How a childs poignant question led to Dragons Den triumph for two best friends
Two business-minded single mums – best friends Natalie Duval and Alison Burton from Croydon, tonight scooped a huge £50,000 investment on Dragons' Den.
Their diverse decorations company March Muses has proved a runaway hit, supplying customers with diverse decorations – which were previously unavailable or scarce to find in the shops and online. OK! spoke exclusively to the successful pals…
Natalie Duval, 36, from Croydon, is mum to Sophia, 10, and Olivia.
"There was no time for celebration when Alison and I came out of Dragons' Den with the investment we’d hoped for. Instead, we had to rush to the station to get home for the children.
We were really excited but we had to talk in whispers on the packed train because we’d been sworn to secrecy until the programme aired.
It’s been hard keeping it a secretary but the support we received from Dragons Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones means we’ve been able to scale up the business we started for the Christmas 2019 season.
I was already business partners with Alison. Although we both had full time jobs, me as a marketing manager and Natalie as a recruitment adviser, we started offering careers workshops in secondary schools and Christmas elf events, which involved elves visiting homes, sort of like a personal grotto.
One day I was decorating the Christmas tree with my daughters Sophia, then seven, and Olivia, who was four, when Sophia asked, ‘Mum, can you get black angels?’
It was a shock to hear her question. It hadn’t really crossed my mind before. I said, ‘Of course they can, they can have any type of skin colour.’
But when I went online to try to buy a diverse one for our tree, I couldn’t find anything anywhere. The only one I eventually found was in America and there was a £20 shipping fee. It was really sad and disappointing.
I talked to Alison and we decided we would look into producing our own decorations. Although we didn’t have artistic backgrounds, we started by making sketches and mood boards, as well as researching what was out there already. The only diverse figurine we could find was in a shop in Croydon. It was a single white one which had been painted black.
We worked hard on the designs, making sure the shapes, skin tones and hair were right. We wanted to have black figures but also lighter black and brown, so that everyone was represented.
We were already dealing with manufacturers for our elf business, so using our own savings we managed to produce six figurines, including a Father Christmas and an angel with afro hair.
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Watching Sophia, Olivia and Alison’s daughter Kira’s reaction when they first saw them was an amazing moment. They couldn’t get over the fact that the angels looked like them and there was a black Santa.
Kira said: ‘We’re supposed to be sleeping when Santa comes so who knows what he looks like.’
And she was right. After all, St Nicholas is taken from a Turkish legend so at the very least he’d have brown skin.
We ordered around 1,200 pieces but we didn’t know if anyone would like them as much as we did and had no idea if there would be a market for them.
But after quietly introducing them with an announcement on our Instagram account, we were overwhelmed with the positive response. Amazingly, we sold out within two weeks.
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We ordered another batch and they went too. It was clear there was a desire for the decorations.
The following year was really big for us. We sold six times the amount of the previous year and our turnover was £76,000. During the pandemic we were still working full time and homeschooling too, but we were able to meet at the park and talk about the business.
We applied to Dragons’ Den in February and recorded in June. I have an acting background and I’ve appeared on stage in numerous shows but this was way more terrifying. You don’t have any notes and you have to have all your figures in your head.
We were in there for an hour and a half and it was a nail-biting experience. Of course we were hoping we’d get the investment but it was a real relief when Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones decided to back us.
With their help we’ve been able to scale up our business, improve our marketing strategy and production as well as introduce new products. We’re now selling products for other celebrations, such as Mother’s Day and Valentine’s, including cards and wrapping paper featuring diverse figures.
We’re hoping to build on our success in the future. We hope that seeing black Christmas decorations will become the norm."
Alison, 50, is mum to Kira, 10.
"I’ve watched Dragons’ Den since the very beginning and it was a dream come true to appear on it. It was such an intense experience. I can honestly say it’s the most terrifying thing I’ve done other than being in labour! We had to make some hard decisions and we were exhausted afterwards.
When our children first saw the decorations they were blown away. They just couldn’t believe it. Now it’s normal for them, which is exactly how it should be. We want every child to see them so that when they’re older, we’re not still having these conversations about the mythical story of Santa."
- To find out more about their business March Muses, see their website marchmuses.co.uk
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