When lifelong friends Claire Neil and Ilona Wylie both fell pregnant in 2012, they discovered it was near impossible to find maternity wear in South Africa that was flattering, comfortable, practical and lasted more than a few months.
“Pregnancy is a very special time in a woman’s life – but dealing with your changing body can be a challenge. Both Ilona and I found it frustrating that we couldn’t find anything to wear, especially at a time when looking good and feeling comfortable makes such a big difference to your pregnancy experience,” explains Claire.
In 2015, the pair decided to launch a maternity line that would allow women to buy the kind of maternity wear that they wished they could find when they were pregnant and nursing their babies. They named the company Lonzi & Bean, after their childhood nicknames, and started their successful online store.
By this time, Ilona had relocated to the UK and was working as an advertising art director in London and Claire was working as magazine publisher and exhibition organiser. “Ilona takes care of the branding, advertising and design, and I take care of the production, sales and general day-to-day running of Lonzi & Bean,” Claire explains. “We both felt very strongly about ensuring that all of our products are locally manufactured,” says Ilona. “As a result, we know that we are not only servicing our customers with a great product but are also creating jobs.”
The business has remained a side hustle for the working moms over the past five years and has continued to tick oversteadily. In late 2019, Lonzi & Bean opened its first physical store in Randpark Ridge, which offered customers the opportunity to browse through the clothing and try garments on. “We were happy with where the business was going, but it remained a part-time enterprise for both Ilona and I over the years,” says Claire.
A big shift in energy, however, came in the wake of the Covid-19 related lockdown measures implemented in March of this year. “Being in the events industry, my full-time job fell away and I had no choice but to throw myself into Lonzi & Bean,” says Claire. “I have always clung to the security of full-time employment and becoming a full-time entrepreneur has always felt a bit daunting! The lockdown provided a much-needed push, and I am really grateful that we have been able to use these adverse times to strengthen our business. I am loving working on Lonzi & Bean full-time from home, in-between trying to home school my children. These are crazy times, and it feels good to be able to provide our customers with a much-needed service while being available to support my family.”
With Ilona permanently based in the UK, the team is used to working remotely and the online maternity shop is ideally positioned to serve expectant moms during this pandemic. “Most expectant moms are exercising extreme caution at this time. We have always had a strong online presence, which has positioned the business well during lockdown,” says Claire.
“In April, Ilona and I took a critical look at the business and decided to close down the physical store and focus on online sales. However, customers are welcome to make an appointment to visit us from our home-based store in Fourways should they wish to try on and browse through our clothing. We are extremely sensitive to the risk of exposing expectant moms to the virus, and are using every imaginable precaution to keep our clients safe!”