‘I launched my own business in Britain’s biggest recession since records began’

During the pandemic, Aoife Doherty graduated university and entered the turbulent job market, deciding then that was the moment to shape her own future

Aoife set up her new business at 22
Self-taught entrepreneur Aoife Doherty in her first store located in St David’s. Her shop has been open since 23 October, 2021. Image credit: Emma Blackmore

Aoife Doherty is glowing under the bright lights of her new sustainable stationery shop, Floris. At 22 years old, she’s established her new business in Cardiff’s biggest shopping centre, St David’s. Sustainability and Instagrammable aesthetics are at its core.

“It’s crazy!” she laughs, wearing a silver silk face mask with her hair slicked back into a neat bun.

Having graduated from the University of Reading in the middle of the pandemic, Aoife used the turbulent job market in 2020 as a springboard to launch her dream career.

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“I handed in my dissertation and I was like ‘Oh, I’m finished. That’s it then,’” the graphic design graduate says, “it was really strange.

“I had a look for jobs and I just couldn’t find anything. It was such an awkward time and if anything, businesses were getting rid of staff, no one was looking for more.”

The idea of her business had been simmering since her second year of university when she sent her family Christmas cards with the logo of Floris.

Floris is a variation of the word flora, meaning plants, which grounds the business in nature and relates to sustainability. The ‘o’ in the lettering is a perfect circle symbolising timelessness and a whole product life cycle, from creation to disposal.

“I think my family thought it would be a fun little project at first,” she smiles, “but in my head I had these huge ideas and I was like ‘Yes, I’m going to do this’ – once I get a thought in my head, that’s the path I’ll follow.”

Once I get a thought in my head, that’s the path I’ll follow

Inside Floris
Think The White Company but for stationery, Floris is beautifully lit and organised to accentuate Aoife’s luxurious products. Image credit: Emma Blackmore
Launching a business

Aoife, who is from Rhiwbina, set up her website in August last year selling sustainable stationery. “I think, big-dream-me thought orders would flood in and I’ll sell out, but it obviously doesn’t work like that. I  quickly learnt that it’s hard to convince people who don’t know you, that you have a good product, and this is what they should buy.”

The entrepreneur decided to set up a market stall at the Indie Superstore market and fell in love with chatting to customers, especially about sustainability. Her biggest obstacle was the unpredictable nature of the pandemic and people’s spending habits. The evening before Aoife’s last market prior to Christmas, lockdown in Wales was announced from 6am the next day.

Aoife was forced to close her stall after spending a whole weekend preparing her Christmas stock. She jumped in her car instead and delivered her online orders all around Cardiff, obeying Covid-19 guidelines.

Aoife's Doherty Business, Floris, products.
From refillable journals to ‘growing my small business’ stationery sets,
Floris has productivity, entrepreneurship and sustainability at its core. Image credit: Emma Blackmore

Stationery that doesn’t cost the earth

Uniquely designed by Aoife, Floris stationery is printed on recycled paper using renewable vegetable oil-based inks instead of petroleum.

She found her gap in the market when she couldn’t find pretty stationery that was sustainable.

“If I wanted eco-friendly stationery it was always brown paper,” she says, “and I always wanted the nice pink one!”

Her passion for sustainability was kickstarted by a project at school and her graphic design teacher. Now, she aims to teach others about sustainable product design.

In the future, Aoife is eager to design other products, including water bottles, and eventually open another store, but she’s taking one step at a time.

She exclaims, “I don’t want to miss out on what I’ve already built!”

Aoife’s advice to anyone keen to start their own business:

“Make sure your idea is solid and is something you are passionate about because you get tested when you start a business. There are so many things that will be thrown at you, and through all of that you have to remain consistent. It’s a learning experience, but you learn on the journey. It’s never too early to start: just go for it!”