This year’s International Women’s Day on March the 8th focusses on equality in business, showcasing the importance of gender equality for economies and communities to thrive. Research show that two-thirds of people globally (65%) say that achieving equality between men and women is important to them and it is clear to see that attitudes are finally changing all across the world.
We are taking a look closer to home to see the positive impact having female entrepreneurs and leaders can have on a town and where better than a seaside town at a time when seaside tourism is depicted as struggling and a thing of the past? Not so in Falmouth.
Along with its picturesque setting, eclectic high street and outstanding coastline, Falmouth boasts over 200 independent outlets within three square miles and is buoyed by around 750,000 visitors each year. One of reasons behind the success of the creative enterprises in this entrepreneurial ‘port with a purpose’, lie in the year-round business opportunities that are being carved out by a new wave of innovative female leaders and entrepreneurs.
The town has been featured regularly by the Sunday Times as a perennial Best Place to Live and winner of the best Coastal Community at the Great British High Street Awards, this thanks to an incredible community spirit and business ethos.
Richard Wilcox, Falmouth Business Improvement District (BID) Manager, said:
“There is a reason Falmouth has such a great female business community. We’re a vibrant, entrepreneurial coastal town with a proactive and passionate business community that favours collaboration and support all times of the year. The success of the creative enterprises in our innovative ‘port with a purpose’ lies in the year-round opportunities that are being carved out by a new wave of businesses that make our high street a special and diverse place.”
Five independent stores helping lead the way are:
Un_rap – Hannah Pierce
Falmouth’s beautiful coastal location has led to people seeing the effects of plastic pollution first hand. This formed an environmental-conscious community that rallies behind its local shop owners by buying local, keeping the demand for short travelled products high enough to make it a sustainable business option.
Falmouth University graduate Hannah Pierce got the idea for the town’s zero waste shop, Un_rap, after hiking 500 miles across Spain whilst refusing single-use plastic to raise awareness and money for Surfers Against Sewage. She says she has felt supported by the community ever since the town mayor officially opened the shop back in 2018:
“The community of Falmouth is very kind and believe in the empowerment of women. Locals recognise hard work and believe in buying locally, which means businesses can thrive. We are not so preoccupied with ‘more’ as in more money, higher turnover, bigger spaces and so on. We value the environment as equal to the economy. We work with our ‘competitors’ to help each other and we understand there is enough to go around. It’s inclusive rather than exclusive.”
Hannah continued: “As a female business owner, you’re in a privileged position to empower other women. I have been invited to give talks at several events to tell my story and share my advice on giving your dream a go, but there is also the day-to-day influence you have. It’s about empowering mothers by selling their products in the shop, encouraging graduates to start their own business and working collaboratively across all businesses regardless of gender.”
Botanical Atelier – Sarah Jane Humphrey
Tucked in the corner of Arwenack Street is Botanical Atelier, a charming shop introducing visitors to a fascinating world of all things plant related. In addition to offering carefully sourced products, owner Sarah Jane Humphrey also hosts weekly botanical illustration workshops where she is joined by locals and tourists, sometimes from as far as Australia and Hong Kong. Sarah’s talent and hard work is highly commended and in 2018 she was awarded the Gold Medal in the 2018 RHS London Botanical Art Show.
“Falmouth is fast becoming a destination town beyond the natural beauty of our local landscape. There has always been a wonderful creative energy that runs deep through its roots and I feel Falmouth is the perfect town for independent businesses to stretch their creativity and explore new directions of entrepreneurship. Living and working in Falmouth with such a fantastic eclectic melange of residents, I like to offer a style of business that will enthuse everyone, from learning a new skill or making a lifestyle choice and becoming connected with nature.”
Sarah added: “The town has an amazing community of strong women in business. We are supportive of each other and a great inspiration to other women about to embark on new ventures. I myself wear many hats as a busy mother of three, an illustrator and dealing with the day-to-day workings of running a business. However, the rewards which make it all worth it are that I get to be my own boss, living by the sea and inspiring my children to be creative and strong.”
Plastic Oceanic – Kirstie Edwards
Another fierce Falmouth female is Kirstie Edwards, the incredible force behind the ‘Plastic Free’ movement both in Falmouth and Cornwall. For Kirstie, there is nothing stopping her passion and involvement in encouraging organisations, schools, businesses and people to reduce their carbon footprint.
She’s also co-director of a growing business called Plastic Oceanic, a company processing and transforming ocean waste into beautiful jewellery. Long-term, her and her business partner hope to create a plastic processing hub as a community resource, allowing small businesses to pop up and develop new recycled products which in turn will disrupt more waste streams.
Kirstie said: ”Falmouth is our home but it is also a thriving epicentre for innovation. Being surrounded by water, and seeing first-hand what is washed up on our beaches every day, inspires us to think creatively about how we manage our resources and the impact we have on the environment. The progressive and supportive town team and council allow me to explore and develop new initiatives within the town as a committed volunteer and I’m incredibly proud of everything that we have achieved together. There is a very strong sense of community here.”
Kirstie continued: ”Being a female business owner in Falmouth means being surrounded by strong and empowered women. If you’re feeling a little bit stuck or wondering about ways to get into business, there is an abundance of female professors and leaders who are ready to support and guide you. I love where I live; I love the sea, the people and the creativity. It is my home. My beautiful home.”
Real Speed – Fiona Speed
Fiona Speed set up her fun, brightly coloured lifestyle brand, Real Speed, in 2012 and opened shop in Falmouth in 2018. Taking inspiration from sailing, rowing and dance, Fiona creates unique clothing and homeware using modern sailcloth and luxury fabrics.
As a fourth-generation Falmouth lady, Fiona’s shop couldn’t be more perfectly placed near Custom House Quay where her grandfather had his fishing boat, a boat which posed as the inspiration of her popular cushions:
“Falmouth is a great place to be a female business owner as there are a great number of independent shops led by women. It’s a very friendly place and everyone has time to talk to each other and offer advice wherever they can. The students keep the town vibrant year round and often visit my shop. When they do, I enjoy talking about their art and design career ambitions and I tell them of my journey from studying at Falmouth School of Art and Design (now Falmouth University) and to where I am today.”
Star Glazers Pottery Painting Café – Christine Walker
Based on what is locally known as the ‘Old High Street’ is Star Glazers, a pottery painting café with a fully stocked gin bar. Founded and run by Christine Walker, the shop was set up in 2017 after she pivoted her career from working as a retail buyer to independently running a business.
The pottery painting café offer a huge selection of items people can choose from which are later kiln fired on site for guests to pick up a few days later, or if you’re just visiting, have delivered by post. In addition to adult evening events such as ‘Gin and Paint’ or ‘Paint and Prosecco’ the café is also a popular spots for kids’ parties.
Christine said: “It might have seemed crazy at the time for me to set up this café but in reality it was the perfect opportunity for me to combine everything I had done in my previous career in retail buying and management as well as my university degree in ceramics and metal work. From the second I decided to set up this business, I was clear that I wanted to cater for both local customers as well as the tourist trade. Falmouth is not just a summer town thanks to the massively creative local community, allowing us to remain open year round with the exception of Mondays.”
She continued: “Falmouth is a great place to be a business owner as it’s a real creative hub with a year round customer base. Creative outlets are flourishing and I think being by the sea in a town with such vibrancy really inspires and encourages people. This is also reflective in the incredible items people paint and how they are painted. I am eternally grateful for the supportive network of female business owners as well as the support we have from the entire business community.”
Whether you want to be beside the seaside or not, these women show that with determination and effort, women around the world can – and are – making a difference in revitalising their local economies.