Mary J Sews is the reel deal

13 Jul 2017

Business Startup

After 20 years of working in social housing, Julia Folan was made redundant and decided to set up her own business, Mary J Sews, with the help of St Helens Chamber and the New Enterprise Allowance.

Julia explains: “I was made redundant in 2016 and was wondering what I wanted to do, I didn’t want to go back into social housing which I’d been working in for 20 years. I’d always done sewing for friends and family alongside my job, my brother has just become a Deacon with the church and the family wanted to buy him some vestments.

“We noticed that there was nothing bespoke so I decided to make them for him. I bought myself an embroidery machine and started from scratch.”

It was then that Julia had the idea to expand her sewing from just family and friends to starting a business and growing a client base.

After enquiring at her local Job Centre, Julia found out that she was eligible to receive the New Enterprise Allowance, a package of government support for unemployed people who want to start their own business.

She was then referred to St Helens Chamber and make contact with the Business Start Up service.

Julia said: “I thought about sewing and repairs as a job so I approached the Chamber and got the ball rolling with the business planning process. The process of going through the Chamber was great. I’ve always worked in St Helens and was aware of the Chamber, but didn’t know how big it was. The whole process was seamless.

“The minute that you walked through the door, it was very professional and you can see that they mean business. The whole ethos is very encouraging from the start.”

Julia’s original plan was to split the business between three areas: vestments, children’s communion and flower girl dresses and repairs but due to Julia’s contacts within the Church and the quality of her work she has been busy making vestments and robes for Clergy members.

Julia said: “Word of mouth is growing quite rapidly and I’ve got really good links with the local archdiocese and they have been able to provide me with some work. It’s about being able to move in those circles and get my name out there. It’s very exciting.”

Julia is now focusing on growing her client base further by working on her website, which she will use to promote her services, especially to the clergy.

She said: “Because the vestments is a very niche market, I’ve had to look at building a website. The people who buy vestments are less likely to use social media platforms and more likely to look on websites so that is something I am working on putting together at the moment.”

Julia credits St Helens Chamber with helping her to take her hobby to a professional level and create a robust business plan. She explains: “The Chamber have given me constructive criticism on my plan and have challenged me to look at things differently.

“I am proud to be associated with the Chamber and I champion what they do. If you live in the St Helens area it would be silly not to take advantage if you are in the position to be able to start a business.”

For more information about the support available from St Helens Chamber to start a business, call 0845 340 9980, email, or visit

If you are unemployed and thinking of starting a business, speak to your JobCentre Plus adviser for more information about the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme.