A London-based fashion brand founded shortly before the start of the pandemic specialising in luxury womenswear has been named a Small Business of 2020 by Lloyds Bank, after pivoting during lockdown to great effect.

Chierika Onyuku-Opukiri followed her lifelong passion by launching LYL, which stands for Love Your Look and is focused on modern power dressing, in October 2019. After 10 years working in finance as a strategy consultant for corporate companies, Chierika had always had an idea to start her own fashion business. When her contract came up for renewal, she decided to take a risk and left her role to pursue her dream.

Chierika recalls: “When I started working on the idea full time, I quickly realised that I needed to find the right people to get the business off the ground. I found manufacturers of fabrics, zips and buttons, and began working in a sample studio in London and with a factory in Lithuania.

“My goal for 2020 was to say yes to everything. I did a talk at a business event on the importance of power dressing and how to create a strong impression, which led to LYL being part of a show at London Fashion Week. We set up our first pop-up shop in March, but then lockdown happened and it was tough trying to build a business when nobody knew what was happening.”

At the start of the first lockdown, Chierika was featured in Elle magazine’s round-up of new, small businesses its readers should support through the pandemic. This, combined with the Black Lives Matter movement shining a light on Black-owned businesses, meant orders soared as LYL expanded its range beyond formal office attire to reflect the shift to working from home. Chierika was then contacted by independent brand retailer Wolf & Badger about stocking LYL on its website, which led to a 400% increase in orders between September and December.

Now LYL has been named a winner in the Lloyds Bank Small Business of 2020 awards, in recognition of Chierika’s ambition and resilience during such a challenging year. The prize is a mentoring session with businesswoman, Sharmadean Reid MBE, the founder of Beautystack, a networked marketplace app for influential beauty professionals. In the session, Chierika will get insight and support to help her navigate opportunities and grow her business in the year ahead.

The Lloyds Bank Small Business of 2020 competition celebrates the small and local businesses across the UK and their inspiring energy and resilience in meeting the challenges of 2020. Almost 900 businesses up and down the country were nominated by their local communities and 24 winners were picked based on how creatively and quickly they adapted to events since March, and how they went over and above expectations.

Chierika continued: “LYL is all about empowering unapologetic women who are pursuing whatever it is that makes them happy. What lockdown gave us is the time and opportunity to get our branding right. Our profile is still growing, but we’re now a team of six and we’re excited for whatever 2021 brings. Hopefully this award is just the start!”

Gareth Oakley, Managing Director of Business Banking at Lloyds Banking Group, added: “While 2020 was tough for so many, inspiring stories have emerged from the shadow of the pandemic of businesses up and down the country showing resilience, innovation, and a fighting spirit. Chierika is a perfect example of what can be achieved when talent meets perseverance, reflected in her nomination for this award.”

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