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Inspiring Female Founder Spotlight: Hema Stewart

Hema Stewart is the Founder of Curlicue, a British-made, sustainable wrapping paper and accessories startup. Hema launched Curlicue in 2019, in response to a growing demand for sustainable products that prioritised high quality design. Curlicue’s eco-friendly wrapping paper and gift tags feature beautiful bespoke designs by UK-based designers, creating an appealing alternative for people who are mindful about protecting the environment when shopping, but who prefer not to use kraft paper or newspaper to wrap gifts.

Before launching Curlicue, Hema worked in the marketing industry for a decade managing a new business and B2B marketing role within agencies. As a BAME female entrepreneur, Hema spends time sharing her knowledge, whether that’s by advising women in startups, working with innovative individuals to help kick-start their business or just giving guidance on branding and marketing.

Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?

I launched Curlicue in 2019 after a decade of working in the marketing industry. I intended to start Curlicue as a side hustle, but when I was made redundant I took the leap and chose to focus on Curlicue full time, while freelancing as a marketing consultant. Curlicue makes beautiful eco-friendly sustainable gift wrap and accessories. All Curlicue products are plastic-free, vegan, made in the UK from 100% recycled paper that is fully recyclable in household recycling. Also, all our beautiful designs are created by a diverse mix of independent artists and illustrators.

How did the idea come to you for the company?

The idea for Curlicue came about because I had been finding ways of living more sustainably and gift wrap was a big part of that for me, because I love giving gifts. I became frustrated with the environmental impact of gift wrap and, when I couldn’t find beautiful gift wrap that was sustainable, I decided to create a solution to the problem myself. It took a lot of research and time to align all the constituent parts, but the hard work paid off. 

How did you achieve awareness?

With my generalist marketing background, the go-to-market strategy for Curlicue was arguably the easiest aspect. I utilised my knowledge of B2B, B2C and DTC marketing to create a brand that would amplify a movement of eco-conscious gifting.

PR has played a crucial role in driving awareness of the Curlicue brand. Choosing the right PR partner is key, and I’m so very fortunate we have Gallium Ventures looking after Curlicue’s PR efforts, ensuring we maximise both proactive and reactive earned PR. We make a concerted effort with affiliate and influencer marketing too, choosing the right collaborators for our brand. There is a lot of education that needs to be done to spur on adoption of eco-friendly products, and awareness is the driver of that. We can educate people at the B2B and consumer events we have a presence at, but we know more needs to be done to educate the masses about easy ways to live a more sustainable life.

At Curlicue, we call this ethos simple eco swaps. If we all replaced everyday products — like traditional, plastic infused wrapping paper — with a sustainable version, we would have a very big impact on the world.

What are the key successes?

We launched six months before the pandemic hit, so survival is a big success! We’ve also been featured in publications like The Independent and Good Housekeeping, which has had a tangible impact on our business — those are successes we are very proud of. We also moved into a real office! It may seem unimportant, but for a business like ours it was a significant moment.

What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?

Seasonality is a big challenge we face. Christmas is, by far, our busiest season. The challenge for us is to maintain a steady stream of sales throughout the calendar year through our DTC sales, but we are tackling this with a focus on B2B and wholesale, selling our gift wrap to retailers that have just about recovered from the impact of Covid and also partnering with brands and businesses to create their very own bespoke gift wrap, as add on products or as part of their gift wrapping service.

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?

If you have an idea, explore it. It doesn’t mean you have to take huge risks — financial or otherwise — but perhaps there is another way to bring that idea to life. This will help you qualify the concept and work out if it is something you’d want to put more time and energy into. At Curlicue, we launched with a very basic website and just two products, stored and fulfilled from our spare room. They did very well and we had people asking about Christmas in the height of Summer!

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