Laura Draper is the founder of Gooseberry Pink, an ethical maternity fashion brand for modern mums who are pregnant and proud of it!  When Laura applied for a Virgin Start Up Loan she knew that mentoring came as part of the deal, but she never imagined the mentoring relationship would lead to a visit to Westminster.

Here mentee Laura and mentor Jacqueline Winstanley - founder and CEO of Universal Inclusion, and Executive Producer of "Raising the Roof" - talk about the opportunities their Virgin StartUp mentoring experience has opened for them.

Laura Draper, Gooseberry Pink

The mentee: Laura's Story

Gooseberry Pink evolved from a desire to help expectant mums look and feel fabulous … because pregnancy shouldn’t have to mean waving goodbye to fashion and style.  It was exhilarating to hear that I had been awarded a Virgin StartUp loan because this meant that I could start putting my plans for the brand into action. It was also exciting to know that I was going to be matched with a mentor who would help me face the challenges ahead.  Would they be from the fashion sector, or perhaps have experience of retail? I really didn’t know what to expect.

Fast forward four months. My mentor, Jacqueline Winstanley, is from neither the fashion nor the retail sector, but I have been far from disappointed.  I have come to understand that mentoring is about so much more than getting guidance in a particular field. What mentoring is really about is listening, support and encouragement, and the passing on of experience, knowledge and wisdom.

Jacqueline is an amazing entrepreneur who, in spite of disability, fights passionately to challenge social injustice and promote inclusive working practices.  She is an absolute tonic, and is exactly what I need!  She is extremely supportive, a good listener and is full of great ideas and enthusiasm. She gently pushes me to take action and gets me to step out of my comfort zone. She is always happy to impart her knowledge, give me the benefit of her experience or make an introduction to her own connections.

The mentoring relationship has been unexpected in so many different ways. And the icing on the cake has been the surprising opportunities that it has provided.

This September I had the honour to accompany Jacqueline to the 10th Anniversary of Pink Shoe Club, an organisation which encourages female enterprise and leadership. The celebrations took place in The Speaker's House at Westminster by special permission of Mr Speaker, The Rt Hon John Bercow MP.  It was a huge privilege - not only to be able to visit these magnificent State Rooms, but also to meet so many remarkable women from politics and business.

I would encourage anyone who has received a Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp to embrace the mentoring opportunity that comes with it – you never know where it might lead!

The mentor - Jacqueline’s story

I was particularly interested in Laura and her business idea, as it blends three of my favourite things: ethics, creativity and bespoke economic growth. Laura has a vibrant personality and a clear vision in terms of the route to market for the individual designs she has created, whilst upholding her commitment to the environment. I was pleased, therefore, to invite Laura to the 10-year celebratory and legacy launch event for The Pink Shoe Club at the Speakers House in Westminster, which was an ideal opportunity to introduce Laura to some of the most innovative female entrepreneurs and influencers in the UK.

I recognised in Laura the resilience needed to move from concept to market, alongside the highs and lows that can bring.  One of the essential things in business is an ability to take a leap of faith; and I have faith in Laura and all things Gooseberry Pink.

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