I'm aware of trends. I've worked in the Fashion industry for the past 17 years, I've become tuned in to seeing patterns emerge. In case you haven't noticed there's a bit of a working revolution going on... If you're entrenched in social media you'll also be aware of this 'Motherhood' and 'Sisterhood' vibe that's currently circulating the online communities.Read More
(Mis) adventures in Parenthood, Little League & moving your family 5,500 miles from London to California.
Filtering by Category: Small businesses
So if I'm gonna Blog & Vlog I'd like to offer something a little different. With a wave of Moms jacking in the day job to get designing, making and selling why not offer something these guys might be interested in reading to help pass on tips, funny stories, perhaps let people learn from my misadventures.Read More
Well, I'll be honest, I wasn't quite sure I'd survive it, but I did. I made it out the other side of an epic run of Christmas fairs & order fulfilment! In hindsight I was maybe a little ambitious with how many Christmas Fairs I signed up to, but as with everything it's a big learning curve right now. In the run up to the festive season I even managed to squeeze 5 fairs into one week! Admittedly I did get help one Saturday when 2 fairs were actually going on at the same time, but I can tell you Starbucks did very well out of me in November and December. With my history in retail though I knew that many business can make around 40% of their turnover at this time of year, so I decided to power up and make the most of it!
I've oft heard it said "when you decide to start your own business for a better work/ life balance - DON'T!" You'll work harder than you've ever worked before! And it's true, but you know what, I'm a grafter, and I actually like working. It's so much more fulfilling when it's your own business, and I truly believe the more you put into it the more you get out. You hold the reigns, it's really only me giving myself a hard time if I haven't finished something in the time I wanted to.
The reality of juggling running a business and having 2 young children is that you are very time poor. I had initially budgeted in my business plan to give myself 1 day of childcare for the first few months to get me up and running. Unfortunately the reality of the cost of childcare in London is that it'll set you back the best part of £100 a day. Maybe not an issue to some, but for me, until the business can generate an income, it's not really viable or sustainable. So, for now I'm grabbing time when my youngest is napping, calling in the Grandma babysitting services when I can, and once the muklets are in bed cracking open the laptop or sewing machine and catching up e-mails, admin and orders.
I was sent some literature a while back from a lady I met at of the networking groups I belong to. It's entitled "The Simple 5 Step Formula To Double your income within 12 months" by Sarah Cox. Sarah has some really great tips, particularly focusing on how you can be very time and money poor when running your own business. Sarah introduces the concept that if you were told you could invest £5 and you would get £10 back, wouldn't you want to invest? It illustrates that you will have to spend money in a business in order to gain back. Reading that passage opened my eyes to another way of thinking. If I was having to pay someone £10/ hour to look after the kids to enable me to work, why not pay someone else around £10 to do some of the work for me, and have the added benefit that it is their area of expertise?!
So, still working on a button and a shoelace budget I set about looking for people that were willing to work with a small business in manageable fees on an ad-hoc flexible basis. I'd also recognised that there was great potential in my local parent peerage. Mostly Career Mums who had either decided not to return to work or struggled to find a work situation that offered flexible hours to work around family life. So, why not utilise this amazing skill base, and offer projects that could fit around their schedules? I also discovered fellow Mums that were happy to meet whilst one or both of our children played so we could have a meeting. Fantastic - making progress at work and not having to pay for childcare! As long as the muklets were happy, entertained and nourished I managed for the most part to achieve productive fulfilling meetings and get some exciting plans in place!
So, this is who I've managed to bring on board so far:
A Momma whose helping manage my production - planning and costing making our muklet wares. Also currently costing and planning out my next collection, possibly moving all our manufacturing to the UK
Momma & Poppa photographers - both professional and amateur, helping with lifestyle and flat shots, also sending out muklets wares to Parent bloggers in exchange for photos
A Momma who's become my Editor reviewing my web content and blog for me
A lovely Muklet buddy who helps at Fairs, and is always up for a challenge so has been tasked with small research projects to fit around her busy week
A lovely Momma seamstress - helping to build my stock levels so I'm not always needing to make to order
And a Social Media Momma - helping to send out e-mails, review my website, ensure continuity across my web store platforms... and more tasks growing by the week!
Now, I'm not exclusive to mostly working with Mommas, it's kind of transpired that way as these are the people I'm crossing paths with now. But having that level of understanding that the reason I took 2 days to reply to your e-mail was because I haven't had a child free moment to breath. Or understanding that I can only arrange meetings during the school run window is a rather priceless, and much less stressful way of working than navigating family life with a 9-9 job! I think the people I've found to work with hopefully can share some of the passion I have for growing this business, and hopefully get a kick out of being part of this 'story'.
I'm certainly very thankful to these guys and all our muklet buddies that have helped us get this far. It literally wouldn't have been possible without them. Now, grab a double shot flat white, roll up your sleeves and let's get cracking with the next bit!
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When you tell people you work as a fashion designer, they often seem to assume that you spend your days sitting in a glamorous art studio, sketching and flipping through fabric swatches. Oh, if only that were the case! I remember some very disgruntled placement students at one brand I worked for. It didn’t take them long to realise that most of their day would be spent entering garment specifications onto a computer and attaching CADed drawings to boards, a process they had to repeat each time a meeting was held and the specifications inevitably changed!
In my experience as a womenswear and childrenswear designer for the past 16 years, only 5 to 10% of your time is spent doing things that could genuinely be called 'creative'. The industry moves so fast that there is rarely time to think, be inspired or evolve your work – you just have to get it down on paper and sent to a factory to be made as quickly as possible.
So when, earlier this year, I decided to step away from the corporate world and have a go at launching my own kids’ brand, I had a few objectives in mind. The first was to build a business that would allow me to work flexible hours to fit around family life. That feels a long way off at the moment as I grasp every second of naptime and burn the midnight oil trying to get my business off the ground. But the goal is there and it’s what I'm working towards. Another aim was to re-connect with my creative roots. For as long as I can remember, I have been making and creating things. I got my first sewing machine when I was 14 years old and used it to make toys and clothes. It was then that I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was all growned-dup!
Once I'd nailed the concept for the Muklet brand, I set about designing the range. As it evolved I realised I could pull together all the things I loved about clothing, accessories and even vintage. I was able to tap into the wealth of experience I've gained in the fashion industry. And I could choose who I work with. I’m passionate about supporting British suppliers and manufacturers so when it came to selecting the fabric for my cushions it had to be British Melton wool from Moons.
Before I could start to build the collection, I had dust off my sewing machine, which had last made an appearance the previous Christmas when I decided to make homemade decorations for all 22 members of my family! I quickly re-discovered the joy of taking an idea from the initial concept to the finished piece, of being involved in the entire process and of feeling proud that I had created something someone else would enjoy.
I’ve also been on a mission to source retro American vintage pieces to complement the clothes and accessories in the range. I had the best day at Ardingly Vintage Fair some weeks ago. I went in with a budget and an aesthetic in mind but found inspiration in some unexpected treasures and then had fun planning out how I would use or upcycle them.
I confess I was a little hesitant about joining Etsy at first. There are some amazingly talented artisans in the London Local team making their beautiful wares from scratch and I wasn’t sure that I had the same credentials. But I’ve come to realise that there are many different levels of makers and designer makers. What connects us is our love of creation, whether it’s a hand-thrown pot, or in my case, a customised Varsity baseball jacket.
Starting this adventure has spurned my creativity in other ways too. I was asked for a giveaway present to be handed to the first 50 people through the doors of a Christmas fair I’m attending. So I made these:
I’ve also had to think creatively about how I display my wares at markets:
Create interesting ways to promote myself on social media:
Deciding how to style and photograph my products:
And it goes on and on! Although I’m as yet to make it to an Etsy meet-up (the joy of being a busy mom with a husband home too late for me to escape on time!) I have managed to meet quite a few of the Etsy clan at various markets and other small business gatherings. I love it when after months of chats on social media you finally get to meet someone face to face – and it's always such a friendly face!
I think the best thing about re-connecting with my creative self is that my kids get to see me being truly happy and creative. They love sitting in my office pod watching me work (ok, most of the time they cause complete chaos, but at least they’re having fun!). And it inspires them to want to make what Mommy is making. Who knows, you may even see a 'mini Muklet' shop opening on Etsy sometime soon ... watch this space!
A couple of weeks ago we had one heck of a 7 days at Muklet towers. It started with an email from Vogue asking if I'd like to put an advertorial in their October issue, which would feature a handpicked selection of clothing, toys, accessories and furniture for children and babies. With only a day to decide whether to go for it, I called in a couple of favours and turned the little amateur photography I had into something workable. That issue has now just landed in your local newsagent if you want to check it out!
I also finally got round to posting on some local Facebook mummies groups. Now that I've got some products to sell (and more on the way), I'm shifting my focus to marketing and next month I'm getting the range professionally shot.
It’s all feeling very ‘chicken and egg’ as I grow the brand. I need sales to get the funds to move to the next step, but to grow the sales I need good marketing, photography, PR and so on. I've also been contacted by some kids’ magazines and a huge online store but have held off promoting myself through these routes as I was worried that my photos and press releases weren’t up to scratch. What I’ve now realized is that anyone who knows anything about small businesses can see past that. The people who have reached out to me have seen something unique and interesting in what I’m doing. So who cares if my first advert in Vogue is an iPhone shot of my youngest in our back garden! It's a start! That's my egg!
Now, the can of worms that is social media. Boy this is a biggie. As a new business there are all manner of marketing agencies trying to sell you their services, improve your SEO, manage your social media etc etc. To be honest I don't understand half the things they're offering! For now it's just me, myself and I getting this thing going. So I am trying to learn from how more experienced mumpreneurs are doing it, skim-reading the endless mailshots I get from online marketing services and trying to understand what type of posts at what time and on which form of social media get the most attention, interaction and most importantly sales.
One thing I've heard is that it's important to use each form of social media properly. I’ve noticed I have slightly different types of audiences on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and email subscribers. So I need to learn how to talk to each group. An article I read recently on 'What Katie Said' offers some great advice.
One tactic I have is to make use of the wonderful community I am part of. I live in Wandsworth, London, otherwise known as ‘Nappy Valley’ due to the huge number of young families living here (well, the children are young, obviously, but most of the parents I know were late starters and are hovering around the 40 mark). Not only have I been able to start my business off with a few fairs, but I can also tap into the local Facebook groups.
For each postcode there’s at least one Facebook group and some have separate groups just for buying and selling. On the whole these groups are hugely supportive and through them I’ve managed to find the best taxi firm to use whilst in labour, source a builder for my office pod, and even borrow a gazebo from a local mum for my fairs. But you do have to be careful. Some groups have strict rules about what you can post, how you post it, and when you can post and I completely understand why. It’s easy to see why they need to protect themselves from abuse by canny marketeers. But on the whole these mommas have your back, got a kid-tastrify or kid-conundrum or just need a decent painter to spruce up the crayon marks down the hallway, they are armed and ready with support and advice!
I’ve made what I'm sure won't be the last of some rookie errors, like including the wrong FB link (I'm www.facebook.com/mukletkids - miss off the ‘kids’ bit at the end and you’ll find yourself on the Facebook page of some bloke in California). My low the other week was getting my knuckles rapped by one FB group administrator for not offering the group exclusive access to a discount despite my best efforts to follow their rules.
Now, I have to confess it's a bit scary putting yourself out there on social media. Yes, I'm creating a kids’ brand, but I’m not anonymous, hiding behind it. I'm telling you guys all about it along the way and my personality is pretty much laid bare in the narrative on social media. And I want to do this. It's what I admire about blogs/ brands like Hurrah for Gin and selfish mother. They have very successfully philosophized, ranted and charted the things they love and loathe in a humorous monologue that you want to keep coming back to. At the other end of the spectrum are other momma bloggers that I follow and admire like Anine Bing. This is a highly polished, stylized lifestyle narrative, quite typical of a lot of the West Coast USA bloggers. I can only dream of looking and living that fabulously! I recently asked my hairdresser to give me a 'Bing choppy bob' but for now I like keeping it real and I hope that's what my readers enjoy, the warts ‘n’ all style of my tale.
So, how do I deal with the lows? Well, I try to surround myself with positive friends and other smart mumpreneurs. They’re a great sounding board, whether it's in the park while the kids throw themselves off the monkey bars, virtually over email or FB, or better still down the pub! So, as in the workplace (the real one that actually pays me money sometimes) I give myself chance to think things through and then work out how to respond. My heart kept telling me that the annoyed FB administrator’s tone wasn’t in-keeping with supporting fellow mommies busting a gut to start a small business, but I realized that if I want to play, I had to abide by their rules.
In the end I took a deep breath, went back to my troublesome message, and apologized for not posting appropriately. I explained that I’m juggling launching a business with entertaining two very active, chaotic-when-mummy-is-attempting-to-do-anything boys, and asked for advice on how to do it in the future. From the response I got, I think I’ve avoided being sent to the headmasters’ office as long as I do better next time!
So, until I can afford the business consultant, the social media team and the quarterly trips to an Ashram to ride out the lows, I shall simply grab my mini bottle of Prosecco in one hand, turn the radio up loud with the other, and as my sister-in-law said ‘follow Taylor Swift's advice and just shake it off!’
So firstly, apologies that it's been a while since my last post. My excuse is that I've been working! Real, paid, grown-up working! You see whilst I get my Muklet on, and get this business going, I still need to pay for the proverbial bread and butter. (My husband occasionally apologises for not being a banker and keeping me in the style he thinks I could become accustomed to. (The truth is I always preferred the scruffy arty types around the Lower East Side to the suited and booted ones around Wall Street).
If you've been following my blog you'll know that since being made redundant last December, I've been struggling to find another design job that I'm passionate about and that would get me home in time to see the boys before bedtime. Well after six months of looking, guess what? Two came along at once!
I love designing clothes and accessories. It's all I've ever wanted to do. I knew from around the age of seven that I wanted to be a fashion designer and that's when I got my first hand-cranked sewing machine. By my 14th birthday my parents had realised this wasn't going to be a passing phase and gave me my wonderful Pfaff Hobbymatic. This machine carried me through making dolls clothes and toys, to costumes and cushions for GCSE textiles, a final collection for my degree in Fashion Design and most recently, my first batches of Varsity Tees and Cushions for Muklet. It's only in the last couple of months that this trusty friend has been retired to my mum's house and replaced by a brand spanking new Janome (maker sewers will appreciate this machine porn talk!). Once again the machine was thanks to Mum, this time investing in her entrepreneurial daughter.
I'm not ready to abandon the fashion world entirely yet. I've made a conscious decision to focus on freelance work to give myself flexibility and maximise the time I spend with the boys. And I've been very fortunate to land a couple of projects I'm really excited about and to be working with people whose company I genuinely enjoy.
I've had some particularly interesting conversations with my coworkers. As women of roughly the same age who have all worked for both big and small brands, we seem to be in a similar place in our lives. In my 20s I thought I knew it all and had the world figured out. With no commitments or major responsibilities, I could invest all my energy in work and my social life. In my 30s I'd figured out who I was, who I wanted to be, who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with and where I was headed next. Now getting close (very close) to 40, I know what balance I am striving for in my life. I don't feel I need to prove anything to anyone anymore. In my career as a fashion designer I've worked the long hours, made the sacrifices, put my stamp on the brands I've designed for. I've also seen behind 'the green curtain'. It's awesome to love what you do creatively, but fashion can also be a beast of an industry if I'm honest.
This time I've felt that being a mother has definitely counted against me in my search for a job. I've been very clear in interviews that I would mostly need to leave work on time as I have a family. I don't see any point in not being up front about this. When I see things like 'looking for someone who lives and breathes the brand' in a job description, I read 'you must basically work your life around this job and be ready to cancel your plans at a moment's notice if we decide to change the collection for a zillionth time and need you to get the updated designs out asap' (and breath!). So if there are candidates who are 10 years younger, don't have kids, and are asking £10k less then me, then for the most part I'm headed for the 'no pile'.
That said, I am now working with some awesome people. One company not only has women with a similar mindset to me, but the whole culture of the place is open, supportive, non judgemental and what can be most rare when you're working somewhere 'trendy', it's not cliquey!
The clients I'm working with are smaller brands but with big plans. I've discovered this is where my passion lies. I relish identifying opportunities in the market, getting in the head of the customer and hopefully delivering a compelling wardrobe that she will want to buy. I joined most of the big brands I've worked for at a time of change or growth. I was part of the initial team at Lauren, Ralph Lauren that relaunched the brand after it was brought back in house in 2002. I joined Jack Wills at a time when they were still relatively unknown and based out of a large tin shed in West London. And I got my teeth stuck into Barbour after an old colleague went in to head up the women's and children's ranges and got me onboard to help focus the brand and grow their markets in the UK and Overseas.
Through working with these smaller brands I'm continuing to learn and develop. I'm starting to understand more about how you grow a company and why you would choose to seek outside investment or remain a privately held company and reinvest capital to grow your business slowly. I look at Barbour, still a privately held company. They've been around 120 years so they seem to be doing alright!
It seems I'm not alone in this 'slashy' style of working – in my case Design Consultant/Founder of a Kids' Brand (and of course rather fried parent). In the last two months I've crossed paths with five designers and developers all freelancing at the same time as running their own clothing label. In fact many moons ago on my student placement at M&S I was fortunate to work in the room next to Orla Kiely who was working as a freelance Childrenswear Designer whilst building her business with her husband.
I recently enjoyed reading this article about 'Slashy working' on The Pool.
Keeping one foot in the fashion pot keeps me connected with the industry and helps me develop as a designer, a creative, a maker and hopefully a successful business woman!
Although my background is in fashion design, I've always been fascinated by wider trends in how we buy, what motivates us to buy, by our conscious or subconscious reasons for buying, and the who, what and where of our style references.
So I've got a clear vision of what this brand's DNA will be and the kind of childrenswear brands I'd like to align it with. I'm also clear about what I don't want it to be. Yes, there is a 'crafted' element to the make of many of my products, but I don't want to be seen as 'crafty'. So maybe think less Kirsty Allsop at a WI and more Grayson Perry at a potters wheel!
When I was approached to join some other small south-west London brands to do a touring pop-up shop, I knew they had to be the right brands. The idea for the collective is that of former art teacher Wayne Cullum who now runs CraftedLondon, a fantastic open space dedicated to art classes for kids but with soft play and a cafe too. Like many of my new entrepreneur friends, Wayne had decided it was time for a new challenge and one that would fit with being a parent. He completely gets the 'juggle' we all do on a daily basis (his wife works full time). When we talked through the idea of the collective, he also understood when I said that I felt there should be a selective element to the group, that it should be 'curated', and voila, we had our name!
To launch the concept Wayne organised a 'Curated by Crafted' summer fair at his CraftedLondon headquarters. I went in with modest expectations, just as I had with the first school fair, knowing that this would be more of a marketing opportunity than a retail bonanza. The space is located on a quiet residential road so you really have to know where you're heading to find it. Our goal would then be to do one pop-up shop a month starting in September and to target high footfall areas, initially around south west London. Well, I say this, but we're as yet to have our first 'board meeting' (most likely to be a chat about logistics over a jug of Pimms in the local!). But this has really got me thinking about how other retail spaces become so much more affordable and attainable if you're part of a collective. We've just entered the Evening Standard competition for a pop-up shop space. We could pop up in malls, county fairs, London markets to name a few ideas. The logistics of this are so much easier when you can share transport, man each other's stalls and divide the costs of setting up between you.
With such a rapidly changing retail environment on our high streets, small businesses have to come up with ingenious ways to get their products in front of customers. In my local area I've seen a stream of small retail businesses close down, mainly because the cost of rents and business rates are so prohibitive. I've spoken to local shop owners who are paying almost double their rent in business rates. One local shop has an outlay of over £1,000 a month before they've even opened the door, turned on the lights, or paid any of their staff. Now for me that would be a whole lot of T-shirts!
So I'm excited about this first meeting and the opportunity to get to know some of the guys and gals from the other small businesses. This has lots of potential to be a great retail adventure!