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47 Cantata Drive
Mission Viejo, CA, 92692
United States

Collegiate Kids Store

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Blog Articles

(Mis) adventures in Parenthood, Little League & moving your family 5,500 miles from London to California.

Filtering by Category: Local Business

INTRODUCING: The Letterman Co

Laura Bonnell

You've probably noticed a few changes going on with our brand across social media. Recently we took the bold (& slightly crazy) decision to re-brand our little business from 'Muklet' to 'The Letterman Co'. And we decided to did it right before our busiest time of year - the Holiday season!

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MOMSTERS UNIVERSITY

Laura Bonnell

The thing (and there are many things as I'm discovering) with running your own business, is that no-one's telling you what to do, or how to do it. That is unless of course you decide to pay someone to manage your business affairs, and do all the bits you have no clue what to do.

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Burning the midnight oil & calling in the cavalry

Laura Bonnell

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!

Mucho coffee was consumed in the festive run up to Christmas

Mucho coffee was consumed in the festive run up to Christmas

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!

Meeting at  Crafted London  with the smalls to plan Xmas Fairs and joint marketing campaigns

Meeting at Crafted London with the smalls to plan Xmas Fairs and joint marketing campaigns

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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Keeping on Brand and resisting the pink

Laura Bonnell

If I had £1 for every time someone suggested I should make some products in pink I would have broken even by now! My response is that the muklet brand is authentic Americana, which doesn’t generally involve pink in the palette!

I spoke to a lovely brand management consultant recently at a networking meeting. She was admiring my wire basket of muklet wares I'd taken along, and said she'd spotted it from across the room. She said she had instantly understood what my brand was about. This comment had made me a very happy camper that night, and I responded by telling her that I hoped that was one of my USP’s as a Mompreneur. Having designed for well known Fashion brands I was accustomed to honing products that fitted with the companies’ DNA.

In interviews I always talk about how I think I ‘found’ myself as a designer when I worked at Ralph Lauren. Ralph Lauren was the first ‘brand’ I’d designed for having previously spent the first couple of years since graduating working for retailers where the collections I'd worked on followed trends and consumer spending habits. If you are going to learn the art of working for a brand, Ralph Lauren is THE place to do it. You may not realise, but many talented well known names have ‘graduated’ from the hallowed wood panelled walls of RL HQ; Vera Wang, John Varvatos, Tory Burch, Thom Browne and of course more recently Muklet!

I was very privileged in my time there to work with some very talented people and was mentored by some patient and encouraging work peers. It was only really after I left and moved back to England that I realised the years spent observing the Creative Director editing piles of hundreds of tweed swatches, agonising over the metal finish and level of polish on a button with the trim Director, and fine tuning the shape of a flower in a delicate French Chantilly lace with the development team had forever trained my eye to expect excellence and be able to curate fabrics, trims, colours and shapes appropriate for a brand.

 

Yep, that's me with pink nose and red eyes!!

Yep, that's me with pink nose and red eyes!!

Of course I was spoilt as a Designer whilst I worked there as I had access to the very best materials, trims and resources. But it's a discipline I have carried with me to use wherever I have worked no matter the size of the company or the level of the market.

So I am also able to use this skill as I grow the muklet brand. Whilst it's of course important to listen to your customer, it is equally important to stay true to the DNA of the brand, so your audience is clear what you stand for. I believe the true sign of a good brand is being able to pick up a product, and without looking at the label you would be able to tell where it is from.

In this present day of launching a brand, the DNA runs deeper that just the product, it carries through everything, your photography, how your brand  personality is expressed through your marketing, your packaging,  all your social media channels. I sometimes wonder how different it would be for Mr Lauren to launch in 2015?! Would he be Instagramming selfies with Kanye on the ‘FROW’, tweeting topical fashion tit bits #sartorial #anglophile instead of walking the New York streets with his case of ties?! Probably not, but it's fun to speculate!

So, back to the ‘Pink’ issue. I personally also have a hard time with Pink. Regular readers will know I have 2 boys. We haven't ruled out perhaps maybe just having one more at some point (although running your own business doesn't leave much time or energy right now!) But, just in case, and kinda just for fun I have a Pinterest board entitled ‘if I had a girl’! It doesn't feature a lot of pink, and I know I know actually having a girl it is virtually impossible not have have some element of that rosy hue in their wardrobe. On the flip side I have an overbearing % of blue in the boys wardrobe, so am a bit of a blue pot calling the kettle pink! So, yes I do want to cater to girls, but I don’t think it totally fits with the brand as it is right now.

That said I swallowed my pink pride for a promotion we ran recently with some of my Curated by Crafted peers (link).

The promotion we recently ran with Quick Brown Fox, Harper Blue, Kikka &amp; Tikka Magic Door Store and Cece &amp; Me

The promotion we recently ran with Quick Brown Fox, Harper Blue, Kikka & Tikka Magic Door Store and Cece & Me

It was also for a good cause, supporting Breast Cancer Care (link). £1 for every product featured in the promo sold during that time would be donated to Breast Cancer Care. Now that's a Pink something I could willingly get behind

But, that's all the Pink you’re getting.. For now!  I will endeavour to continue to appeal to our female muklet pals… There's even gonna be some ‘Princess’ type wares… But in a Vintage cool muklet kid style.. So watch this space!

 

Keeping one foot in the Fash-wan pot

Laura Bonnell

apple_muklet_pantone.jpeg

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! 

Working in my 'she-shed' gets me home in good time to see the kids. No worrying about being stuck on the tube! &nbsp;  Enjoyed this article on  The Pool  recently about 'She-Shed's' (Don't tell my hubby, it's still called the 'Office Pod' as far as he's concerned!)

Working in my 'she-shed' gets me home in good time to see the kids. No worrying about being stuck on the tube!  

Enjoyed this article on The Pool recently about 'She-Shed's' (Don't tell my hubby, it's still called the 'Office Pod' as far as he's concerned!)



Curated by Crafted (let's try some Pop Ups!)

Laura Bonnell

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!