Back in the fold

In her latest column on local small businesses, Waltham Forest Business Network’s Jo Sealy meets an entrepreneur who’s good on paper

Gillian Haqqani is presented the Small Business Sunday award

Gillian Haqqani is presented the Small Business Sunday award by former Dragon’s Den star Theo Paphitis

A debilitating illness led Gillian Haqqani to rediscover a childhood pastime – as well as a new business opportunity.

Five years ago she developed severe arthritis in her neck, resulting in surgery, eventual early retirement from her senior role in education, and a great deal of soul searching. Gillian’s doctor had advised her to give up some of her great passions – patchwork and quilting – because of the strain this placed on her neck and shoulders, leaving her with a big hole in her creative life.

Desperate to find an outlet that was both physically manageable and emotionally satisfying Gillian remembered that she had enjoyed origami as a child. After some experimenting she created her first jewellery pieces using origami, creating her new Walthamstow-based business in the process.

She explained: “Gilli’s Flowers is a unique range of jewellery, as the principal materials and techniques used are taken from the traditional Japanese craft of origami.

“My designs range from vintage through to contemporary. Many have a floral theme to them and I also design and make pieces with a geometric or Art Deco style. I use everything from specialist origami papers to taking paper from old books, maps and sheet music which I then give new life as pieces of jewellery. I’ve become known locally as ‘the origami jewellery lady’!”

Two years ago Gilli attended her first market as a member of E17 Designers. She now also has a monthly pop-up at Gigi’s Dressing Room in Wood Street and sells her jewellery online. Her unique jewellery has won her recognition by former Dragons Den star Theo Paphitis as one of the winners of his #SmallBusinessSunday competition.

“I entered last April not expecting to win at my first attempt and was then amazed to discover I had won! This February I attended the #SBS2018 event where Theo Paphitis presented me with my certificate.

“I also learnt the incredible fact that out of all the thousands of entries that have been made since the competition started only 0.68 percent are successful.”

For Gilli, actually making her jewellery is an enormous challenge, as living with a disability means that there are limitations on what and how much she can do daily – not that this has stopped her growing her business.

“Being part of a supportive, creative network, has not only given me a huge confidence boost but has opened up several other opportunities for me. In addition, my business has helped restore my self-confidence and self-belief which were at a low air after developing arthritis, other chronic health problems, and becoming disabled as a result.”

“It’s taught me new skills and brought me new friendships, both in the real world and online. I love what I’m doing and I feel so grateful that having had to give up a career I loved I’ve now found a new passion in my business.”

For more information about Gilli’s Flowers:


Do you know a great small business in Waltham Forest with a story to tell?