From giving up a steady job to start her jewellery business whilst going through a break-up to collaborating with Fearne Cotton – Carrie Dennahy has shown the world that standing on your own two feet as a woman in business is 100% possible. And now, she’s paving the way for her all-female team.
Whilst working as a buyer for a large jewellery retailer for over 10 years, Carrie Dennahy had continually witnessed an abundance of lost talent due to inflexible, unrealistic working hours and unfeasible demands placed on employees – especially working mothers. The idea of a company constantly losing women with a wealth of experience down to the rigidness of a Monday to Friday 9 to 5 (or 7am to 9pm in the buying world) baffled her. This antiquated way of working should have been a thing of the past.
So, Carrie did what many of us can only dream of doing. She handed in her notice, left the career she’d spent years building in her 20’s and started her own jewellery brand, Carrie Elizabeth.
Women Against Toxic Work Culture
Founded on friendship and family – Carrie’s sister is her website developer – Carrie’s business continues to thrive. Regarding their flexible business model and being against the toxic “overtime” culture that surrounds so many career paths, Carrie says;
“Flexible working is something that’s really important to us all here at Carrie Elizabeth. Everyone on my team has their own schedule and I completely respect and support this. Some are mothers and so need to do the school run, some like to exercise in the morning – or at least plan to! – and some are night owls, like me.”
With the World Health Organisation now recognising Burnout as an official syndrome, flexible working models like Carrie’s could be a solution to the ever growing issue. When not successfully managed, workplace stress can result in “extreme exhaustion, feelings of negativity and decreased productivity.”
Burnout can also lead those affected to develop mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. Mental health charity Mind conducted a study of almost 44,000 employees, finding that nearly half (48%) of respondents had struggled with mental health issues such as stress, low mood and anxiety whilst working at their current job.
Carrie ensures her team is well looked after, explaining that “The main thing is that we all get our work done to a high standard, and we get it done on time. I completely trust my team to manage their own time and I strive to make sure their roles work for them. In return, I get an awesome team who always go above and beyond for the brand.”
“Finding the Perfect Balance”
Ali Sands, Head of Operations for Carrie Elizabeth, explains that working flexible hours means she has been able to balance the career she loves with being a mum. “Whilst pregnant I was so worried that I wouldn’t be able to continue my career – that was so important to me – and be a good mum at the same time but working for Carrie has enabled me to find the perfect balance.” According to Working Mums, 25% of working mums in the UK work full-time with no flexibility and 15% of UK women on maternity leave have been refused a flexible working schedule.
“We put so much pressure on ourselves to try and be “perfect” in every aspect of our lives and that just isn’t realistic. It can lead to huge amounts of stress and worry – and of course the dreaded “mum guilt”! Our flexible working model here at Carrie Elizabeth means that I can dedicate time to both my job and my daughter – and neither loses out.” It’s clear that a flexible working model allows women to pursue the career they love – regardless of whether they have children, are planning a family or just simply want a healthier work-life balance.
Favouring the Group Chat Over the Boardroom
There is no Carrie Elizabeth office – all of Carrie’s team work remotely from home. Carrie wanted to work this way not only due to its benefit to the environment (“no travel to work, no office to power and no plastic coffee cups!”) but it also its benefit to her team as a whole. Carrie says that “working from home gives us all the flexibility to work the hours that suit us, to fit in work alongside our busy lives and also to remove that awful part of work that everybody dreads – the daily commute.”
They all communicate with each other via the Whatsapp group chat, a weekly conference call, Instagram DM – and sometimes all three at once. “This way, the team all know what’s happening and what the priorities are for us as a team and individually so that we can be there to support when needed,” says Carrie.
Face-to-face time is still important to Carrie, though. “There are some things that just don’t translate as well through Facetime, like when we get new product samples,” Carrie explains. “So, we always make sure to have one team catch-up every month where we can look at exciting new products, talk about future strategy and generally have a lovely time being together!”
Supporting Women, Championing Women
Being a small team, Carrie sometimes must outsource certain work that doesn’t fall into the team’s current expertise. “Wherever possible, I try to support other female entrepreneurs and have worked hard to build supportive and long-lasting working relationships with other female-led businesses. A lot of our success is built upon our strong social media presence and it is through these platforms that I have also been able to meet some amazing women and build mutually supportive relationships.” It is through this mindset that Carrie has been able to receive some amazing advice and guidance from many incredible women, building a community as she goes.
“It is extremely important to me to be able to pass this knowledge onto other women starting out in business or looking to take the next step towards achieving their goals.”
Break-Ups and Business Plans
When she turned 30 just over four years ago, Carrie decided to leave her steady job and a life of security. Spotting a gap in the market for affordable demi fine jewellery, she took a leap of faith and started laying the foundations for her new business: Carrie Elizabeth Jewellery. At the same time, her long-term relationship broke down, taking her completely by surprise. She describes this as “A terrible blow that almost sent me off course. My world felt like it was crumbling down around me and it took a huge effort to pick myself up, dust myself off and set back on the quest to follow my dreams.”
At first, she struggled hugely with the loneliness of setting up a business on her own and candidly admits that this still plagues her now. She had to quickly learn coping mechanisms to deal with the fact that she was not only setting out on her biggest achievement to date, but suddenly, she was doing so alone.
Despite this, Carrie developed her business plan, used existing relationships with suppliers and tapped into her experience of working with manufacturers in India. She researched the best places to find the gemstones and diamonds she wanted to incorporate into her designs and sourced the jewellery makers who would be able to render her dreams into reality.
It was then that the Carrie Elizabeth brand was born. Carrie has since taken her business from strength to strength, most recently working with Fearne Cotton on a bespoke collection for Not on The High Street.
From January to September 2019, revenue is up by 92%, gold product sales have increased 116% in the last 6 months (YoY) and sales of her beautiful Moonstone jewellery have doubled in the last 6 months compared to last year. It’s safe to say Carrie is crushing it.
Looking to the Future
On the future of her business, Carrie says, “It already feels like we’ve come so far and had so many ups and downs – but hopefully there’s still a long way to go. Every day I learn something new about running my own business.”
She acknowledges that there are lots of successes to celebrate, but also many obstacles to overcome and so has learnt that you “Have to face both with the same positive attitude. Self-belief, a strong vision of where you want to be and above all, a passion for everything you do.”
“There are lots of exciting projects on the horizon and it feels good to know that the direction of my brand is completely in my hands.”
Carries ultimate advice for all business owners? “To anyone building a team, make sure that it’s founded on clear communication, trust and respect – it goes a long way, believe me!”