Setting up a business in lockdown: Francesca & Olivia Johns – Boeboes

Images above: Francesca and Olivia Johns with Boeboes Roman blinds and cushions


Francesca and Olivia Johns are 22 and 20 respectively. In the summer of 2020 Francesca graduated from Kings, with a degree in Geography; her sister Olivia had just completed her first year studying Criminology at Oxford Brooks University.

Did they spend the summer in pyjamas watching Netflix? No they did not. Well, maybe a little, but mainly they decided to act on an idea they’d been mulling for some years and set up a business together selling soft furnishings.

“We’ve always had the idea” says Francesca. “Ten years ago we had the name”. ‘Boeboes’ (as in ‘time for beddy boeboes’) is a word from their childhood which summons up an image of coziness: sitting on a comfy sofa in pyjamas, drinking hot chocolate before bed. Their business is designing soft furnishings and selling them online, so homeliness and comfort are their stock in trade.

Image above: One of the family’s Dachshunds tries out a Boesboes dog bed

“We just thought, we have this long summer holiday stretching ahead of us with nothing to do and nowhere to go, so we’d go for it”

“I’ve always had an interest in design” says Olivia. “Since I was 13 or 14 I loved going to see projects progressing at our parents’ design workshop and being surrounded by colours, fabrics and discussions about design.

Parents George and Jane run Audrey Johns, making bespoke curtains, cushions, blinds and soft furnishings at their factory in Pembrokeshire, employing around 40 people. They both had very different careers, but took the business over from George’s mother, who established it, when the girls were 10 and 12. Olivia and Francesca see their online business as a sister company, designing and selling online furnishings made by Audrey Johns.

“A family business is all consuming” they say. “But we realise how lucky we are”. They’ve grown up with the expert seamstresses who make bespoke designs for interior designers at the workshop, so they can seek their advice on materials and production practicalities, as well as that of their parents on running a business; they have a supply chain they can rely on.

Images above: Boeboes cushions and dog beds

All they have to focus on is the designs and the marketing.

“We just thought, we have this long summer stretching ahead of us with nothing do to and nowhere to go, so we’d go for it”.

They used their time well, setting up their website, writing all their product descriptions, commissioning their designs, getting photographs taken and establishing their social media marketing.

They had thought they’d go out and meet people, perhaps even ride around Chiswick on a bike with their cushions and leaflets.

“Thank goodness we didn’t try and open a pop-up shop” says Olivia. “I think we were lucky because we have been able to launch the business entirely online. It would have been far more stressful if we’d had a shop. And people are now more confident than they were about making bigger purchases online”.

Images above: Olivia and Francesca Johns

They’ve seen their fledgling business grow from the first few orders from family and friends, trying to encourage them, to names they don’t recognise – very exciting – some through The Chiswick Calendar, as they are offering Club Card members 10% off all their products. (Use code CHISWICK10 when ordering on their website).

Family Dachshunds Lily and Lola have been made an important contribution to the design process. They have tested every dog bed. Lola definitely prefers velvet.

Olivia is now in her second year at university; Francesca has started a law conversion course, but without all the usual distractions they’ve still had plenty of time to be flicking through fabric samples and are now at the point where they are designing their summer range, in delicate floral print linens.

“So far we’ve concentrated on essentials in colours which we think will appeal to everyone and heavy winter fabrics” says Francesca. “Now we’re defining our own style and taste. We’re not experts, but we think we have an eye for what will be popular and hope other people will like what we like”.

See their current products and keep an eye out for their summer range in a few weeks’ time on their website.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Setting up a business in lockdown: Rita Kastrati – Bea’s Flowers London

See also: Setting up a business in lockdown: James Willcox – software engineer

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