Flotsam Flo is a pioneering Cornish business founded by Kate Doran in November 2021. The business takes waste items that are difficult to recycle and ‘upcycles’ them into attractive and useful new products. Flotsam Flo uses discarded items such as broken wetsuits, paddling pools, inflatables and canopies then transforms them into beautifully designed bags, holdalls, wallets and backpacks. Each item is unique – a complete one-off. In 2022, Flotsam Flo received a Judges Commendation Award in the Circular Economy category at the Cornwall Sustainability Awards.
Kate started her career as a teacher of art and design technology, but then a life-changing event made her re-evaluate her priorities, as Kate explains: “I suffered a brain haemorrhage in 2019 which I was fortunate to survive. It showed me how precious my time is, and from that point onward I wanted to spend my career doing something that I really loved.
“Growing up in Cornwall, I have always felt close to nature and the environment. As a youngster, I was keen on sewing and had taught textile design at school. So I decided to create a new venture that would design new products from reclaimed materials. These are materials that would otherwise be sent to landfill. It is a great feeling to be inventing new products which customers love and which also help the environment.”
The business name, Flotsam Flo, was inspired by the memory of Kate’s late grandmother, Florence, a strong character who had a powerful influence on Kate’s life. Florence also had a motto: Ask for help when you need it!
Kate had promoted the range on Facebook, at local events and had a store on Etsy, but she needed help in order to take the business to the next level. She had no computer and ran the business from her mobile phone. So she turned to Superfast Cornwall. Superfast Cornwall provided grant funding to enable the purchase of a new laptop and the development of a business website.
Kate says: “Superfast Cornwall has been amazing. It has been a stepping stone, allowing me to make the business more professional and develop new opportunities.”
Kate explains: “Owning a new laptop is transformational for the business. Now I can use professional business software and can carry out tasks that were simply not possible for me before, such as editing videos. This will make my social media channels more effective and means I can also set up a YouTube channel, enabling me to build awareness about plastic waste and sustainability. In the future, I plan to create tutorial videos for You Tube, showing people how to create new designs out of reclaimed plastic items. Having a laptop also opens up other exciting new marketing opportunities for me, such as running workshops at schools and community events.”
Superfast Cornwall funding has also supported the design and build of a business website.
Kate says: “ Although I previously had an Etsy shop and a Facebook page, I had not been able to afford a business website. My positive experience with Etsy has already shown me the huge potential of online sales and now I will be able to build on this and expand sales further through the website. Having its own website makes the business appear more professional and will also improve our marketing, as it radically increases the customer reach”.
Flotsam Flo is reaching out to customers in a number of innovative ways. For example, the business collects discarded items such as wetsuits from holiday parks, then returns the upcycled designs to the holiday parks for sale. Through schemes such as this, Kate is a pioneer of the circular economy. The laptop and website will enable the business to promote initiatives such as this and build them further.
In addition to grant funding for the laptop and website, Kate received 12 hours of digital business support through the Superfast Cornwall programme.
Kate says: “At first I was sceptical that digital business support would bring me very much benefit. But I was quite amazed at how much I learnt and I really looked forward to each session. My digital coach was fabulous and taught me so much about search engine optimisation as well as countless other suggestions for making the most of the internet.”
Kate concludes: “Superfast Cornwall has made a huge difference to my business. I am passionate about raising awareness of sustainability and the programme has empowered me to achieve far more going forward, reaching out to new audiences and customers.
“My ambition is that in the future I replicate the Flotsam Flo model right across the UK, by setting up a network of local hubs. Now that Superfast Cornwall has given me the tools and skills I need to grow the business, it feels within my grasp to turn this dream into reality.”