Armed with a passion for sustainable fashion, entrepreneur Sam Vellana launched her environmentally friendly textiles business while studying for an Open University Psychology degree.
Sam, 27, shares how her crafting ‘side hustle’ has evolved into an award-nominated business idea and how she found inspiration during the most difficult of times, when her mum battled cancer during the pandemic.
“The past five years studying for my degree have been full of hurdles,” says Sam. “There were times when I struggled to work on certain topics, but the wonder of diving into a challenge is that you have the largest opportunity to grow.
“This past year has been the most challenging, as my mum was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in the middle of pandemic. Luckily as the OU is online, I could move back to my family home for the duration and isolate with mum. I was afraid I may not see her again if I didn’t. So balancing life and final year studies has been especially testing. But I had a wonderfully supportive tutor.”
From side hustle to start-up
Sam began making masks and headscarves while her mum was undergoing chemotherapy. She then started selling her crafts online, which sparked an even bigger idea:
“The masks were giving us good income, but we had so much fabric waste, and I could save more money buying wholesale cotton. So, I began developing designs for a fabric shop, with a long-term goal to discourage fabric waste, make recycled projects, and eventually stock largely sustainably produced cottons.
“The business is still in its early stages! At this stage through my online shop Vellana, I’m selling a lot of beautiful cottons and putting a percentage of those profits towards subsidising a batch of UK handmade fabrics by people just like me, trying to get off the ground.
We’re aiming to do spotlights on local fabric artisans by next year and have DIY projects for your scrap fabric at home by November.”
Support for a student entrepreneur
Sam’s entrepreneurial skills and passion for sustainability were recognised by her OU tutors and she was nominated for the 2021 Santander X Entrepreneurship Awards.
“I’m really passionate about making the arts and crafts world more sustainable. With the support of Santander X and The Open University, we’re working towards realising some carbon offsetting goals the textiles industry so desperately needs. I want crafters and clothing designers to shop for fabrics they love but in a more environmentally friendly way, so that shoppers know their money will be used for good.”
Sam says it’s an achievement which has already started to open doors for her business:
“The OU as a wider institution has given me a much-cherished platform to grow, evolve and invest in my business. I was thrilled to be put forward for the Santander X Entrepreneurship Awards and receive the support of the OU, especially after a difficult year! The people and the programme have been invaluable, even at this early stage, and there is so much on offer to support student/graduate entrepreneurs.
“My OU degree was also a huge asset to helping me launch my business. A sizable chunk of the process was independent research, with many methodological principles transferable to business decisions. All those tutorials inculcating evidence-based reasoning clearly stuck!”
Achieving a long-held university dream
Though Sam is now a proud graduate, she admits that at one time she never believed she would get to experience university:
“As a teenager, I experienced some trauma which derailed my education and I eventually left school. I was too afraid to speak about it for years, but social phenomena like the #MeToo movement shows the impetus of every voice in effecting change and taking back control of your own life and your future.
“So that’s what I did, like so many others. I worked multiple jobs and took night classes. I was concerned I had missed the boat for university, but The Open University offered me a route back to all my natural proclivities and passions, for which I will always be grateful.
“I chose the Psychology BSc as it explores so many fascinating areas of the self and society with a strong scientific grounding. I particularly love social and political psychological research – being part of this field instils the feeling of being a contributing member of society. That’s driven me forward and is where I have found the most meaning in my studies. My final work explored politically motivated gender inequalities in language – and I loved every minute of it!”
Sam now has her sights on achieving a Masters degree, which she plans to do while continuing to grow her business.
Advice for entrepreneurs of the future
When asked for her advice for other students and budding entrepreneurs, Sam had this to say:
“As someone who has struggled with mental health, I’ve had so many moments I’ve felt pushed too far in studies, business, and life in general! Intimately knowing your stress is the key to unblock it. I remind myself I am here to change and grow. It’s not important if I get that objective “A” grade, but what is important is that I am fighting for it.
“Set your aspirations high, fight for them, and no matter what the outcome is, even failure, you’ll have the greatest opportunity to learn and for change. It’s the changes we make in ourselves that are our most profound accomplishments.”
- Inspired by Sam’s story? Visit the ‘Entrepreneurs Hub’ from the OU Careers & Employability Services team on how to start your business and the support available
- Learn about ‘Generation Hustle’ and why nearly a third of OU students are balancing study with their side hustle and passion projects
- Take a free OpenLearn Entrepreneurship short course to help you transform your business idea into a reality