Lucy Greenwood & Chris Renwick

Go with the flow and the universe will open doors


HOF Entrepreneurs Lucy Greenwood And Chris Renwick 1920X1080

Published: 24/01/2023

Fashionable management theory has focused on the importance of having goals, a clear plan, a roadmap to achieve ambitions. The Lucy & Yak founders take the opposite view: goals are restrictive and can cloud opportunities.

Go with the flow and the universe will open doors.
Lucy Greenwood And Chris Renwick

This flexibility is at the heart of the growth of Lucy & Yak, the sustainable clothing group founded in 2017 by Lucy Greenwood and Chris Renwick. ‘Yak’ is a much-loved van that the pair lived in while they travelled the world. It also provided a mobile shop for their vintage clothes.

The pair had no plans to build a clothing business when they left their jobs in car sales to travel the world. The pouches they made from clothes left behind in hostels was an expedient way to fund their travels. However, they found the process of making and selling clothes compelling.

Where it started for Lucy & Yak

When they returned to the UK, they developed the idea. Chris says: “Depop was just emerging at that point, so we went to charity shops, buying up clothes and selling them on the platform. It was our training ground and we got really good at it. Depop puts their top sellers on an explore page. We worked out what we needed to do to get there.”

There were certain pieces that worked well, such as dungarees and elasticated waist trousers. They realised that if they could secure sufficient supplies, they could make a decent business. However, their lot sizes were too small to interest factories, and they couldn’t guarantee the volumes.

The solution presented itself on a trip to India. Pushka in Rajasthan was a hub for tailors. Chris says: “These Indian tailors would make anything – they’d make five pieces if you wanted them to. We worked with a couple but landed on a guy called Ishmail. We set him off making the dungarees. He made 30 dungarees for us, which sold out in a day. We went back, doubled the order and kept doing that for the remaining four to five months we were there.” The business has been growing at pace ever since.

Credit needs to go to Lucy’s mother in Barnsley, says Chris, who boxed the stock and parcelled it up for order: “Lucy’s mum was the warehouse – we’d never have got off the ground if it wasn’t for her. By the time we got back from India, we were selling 50-60 items a day.”

Ishmail has been a vital part of the story: “He kept finding new tailors, built a factory and then another factory. He employed a lot of people in this ridiculously poor village on the edge of the Rajasthan desert. He’s done incredibly well as well. The village is just flying – they’ve got a pharmacy, shops, running water, a local school. It’s been an amazing story,” says Chris.

How it’s going for the founders of Lucy & Yak

After its early success, the group has continued to grow. Chris says: “It feels like a lottery ticket. We’re growing like lightening. This is our slowest growth year (2022) and it’s still going to be 50%. We’re at 109 employees and we’re turning five in July.” The group has a new chairman - David Robinson, former chief executive of Speedo – who has helped build structure. It is also looking at private equity investment to help expansion, which should be in place later this year.

However, the past few years have not been without their challenges: “One of the biggest things we’ve had to learn is patience. We’re both very impatient people. We want to get stuff done now. In particular, we have needed so much patience with supply chains. We can order things and it takes nine months to arrive.

You’ve also got to trust your gut. If you’ve built something to any kind of size, you’ve probably got good instincts.
Lucy Greenwood And Chris Renwick

Respecting workers’ rights and sustainability is at the heart of the business. The group initially used deadstock fabrics, left over from the manufacturing process, but switched to organic after a year. The group’s dungarees are now made from 100% organic cotton, and coloured with low-impact dyes. It has since expanded its clothing line to include fleeces, t-shirts, skirts, dresses, sweatshirts, trousers, and boiler suits.

Chris considers it ‘strangely lucky’ that they hit the sustainability trend. The brand has impeccable sustainability credentials, having offset 1,082.2 tonnes of CO2 emissions, planted nearly 15,000 new trees and become one of only 4700 employers in the UK to pay the National Living Wage, as well as its important work in India.

Chris says that their time travelling helped give them a ‘feel of the world and the environment’. He says: “There were times we were penniless. There was one time we were selling avocados by the road in New Zealand to get enough money for food. We taught out in Thailand, where the farmers were telling us that the rice harvests were getting harder every year. In New Zealand, the fisherman said fishing was getting harder and harder.

What next for Lucy & Yak

Chris continues to have big plans for expansion: “There’s so much more potential in the business. We’re growing in the USA. We’re building out the product categories. We’re going to open more shops. We’ve got one shop in Brighton and have just opened in Bristol. We’re now looking at Manchester as well and would like to get to four shops by the end of the year.”

However, none of this will come at the expense of the group’s sustainability credentials: “We love coming up with situations where everyone wins. There doesn’t have to be a winner and a loser. That seems so old hat. That’s what we try and do. That’s the foundation of the business. It’s sheer luck we were ahead of the curve on the sustainability element.”

We go with the flow a lot. The universe just opens doors. We’re not big believers in having goals. You can miss amazing opportunities.
Lucy Greenwood And Chris Renwick

We’re trying to professionalise, but we’re still maintaining that go with the flow attitude. As a team, we’re great. Lucy gets things done. Many people are fearful about putting stuff out there in case it gets criticised. Lucy doesn’t have a fear of failure, but she needs someone around her to give her structure. That’s my job and it’s why it works so well.”