Firstly, tell us a bit about you?
My name is Maawura Totoe I am a civil engineer and the founder of FLO London and FLO London The Shop (FLTS). I started FLO London as a side hustle in 2019. I launched FLO London The Shop at the end of 2020.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
I started FLO London because I wanted to share my love for art, travel, alfresco dining and of course, London. But more than that, I wanted to give a platform to Londoners from all walks of life as an independent, unbiased voice, providing an authentic voice on the nuance of living in one of the most diverse cities in the world.
As a Civil Engineer working in a field that women are often underrepresented, I wanted FLO London to inspire and have an impact, through interviews with an array of professionals working in a variety of fields and industries through our ‘FLO London Meets’ and ‘In conversation with’ series.
In November 2020, I launched FLTS. As a British-born Ghanaian, the shop serves as a merger of my love of London lifestyle and the spirit of Ghana and its culture. Through merging these two passions, I developed this curated collection of lifestyle products that consists of a selection of homeware items and accessories made from Ghana wax print fabrics – including tote bags, placemats and scrunchies. Our first collection has been dedicated to the Ahwenepa Nkasa fabric, a fabric design that has always stood out to me. The collection offers a selection of classic, yet unique designs with some products also being reversible. These pieces have been designed with durability and sustainability close in mind
Fabrics in Ghana have proverbial meanings and the fabric that we have used for this first collection – Ahwenepa Nkasa, means ‘good waist beads do not make noise’. This is a common proverb among Ghanaians, which implies you should let your deeds or character speak for you. Each subsequent collection we release on a yearly basis will explore different wax print fabrics and most importantly a different proverbial meaning for the year.
I believe it is so important to showcase the local community where our products are made, so to coincide with the launch of FLO London The Shop, we released the Ghana Culture series, designed to ensure that when our customers are purchasing items on our website they simultaneously gain an appreciation of Ghana. The Series provides an insight into life in Ghana. The people we spoke to are all entrepreneurs, business owners and artists doing great things in Ghana. Everyone we spoke to had a unique and interesting story; it’s definitely an inspiring series!
Ghana culture series.
What is your main inspiration and driver for your business? (Perhaps you could also share your mission and vision with our readers?)
As well as, tackling social issues and providing a voice for individuals to share their experiences. I want FLO London to be a platform for women to be inspired by the work that other women do. Whether they are choosing their future path at school or university, starting their careers as a graduate or apprentice or at a later stage in life where you may be looking for a career transition
Second, to this, we also want to be able to help as many people as we can, through our FLO Helps works. At present, FLO Helps supports charitable causes in Ghana. So far I have carried out Engineering Days in Ghana, which are designed to teach children under the ages of 15 about Engineering. It is my aim to ensure young girls, see engineering as a viable career path. This is work I hope we can extend to several other countries where fewer resources are dedicated to this. It is particularly important for young girls to be exposed to as many career options when they are younger especially in industries such as engineering where we are often underrepresented.
What was the moment that everything changed for you?
People’s reactions to our articles are one of the biggest inspirations for the work we do. Knowing that we are making even a small impact is inspiring.
Last year we published “What it means to be black at a British boarding school’ an article in which we interviewed 30 different individuals who have attended British boarding schools. The overall positive response we got from people was very inspiring. For many, the process felt therapeutic in the way it acknowledged their own experiences and for others, it was eye opening to realise the experience of others.
People have gone on to cite this in other articles and papers including a dissertation submitted to Ivy League University – Princeton. It has been satisfying to know the article was able to reach so many and that these unfortunate stories were going to open eyes and in term hopefully forge change.
Being Black at British boarding school Article.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
Time has been a big obstacle. In its infancy, FLO London was very much a side project whilst I was working as a Civil Engineer. To be able to dedicate as much time as I wanted to FLO was challenging – from setting up the online platform and trying to map out the strategy for the launch of FLO London The Shop. As a start-up, there was no budget for building a team.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
I think it’s been quite exciting to have FLTS products stocked on Stylist The Drop and on Wolf and Badger. I hope well see FLO London The Shop items on the High Street soon! We are now working on getting some of our items stocked on the High Street.
It is also incredibly inspiring to see people’s positive feedback when they receive our FLTS products. It’s great to know people love their purchases and are finding a place in their home for the Ahwenepa Nkasa fabric.
Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
I have self-funded the business up to this point. However, I will be exploring the investment route to expand the business.
What has been your best investment?
I think starting FLO London and FLTS has been my best investment as tiring as it has been. It is fantastic to work on projects that I am passionate about and also to be able to merge my love of both British and Ghanaian culture.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share it with us?
I wouldn’t say anything I’ve done is a mistake as its all a learning process. However, there are things in hindsight I would have done differently. But I don’t tend to dwell on them but rather find ways to make the best of bad or unexpected situations and file them under learning experiences.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
I don’t think I can comment too much on this at present, as my business has been self-funded and I have had quite a positive experience in the sense that I have a great group of ladies that contribute and have helped build FLOLondon from our logo design, videographers who have filmed and edited our series, to illustrators and writers.
However, there are a lot of stats suggesting that women are underrepresented when it comes to receiving funding. Having said that there are a lot of positive measures in place right now to ensure that there is greater diversity and representation for women when it comes to funding for business. At the start of the year, RBS announced £1billion in funding through NatWest to support female entrepreneurs in the UK to develop, scale and grow their businesses over the next few years. I hope we can continue to see more positive announcements like this.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learnt the importance of building a network and having a great team surrounding you. But more importantly to trust your gut feelings!
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
I don’t have a mentor and would love to find one! I do have friends and family that have offered fantastic advice throughout the process.
What was your biggest learning of 2020?
I think 2020 was a bit of a strange year for most, however, I think it was also a time that put a lot of things in perspective for people. I would say one of my biggest learning was to dedicate time to the things you are passionate about.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
In the next five years, I would like FLO London to be known for its authentic take on London living, but also to be a hub for interviews and resources on women working in underrepresented industries. (I would hope we will be a good way along the way to fixing the narrative of underrepresented).
I would love to employ a full-time team to work on FLO London and FLTS. It would be great to see FLTS on the high street and have a dedicated boutique for our bucket hats and scrunchies.
I would like to be able to dedicate more time to our charity arm FLO Helps to help tackle social issues in the UK and Ghana, especially women’s education. I would also love to have a better work-life balance!
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
I would recommend The Money Week Podcasts. They have a particularly interesting one about Bitcoin. It is worth listening to if you have an interest in crypto currency, they give a good breakdown of what Bitcoin is all about.
Useful resources that I have and continue to use for FLO London:
- Social media resources include Later, for scheduling posts.
- Canva, for creating graphics and branded content.
- Gmail Workspace for calendar scheduling, meetings, information sharing with the team.
- I tend to do a lot of photography for the website myself, so I find Adobe Lightroom, useful for photo editing.
- Places such as Allbright and Found + Flourish serve as great spaces to network. Allbright is also a fantastic working space and ideal for meetings.
What advice would you give anyone about starting a business?
Don’t be disheartened by the bad days. The better days are always around the corner! It is definitely a rollercoaster process.
Finally, where can we find you/how can we support you?
Follow our social channels, sign up for our newsletter and support our small business – FLO London The Shop. Our emails and DM’s are always open for conversation!
FLO London The Shop:
About your author
Leah Williams is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.
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