Diane Ward always loved sewing. After a fulfilling life as a nanny and then a stay-at-home mom, she found herself searching for something else after her children were grown. She decided to take her love of sewing and turn it into a small business. But success didn’t happen overnight. Ward experimented with a few different concepts and platforms before finding her niche: custom keepsake bears and cushions that she makes out of people’s precious clothing items to memorialize family members and loved ones. Today Ward is figuring out how to balance her growing business Bee Belles Keepsakes and her new role as a grandmother, all while she continues to sew and create.
Ward’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
I’ve always loved sewing. I can remember making my own dolls clothes sewing them by hand from about the age of 11. I took up sewing at school, using a machine for the first time and made my first outfit. From then on I made clothes for myself and skirts for my mum, soft furnishings and even went on to make my brother’s suit and dresses for my flowers girls at my first wedding.
Back then this was only a past time of mine as I had attended college and then became a full time nanny. I always wanted to be a stay at home mum as I love children and wanted to be there for mine all the time. Luckily, I was in a position to be able to do that. After having my first 2 children I decided to become a registered childminder – this would still allow me to be at home with my children while keeping my hand in with work. Years passed, my children grew up and I began to want to earn a little money for myself. With my thinking cap on I realized it was either go back out to work and not have a clue what to do or do what I love and start my own business.
The more I thought about it the more the latter sounded better and better and with the support of my new partner, I decided to go ahead. At first I thought I would make children’s clothing, so with that in mind I ordered a few patterns and started to make some samples. I made a few dresses, pinafores and dungarees and popped them on my page that I created on Facebook……and waited….and waited…..and waited. Being so naïve and not knowing anything about marketing I just presumed people would see these and swarm like flies to buy my items. After seeing other businesses online popping out orders left, right and centre, I wondered what I was doing wrong. Around this time someone contacted me and asked if it would be possible to make 12 bears out of her dads shirts as he had recently passed away….wow, “12!” I thought (though this actually ended up as 16 as more of her family wanted them). I decided then that selling children’s clothes wasn’t an option. I couldn’t compete with the prices of the high street shop and supermarkets. The memory bears that I had made went down like a storm so I made the decision to take my business in a whole new direction. I now make memory keepsake cushions, bears, rabbits, in fact any animal you can think of!
Success to me is when I eventually get to be a name that people will recognise and when my products can actually be seen in a shop. My biggest success to date is winning the Jacqueline Gold WOW award on Twitter. It may not seem a lot to some people but to me, it’s a big thing.
Balancing work and life has been my top challenge. In recent months I’ve had to seriously tighten the reigns on what I do family-wise during the week, as sometimes my children have a tendency to not understand that I am working, when I’m working from home! Now, if I have orders, I work Monday to Friday, I set myself a time to finish and then my time can be spent with my grandchildren. My husband works away from home during the week, so I have my evenings to catch up on any administration.
In terms of my health, I’ve always suffered from migraines and vertigo but just over three years ago, I suffered from the most debilitating episode of vertigo that I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t move as every single movement made my head spin, even sitting still didn’t help and the pain in my head was unbearable. I thought I had something seriously wrong with me. The hospital tests concluded that I was having vestibular migraines. Even though I’ve never classed this as an illness, it’s something I’ve had to learn to live with. I can now manage it better with exercises when I do get an attack. But I’m very thankful that I am at home most days because this which allows me to spend time with my grandchildren and family, plus working full time on my business means I can dedicate more time to helping it to grow.
My most important role model has to be Chrissie Lowery from Heartizan. She is my mentor and seeing what she has achieved with her 3 businesses aspires me to make a success of my business too.