Most good things in life tend to come about by accident or simply a bit of old-fashioned good luck, and it would seem that ZaZaBoom! is no exception. This all-new, charity-inspired luxury brand is one of the many creative ventures that came out of the imposed global quarantine.
Fashion designer and creative director, Karen Brost Whyte, set up the philanthropic business model as an inspired family venture borne out of lockdown in London. Her mission was to support the frontline workers of the UK’s NHS by trying to raise £10,000 in 10 weeks, re-investing 100% of donations into buying life-saving PPE equipment.
“In the first days following the London lockdown I was – like most – trying to understand and accept the limitations of our new sequestered existence,” Karen explains. “The first question that came to mind was ‘how we will protect ourselves from getting or spreading the virus unintentionally?’ When asked this question, my husband responded with his typical dry humour: ‘well, you’re a fashion designer – why don’t you make a face-mask?’ It was his indirect dare that got my interest piqued. As with most challenges, I tend to hurl myself unwittingly into the unknown.”
Karen began her mission by gathering together the fabric for what would become the start of ZaZaBoom! “One rather fortuitous perk of my 30-year career as a clothing designer was that I had slowly accrued a rather sprawling web of miscellaneous fabrics, trims, swatches and plenty of clutter,” she laughs. “Apart from the treasure trove of prints, I also stumbled upon a box full of coloured underwear elastics that we could use for the masks – and as anyone trying to make face-masks during lockdown knows, the elastic is the holy grail of components!”
With her two lively children at home, Karen set herself the task to channel her and their boundless creativity, to create the first paper pattern to make a protective face-mask – a pattern from which she then stitched one, two and eventually thousands more, with her whole community joining in and dusting down their sewing machines to keep up with the resulting insatiable global demand. “This was the next unexpected chapter of our experience – the discovery of a local community heaving with charitable people from all walks of life,” Karen reveals. “This new collaboration towards a shared goal brought a very unsuspecting group of people very close in mind and spirit.”
The masks, each a small labour of love, were hand-made to order and each created as one-offs from fabric swatches earmarked for a textile collection. Karen then offered these bespoke creations to anyone that donated £25 or more to a Just Giving page that she set up in order to donate money directly to the NHS. Costing approximately £3.40 to make (including the fabric, lining, thread, elastic, and shipping) meant that £21.60 from the purchase of each mask was going straight to charity.
“The reason that this project was even possible was because we were custom-making masks to order. I retained no stock, and I could manage the business from my dining room table with the help and kindness of local volunteers and charity-minded friends,” Karen says of the first few weeks of the venture.
The early success of these fundraising efforts was due in part to the highly unusual print range that characterised the first face-masks. These highly graphic and whimsical patterns ignited an unexpected response from fashionistas around the world and eventually proved to be the key to unlocking the potential of raising the money for the NHS. The irony was that many donors had not heard of the NHS, but were more than happy to donate as much as £500 just to get their hands on as many masks as they could.
Karen’s quickly-growing social media network of followers began to also identify with the simple gesture of kindness and community. Some donated to get masks for themselves, some donated to give the masks as gifts to vulnerable loved ones, while others donated anonymously just to support the cause. These two elements of donating and ‘gifting it forward’ became the inseparable duo that later came to define the meaning of ZaZaBoom!
So, while the sewing machines whirred and batches of finished masks continued to arrive on Karen’s doorstep, dropped off by her dedicated group of friends, neighbours and volunteers, and parcels took off for delivery around the world, a thought started to take hold of Karen’s creativity…. to make this family-driven brand a concept which could expand to more products, broadening the reach and the good deed to raise more funds for charities in crisis, in perpetuity. The fundraising target of raising £10,000 for charity in the 10 weeks of lockdown had been successfully achieved… so why not go further, whilst holding on to the essence of the valuable lessons learned in lockdown – lessons that highlighted the importance of purposeful acts of kindness. Karen was keen to further evolve this concept and mold it into a powerful fashion force that would be committed, from day one, to donating a large portion of its profits to charity.
Very soon after, ZaZaBoom! was officially born, with the creation of the first charity-inspired luxury brand and a friendly, approachable and joy-generating online shop that is both inclusive and welcoming to anyone who relishes the union of creativity, craftsmanship and ‘gifting it forward’ to charities in crisis. The ZaZaBoom! online store will be constantly replenished with unexpected, covetable and unique fashion and lifestyle items that will make every man, woman and child swoon with delight. The environmentally conscious consumer can also indulge, safe in the knowledge that ZaZaBoom! is an eco-sustainable company that creates little to no waste, as everything is made-to-order, produced locally in the UK, and uses minimal unbranded packaging. “The concept is directly taken from our extraordinary experience with making the masks for NHS workers and the revelation that if we incentivise consumers with a cool product, they will buy and allow us to channel the profits to charity,” Karen explains.
The debut ZaZaBoom! collection is referred to as Capsule-01-2020 and is purposely not categorised by the typical references to season or trend. Karen views the collections as a slow and continuously evolving archive of lovingly curated trademark patterns that consumers can continue to revisit for years to come.
Every luxury product in the range is made-to-order by a dedicated troupe of local artisans, and each item bears the unique trademark of Karen’s vibrant hand-drawn illustrations. Every product in this 25-piece debut collection is available in one of four signature prints, and is made in the UK.
“I’ve spent the better part of my life as a doodler of highly detailed and intricate ‘tattoo-like’ drawings,” Karen explains. “It wasn’t until I had my first child and had a few months of not keeping up with my usual relentless design calendar that I began to think seriously about dipping my feet into the world of textile design. Nearly 10 years later and transforming my illustrations into textile patterns is our new ZaZaBoom! trademark.”
Karen’s first print, called ‘The Gatsby Girls,’ was inspired by her late mum, Nancy, whose obsession with hats had always been a source of inspiration throughout Karen’s life and one she still emulates today. ‘The Gatsby Girls’ print will forever be a staple of the ZaZaBoom! brand, even as it may appear in new colours and unexpected luxury products. Other timeless designs that have become part of Capsule-01-2020 include Karen’s beloved ‘The Crown Jewels’ print, along with ‘Bombshell Girls’ and ‘Martini Extra Olives Please.’
Karen’s hope is that these instantly recognisable signature prints will become synonymous with the ZaZaBoom! promise of supporting charities in crisis. She also hopes to be able to continue to champion the fundamental principles learned while in lockdown, which were the conservation of resources, creativity, kindness, and the powerful results of collaboration for the greater good.
“ZaZaBoom! is just something that I’m enjoying dedicating my time, my talents, and my heart to,” Karen smiles. “Over the course of the past three months, it has ticked every one of my emotional boxes as a mum, as a creative, as an entrepreneur and as a friend. The combination of kindness, connection, creativity and community, and the inclusion of people from all walks of life, has enriched me and changed me for life. My own family has also massively benefited emotionally from this project, and that for me is a win-win.”
Philanthropy remains a fundamental cornerstone of this new venture, and as the concept of creating with a purpose evolves with each new product, donations will continue to flow to charities devastated by the economic aftermath of COVID-19. For the first 200 days following the brand’s launch, 100% of all profits will go directly to charity to raise money to buy PPE for NHS frontline workers. Thereafter, ZaZaBoom! will continue to donate 25% of all the company profits to charity (although for the hand-made face-masks, 100% of all profits will be donated to charity, for as long as the masks are necessary). Over time, Karen anticipates that future support will go towards the growing number of homeless, jobless and those in need of local food banks. And with more products planned for the future, the more she is able to sell, the more ZaZaBoom! will be able to donate.