Wander Women

September 10, 2021

Chloë Clover made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list earlier this year. It was another significant achievement for the co-founder and creative director of Wander Films, the Middlesbrough- based startup that has redefined social media marketing for companies across the region, if not the globe. Not bad for a ‘High School drop-out’ – as Forbes called her – and her partner and business partner Lou Tonner, who set up the company just three years ago during a round-the-world trip. Here, Colin Young speaks to the pair, who are living their dream and putting Wander Films firmly on the map.

Chloë Clover and Lou Tonner don’t really do New Year’s Eve.

They like to do their own thing; shut the world out, and Jools Holland, order pizza, close the curtains, dim the lights and write a list of their goals and ambitions and dreams for the months, if not years, ahead.

Three years ago, on the first New Year following their return home from a breath-taking and at times dangerous trip to Australia and Far East Asia, the pair penned their first list as the co-founders of Wander Films, a company they had set up during their travels, producing videos and social media content for the many tourist businesses and attractions they had encountered along the way.

Making the Forbes 30 Under 30 list was on that list.

An ambitious ambition for two dreamers.

Earlier this year, Chloë made the Forbes 30 list as ‘the High School drop-out’ (Forbes’ words – she left West Redcar School aged 15 and returned to pass six exams to enter Northern School of Art and left there before her final exams).

“It’s a bit of a geeky tradition,” explains Chloë.

“We’ve written ‘get an office in the Boho Zone’, ‘employ a team with effects artists and marketing’ and, yeah, make the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.”

As the slightly older member of the partnership, Lou just missed out on inclusion, but this is really about the wonder of Wander, and it is recognition for their joint achievements.

“We wrote it down as one of those wild goals that you set yourself,” says Lou. “We really wanted it to happen but

neither of us really felt like it could happen so soon, although it had to because we were running out of time before we both got to 30.

“It was just surreal when it was announced. You set a goal you don’t really expect to achieve, but you have to set the bar high.

“I’m incredibly proud of her. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Wander, Chloë or myself, it’s all the same thing. We’re partners. I’m not one for the limelight anyway, so I’m pleased she got on the list, and not me, to be honest.”

And yet the euphoria of the recognition was hard to process for another reason for Chloë, whose maternal grandma Maureen Lowery had passed away the previous day following a short illness.

Chloë was close to Maureen, an illustrator who had worked for the Evening Gazette in Middlesbrough, and whose pet portraits adorn hundreds of walls across Redcar.

“It took a little bit of time to register; I just couldn’t process it,” she says.

“I knew it was huge, but I couldn’t get my head around this achievement when such a big thing was happening in my life.

“I was really close to my grandma, and my mum. She was a real trailblazer who cut her hair short before anyone else did and she once had green fingernails. Sounds weird, but it was unheard of then.

“She told me she once came home in a pair of trousers and her grandma nearly fell off her chair.

“My grandad died just after she had my mam. She was still pregnant with my uncle and she brought them up on her own. She always worked and she used to do pet portraits for people. I always keep expecting to see some of her pictures at a car boot sale…

“She was a real home bird. She loved Teesside and Redcar.”

The same can be said of her granddaughter, although it needed a round-the-world trip with Lou to confirm that, and put in place the plans which would change their lives and the face of social media marketing in Middlesbrough, and beyond.

Chloë and Lou met in 2014 when she auditioned to join a Boro-based band with a set full of their own songs that took them to the 02 in Islington.

The band fizzled out after that, but their relationship certainly did not.

And the loss to music has been to their increasingly large client base’s gain, as well as many grateful businesses on the other side of the world.

In 2017, the pair made the decision to buy a one-way ticket to Australia, saving from the six full-time and part-time jobs between them, and selling their entire belongings, including a car, comic collections and an original PS1.

“The break-up of the band was probably the making of us,” says Chloë, whose primary role before departing was as a support worker for people with disabilities.

Lou was in the police – the force, not the band.

“We knew we wanted to do something creative and cool, I just didn’t know what it was,” says Chloë.

“I think that’s why we left.”

Their first destination was Melbourne and from there, as they worked, walked and skateboarded their way up the eastern Australian coast, the adventure really started.

“When we left, we literally just had our clothes in our bag,” she recalls.

“We decided to start in Melbourne and just figure it out.”

The pair decamped in Sydney for a while, Chloë working as a barista in a coffee shop while Lou, with her degree from Teesside University in film and television, embarked on a brief career as a bicycle mechanic.

Between the latte serving, puncture repairs and occasional day on the surf, the pair became friendly with the owners of a film production company.

“They were doing some really cool pilots and we started helping them out on the set and getting really creative,” says Chloë. “It was just meant to be.

“We bought a Panasonic G7. Any filmmakers will be laughing because it was all we could afford.

“It’s a very basic camera but it’s a very good one which is mirrorless, so it’s much lighter which is why we chose it. It was easier to carry everywhere.”

And carry it everywhere is exactly what they did.

After a two-month stint managing a bar in Townsville, they embarked on a 14-month journey up and out of Oz on cheap planes, sleeper trains
and campervans before heading to Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and then eventually back to Teesside to firmly re- embed their roots.

Even backed by Lou’s degree, Chloë admits they were ‘winging it’ initially, learning their new trade as they travelled and squatted on trains, picking up clients and experiences along the way.

But what is clear is that they had found a gap in marketing strategy.

They understand it better than most, which certainly enabled them to educate tourist businesses across Asia, which had either overlooked the importance of promotion using good video content, or ignored the concept completely.

“It sounds mad when you start reeling it off,” Chloë says of the trip that would be remembered forever in the choice of company name, Wander.

“Just two girls with their backpacks, our Penny skateboards, a camera and a laptop.

“We made cash as we went along and learnt the craft and how to improve businesses’ content and we realised there was a huge gap where businesses were putting out these really boring videos just telling people what they wanted to tell people, rather than thinking about what’s going out there or what’s the mindset of the audience on social media.

“We were primarily targeting hospitality and tourism companies because there was this huge traveller trend, which we were part of.

“The first thing travellers do when they get to a place is go online and try to find things to do and the best places to meet people.

“So how do you stand out? How do you engage with those travellers and make them choose you over everyone else?

“We started to create material that was engaging, stylish, really cool and with a fresh approach and it worked. It was exciting.

“And we made a name for ourselves making video content, but we always knew we wanted to be a video marketing agency. We’d learned so much and we loved what we were doing.

“It was like, ‘we have this really amazing idea and we needed to go home to make it happen’.

“And working in Teesside, promoting Teesside and helping here is so important to us.

“There’s a real hub of talent around Teesside in tech and so many amazing businesses. It’s incredible to see what so many people are doing around here and being part of it.”

At first, a room in Chloë’s parents’ Redcar home was their office, along with a nearby Costa, but backed by Launchpad at Teesside University, which helped find funding, they quickly found their feet.

And, after trademarking the ingenious slogan ‘Beat The Scroll,’ set about doing just that, and Wander has transformed the region’s social media marketing output over the last three years.

Who else would think of making a mini-documentary series for financial advisers Bespoke?

Australia may be far behind them now but Chloë, and Lou, say they are still ‘riding the wave’ after moving into Boho 5 in the heart of Middlesbrough’s flourishing tech district and capturing clients such as Riot Games and Hampton By Hilton.

They’ve expanded staff to 13, including effects specialists and animators – just as they had once written on a New Year’s Eve list.

Chloë says: “We really dug into who we are and what we are about, which is where ‘Beat The Scroll’ came from.

“At the time, we were told, ‘does it really make sense?’ or ‘will people get it?’

But we knew, ‘yes, this is it’.

“Things started snowballing really, really fast but we worked really, really hard. Honest to God, we just met as many people as we could, essentially across the whole of Teesside.

“It was never easy. I don’t think anything we’ve done has been easy.”

Even COVID-19 couldn’t knock them off the wave. By the time the second lockdown came, Wander Films was ready to provide unique, innovative and ground-breaking material for clients left behind in the TikToking world of social media.

“We’ve boomed,” says Chloë.

“We had to work out how to create content for our clients without seeing them, which is why we invested so much in the effects and animation and up- skilled our whole team in that area.

“We really doubled down so we could ramp it up and manage clients’ socials and it just grew so quickly. We’ve brought more and more people on and done all sorts of nuts things.

“We’re on that wave still. We’re still growing and there’s lots of exciting things in the pipeline.

“It’s been effort, seven days a week for the past three years and it is hard work, but it’s what we wanted.

“We live and breathe it. We are business partners and also partners, so it never ends.”

Chloë is on the Forbes list and is the face of the company too.

The reluctant Lou was on a first aid course when we meet in the Bedford Street coffee shop her partner loves, and can rekindle her barista days and nights.

“Lou is everything,” Chloë says.

“I would not have done this without her.

“Sometimes people can underestimate her because she’s quiet and likes to be behind the scenes, but she’s the driving force and makes things happen. She deserves all the credit.

“She’s incredible. We get asked a lot, ‘how do you spend so much time together?’ But there is literally no one in the world other than Lou that I would want to spend all my time with.

“It sounds like I do but Lou doesn’t like the spotlight, but we know that you have to be visible, and you have to be seen.

“Our skills sets complement each other. She wants to do the data, finances, organise the team and put things in place and she’s very technical. I might come up with wild things but she’s the one that makes it happen.”

As for Lou, we spoke later, and she confirmed her preference to let Chloë do the talking.

“I definitely like to keep behind the scenes; I leave it to Chloë. She’s much better at speaking to people.”

But the mantra from this Wanderer is the same and their adventure is far from over.

She adds: “Audiences want to feel value. We wanted to change it and shake it up.

“We have a long way to go to be where we want to be, but it’s happened a lot faster than we could ever have dreamed. We’re beyond our five-year plan and we’re only three-years-old.

“We’re really stoked, really proud of the team and proud of what we’ve achieved so far, but we’re not saying we’re there.

“There’s always something further to achieve and other things to tick off our list.

“We have so many plans we are putting in place and speaking to people about how we get there.

“We pinch ourselves every day because we get to do what we love and not everybody can say they genuinely love what they do every day.

“It’s the reason we set up Wander in the first place.

“One, we wanted to do something we love, two, we wanted to do it together and three, we’re a little bit crazy.”

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