Growth & Customers

How I built an ethical business out of my camper van

Lucy Greenwood reveals how going travelling led to the accidental creation of her fast-growing sustainable clothing brand, Lucy & Yak.

Lucy Greenwood

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With the determination to go travelling but little money to fund it, Lucy Greenwood and her partner Chris Renwick decided to quit their jobs and make money while they were on the road.

Using old clothing that other travellers had left behind in hostels, they created little pouches to sell and created a community of people who all knew about and owed their pouches. This is what snowballed the creation of their sustainable clothing brand, Lucy & Yak.

Creating a clothing brand is difficult enough, but Lucy wanted to create a brand that was both ethically produced and had sustainability at its heart by using upcycling and buy-back schemes.

This is the story of how Lucy found a trustworthy tailor, overcame her imposter syndrome and built a brand that has total transparency with their customers.

Here’s her unfiltered advice:

How travelling with no money led to an accidental business

Finding a tailor in India

How to ensure quality and transparency with your tailor as your business scales

Make sure you have someone on the ground and overseeing things in your factories

Tackling overproduction and waste with a buyback scheme

Is having physical stores important for a clothing brand?

Building a customer community based on transparency

Passionate customers will hold you accountable

Don’t let imposter syndrome hold you back or impact your business

Seeking help to overcome your imposter syndrome

Listen to others but don’t take their word as gospel

Moving suppliers closer to home isn’t always more sustainable

A four-day working week means high production and happier staff

New products and adventures for Lucy & Yak

How travelling with no money led to an accidental business

Kate Bassett:

I know that you’ve described Lucy & Yak as an accidental business, so just talk us through the light bulb moment for you.

Lucy Greenwood:

Yeah, so everyone always says to me, it couldn’t have been accidental, there must have been something there. But I think when I say accidental, it’s like we didn’t sort of go, here’s a business plan, this is what we are going to do, let’s go and try and get some funding and start this business.

It kind of all just happened really organically over the space of a few years. So like I said, we started the business when we first went travelling, but we didn’t actually start Lucy & Yak until 2017.

It was funny because we went to New Zealand first, and we quit our jobs. We hadn’t saved a lot of money because we were thinking we had to save money to go travelling, and that was just never going to happen because Chris and I had such party lifestyles, we just couldn’t save any money at the time.

So we decided, you know what? Let’s just quit our jobs. We’ll figure out a way of making money on the road.

So we went to New Zealand, and we ended up making these little pouches to sell to other travellers, and we were making them from sort of old clothing that travellers leave behind in hostels.

There’s usually just a box full of shirts, they’re not the best shirts, but the prints on them are quite cool. And turning them into a little pouch was really great, and we sat selling them to other travellers.

We were hand stitching them on the beach, and it was paradise. We weren’t earning a lot of money, but I think that was another really big thing for us that we kind of learned how to live off very little. So money started becoming less and less important for us.

And it’s funny because prior to that, Chris and I were both in sales where everything was commission, getting that sale, and it felt like a really money driven world. And so when we got used to living off very little, we were like, this is amazing.

Also, that feeling of someone wanting to buy something that you’ve created. Because we love sales, and we love the buzz of selling something, but when you’ve actually created it, there was no better feeling than that.

And what was brilliant about back then when we were selling the pouches, we lived in New Zealand for about six months and then when we left New Zealand, we were still getting messages of people who had bumped into each other and knew that they knew us because they had one of these pouches.

So there was this community forming in New Zealand around these pouches when we weren’t even there. And that’s kind of the same in Lucy & Yak.

That’s sort of transferred over into this really strong community of people that when they see someone else in the street wearing Lucy & Yak, and they’re also wearing them, or they’re not wearing them, but they know the brand, and they own some, they give each other a little smile or nod or say hi.

So I feel like the story started there, but then we were travelling for a few years. We had to come back to the UK, Chris’s stepdad was ill at the time, so we had to come back to help his mum, but we had no money when we came back.

And we were like, we do not want to get jobs, that’s the last thing we want to do. We do not want to work for someone else.

So we ended up buying and selling vintage clothing, and we bought an old van, which was Yak, lived in that, and we were basically travelling around the UK going in charity shops, finding some gems, selling them on Depop.

And every time we got a pair of dungarees, we might have paid a £5 for it, and we sold it for like £60 or £70, and we just couldn’t get enough dungarees.

And it’s still the case now because we’ve got collaboration with Beyond Retro, the vintage shop, and they take some of our old Yaks back in exchange for vouchers because they can’t get enough dungarees still six years on.

So it shows that we kind of hit something at the right time. So it’s funny because it was accidental in that we weren’t trying to start a business as such, but all these events just led to, we just knew we didn’t want to work for anybody else after we did that in New Zealand.

Kate Bassett:

Do you feel that you’ve become almost unemployable once you started your own business?

You can’t go back to the nine to five.

Lucy Greenwood:

No, definitely not. You just couldn’t imagine, I suppose, someone telling you when and where to be. I think that’s the big thing.

Finding a tailor in India

Kate Bassett:

Once you’d realised you’d hit on something with the dungarees, they were selling so fast and so profitably, what were the next steps you then took to build a business out of that?

Lucy Greenwood:

Well, when we started the dungarees, we went to India and that’s when we met this tailor, and we made the first 30 pairs of dungarees, put them on Depop while we were still in India, and the 30 pairs sold out in a minute.

So we phoned him, and we were like, we need to make some more. And we’ve just kind of grown the business off the back of reinvesting the money that we took.

So we never borrowed a penny, we never got any investment. The few £100 we were travelling with was all we ever had.

And I think what happened was me and Chris have learned over the years that we’re a really good team, in that I’m quite good at just getting stuff done, and I love figuring out how to sell something.

And he is very, very good at the sort of business side of things because he had been a manager before, but I’d never been a manager before.

So jumping up from a sales executive as the highest position I’ve ever had to being the owner of a company was a big overnight jump. And then the imposter syndrome was unreal.

But yeah, we just kept basically taking that money and putting it on more stock, and we just kept growing it like that.

And then we moved into a warehouse, which was terrifying because that was our first commitment to a big outgoing each month.

From my experience, when I’ve met people who run a fashion brand or start a fashion brand, they often are fashion designers by trade. That’s their previous, that’s what they’ve done in their career.

I don’t know if there’s just something different about the way we’ve approached it. We’re very customer driven because that’s the background of where we are from.

I’ve worked in bars and sales, and it’s always about, what does the customer want? Not what do I like or what do I want to wear? What does the customer want? What’s the customer telling us they want?

And so we’ve always been really customer obsessed in that way, which really serves us well.

How to ensure quality and transparency with your tailor as your business scales

Kate Bassett:

I want to come back to this tailor that you worked with in India. You said the business really started to grow. As you were scaling up how did you ensure quality and transparency in that process?

Lucy Greenwood:

I remember us pulling our hair out many times in the first few years. Because we went travelling to India, we went travelling for six months, and initially it was like, “Oh, I’m going travelling, but if we find someone who could make some dungarees, we might give it a go.”

So we’d been in India like a week, and I bumped into somebody who I’d met in New Zealand years before walking down the street, and they just had some stuff made in this village in India, and they were showing me, and I was like, this is so weird.

We’re here for six months and the first week I bump into somebody I’ve not seen for three years, and they’ve just had some clothing made.

Kate Bassett:


Lucy Greenwood:

It is.

So we went to this town, and everything’s kind of happened like that. I never know if it’s just how we look at stuff when it happens because sometimes, I feel like opportunities are there, and we just miss them because we’re fixated on something else.

And anyway, that happened, and then we went to this town called Pushkar in Rajasthan, which is where they had this clothing made. And it’s basically just a street full of people who have got shops and there’s a tailor in the shop making stuff and altering stuff.

The idea is that it’s a really ethical place because you’re meeting the person that’s making it. But we actually had a few samples made in different shops.

But then when we actually came to buy in bulk and say like, “Oh, we want to order 30 or 40.”

They explained to us that it would go out to this bigger factory on the outskirts of the town, but they didn’t want to take us to this factory because I think they were worried we would cut them out, which is fair enough.

But there was just something in us that was like, we want to meet the people that are making this. We want to know who they are and if they’re treated well and if they’re paid fairly. So we kind of just gave up because no one would take us to this factory.

And then the hotel, we’d been staying in the guest house, the cook in the hotel was asking us, “What have you been doing here?”

And we explained, and he said, “Oh, my brother’s a tailor, and he can’t afford a shop on this high street. Why don’t you come and meet him? We’re 10 kilometres outside of his town. We’ll drive you out.”

So we went out to meet him and that’s when we met Ishmael who had two tailors working with him, and he was making bits and pieces of clothing for the market that we’d been making samples for.

He wasn’t getting paid very much at all because these markets are mostly clothing for travellers who are on a budget, and you might pay £1 for a pair of leggings off this market.

So you can imagine how much the tailor and how much Ishmael were earning. It was nothing. So we got him to make a sample, and everything was great.

He made the sample. It needed some tweaks, but then it was incredible because he was so good in that the trust was just there instantly.

The experience we’d had prior to that, would be if we said, “Oh, this is not right.” They’d say, “Yes it is, it’s fine, it’s fine.”

Whereas he was like, “No, no, I’ll take it away. I’ll fix it.” And then the same vice versa, because instead of negotiating him down, we negotiated him up, and he was like, “Are you guys crazy? Do you know how to negotiate?”

But do you know what, he told us how his pay structure worked and that he basically gave 50% of the money to the tailor and the other 50% he used for his overheads, and then whatever was left was his profit, I suppose.

So because he told us that, when he gave us the price, we were like, well, you know what? We actually think a fair price is this because we believe we can sell them for this. And so we negotiated upwards, which he thought was crazy. So instantly that trust was there, which was amazing.

So that was great because I think that was a really good way of setting up a relationship because it meant that we had trust, and we had some sort of say over the ethics and the practices of the business. Because it’s a tiny business, and it grew with us.

The problem with that though is the quality was not up to scratch as we started growing. It was fine while we were small and our customers knew us really well, but then as we started growing, if we ordered 100 of something, sometimes the quality was just really bad, and items were tearing.

We must have spent six months of the first and second year in India trying to help him set up this factory and get it up to scratch. And he was growing with us.

So it was kind of like these two startups growing side by side, which was just chaos. It was absolute chaos, and it took us a really long time to get him up to scratch.

Make sure you have someone on the ground and overseeing things in your factories

Kate Bassett:

At what point did you feel that you had got him up to scratch, and you could take a step back, not spend all your time in India overseeing that process?

Lucy Greenwood:

I would say that time never actually came and then Covid hit. But what we were lucky with was just before Covid hit the last trip we had out there, we had met this woman called Sonya who was incredible.

She worked for another supplier that we worked with because Ishmael was a woven factory, and so we needed a jersey factory when we went into selling fleeces and stuff.

So we found this other sustainable factory that we could make recycled fleeces with. And Sonya worked for them, but then she ended up getting made redundant.

And she was so good at managing our account we were like, should we give Sonya a job? And then we’ve got someone on the ground in India.

And this happened about three months before Covid, which was like, oh my god, how lucky were we because she was on the ground.

She was going back and forth to Ishmael’s factory, spending time with him, helping him get up to scratch. And she’d actually got more experience working in the factory side of things than we had.

So she was able to really help him. She then started to build a team. So we’ve now got a team in New Delhi that basically help us support the factories, but also someone on the ground making sure the ethics are being maintained as well.

Because before Covid, we relied so heavily on being there and supporting them, and we could physically see a problem in the factory. But when Covid hit, it was like, we can’t be there. We just have to trust now. And so it was really great that we had Sonya on the ground.

Tackling overproduction and waste with a buyback scheme

Kate Bassett:

And I mean, you talk a lot about sustainability and ethical practices. Obviously the fashion industry is responsible for about 10% of the world’s carbon emissions. So what are you doing to try and tackle overproduction and waste?

Lucy Greenwood:

So this is a massive thing for us. And I think since the first year we had an idea of buying clothing back, but we just couldn’t figure out how to actually do it, because it’s quite complicated to do it online, and we just didn’t have the infrastructure or the team or anything like that.

I’ve always believed that when you’re producing anything new, whether it’s organic or whether it’s the most sustainable fabric you can think of, it’s still not as sustainable as something that already exists.

And there’s definitely enough clothing in the world that we could probably all manage without making any more clothing for years and years.

But I think one of the things that makes me feel a little bit better is that we always approached Lucy & Yak with the idea that people are not going to just stop buying. And there are so many brands out there that are really, really terrible, so we just want to offer something that’s just that bit better.

But then on the flip of that, we’ve sort of launched a buyback scheme finally, and we’ve launched it in our stores to begin with because we just want to basically feel it out and find out what the teething problems are before we launch it online, because we really would love to launch it online.

The thing is I think with circularity is businesses have to make it profitable, otherwise they’ll not stop producing new.

So we’re trying to figure out a way of actually making second-hand profitable to us as a business so that we can actually produce less. So basically at the minute we give up to a £20 voucher for you returning your old Yaks back in any condition.

They can be completely unwearable, and we’ll recycle them, or if they’re in a good condition, we’ll put them back up for sale the shop.

And what we’re hoping is the percentage that we get back that’s good enough to sell on, will pay for the ones that we have to recycle and pay for the process.

And if that ends up being even higher, we might increase the price that we’ll pay for them and encourage even more people to bring them back and really get serious about the fact we really want to buy these back because we can actually make money out of them.

So that’s really what we’re hoping because I think if businesses can make it profitable, imagine if you could make it so that your business was 50% second-hand, 50% new or even less and still have the same business, I think that would be a much better way to go.

Kate Bassett:

Definitely. So you’re trialling it at the moment, just trying to work out the right business model for that.

Is having physical stores important for a clothing brand?

Kate Bassett:

And it’s interesting that you are doing the buyback scheme in your stores, which I wanted to talk to you about.

I know you opened your first store in 2019, you now have stores in Brighton, Bristol and Norwich.

So how important are bricks and mortar to the brand?

Lucy Greenwood:

So we’ve never really viewed them as necessarily a sales channel, even though they are. They do really well.

We always approached it as, we just want these community hubs, so we’re not going to overexpose ourselves and rent these massive stores that we are not going to be able to afford for whatever reason.

We’re kind of trying to open lots of them, but small in size that’s manageable financially if we were to go into another lockdown or something like that.

And I think for us, it’s all about community.

Having those spaces that we can bring customers in, we’re going to be doing a lot of workshops and events that are all around sustainability and upcycling and things like that.

Also, the big thing was we knew it was going to allow us to launch this buyback scheme because it’s really easy in store for them to get it, re-tag it, stick it straight on a rail and sell it.

Whereas, from my vintage days, photographing one piece and then selling it, you just don’t really make any money from that because of the cost involved in actually photographing it, and there’s only one of it. It’s really hard.

So what we feel like is if we change this to online as well, if we start accepting people’s clothing back online, we won’t sell them online.

We’ll probably end up with, we want to call them Lucy & Yak vintage stores. So they might just have second-hand Yaks in them if we open it up to online because we’ll end up with quite a lot of them.

So that’s the kind of goal that we really want everybody in the UK to live within one hour of a shop. So we don’t want too many, probably 10 to 15 over the next few years.

But we feel if everyone’s within an hour of one, then we should be good. Or everybody who I suppose in the most populated areas anyway.

And then we’d love to do a big Yak van that travels around the smaller areas from time to time up cycling things for people and things like that.

But yeah, that’s where we’re at with retail.

Building a customer community based on transparency

Kate Bassett:

I’d love to talk to you about growing that community of Yakkers. What are some of the tactics that you’ve used to really create a loyal customer base?

Lucy Greenwood:

Do you know what? I think it’s funny because when we talk about marketing, we’ve never really tried to market it.

From the early days I’ve done a lot of videos on social media and things like that. And I think that’s been a massive thing.

I think when people can see real people behind the brand because people buy from people. I think that that was a massive thing for us. I think customers really feeling like they’re part of that because we’re sharing the journey with them, and we’re being really transparent.

When things go wrong, I’ll jump on, I’ll do a video and apologise or explain what’s happened. I’m not apologising because we didn’t really do anything wrong, but we just want to say, look, this is what’s happened.

And most of the time I think what is amazing about it is customers mostly when they get frustrated at businesses, it’s just because they don’t understand.

So they might assume it’s one thing, but then as soon as you get on and explain, they’re like, “Oh, right, yeah, that makes sense. You’re human, and you just made a mistake.”

So I think that’s a big part of it.

Also, there’s just something in the brand, and honestly still, I sometimes don’t know how to bottle the magic. It’s this community on Facebook that actually started on its own organically, and then we ended up taking it in-house, and it’s just incredible.

Everyone’s so kind to each other and I think there’s something about like we were saying, our customers, they’re just really, really nice people, just so kind, so uplifting to each other. And the brand has really attracted them.

I honestly don’t know if that’s because we are really transparent, and we’re really open, and so they feel like they can be, or I really don’t know, sometimes it’s hard to bottle what that magic is.

But this community is incredible because someone will post a photo, and they say, I don’t think I look very good in this. And everyone just jumps on, and they’re like, you look amazing, you look incredible.

All the customers they say that they’ve never found a brand that they felt was them and sort of expressed who they were until they found us. And it spans so many age demographics as well.

It’s like you’ve got 16-year-old girls sharing dungarees with their mum. And I would’ve never done that, no way would I have shared any of my mum’s clothes.

They must have cool mums, I think that’s what it is.

Kate Bassett:

Super cool mums wearing dungarees.

Passionate customers will hold you accountable

Kate Bassett:

And it’s interesting that you, coming from a sales background, it sounds like you actually get the biggest kick out of that community rather than making a sale.

Lucy Greenwood:

Yeah, it just makes you feel so good. I think that was one of the things that when the business was starting, we were really focused on obviously the ethics and the sustainability side of things. We didn’t really think about what it would mean to customers.

We were customer focused in, give them a good service, and make sure we listen to them, but we didn’t really think about what it would mean to them.

We never really thought we would create a brand that means so much to people. And it’s funny because it has its pros and cons.

When we mess up, boy do we get the stick for it. I think that’s because people are so passionate about it, and they shout about us so much, and they tell everybody they know about it. When we do something wrong, they feel like that reflects on them or that that’s let them down.

So they’re very vocal about it. But in a way that’s kind of good because it keeps us growing and changing and listening and trying to be what our customers want us to be. Without diluting the brand, obviously.

That is a challenge because sometimes people want you to be a bit of everything, and you can’t, because there are contradictions there.

Kate Bassett:

Yeah, they’re holding you to account.

Lucy Greenwood:

Yeah. And sometimes there’s a group of people that say you need to do this thing, and there’s a group of people saying that you need to do this thing, and they’re totally different. They’re total opposites, and you’re like, what do I do here?

But it is really nice when we get reviews. The customer service team, they share all of the reviews, any nice feedback they get from customers they share it in this Google Chat group that we’ve all got. And it’s so nice. They’re amazing.

Our customers stick up for us if they know the answer to something because they’ve watched one of my videos, or they’ve read something and then someone new comes on social media having a go us for something. I see them coming on and being like, “Actually no, it’s this.”

And I’m like, it’s okay to educate your customers, they’ll actually fight your battle for you. And it’s amazing because they understand it. And I think that’s a big thing.

I think educating customers on how businesses are run internally and why you make the decisions you make and not treating them idiots, not just treating them like you can market to them in sneaky ways.

Just be honest with them. And it seems that’s the best marketing tactic we’ve ever had is just being honest and upfront.

Don’t let imposter syndrome hold you back or impact your business

Kate Bassett:

In terms of being so honest and transparent with your customers doing the videos and really putting your face to the brand. Has that been quite tricky for you as someone who has suffered with imposter syndrome?

Lucy Greenwood:


Kate Bassett:

Have you had to find a new kind of source of confidence for this?

Lucy Greenwood:

Yeah, absolutely, I have.

It’s funny, you’ve caught me a time in my life and in a point with Lucy & Yak where I have just learned so much the last few years that I’ve realised that I was holding myself back in so many ways by not believing in myself.

I think this is a massive thing when you’re from a working-class background. I never really realised it consciously, but you never got told at school to dream big or that you could do something like this. So you never expected it to happen to you.

So when you’re in that position you’re like, “I’m not good enough for this.”

And it’s really hard because what I would say, and this is both me and Chris, we’ve both been quite similar in that where, in the early days, we listened too much sometimes to different people in industry or consultants or some members of the team.

It really sent us off on a tangent that we were like, whoa, is this business even ours anymore?

And that happened for a couple of years. And there was all the Covid stuff, and we were in lockdown. It just didn’t feel like our business and businesses were getting stick left right and centre on social media.

It’s hard when your face is on it, not to take it personally.

But what I will say is through all the low times I’ve had, they have honestly just made me come out of the other side incredibly stronger and just surer of who I am and what my values are and knowing that actually, don’t ever bend on your values for anything.

No matter how scared you are, no matter how much you think it’ll make you look a certain way because it honestly just makes you fall out of love with your business.

Then we got to a point where we were like, we can’t run this business anymore. It doesn’t feel like our business. And so it was either do something about it and stand up for what you believe in and stop running it in the way that you are or sell it.

And we didn’t want to sell it. So we knew we needed to turn it around so that we loved it again. And we have.

Chris has been much better at that than I am, and he’s definitely carried me through it. But yeah, it is, it’s tough.

Seeking help to overcome your imposter syndrome

Kate Bassett:

Did you turn to anyone for advice other than Chris during those tough moments? How did you pull yourself up and really think I’m good enough?

Lucy Greenwood:

Do you know what I owe a lot to a woman called Africa Brooke. Do you know Africa Brooke?

She’s got quite a big following on social media, but she’s a consultant who works with entrepreneurs and sort of people in the public eye, who are struggling to stand by their values and feeling terrified of being themselves in a public space because of everything that’s been going on in the world the last few years.

So I reached out to her because I’d been following her for a while, and she talked about all this stuff a lot. And I ended up having 10 one-hour sessions with her over a period, and she was absolutely amazing.

Because she just helped me realise that actually the stuff that I valued and what I did care about, they were all okay. Because in my head I was doing crazy sums like this equals this, and I don’t want anyone to think that. And she was like, “No, you’re looking at it all wrong.”

And she’s been really amazing through it.

But also actually friends, I’ve got some great friends that have carried me through it as well. And a lot of the team actually have been amazing as well. So yeah, lots of people.

Listen to others but don’t take their word as gospel

Kate Bassett:

And I know that Lucy & Yak is now one of the fastest-growing companies in the UK. What would you say are some of the big challenges or mistakes you’ve made as you’ve scaled the brand?

Lucy Greenwood:

Well that was certainly one of them sort of trusting your own gut. I have not known a time when your own gut is not right, it always is.

It’s like even if it’s just a niggle, but you have to be so in tune with what’s going on that you actually can read it. And that’s where I was struggling.

So that’s a massive one for me. It doesn’t matter how experienced someone is and how much more experience they might have than you. They’re not necessarily right.

Listen to people and figure out your own way with it, but don’t just take someone’s word as gospel because they’re speaking confidently because they’ve been big mistakes that I’ve made. And that’s at every level. That could be someone’s junior or someone really saying it really doesn’t matter.

I mean fashion’s a tough one in general with supply chains, they’ve been some of my most challenging moments of figuring out how to fix all of the problems when it comes to supply chains with Covid and things like that. They’ve been an absolute nightmare.

But I think it’s accepting that they always exist. They don’t ever end in fashion. They get easier as you’ve been going for longer, but they never end.

Moving suppliers closer to home isn’t always more sustainable

Kate Bassett:

Have you looked at moving your suppliers closer to home?

Lucy Greenwood:

We have. We did experiment with it a few years back, but to be honest, the UK is challenging because the UK used to be a massive manufacturing place, but because it’s not anymore, you might have a factory, but they don’t have the infrastructure around them.

There’s so many moving parts to making a garment. And when we originally experimented with it, we were like, “Okay, so we make it closer to home.”

But that’s not actually any more sustainable.

I mean obviously it’s good for the economy, and it feeds into giving people jobs, but it’s not any more sustainable because we can’t grow cotton here. So we still have to import the cotton. And if you import in the whole roll of cotton, you’re actually importing the waste as well, which is actually more than just importing a garment.

So in terms of the sustainability and the miles it has to do, it still has to come from a country that grows cotton regardless. If you are using material like natural materials, I think we make a little bit of linen in Ireland, but it’s really small scale.

And to be honest, when we did, we got so many questions from our customers that were like, “What about your workers in India? Are you taking work away from them?”

And I didn’t realise there was as much desire for it as we’d initially thought. And then it’s very expensive.

We pay a living wage, so we pay a living wage as per the, not the government’s new labelling of the minimum wage. And we also do a four-day working week and when we reduced down to a four-day working week, we still kept everyone on salaries as though they were working five days.

So that means the hourly rate of our warehouse staff is, I can’t remember off the top of my head, but it’s about £13 an hour or something.

So that would’ve been the same in the factories. And then we realised we just couldn’t make it work. People weren’t willing to really pay that extra.

A four-day working week means high production and happier staff

Kate Bassett:

What was behind the decision to move the entire workforce to a four-day working week? And what impact has that had on productivity?

Lucy Greenwood:

So it happened during Covid, actually. Everyone stayed at home, so we shut the warehouse even though they didn’t ask us to shut the warehouse, but we were like, “I don’t know what’s going on here? The government’s really confusing us. Is it essential? Is it not essential? Well, it’s not essential, but it’s a warehouse, and they’re not mentioning warehouses.”

But anyway, we shut our warehouse for a period of time.

And then when we brought people back in, we brought them in on fewer hours so that we could spread and not have as many people in the warehouse at once. So we split the days. And we noticed that productivity didn’t really drop. And so we were like, well this is interesting.

So we put it to the staff, we were like, “Look, we’re going to try out this for 12 months. Productivity has to remain really good. But we expect it to drop a little bit because it’s a full day you’re losing.”

But it really hasn’t. I feel like that last hour of the day, that last hour before you’re due to finish, I think everybody just stops working anyway. Everyone takes a little bit longer on their breaks.

Because we’re not a company that’s like clock-in, clock-out, check your breaks and stuff. Everyone would take a bit longer, getting back from their break and go on their break a couple of minutes early, have more toilet breaks and just saunter around.

I feel like, because we said to them, “Look, we’re only able to make this work if we still have the output that we need because we’re already paying a living wage, and this is going to increase it even more.”

And honestly, it’s been incredible. And then obviously in the offices as well, it’s amazing.

Obviously, there are weeks when they have to do a little bit more, but that’s kind of like when you think about fashion offices and stuff, they normally do five days and have to do a little bit more.

So it’s kind of like sometimes certain times of the year they might have to do a little bit more, but it’s rare. And most people get their three-day weekends and people love it.

I think, certainly one of the teams said, “I just don’t feel like I need a holiday. When I’m trying to book my holidays, I’m like, well, I’ve got long weekends every weekend. So I don’t really feel like I need to use that many holidays.”

Kate Bassett:

Do you think your staff are happier?

Lucy Greenwood:

Definitely. And do you know what? I think it came from when Chris and I worked in sales. We worked six days one week, like 12-hour shifts and five days the following week, and we never got two days off together.

And you just can’t recover. It’s just not enough time to recover. I feel like that Friday’s a great day for everyone to do the chores, do all the rubbish stuff that you don’t really like doing, and you don’t want to waste your time on.

Kate Bassett:

Life admin.

Lucy Greenwood:

Yeah. You need to do it, but you don’t want to use your Saturday on Sunday. And then you’ve got your Saturday on Sunday and you feel like coming back to work on Monday, you’ve sorted all your life admin out, because there’s nothing worse than stuff like that hanging over your head.

When you’ve got to go to the dentist or the doctor’s, but you haven’t got time. And when that stuff’s hanging over your head, it probably affects your work as well.

New products and adventures for Lucy & Yak

Kate Bassett:

So what’s next for Lucy & Yak? Tell us about new products you are launching into or markets.

Lucy Greenwood:

So this map behind me, I’m actually in Chris’s office and Chris is in charge of our retail side of the business.

So we’re growing in the USA. The USA is slowly becoming quite a big percentage of our customers, specifically California, New York. So we are looking at how we can grow more in the US.

So Chris and I are actually doing a bit of a trip to California in a couple of days, but I don’t know when this podcast’s coming out. So we might have already been.

And we want to sort of scope out maybe opening a couple of shops, maybe testing some pop-ups first, just sort of seeing how that goes.

Because I just feel like online advertising is just getting tougher and tougher, and it feels like more robust to have some physical presence in a country that you’ve actually got a big customer base in.

And I think it builds trust as well. If you come across the brand in the USA, you don’t know if it’s legit or if it’s one of these brands that, there are a lot of these brands that have popped up and just kind of copy everybody, and they’re really cheap, and it’s not great quality when it comes.

So I think having a base at least in a country that puts trust in them. So I think that’s a big thing for us. And that’s really exciting because it allows me and Chris to almost go back to the start of the business where when we first started, we’re trying to figure out how to sell stuff and what people want, it feels kind of brand new.

Even though we’ve got customers in the US it feels like it’s whole new thing for us to sort of figure out. And that’s the bit that we love. And I suppose most entrepreneurs will tell you that. That’s the fun bit.

Kate Bassett:

Yeah, you miss that kind of gritty, tough startup stage.

Lucy Greenwood:

Yeah, really hands-on, and now as time goes on, you feel like I’m just in meetings, and you’re not as hands on. And don’t get me wrong there are parts of that which I love, but I do miss the sort of scrapping around and trying to figure stuff out.

And then in terms of new products, we are expanding our quite a lot. We obviously started as dungarees.

We know that dungarees are not for everybody, and we want to own dungarees, and we will always want dungarees. But we’ve already expanded into other areas, but we want to keep just expanding that.

So knitwear is actually a big category that we’re going to grow into at the back end of this year, and we’ve got some amazing new knitwear coming.

Also, I feel like prints are as much our thing as dungarees. So we really want to expand on that and keep just adding amazing prints to everything that we do.

And also obviously our buyback scheme is something that we really want to focus in on, that circularity. We’ve got an in-house upcycler now as well who works for us full time.

So there are loads we’re doing around that. I mean, we want to convert a camper van into a sort of mobile react station that can drive around different towns and fix people’s dungarees and stuff. So we’ve got a lot of exciting ideas.

Kate Bassett:

That’s a great idea.

And if you had to sum up your vision for the company in one sentence, what would it be?

Lucy Greenwood:

I think to just continue bringing joy to people’s lives. Whether that’s people internally, whether that’s people in the factories, whether that’s our customers. I think just trying to do business in a good way and continuing that.

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Want to know more about Lucy & Yak or Lucy Greenwood?

You can check out Lucy and Yak on their website or Twitter.

You can find out more about Lucy Greenwood on her LinkedIn.

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