Photo credit: Zoe de Pass
This week’s Start Up Story comes from Natalie, who has built a business around solving a problem she experienced after having her first baby, and is now busy creating a flexible, portfolio business career that utilises the rest of her skillset, too…
Tell me a little about you & your family, what your business is, and the inspiration behind getting started with Mothers Love Fashion…
Hi, I’m Natalie. I am 34 and live in Stamford, Lincs. (after leaving London last year), with my husband, our two daughters Thea (4) and Beatrix (6 months), a fat lazy cat and a crazy hyper dog!
My business, Mothers Love Fashion is a brand of womenswear that is designed to be breastfeeding friendly (and can serve women way beyond the baby stage…).
I had the idea whilst on maternity leave with my first baby in 2015. I was quite happy in my every day ‘mum uniform’ of jeans and a comfortable top (with vest underneath for ‘one up, one down’ boob access!) for the first couple of months, but then I came across a bit of a challenging stage of ‘dressing’ as the baby got older and I started to feel a bit more like my old self again.
My frustration turned into a business idea when my daughter was almost three months old, the weather was getting nicer, and I was going out to some nice places and I wanted to wear dresses again (like I would’ve before). I was happy breastfeeding in public, but I felt more comfortable being discreet, so I did quite like the functionality of proper ‘nursing’ clothes – I just didn’t like the style!!
I searched the usual high street and online places for fashionable and affordable breastfeeding dresses, and I actually ordered a couple – but I felt frumpy and bigger than I was wearing them, because they were ‘maternity/nursing’, and not only did I not have a bump anymore, but I actually had lost quite a bit of weight breastfeeding (don’t hate on me… I know this doesn’t happen to everyone. My baby never slept if that makes you feel better! he he).
So there I was, in a dress that I didn’t particularly like or feel like ‘myself’ in when I had the ‘ah ha’ moment and thought “why aren’t there ‘normal sized’ clothes, for non pregnant women that have these hidden breastfeeding access?” – so I decided to design my own!
Mothers Love Fashion came from my own need for affordable, quality clothes that I could breastfeed in. In particular, clothes that were usually somewhat impractical for breastfeeding (like jumpsuits and dresses). My vision was for a clothing brand focussed on the woman first but ‘just happened’ to have easy breastfeeding access. I knew I couldn’t be the only mum out there that had these frustrations and needs, so I wanted to fill a gap in the market.
How did you make the leap from idea on paper to reality with your business idea?
This was the tricky part!
I had experience in branding and marketing from my career in advertising agencies, so I LOVED doing all the planning and strategy around the market research, target audience, the brand look & feel, colours, logo, tone of voice etc.
I worked on a business plan using templates from the internet to help me focus and put a plan into action.
I knew what I wanted the clothes to look like, be priced at and how I wanted the breastfeeding access to work, but I knew NOTHING about how to manufacture clothing, or about having my own e-commerce website…! I learned on the job as I went along.
I found a lovely freelance fashion designer who took my brief (scribbles, mood boards, descriptions and examples) and worked with me to design a collection of beautiful jumpsuits, dresses and even exclusive prints. She taught me about the manufacturing process from tech packs, to what to look for in a factory and how it all worked.
I then found a factory that could create the clothes for me at a price that worked and the rest, as they say, is history.
I had to make a few compromises along the way, in terms of how many styles from the designs I could get manufactured, and in what colours (I am yet to use my lovely prints…), but in the end it came down to budget, minimum order quantities, fabrics etc.
My husband did the photography, I did the modelling (which is why my head is cut off in a lot of the photos!) ha ha, and with his help, we set up the website.
Looking back now I actually don’t know how I did it, on my own (especially as I had returned to my day job 2 months before the launch) but I did, and the day that the clothes got delivered to my house (so many boxes) was so very exciting!
How did you get your first sale or client?
We had a really successful launch in Spring 2016, largely down to announcing it on a really great Facebook Group all about breastfeeding friendly clothing!
The instagram mum community was also amazing, especially when we worked with the absolute legend Zoë de Pass (aka @dresslikeamum) and she wrote about us on her blog and posted photos at her ‘wall’ in our black jumpsuit! We got loads of followers and sales from that – and I am so so grateful to her for it, it really did launch us and that jumpsuit has been the best seller ever since!
What ‘lucky breaks’ or helping hands have you had along the way that have really boosted your progress?
I’m not sure to be honest. I guess I would say that I have been inspired by following the journeys of other successful mums in business, and learned a few things from seeing their growth.
I’m grateful for customers and bloggers who have shared reviews and photos of them in their Mothers Love Fashion clothes – that is invaluable to a small business with small marketing budgets.
What do you LOVE about your business and working for yourself?
I love the mum community and being part of that world, and I love that the clothes I have created will help a mum feel great and confident feeding in public when they’re out and about – that’s what it is all about.
Being a ‘one man band’ is great and also hard because you have to hold yourself accountable. For the past few year’s MLF has been a ‘side hustle’ alongside my day job, which is a shame because it has slowed down the momentum – but now I am on maternity leave again I am BACK and more driven than ever before, and looking at ways to move the business forward and find ways to make working for myself a more permanent thing!
What’s the scariest thing you’ve had to do since setting up on your own?
The financial risks have been the scariest thing for me, and it’s only recently that I have started to realise that my mindset around money and success needed to change. There is a lot of fear and limiting beliefs deep down, which I am working on!
Who is your support network that you simply couldn’t manage without?
My husband. He’s actually the one with the entrepreneurial, ‘go for it’ mentality. He encouraged me to start the business, and helps a lot behind the scenes.
I have also found other women in Facebook Groups, Instagram to be really supportive and the online community to be a really great thing to be able to chat to like minded people.
What exciting plans do you have for your business over the next 6-12 months that you’d like to share?
Well, for Mothers Love Fashion, I would really like to get new items produced because I have some amazing designs ready to go! So watch this space for a mini ‘relaunch’ if you like. I want to refresh the website and the collection and get us noticed by the next wave of new mums in 2019 (our original audience have toddlers/pre-schoolers now!)
I have also recently set up a new, service based business which I am really enjoying! Using my skills from my own small business and my 13 years experience in marketing agencies, I am supporting small business owners by offering a range of services as a freelance Virtual Assistant (such as social media strategy and management, admin, and a range of other tasks that they might want to delegate or don’t have time for).
It’s an exciting time for me and I am really excited to build a ‘portfolio business’ doing the different things I love and am passionate about – whilst being around as much as possible for my babies!