Knitting in Italy and Escaping Brexit

Patrick Johnson
Written by Patrick Johnson
on January 24, 2020

Woolly Wormhead are long-time Xolo customers, sharing incredible knitted creations with the world. They brought their business to Estonia in 2018, and whilst their owner values anonymity, their story is one worth reading. We asked about their history, Xolo, and Brexit.

What does your business do?

I’m a designer of hand-knitted hats, who specialises in unusual construction, technique and education. What that means is that I design the hand-knit hats, write the instructions for how to make them (and each one goes through rigorous editing and testing as well as receiving professional photographs to present the designs) and self-publish the PDF manuals. I also teach the techniques involved, especially the techniques used for my construction methods, as I take an unusual more architectural, 3D approach to my designs and I’m going to be introducing online classes in the near future to work alongside my eBooks. I don’t sell the hats themselves and my business is purely digital.

How long have you been working independently?

I’ve been publishing the instructions for my hat designs for almost 15 years. I started with some free patterns on my blog and it grew organically from there. Looking back that feels like a very long time ago. I don’t think I could go back to working for someone else, the flexibility to work around my family and my own needs is invaluable.

Did you previously have a business based in the UK?

Yes. In the UK I was a sole trader, meaning the business and I were the same thing, I never incorporated in the UK as the rules are different there but yes, I was very much a UK business. I’ve travelled a lot with my work, mostly around Europe, so I wasn’t always based in the UK.

Was Brexit your main motivation for moving your business to Europe, or were there other factors?

Yes. In hindsight moving my business to Estonia and getting e-Residency is one of the best things I’ve ever done and I might not have done it had Brexit not pushed me. Remaining part of Europe is very important to me, and by moving my business I could maintain my interests here. Brexit has forced us, like many others, to choose between the UK and the EU.

How did you find e-Residency and Xolo?

I’d read about e-Residency in a couple of articles aimed at people who would be put in difficult situations due to Brexit, and who wanted to maintain their connections to the EU. I started investigating and found Xolo through various reviews and via the Estonian authorities website. I found Xolo’s outlook and attitude in keeping with the path I wanted my business to continue on and very much appreciate the ease of use and services offered.

How simple was the process of starting an Estonian business?

Incredibly simple! As a family we’ve now made a permanent move to Italy, having been living between the two countries for a number of years and starting my Estonian business has been the simplest aspect to all of it. The progressive digital nature about the whole process is so refreshing, so refined, so smooth. I remember talking to my partner about how it all seemed so good to be true, too easy, that we expected something to go wrong… only it didn’t, it just kept going well.

Has there been any reaction from your clients to your business being based in Estonia?

They’ve been interested in the changes and some have been interested in how it affects them and our relationship, but mostly I’d say everyone can see what a good move it has been! The ease of invoicing and the way in which I interact with clients and customers has been a positive change.

Do you see any benefits for freelancers after Brexit?

Honestly, no. I guess if freelancers are working solely within the UK then Brexit may not affect them so much, and it’s possible they may see an increase in business from companies that had previously outsourced outside of the UK. But for anyone who works across borders, especially within the EU, then I don’t see any benefits to Brexit for freelancers. I personally don’t know any freelancers who don’t work across borders; editors, translators, photographers, videographers, designers - we all work internationally at some point.

How do you see the future of your own business and businesses in the UK more broadly after Brexit?

My business is strong and continues to grow at a steady pace. I’ll be adding online video classes to my online portfolio soon and having my digital business set up as it is through Xolo makes this a lot smoother for me (the handling of VAT Moss, for instance). Knowing that my business administration is covered and in good hands frees up a lot of time and headspace and I’m putting that to creative use with new work. I’m continuing to build relationships with EU suppliers,  so I feel the future of my business is a good one.

With Brexit the UK will be more insular and I honestly don’t think that will be a good thing for British businesses. Many other small businesses in my industry that are based in the UK are very worried about how they’ll cope with increased costs of shipping, taxes, import/export times and paperwork to name but a few. Several are struggling to prepare and have been feeling the impact of having been kept in limbo for so long - not knowing what’s going to happen is doing enough damage by itself.

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