Christine Bowyer-Sopp tells us how making scented things became her therapy after her stroke, the challenges of living with vertigo, and why finally getting her degree at the age of 58 is her greatest achievement.
How do you identify as disabled, and what does it mean to you?
I have restricted mobility, reduced energy levels, memory issues and vertigo, due to fibromyalgia and a stroke. This means I can’t do what I used to be able to do. I find this really frustrating, as I want to do more but I can’t: my body just won’t allow me to do more than its new restricted capabilities.
I sometimes make the mistake of comparing myself to other small business owners and have to remind myself that I have physical and mental limitations that not everyone has.
Tell us a little about your business.
I make unique scented candles and wax melts and sell them via my business, Soboan Candles. My first collection has a mystical theme inspired by my dearly missed nana.
I have also been making artisan cold process soaps for the last two years and have applied for a cosmetic safety assessment so I can add my handmade soaps to my range of products. My first collection is palm free with natural oils, butters, colourants and essential oils.
I formed Soboan Ltd in August 2019, but I didn’t pluck up the courage to start trading until November 2021. I am now working on my next fragrance collection for candles and melts.
Why did you start the business? Share your story so far.
My disability started after I lost my precious son to cancer. Shortly after this, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Despite the fibromyalgia, I could still work, although I suffered from pain and fatigue for much of the time.
A few years later, I suffered a stroke which left me with vertigo along with mobility and memory issues. When the vertigo strikes, I can’t even lift my head off the pillow! As a result, I had to take early retirement because I could no longer cope with my job or the travelling it involved.
While grieving for my son, I used fragrance to help my depression: simply walking around my house and smelling a lovely fragrance made me smile, and I welcomed anything that made me feel a little happy inside. I started making scented wax melts and candles as part of my rehabilitation from grief and the stroke: the fragrances lifted my mood, the physical elements of making things helped my leg, arm and hand movements, and the chemistry aspect stimulated my brain. Making scented things became my therapy.
I’ve now turned my therapy into a business making and selling scented candles and wax melts at Soboan Candles. This means I can work again, but at my own pace and on my own terms. My mobility issues mean I can’t get about as quickly as most people, so I do everything at a snail’s pace, but it’s a pace that I can cope with.
Running my own business gives me a reason to get up each morning, keeps my mind occupied and it keeps my brain working. I use my therapy as my business but of course there is lots more to running a business than making things!
What do you see as the main challenges facing your business and its continued operation or growth?
My main challenge is social media and its complexities as a marketing tool. I didn’t have much of a presence on social media before I started my business, so it’s a whole new learning curve for me.
What can we do to encourage more disabled entrepreneurs to start businesses – what is holding them back and what can we all do to help change that?
Every person with a disability will have different levels of disability and different issues. My main hurdle was self-belief: I doubted my products and my ability to run a business.
Lack of finances was also a stumbling block for me, so I would imagine many others wanting to start their own business have the same financial concerns.
Everyone is going to have their own unique situation, and identifying their strengths and working with them is key.
What do you consider your greatest achievement or the proudest moment in your life so far?
Achieving a 1st class honours degree in Business Management at the age of 58! I was the oldest student in my subject. When I was at school, I always intended to go to university but I got pregnant at 16 so my dreams were dashed!
If there was one thing you could change about peoples’ perception of disability what would it be and why?
PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES HAVE FEELINGS JUST LIKE ANYONE ELSE. Why does society think that being disabled means you don’t have feelings and you can’t hear what they are saying?
Who or what inspires you?
I love anything to do with the power of the mind. Years ago, I completed a fire walk with Tony Robbins’ The Power Within programme.
The mind is a powerful tool and I’m intrigued by the fact that it can be re-programmed.
Do you have a recommendation for a book or a podcast which has helped you along your journey?
I love Ask and it is given by Esther and Jerry Hicks and Excuse me, your life is waiting by Lynn Grabhorn. I keep both of these books by my bed and often read passages for inspiration when I feel in need of mental clarity.