Painter and decorator Annie Bowman set up Hoydens after getting fed up of ill-fitting traditional uniforms. She tells us how she hopes her products will ‘shake up the workwear industry’ – and encourage more women into male-dominated jobs.

I was inspired to start my business by …

…the search for comfort.  I have been a painter and decorator for more than a decade and trained at a course for women only where we all had a good laugh wearing the white bib and braces uniform.  Some were under 5’ and I am nearly 6’, but we all had to wear the same length dungarees.  Funny at first, but increasingly annoying when you are bending up and down, painting skirting boards, or architraves, not to mention very unflattering.

Being uncomfortable and looking ridiculous does nothing for your self-esteem when you are already working in a traditionally male environment.  More and more women are doing physically active jobs, and more every year going into careers that used to be the domain of men.  The answer is to shake up the workwear industry and make something that fits women of different heights and body shapes and works with their job.

My favourite thing about running my business is …

Being my own boss.  I can fit life around my work and vice versa.  I can be flexible for my family and friends.  Most of all, I like solving problems and having my own ideas.

The three words that best describe my business are …

Pride, confidence and comfort.

The Sheffield City Region is a great place to start a business because …

There has been so much help.  I previously worked in Germany where the rules were very complicated to even set myself up as a painter and decorator.  When I moved here, there were easily accessible free courses for anyone thinking about setting up their own business, whether it is attending a course on how to use social media to increase your sales, or networking events.  I even won a prize for Aspiring Entrepreneur of the Year in Sheffield City Region’s Launchpad programme Awards earlier this year.

Sheffield City Region is a great place to grow a business because …

I have found that the people at Sheffield City Region who help businesses start and grow are passionate about the area and entrepreneurship.  They all have actual and relevant experience of the areas on which they advise.  They are friendly and supportive, and you feel that they really want you to succeed.  The networking events continue this positivity and the other people you meet also go out of their way to back or assist you.

The best advice I ever got was … 

When you achieve a goal, stop and celebrate it before launching yourself into the next stage.

The worst advice I ever got was …

My business is still in its early stages as I have only been trading since Easter.  If I succeed in this venture, then the worst advice will have been that I shouldn’t try as I can’t compete with the big brands who have the volume cost savings and manufacture in the Far East. So far, the feedback is good, so I know my product is what people want.

The organisations that have supported me and my business include …

There are so many people that I have met since moving to Sheffield and starting my business.  All of them supported me in different ways.

  • The skilled local women photographed for my website: Becky Chauhan of Clutter Cleared, Laura Birchenough of Homeworks, Helen Warburton of Honesty Gardens, and Alice Midmore of Handspring Design.
  • Fiona Tatton of Womanthology.
  • Reynaldo Robinson of Vyn Johns (vintage bridal couture) and Leann Marie Design.
  • Matt from B-On-1.
  • Jill White of Andy Hanselman Consulting.
  • Jill Turner of Think Outside.
  • Kisha Bradley from #GirlsWithDrills and Bright Box Makerspace.

The main challenges facing my industry/sector are …

The competition for me are all big brands who generally manufacture in the Far East in big volumes.  I would like to start my own manufacturing in Sheffield eventually.  Supporting women entering male dominated sectors is easier now that physical strength is not necessarily a restricting factor with all the health and safety regulations.  There is a skills shortage in these areas and we just need to encourage girls and women by giving them opportunity, education and clothing (of course!)

In 5 years’ time I expect my business to …

Be a byword for women’s workwear trousers, be manufacturing in the UK and be a force to be reckoned with in terms of encouraging women to do whatever job they want. I would like to help all women in physically active jobs feel confidant and comfortable all day, and proud to be working in their chosen field.