Looking at the personalities behind London’s small businesses
After graduating from Brighton University in 2000, Zoe Charles set up her own theatre company and, later, a burlesque school which she built on the mantra of "Inspiration, Fun and Empowerment." The Cheek Of It now trains hundreds of women every year in the UK and abroad.
How did the business come about?
I had been working in theatre both as a performer and devisor, setting up various theatrical ventures and teaching performing arts to teenagers and adults for about 7 years in London. It was during the last year I also discovered the alluring world of burlesque and worked on the London burlesque and cabaret scene, both solo as Lady Cheek and in the troupe Scarletine Delight.
How did the business develop?
In 2007, I had the opportunity through a personal development course I was taking to set a up a project based on anything that touched moved and inspired me. I chose to create a burlesque-themed hen party. The party was to be the most bespoke gift possible for the hen, involving a whole day inspired by her. I enrolled a team of fabulous ladies and we set about creating the most gorgeous day. It started with a burlesque class and then a cheeky performance by a singing Charleston male duo, vintage hair and make up, tailor made accessories and a costume for the hen. The final surprise was for the hen and her party to perform what they had learned at a real burlesque club with a real audience that very night. We chose the trendy Bethnal Green Working Mens Club (one of the first clubs to feature burlesque in London).
It was a total success and the ladies loved it. I hadn't considered taking it further than this one event but the demand was there, starting with the hen party participants wanting to learn more. I started a Beginners Class which led to an Advanced course and now we teach over 600 women every year in over six countries. Our graduates are now our biggest asset winning first place in all major London burlesque competitions in 2010 and 2011.
What is the best thing about being an entrepreneur?
Being creative, choosing who I want to work with and truly being able to live a life by design as opposed to default. Oh, and traveling outside of the rush hour commute has totally changed my quality of life!
Who's your biggest inspiration?
I'm going to keep it in the family and say my Mum, Jenny Charles, who is an amazingly strong woman and a single mum of five. She taught me that to be truly powerful is to be a massive contribution to the world and to try to make a difference with everyone you meet.
More information on The Cheek Of It can be found on their website.