This week, we had the pleasure of catching up with Bex Walker - founder of Bexfast - an all-natural, vegan breakfast company which just smashed its Kickstarter campaign to move into its first-ever HQ.
Bex set up Bexfast in 2015 after making the decision to change her eating habits - her desire to be more healthy was twofold - to set a good example to her daughter Tyler, as well as try and combat the debilitating symptoms of chronic fatigue. Here's her story:
Newnham: What were you like growing up? How would your friends and family have described you?
Walker: Growing up, I guess people would have said I was a dreamer, quite confident and a bit rebellious! I was actually dealing with a lot of stuff internally though and always felt like the odd one out, even though I was probably seen to be quite popular. Music was my main passion and I was determined to be a singer.
Newnham: What is your career background? What were you doing before setting up on your own?
Walker: I became a singer! I started writing and recording at around 15, went to Lewisham College and did a BTEC in popular music, started performing regularly, lived in America for a while, writing and recording and then signed some House records here in the UK with Defected, Ministry of Sound and Hed Kandi. I was offered two deals the week I found out I was pregnant.
Newnham: And what led to you starting Bexfast? Why was it important for you to start this?
Walker: I was addicted to cake throughout my pregnancy but around eight or nine months after Tyler was born I decided to get fit for the first time ever. I got really into running and then nutrition. I started making the pots as a way to cut the cake cravings but I only use whole food ingredients so everything in them had a benefit for my body.. win win!!
I posted some really basic recipe videos and pics on my instagram and soon people were asking to buy what I was making at home. I never really intended to start Bexfast but my name fitted so perfectly into ‘breakfast’ (haha) and there was already a small demand for it so I just thought, why not give it a go?! It grew pretty quickly and I just fell in love with the whole process of learning, adapting and leveling up, and just making actually delicious, healthy food available for breakfast.
Also, I got really ill around four and half years ago and had no idea what was wrong with me. I was the fittest and healthiest I had ever been but my arms and legs just stopped working properly. I was exceptionally tired all the time and I struggled to even put normal sentences together.
Doctors thought it might be a Vitamin D deficiency but after weeks of taking extremely large doses, nothing changed and tests showed I wasn't very deficient in it anyway - or anything else. The last doctor I saw discussed CFS (Chronic fatigue syndrome) / ME (Myalgic encephalomyelitis) with me and told me that I needed to keep exercising as there is no cure - they will only be able to prescribe basic workout routines to keep the body moving and as someone who liked to run 6-10 km after the school run 2-3 times a week, this would be incredibly frustrating.
So I went home, mustered up every piece of my discipline and went for a very awkward run. I fell over a lot, I cried most of the way and I couldn't feel my legs or the pavement. I used the memory of what it felt like to run to get me through and when I got home, I felt so alive! I obviously then fell straight to sleep and it didn't make me better but I was determined not to live my life feeling like that so I did some research and found more than one account of people with ME living normal lives by eating a whole food, plant-based diet. I decided I would give it a go for a month. I was already eating a mostly whole food diet but I was sure I would miss eggs and steak and sushi!
After about four weeks my body started to feel slightly better and my energy levels were up so I decided to stay with it. It's now been four years and I very rarely suffer with symptoms unless I'm under a lot of stress. I was so sceptical that it would make a difference but I was desperate enough to try anything and now I'm really glad it happened to me! Getting ill forced me to really assess what I was putting into my body and what I considered food. After seeing such a drastic improvement in my health, I made it my mission to tell everyone about the benefits of changing to a whole food diet and it is one of the most important factors of my breakfast pots. I never use any refined sugar, preservatives or anything that has words you don't recognise. If we don't now what it is, why are we eating it?! When I started making the pots, there wasn't really anything like it in the shops so I decided to fill that gap and sell my plant-based breakfast pots that are not only made from really good ingredients but are actually something you will get excited about eating!! A lot of my customers aren't vegan and I have converted quite a few oat haters too haha!
Working for myself has been great too because I still get to do the school run almost every day and when I get ill I don't need to answer to anyone. Sharing my journey with my customers and followers has really helped too as they always understand and are super sweet and supportive if I need to rearrange deliveries etc.
Newnham: What have been some highs and lows of running your own food business?
Walker: Ah, I don’t know if I can call any of it a low because even the tough parts have helped me grow! I guess maybe that you can completely work your ass off every single day but still be broke or that you can never really afford to fully switch off. My mind is always on what’s coming next, there’s always so much to do. But I love being busy, I’m so grateful that I always have orders to fulfill and there’s constant interest in what I’m doing. The highs have definitely been completely changing the way I see myself and what I’m capable of, and showing my daughter that you can make something out of absolutely nothing as long as you are willing to put in the work.
Newnham: What advice would you give to other women thinking of setting something up? What is the most important lesson you have learned from the experience?
Walker: Motherhood won’t stop you achieving your dreams, you can find a way to work with it.
Say what you mean. I think as women we always want to be seen as ‘really nice’ and have everyone like us but I think the fear of authority or having the final say on things can stop us from really saying what we want, what we need or what we mean — be tactful and polite but get the results! Learn as much as you can, ask for help when you need it and just go for it! You are so much more badass and capable than you realise.
Newnham: You have done so well and already won business awards — what are you most proud of career-wise and why?
Walker: Thank you! My proudest moment so far is the success of the Kickstarter campaign we have just finished. The goal was £20,000 and against all odds we ended up raising over £23,000!!
Newnham: You have some high profile support from people like Ed Sheeran — how did he become involved?
Walker: Ed is a good friend of ours and is also Tyler’s godfather. My hubby and Ed were introduced in a studio session nearly nine years ago and he used to stay at my mother in law’s house when he was sofa-surfing. Ed kindly gave me two VIP tickets and a backstage meet and greet to giveaway to one of my campaign backers!
Newnham: What do you hope to achieve in the coming year?
Walker: In January, I will be moving Bexfast out of my house and into a production kitchen so I can start to scale up which is crazy exciting!! The goal this year is to start stocking in retailers and building a team so that we can really start growing.
Newnham: And finally, if you could go back in time to a younger Bex, what advice — if any — would you give her?
Walker: Listen to your gut, it will be right every time!
Top image by Jessica Greenash
All other images from Bexfast