Fulfilling your ten year plan! By Donna May Clitheroe founder of Donna May Makeup

The unique drawstring make-up bags created by Donna May London have taken the beauty world by storm, with founder and make-up artist Donna Clitheroe’s Instagram tutorials attracting followers in their thousands. We spoke to Donna about how she got started and fulfilling her ten year plan.

Donna Clitheroe

“I have always kept a diary, not one that I write everyday but one I use for keeping up to date with mine and my family’s lives. It’s full of ups and downs, the good times and bad, but most of all it’s an honest account of my family and how we manage life. Within those pages is my five and ten-year plan and one of the goals that I have always written as the years have gone by is this: to have my own successful business by the time I am 40.

I’m a true believer in what you write down, is a commitment, a promise, which is why I’m a list maker. I have to see my list through, right until the end-so that every item is neatly ticked off. If for some miraculous reason I haven’t fulfilled that promise then it gets moved to the next day, and sometimes even to the next ten year plan; but it never gets removed.

At 39, I was forced to take four weeks off work from running the Loose Women make-up department at ITV to recover from a foot operation. With some rare spare time to myself (I’ve got two kids!) I decided to pick up my long-abandoned embroidery needles again. After all, I had to sit down for two of those weeks with my foot at a right angle!

I ended up designing a red lip motif (I’m well known for wearing red lipstick) onto a piece of beautiful white French linen that I’d had for years and made it into a laundry bag for a girlfriend’s birthday gift. 

With some fabric left over, I made myself a mat with the red lip motif on it. Us make-up artists generally lay our kits onto a towel or some large sheets of tissue paper. I wanted something appealing and more luxurious but that I could also throw into the washing machine.

After returning to work I took it with me and all my fellow make-up artists who saw my new make-up mat wanted one. I ended up with so many ‘orders’ that I put a notice up on my Facebook page asking for local retired ladies who could help overlock the material I had cut.

I would drop the fabric to them on a Monday and collect them on a Friday. It was lovely being able to pay them and it gave us all a real sense of community.

I became so busy that I couldn’t keep up with sewing the embroidery myself, so I found a local embroidery shop which could copy my design and whip up hundreds in a day. With the help of mum and dad, my husband and my young sons, we packed them all at the kitchen table, hand wrote every address label and lugged bags and bags of them to the local post office. I sold them all.

Next stop was to try and locate a factory which could make them for me. I spent three months researching, getting samples made, chasing emails and chasing phone calls. It was exhausting and I nearly chucked it all in a few times. 

Then I struck lucky.

After a few months of selling the make-up mat, people were asking if I could make a make-up bag. I was really reluctant to do this as there are so many make-up bags on the market. What’s so new and exciting about another make-up bag? 

After chatting this through with one of the Loose Women who I was making up one morning, I told her that the problem with all make-up bags is that you can’t find anything you are looking for. Boom! I had the Big Idea. 

I went home and made a prototype of a drawstring make-up bag that opened up flat (like a mat) so you could find everything you were looking for, then pull and go…no faff, no mess, easy peasy.

I asked my factory to make me a sample, with the same embroidered red lip motif on so that it matched my makeup mat. After going back and forth a few times, it was perfect. The black signature lay-flat make-up bag sold out in a matter of weeks and that was the beginning of Donna May London.

What started as a fun idea to while away some time has now grown into a fully-fledged grown-up business! Now I am travelling to China a couple of times a year to meet with my factories, attending global industry fairs and spending every hour that I’m not at ITV building my brand and networking. I’ve taken on Sarah, my business partner, who is as passionate as I am about bringing women practical solutions in an increasingly fast-paced world. We also have two other amazing women who help with customer service and social media.

I don’t believe this all happened by chance, it happened because I wrote it down,  I promised it to myself and to the universe and it never got forgotten by either of us.

donna may london