Grace and Grit

First of all, let me start by saying what an absolute privilege it is to be here. To be building a business with my Mum, Anita. To be working with clients and their precious family heirlooms. To be creating the most spectacular and exquisite pieces of jewellery. To be keeping people’s memories of their loved-ones and life’s adventures alive through beautiful bespoke pieces.  To be building a luxury brand and all that it entails. It really is a dream come true for both of us and we don’t take a second of it for granted.

Secondly, let me tell you why this article is called ‘Grace and Grit’. It is because it perfectly sums up what it has taken for Anita and I to reach this point. Being a woman, motherhood, bereavement and loss, entrepreneurship, financial highs and lows, grief, racism, sexism…. it has been a colourful journey to say the least. But one which 99% of women, all around the world, face every single day.

Anita and I just hope that, by being real and honest, we can prove that entrepreneurial women can build their own empires, be extraordinary role models, mothers, wives, daughters, friends and live a happy and fulfilled life, and make their own wellbeing top of the list.

“If you don’t work, nothing does.” – Maya Angelou

So in a nutshell, here is our story and how we came to the realisation that being a Mother and Daughter team gives us both the opportunity to live the lives we want.

Anita’s story

My Mum, Anita, was born in Hong Kong in 1958 to a Chinese mother (my Grandmother, Li-Tong Wong or ‘Jenny’) and an English father (my Grandfather, Frank). When my Mum was 6 months old, they moved to England and soon had another child, Julie. My Grandmother didn’t speak any English and didn’t know anyone. My Grandfather was a bit of a rascal and was promiscuous to say the least. So it was a very lonely place for my Grandmother. She used physical and mental discipline on my Mum and Aunt as her way of keeping control over something in her life, when everything else was so isolating for her.

As my Mother grew up, she was always the different kid. The Chinese one who looked different to everyone else. She was not particularly academic, but she discovered her creativity and love for art, fashion and design. However she was always told by her parents and teachers that the only suitable route to take was as a secretary or nurse. This is where I admire my Mum so much – despite having no support, she put herself through art school and did a PGCE at university to become an art teacher. She was the first person in her family to have a degree. Fast forward to the 1990s and she launched her own branding agency in London’s soho and went on to run a very successful, award-winning graphic design agency for the next 25 years.

Amalia’s story

I was born in 1986, the eldest of four children (oh yeah… my Super-Mum also had four children whilst running her agency). I had the most wonderful childhood, being raised by my stay-at-home Dad, Steve, whilst my Mum was commuting up to London from Kent 24/7. I loved the academic side of school but after being severely bullied through my teenage years, I was desperate to move away for university. So I went to sunny Preston for university (where?!) and it’s here I discovered how much I loved writing. It was my own way of being creative and I loved being able to use it for exciting marketing and PR campaigns on some of the live briefs we were given. After graduating (just), I joined my Mum’s branding agency as her Personal Assistant.

Losing it all

But then 2008 happened. London was a really difficult place to be and companies simply didn’t have the luxury of huge budgets for branding and marketing anymore. Combine that with discovering that our bookkeeper had been secretly fiddling the books and us owing a LOT of money to HMRC, we had to put my Mum’s business and life’s work into liquidation. Everything she had sacrificed to build an amazing agency, employing 15+ people, all gone overnight. It was truly the most heartbreaking time of my life, seeing her toss work, furniture and everything else into a giant skip. “It’s just ‘stuff”, I remember her saying bravely.

That was a pretty horrific time for our family. My Mum couldn’t afford to pay HMRC what was owed, so my husband, Nick, sold his house in London and paid off the debt. My mum had to give back her car but a friend lent her a little run-around so she could still work. We had to sell the beautiful studio but one of our suppliers gave us an office at his place absolutely rent-free (he was also one of the people we owed money to – how’s that for gracious and kind?)

Starting again

Fast forward a few years and we were still side by side, running a business. But this time it was just the two of us and we built a very successful events, publishing and membership company called Family Business Place. Our sole purpose was to help fellow family-run businesses thrive and make sure they didn’t run into the ground like we did. We hosted conferences all over the country, ran awards ceremonies at Wembley stadium and had over 300 members all over the UK.

But it wasn’t easy. When we were looking for sponsors and supporters in the big banks, law firms, accountancy firms etc the door was constantly slammed in our face. Nobody believed in what we were doing and they certainly didn’t take us seriously as two women. The number of times I walked into a meeting as a 25 year old woman asking for big money and I could already tell that the three guys opposite me had already made up their minds. In fact, at one meeting where we were pitching to potential investors for some support to grow, one of the panel (made up of 15 men) said to me ‘Are you planning on having babies?’.       Wow.

But tenacity, sheer grit, the need to build a livelihood and an angel investor called John (an actual angel) saw us through. Although it was a completely different business model to the branding agency, it took us to the most incredible places and we met some extraordinary people (just Google Lord Karan Bilimoria, Lord Rami Ranger, Jacqueline Gold CBE, Dame Stephanie Shirley…. they all became great friends of our business and showed that ‘family businesses’ are a force to be reckoned with).

Now enter…. COVID.

We all know what happened there. So many people were devastated by this pandemic. Families, business, communities. It was horrendous. And Family Business Place did not come out unscathed. We took the business online and hosted virtual events and member programmes. But the ‘magic’ of our face-to-face events is what gave us an edge. We kept it going for a couple of years but my passion and love for it was diminishing. I also had a miscarriage around this time and it made me look at things very differently.

Time to stop

When I was lucky enough to fall pregnant with my second son, Mum and I had a ‘moment’. We were sat on the sofa with a cup of tea and I said that I wasn’t really sure it was what I wanted to do when I came back from having a baby. I’d already had terrible post-natal depression with my first son and I was worried that I would go through something similar again. I didn’t want to dread coming back to work on top of all that. So Mum said ….. ‘Let’s stop then.’

For her, the most important thing in the world wasn’t the success of the business. It was me and her grandchildren. Our happiness and our health was all that mattered to her. She always says ‘money comes and goes‘ and she’s absolutely right.

That huge decision to stop running Family Business Place gave me the breathing space I needed and not have to worry throughout my pregnancy. As it turns out, when my son was born I was thrown into the depths of post-natal depression and anxiety all over again. Compounded by the trauma from the first time around. I found myself in a very dark place and, together with my husband, Nick, my Mum was right there with me, every step of the way.

Irene & Jenny is born

When I started coming through the other side, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. For the last 15 years or so, my Mum had been designing gorgeous pieces of jewellery for friends and family using the sentimental pieces they had inherited from their Mothers, collected on travels around the world and been gifted by partners. It was just a hobby but the pieces she created were absolutely breathtaking.

When my Grandmothers, Irene and Jenny, passed away, she transformed the pieces they left me into my beautiful wedding ring. I knew this was a business I wanted to build together with my Mum and in memory of my Grandmothers and all those we have lost in our family. Heartbreakingly, my Dad passed away in 2023. He was my absolute hero and I wanted to do this and be successful to make him proud. Particularly as our business is named after his Mother, Irene. I also wanted other people to experience the same thing I do every time I look at my wedding ring and keep memories of their loved-ones alive.

So ‘Irene & Jenny’ was born in 2023. I had a 7 year old and a baby so it was a bit of a juggling act. But Mum comes down to Devon every month and looks after the little one so I can fill my diary with meetings and networking. She also takes my son to school and picks him up, giving me the flexibility I need to work. Although we’re just a little start-up, building a luxury brand from scratch has been exhilarating. Smelling the beautiful, gold-foiled books when they arrive fresh from the printers, having a launch party at a boutique hotel, running events for private firms and their clients, speaking at a fashion show, lecturing at a University and of course…. delivering stunning pieces of meaningful jewellery to our wonderful clients. There are always tears because family means so much to them. For Mum and I it is the final chapter in our journey as Mother and Daughter entrepreneurs. It has taken a lot of grace and even more grit to get here. But we have had each other’s backs and best interests at every single turn. How many business partners can say that about each other?

I hope that any woman reading this realises she is doing an amazing job. Even if you’re not where you want to be, if you feel you’ve lost your identity or are struggling to get out of bed. If you’ve got a brilliant idea but don’t know how to make it happen. If you’re in the throws of a terrible loss or trauma. Just remember that you always have someone there for you. Whether it’s your Mum, your sister, your best friend. Life is not a dress rehearsal, we only get one chance at this. Your happiness is what matters and it’s time to start putting yourself first. Give yourself permission to change the things you need to and start living your life with joy.

We are here for you.

Love Amalia x