commerce experience, I embarked on my entrepreneurial journey. Determined to offer affordable, yet premium, footwear, I researched, designed, and sourced suppliers for my line of baby shoes.

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Helen holding some Dotty Fish shoes

Dotty Fish “practically took off overnight” after selling through Amazon. (Image: Helen Chapman)

“With an initial order of 500 pairs, the business effectively started from my living room floor.

“At Dotty Fish, we have tried to – and hopefully succeeded in – creating a range of leather baby shoes and accessories that are stylish and affordable. We have since continued to expand, introducing more designs and maintaining affordability.”

The initial money went into purchasing the first order of shoes and the business “took off” from there.

Ms Chapman started selling immediately on her website in 2006, as well as another major e-commerce website.

Ms Chapman said: “It certainly hasn’t all been plain sailing, as most entrepreneurs will understand. The business was running smoothly until the 2009 financial crash hit us hard.

“Our mortgage provider was a casualty of the crisis, placing us in a sudden financial bind. Overnight, it became clear that we needed to generate extra income to cover our expenses.”

However, the entrepreneur noted: “While my husband worried I might have to return to work, I remained steadfast in my belief that I could make our business thrive and generate additional income.

“After locating a factory, I started selling shoes at a low price point. However, in 2010, we faced another setback – my supplier informed me that my recent order was lost and would face delays. Soon after, he revealed personal tragedies, including the loss of his wife and a serious injury. It became evident that he was lying and had taken my money, totalling over £30,000.”

Ms Chapman then had to brainstorm new ideas and explore alternative avenues to keep the business afloat.

Taking a £45,000 loan on her house in 2010, she attended major baby shows to spread the word about Dotty Fish and joined Amazon in 2011, which she says helped them see “massive growth”.

Ms Chapman said: “I was introduced to exporting to the EU through Amazon in 2012 and it practically took off overnight.

“The surge in demand from Italy and Germany was crazy and we realised the business was going to change our lives. Today, Amazon accounts for 75 percent of our sales and we ship worldwide and have successfully weathered the pandemic and Brexit.

“Amazon has helped make cross-border sales more achievable. You can test out new markets and products at a very low cost and with minimal time.”

Ms Chapman said she “didn’t expect” the business to take off like it has, especially selling abroad. She added: “I will never forget the first few months of selling to Europe, it was so exciting. Exporting now makes up around 80 percent of our revenue.

“It hasn’t been an easy journey but it is one I’m very passionate about – from starting on my living room floor to converting my garage and opening our first office, we’re now a multi-award-winning business.”

For Ms Chapman, the part she loves “most of all” is that the business allows her to spend a lot of time with her family. She said: “It’s the crux of why I started – and I enjoy sharing the success with my amazing team.”

While Ms Chapman said the cost-of-living crisis has hit her business, she remains resilient.

Ms Chapman said: “We continually reinvest in the business and it was self-funded right from the start. This year, we’re on track to achieve a £1.5million turnover.

“It hasn’t always been easy, and there were certainly moments when I could have given up. However, my commitment to improvement kept me going. I firmly believe that continuous learning is the key to becoming better.

“Success often hinges on resilience, and when a business owner is truly passionate, that passion shines through, driving them forward despite the challenges.”