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When Jason Guy and Ian Welham started selling glitter from Affleck’s market in Manchester in 2014, they never imagined how their business would grow or the difference it would make. “We’ve gone from what was essentially a market stall five years ago to a business that employs four people year-round, ten during the summer when we’re busy, on track to turn over a million pounds a year,” says Jason, co-founder of Make Up or Break Up.

“We’ve grown by doing the right thing - offering biodegradable glitter, making a conscious effort to find eco-friendly suppliers and donating profits to charity. We chose to do that before we were successful and it’s now become part of what brings us customers.” Make Up or Break Up give 30% of profits to three Manchester-based charities: the Albert Kennedy Trust for LGBTQ+ members who are homeless, Mermaids to support the transgender community and George House Trust to help people with HIV.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community come from all over the UK to visit their store. “I once had a mother come in with her daughter who was maybe 13 or 14. When they came to pay, she said, ‘My daughter came out yesterday - you only come out once so she can have whatever she wants.’ They’d driven all the way from Edinburgh. That’s my favourite thing about the business, how happy it makes people.” Make Up or Break Up sells glitter, body paint and gay pride items such as flags and badges. They also sell stock online through their websites, Festival Glitter and Gay Pride Shop.

Bouncing back from lockdown

At the beginning of the year, Jason and Ian bought £60,000 worth of stock, based on predicted sales for the next 12 months. “A week later, the coronavirus hit. We had very little money in the bank account and loads of stock had already been shipped. Affleck’s closed so we had to divert it to our house.” They also found that customer uncertainty led to a decline in online sales.

Five weeks after applying for a Bounce Back Loan with their high street bank, they had still heard nothing. “We had £1000 left on our overdraft but £3000 worth of monthly outgoings even after we’d furloughed staff. There was no end in sight for lockdown and we thought we’d have to remortgage the house or take out personal credit cards just to keep the business going.”

When Starling announced that businesses could apply for a Bounce Back Loan with them, Jason jumped at the opportunity. “In the space of five days, which was over a bank holiday, we had the account opened and the money put into our account,” he says. “Starling literally saved our business.”

Make Up or Break Up has now switched its business banking to Starling and is back trading at Affleck’s and online. “The thing I like most about Starling is that it doesn’t matter who you speak to or how - phone, social, email - you’ll get a proper, human response, not a cut and paste answer or a chatbot.” Features of the account he finds helpful are the ability to add a photograph of a receipt to a transaction and the integration with online accounting provider Xero. “It saves me hours of work. I wish we’d moved sooner.”

Mancunian magic

Even though Make Up or Break Up has an online presence, the department store Affleck’s is at the heart of its success. “It launched in the 1980s to allow people to start up their own business. You can rent a unit by the week, see if it works and then extend or leave. There are four storeys with 70 independent traders.”

Affleck’s Manchester
Make Up or Break Up, Affleck’s, Manchester

They started selling pride flags alongside their rainbow glitter in 2018. “Every flag was gone in one day. And the same thing happened the next day and the next. That’s when we thought well, we’re gay ourselves, we’re in Manchester, why not diversify into a gay pride shop?” They now stock 2000 items.

The most popular addition to the gay pride shop is their Progress Pride face mask. The Progress Pride flag has additional colours to include the transgender community and communities of colour, designed by Daniel Quasar. “We contacted Daniel for a design licence and had face masks made up. Peter Tatchell, who helped organise the first UK pride march, wore one for the parade that celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Pride plus in all the interviews with BBC and ITV,” he says. “We can’t keep up with demand.”

As sales increase, so do their charity donations. “On the high street, they sell pride items for a month, cash in and disappear. We want to make a stand and support our community throughout the year.”

Minimising environmental impact

Make Up or Break Up is also committed to minimising its environmental impact. “Plastic isn’t just the big things like bottles and carrier bags, it’s also microplastics like glitter - 90% of the glitter we sell is biodegradable,” he says. “From a packaging point of view, we post items in paper envelopes and allow customers to buy glitter in biodegradable bags rather than plastic pots. We encourage plastic re-use and ask suppliers not to wrap things in plastic. We also only offer paper bags in the shop.”

In future, their plan is to become manufacturers of certain products. That way, they’ll be able to reduce production costs and gain more control over the treatment of staff up the supply chain. “The next stage is for us to grow bigger so that we can make our policies even more robust.”

The Bounce Back Loan they received from Starling has enabled them to pay their bills, bring back staff from furlough and boost digital advertising to maintain online sales. “The relief when the loan hit the account was unbelievable. I don’t know what we would have done without Starling.”

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