Building a buzzing business: Meet the sisters that are doing it for themselves and the planet

Going into business with your sibling can be risky territory for some,

but the benefits can be huge for the whole family. Colette and Charlie Webb are proof that, when two sisters share a vision and match each other’s energy and skills, it makes for a successful start-up recipe.  

It was in June 2019 that Colette and Charlie launched their e-commerce business, Vera-Bee, on a mission to gather the very best plastic-free, zero waste and eco-friendly products to help people on their journey to being more sustainable. Their own journey began with skincare, seeking out natural products and beginning to consider how much plastic was in their homes. They became scrutinous shoppers, researching the green credentials of every item, and finding that to be a very time-consuming process, the results of which could be shared to save others time.  Charlie said: 

“Our ethos is gentle education; a rigid zero-waste approach is very difficult to achieve. We understand that it’s a journey that starts with changing one or two little things, just as it did with us, and collectively it adds up. We are building a positive community that supports people, its their journey not ours. We try new products all the time and only stock what stands up; it’s a refined inventory of quality.” 

Colette and Charlie operate from a workshop on a retired farm in Billingshurst, West Sussex, affectionately known as the Vera-Bee ‘Hive’. Customers are invited to join the Hive and earn Pollen Points on their purchases to grow loyalty and add value. Contributing customers that come to the sisters with advice or new product suggestions are known as VIBees. In every packaged order that leaves the Hive, is a personalised hand-written card thanking them for their custom. Colette explained:  

“It’s really important that we appreciate loyalty, so every card is personalised to them from us. We don’t want to lose that personal touch as we grow. Our handwriting is becoming faster; on busy days we despatch over 50 orders .”

VeraBee Ethos

Vera-Bee only uses suppliers that are eco-friendly, plastic-free and ethical. Their inventory now contains 750 product lines, all of which are palm oil-free, cruelty-free and most are vegan-friendly too. All their packaging is recyclable and they reuse as much as possible, including packaging from suppliers.  Colette said:  

“Supplier relationships are really important. We have a responsibility to our customers, and the trust must be there. As we’ve grown, we now support over 50 fellow small businesses. 95% of them are UK based. We believe in building up UK businesses and self-sufficiency. It means less transportation too.”


The sisters’ business is named after their mother, Vera, who passed away from ovarian cancer in 2015. Vera was a fearless artist who loved nature and painted life in all its vibrancy. She taught her daughters to respect the natural world and to live spontaneously. Bumblebees regularly featured in her colourful paintings, which adorn their homes today, hence they decided that Vera-Bee was the perfect name to honour their mother’s legacy. Colette said: 

“Mum had an awareness of our impact on the environment. She painted outdoors and appreciated the beauty and fragility of nature. She was a glamorous lady too, and taught us about skincare and cosmetics. It was during her illness that we sought natural products that wouldn’t irritate her skin and later, during palliative care, homeopathic remedies.” 

Their mother’s illness and passing marked a juncture period in both the sisters’ lives. Colette described her previous career as corporate; she was employed in Events Management and Marketing for a pharmaceutical and diagnostic firm, and Charlie worked in publishing and copywriting. Charlie said: 

“We were supporting and caring for our mum, and also our dad who had cancer at the same time, when Colette and I seemed to simultaneously reach a point of discontent with our careers. After Mum passed, there came a stark realisation that there was more to life and our families were our priority. We wanted the freedom to be there for them, without the stress of someone else controlling your time. We started on Vera-Bee as a hobby, an interest to explore together, but it became clear that we were building something special.” 

Their father recovered from his illness and continues to have a close relationship with Colette and Charlie. They credit his 30-year career in the Metropolitan Police, in which he started the first Murder Review Unit, for inheriting his commitment to doing good in the world, as Charlie described: 

“Our father is a level-headed and compassionate person, and a fierce force for justice. His police service taught us resilience that we’ve drawn upon in life and in business. Sometimes things get tough, but we keep striving and consider things from a different angle. We are blessed to have had such a strong moral compass in both our parents, which has undoubtedly inspired our ethical business venture.”

Colette Charlie Webb VeraBee 700x1000

The sisters’ prowess in communications is obvious; their creative skills have built a strong brand and clear messaging. The Vera-Bee customer’s e-commerce experience is pleasurable, and satisfaction is proved when they come back for more. Few start-ups demonstrate such a clear strategy so early on. Her corporate experience apparent, Colette describes their focus on agility: 

“Being small enables a business to change quickly and respond to market demand. We are cautious to remain agile, by keeping our stock lines trim and making more of our own products. Knowing our market has been vital and opportunities can surprise you. For example, I live for skincare, it’s my passion, but our biggest selling category is cleaning. I’ve focused my attention to ensure we offer the very best to our customers.”

The sisters credit the support they received from X-Emergency Services (XES) for developing a solid business plan at the outset. When Colette and Charlie made the decision to make the jump from hobby to business, they knew they would need finance. Alongside facilitating a government-backed Start Up Loan, XES mentored the applicants to develop a business plan, cash flow forecast and stayed with them for guidance during the twelve months post-launch. Charlie explains the difference this input made: 

“The finance took us from a small studio, where we couldn’t hold much stock and were constantly bumping into one another, to moving into a functionable warehouse and buying more stock. It was no longer a hobby. The process forced us to carefully consider our plan and forecast, which have evolved since, but we still refer to these documents now. They’re a good anchor for a start-up. We also received great advice from our mentor, he gave us confidence not to be afraid to hype our business.”  

Vera-Bee could be described as a truly sustainable business, not simply due to its ethical principles, products and practices, but built on the strength of a loving family and the perpetual support and respect that brings. Colette and Charlie have blended their creativity and corporate acumen to conceive a buzzing British business that cares. 

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For more information about Colette and Charlie’s business, visit: 

Colette on LinkedIn: 

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