Girlbosses of Great Britain : The One With ZaZaBoom!

With the slow return to a new way of life coming our way we begin to reconsider our priorities. [...]

With the slow return to a new way of life coming our way we begin to reconsider our priorities. We believe that we must continue to pitch in where we can and find new ways of working together for the greater good.

So out of the lessons learned during lockdown of a young, creative and resourceful family in the leafy suburbs of London, comes ZaZaBoom!

A new-found charity-inspired business which is driven by fund-raising for charities in crisis. Their first fundraising mission was to simply make something to sell and to be able to donate funds to get PPE to the NHS heroes and frontline workers.  And so the story began with one simple pattern which Karen cut, to make a face-mask as a labour of love. Within just weeks demand grew to such an extent that local volunteers joined Karen’s venture and dusted down their sewing machines to meet the orders coming in and to generate the funds for the NHS.

This is gifting with purpose. Plus, Karen is one of the coolest women we’ve stumbled across in a while so we couldn’t wait to find out more. Here, she chatted to #TeamCoco to tell us more…

Tell us about the journey that lead you to launching Zaza Boom!

The London lockdown began like it did for many others: Our highly active family of four beaming with optimism, creativity and excess energy in need of channeling. Had it not been for the accidental stumbling upon our charitable destiny for the front-line workers, we may not have survived the 3 full months with our sanity intact. 

As our sequestered existence began to sink in, our attention naturally turned towards the basic practicalities of food, foraging and the never-ending question of how we could protect ourselves from this looming and invisible virus. My husband, dry humoured and sarcastic in even in the worst of times, informed me that I had been elected to find a way to up-cycle a handful of bullet-proof facemasks made with vacuum cleaner bags, clearly his time had been spent watching YouTube lockdown hacks. 

Never being one to cower to a challenge, I gave it a bit of thought and consulted my quick-witted team of advisors: Ava, 6  and Coco, 9. We decided the best move forward was to first start our search for fabrics in the confines of our poorly-lit garage…

I was not in any way handy with a sewing machine before lockdown, and I was lucky to locate my dusty old Singer relic from beneath a stack of boxes. As with most challenges, I tend to hurl myself unwittingly into the unknown and the results are usually a mix of mayhem and regret. The attempt to master the art of face-mask-making was indeed no different.  In the early days of isolation, supplies were minimal, and one had to rely on the resources at hand which did not involve the go-to Amazon-Prime. One rather fortuitous perk of my 30-year career as a clothing designer was that I had slowly accrued a sprawling web of worthless memorabilia which included scraps of fabrics, trims, threads and many other artefacts of my past.  Apart from the treasure trove of prints, we also stumbled upon a box full of coloured underwear elastics that we decided to use for the masks, and anyone that was trying to make facemasks during lockdown will know that the elastic was the holy grail of scarce components.  So that’s it, we made a few terrible ones, then a few mediocre ones and eventually we managed to make a facemask which was actually functional to wear and share.  We thought our masks were quite unique and felt like they might actually spread a bit of joy, rather than the usual gloom one normally associates with protective face masks. 

And perhaps we could even sell a few of them to our friends, who were looking for ways to protect their families, and donate the proceeds to the front-line workers of the NHS heroes. Like everyone else trapped in their homes with little to do but wait, the front-line workers came to symbolise the hope of our existence and we all tried to imagine how bewildering it must have been for them going in, day after day, to fight an invisible and deadly enemy.  It made for many sobering and honest conversations with our little girls and eventually they came to see all nurses and doctors as crusading superheroes for good. I would imagine that their generation will see a spike in university applications looking to pursue careers in the health care field, due to these powerful early impressions made on them during lockdown. Another hopeful silver lining for the kids of lockdown.

Get 1 for £20 and 2 for £38.

The ultimate success of our project was due to two things: the generosity of our global donors and a fortuitous decision to use our colourful and joy generating prints.  For whatever reason we had an unprecedented response to our mask making and we found ourselves trying to keep up, day by day. We were making masks every night until past midnight, and we were back up again at 7am to start all over again. Eventually we were brought to our knees and had to reach out via the popular Next-Door App to see if we could find volunteers to help us make the masks, as demand was overtaking our production process!

This led us to the next unexpected chapter of the discovery: the local community, heaving with charitable and dynamic people from all walks of life, from young to old and everyone in between. This new collaboration for a shared goal, brought a very unsuspecting group of people together, close in mind and spirit to keep the venture on track. 

A group WhatsApp handle was created, called the NHS Sewing Bee and we used it to coordinate who was making what… for whom … and where on the planet it was going.  It wasn’t until Week 5 that things began to get truly unsustainable when we began to run out of our small lots of fabrics and trims. We were challenged, as we did not want to renege on our offer to the donors and we also wanted to continue raising money for the workers. 

Our only option to continue was to turn to cutting up fully made garments that were made for a business in the pipeline. It felt cringeworthy at first but then we quickly realised that we could get a whopping 30-40 masks out of one dress, and once we even managed to squeeze 21 masks out of a printed pair of leggings. So, in the end, we did indeed reach our goal of raising £10,000 for the front-line workers for the NHS and we used 100% of the funds to invest in PPE equipment from a resource that thankfully gave us everything at cost. The grand total of what we were able to buy, was 2600 highest-grade surgical gowns and 4500 K95 respirator masks. As the venture took on its own format and momentum, a seed of an idea started to take hold of my mind… 

It was few weeks later and 10,000 hours invested into learning how to build a stylish and cool website, that a new picture started to take shape. We were able to launch the first charity-inspired lifestyle brand. We kept the name ZaZaBoom! which my husband had come up with, and we decided to continue donating 100% of all profits for, at least the first 200 days from launch, then going to 25% of the profits in perpetuity.

Our goal is to support charities suffering as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our efforts will be spread across several areas and we plan to continue our mission for the NHS workers until it is no longer needed. We will also soon be announcing a unique collaboration with a new initiative to re-employ many of the homeless by retraining them as NHS support staff. We are also partnering with local food banks to help were we can in the worst hit areas.

Created to support charities in crisis, you are donating 100% of profit to different causes. Why was this important to you?

We were looking to find ways that we could continue being useful, and the natural answer seemed to be to channel our energy and creativity into making lovable, likeable products to incentivise people to buy something unique, made in the UK, while at the same time being able to raise funds and allow us to take our profits and #giftiton to charities in crisis. The facemasks will also stay at the core of the venture, as they generate 100% of the profits for the charities and continue to be made by our community of wonderful volunteers. We now ship our masks for FREE to anywhere in the world to #spreadthelovenotthevirus and to #wearthedamnmask

You believe that the best luxury in life is the luxury of giving. We love that ethos! You have had the whole family involved in this project: how do you plan on evolving the brand over time?

We are all in love with this poignant expression as it seems to perfectly express the essence of what ZaZaBoom! is all about. We discovered that dedicating ourselves to helping others was the most fulfilling thing that we’ve ever done, and by far our greatest luxury. It felt like a great privilege to be a part of something far bigger than ourselves. It’s not only provided us with a positive and productive purpose during lock-down, but it has also allowed us to meet the most incredible group of kindhearted new friends along the way.  We expect that we have a long road of healing ahead of us and we just hope that we can continue being useful with our efforts. 

The irony is that the surrendering of your heart and time for others can prove to be the most fulfilling and noteworthy thing you will ever spend your life and money on. 

What roles do you each play in the company? 

That’s a funny question. I consider Ava, 6, Coco, 9 and myself to be co-founders but sadly I’ve been recently informed that I am the only that can sew, design, draw, cook, build a website and therefore I’m in charge of everything.  One of most transformative and fulfilling parts of our lockdown legacy has been observing my eldest daughter Coco become massively more confidant in herself.  We rather ridiculously hosted our own live shows every Saturday night on Facebook during lockdown. We called it The Saturday Night Love Show for the NHS. We had a loose and home-grown format where we honoured the NHS heroes of the week, the volunteers of the week, and also, we did shout-outs to our donors of the week, who were buying collectable pieces to raise funds. It was all quite surreal, but the most surprising bit was how confidant and animated our little Coco became on camera. Her whole face lit up when the LIVE button started to flash and she was thrilled to chat, joke, do shout outs and one time even did her trademark handstand in the middle of our show. A 30-minute show of Coco and me, camera shy, sitting awkwardly next to her and holding on for dear life.  Any parent would have been beaming with pride but I was mostly amazed of how that experience created a massive shift in her shyness levels.  The best result was that she managed to create a joyful and hilarious distraction for the 1000’s of people who watched our weekly show. We’ve heard from 100s of followers and friends since we stopped our shows, that dearly miss their weekly dose our madcap ZaZaBoom! show, and yes mostly Coco. We’ve given her a temporary  leave of absence to return to the innocence of her celebrity-free childhood and also ensure that we don’t encourage her peaking in her career as a newscaster too early. She even came up with her own hilarious and memorable “sign-off” that she delivered at the end of every weekly show. Coco’s signature “sign off” later became the inspiration behind our iconic ZaZaBoom! logo which inspired our dear friend Lee, founder of the graphic and branding agency Felix and Friends, to wake up in the middle of the night having dreamt of the perfect graphic equivalent to Coco’s signature outburst, which was ZazaaaaaBBBBBOOOMMMM!

We love the patterns on the products, who creates the designs?

I create all of the illustrations and then transform them on photoshop to all over patterns. I have no formal training as a textile designer and have just learned along the way, picking up different things here and there, watching online “pattern repeat” tutorials until my brain baked with frustrations and then one day it just clicked. Since that milestone, I began designing collections, and searching for my unique signature as a textile designer. It took nearly 3 years to finally stand back and say, yes, that it, that’s my “trademark & signature” and this is when I created my first pattern The Gastby Girls, inspired by my beautiful late mum Nancy. It was this first print that I decided to launch our new ZaZaBoom! charity inspired brand.  I also included her close mates The Bombshell Girls, Martini Extra Olives Please and the ever-iconic and timeless Crown Jewels. Aside from my family, this is my greatest passion and love, to draw and create whimsical and joy generating patterns

Since launching the brand, what has been your proudest moment?

I think it was seeing the breathtaking results of the campaign photo shoot we did at our house with an absolute dream-team of talent, who all donated their time for the love of the cause. It was a day that we will never ever forget. We even managed to get our super model on top of our house for our most dream like shot.

Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?

Probably not. Although it was tough balancing everything with 2 young girls, homeschooling, cooking, cleaning, it all did sort of come about organically. Sometimes trying to control and perfect everything around us greatly reduces the possibility for magical and unexpected results.

What does self-care mean to you? 

I think it means looking after oneself so that you are able to look after others later?

For any aspiring entrepreneurs wanting to launch in you field, what advice would you offer?

I’d encourage anyone to give a thought to the #giftiton concept and choose to Create-to-Donate. Strangely you end up getting back far more than you have given, in terms of love, kindness and karma.

What has been the best piece of advice you have ever received?

Probably that the “idle mind is the devil’s playground.” So, in other words, keep busy when things get tough.

Jamie Rockers of @beatyrocksblog, wears GatsbyGirls swimwear by ZaZaBoom.
Jamie Rockers of @beatyrocksblog, wears GatsbyGirls swimwear by ZaZaBoom!

What’s your go to quote when lacking motivation? 

Suck it up buttercup.

Find out more and follow Karen on her journey…

At our new forever hacienda @ www.zazaboom.co.uk and on Instagram & FB @zazaboom_official

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Laura Bartlett
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