Starting a business was an exciting challenge for these women who all met at NCT or the school gates. Georgina Blaskey meets them
Edwina Gieve and Johanna Kociejowski met when they were eight months pregnant with their first babies at an antenatal class in East London. After bemoaning the lack of maternity wear they liked, the idea for their business was born. Now Edwina has three children and Johanna has two.
“We met at a breastfeeding class and began talking about how we couldn’t find anything we wanted to wear,” says Edwina. “Three and a half years later, we launched our business a week after I had my second and five weeks before Johanna had hers.
“We both wore vintage clothes and one of our initial conversations was about the photos of our mothers wearing very cool dungarees and smocks, and how we struggled to find anything similar. When we started, we were very much making maternity wear that evoked this sense of nostalgia. As the company has evolved we have added a more contemporary edge, designing clothes that work post-pregnancy, too, and are breastfeeding friendly so people feel they are investing in pieces for longer than just nine months.
“We discovered that we were pregnant with our second babies within weeks of each other and thought if we didn’t do it then, we never would. So we spent the next nine months growing babies and a business! We designed a capsule collection of four pieces, found a local manufacturer in North London, called in lots of favours from friends in terms of business experience, and created a website.
“We enjoy working together because we share the same interests and love the creative process of designing. It would be helpful if one of us was more business-minded but we are learning. We look back at the last three years and realise how far we have come.
“The great thing about being in similar circumstances is that we know children get sick and class assemblies take priority. Our children are now at school and nursery, and then we have an au pair to fill in the gaps, as well as very supportive husbands.”
Having met during a primary school tour for their eldest girls, Lara Cross and Theresa Waterlow became firm friends. While on holiday, the crafty pair decided to pool their skills to make the perfect beach bag – and now they’re expanding into hats and clutches!
“We met up at home after our holiday and pulled out all the baskets we own; we decided what we liked and didn’t like about each one – the shapes, the handles, the size. There was one style we kept coming back to,” says Lara.
“We realised the bags wouldn’t work if they were generic – they had to be personalised, which, along with our bespoke pom-poms, has been our USP. We’ve always been crafty and have run businesses reflecting that [Theresa is a cake designer and Lara owns a high-end cushion company]. We had pom-pom makers at home and, although you can buy them ready made, they’re definitely not as nice.
“Initially we gave bags away to friends at a birthday lunch and posted a photo of them on Instagram. During that lunch we had eight orders! Every bag we make is Instagrammed. It offers inspiration for our customers to look back over the feed, but our customers also inspire us with their requests. We work for four to five hours a day, while our kids are at school. The children love what we do and often use the bags as toy or shoe tidies!”
After years of hunting for the perfect kaftan, Georgie Pickering and Sophie Mill set up Sister Design in 2015. Having met through their children’s school, the mums soon realised their shared vision and drive made them the perfect business partners.
“We met four years ago when our eldest children were in the same class, and instantly clicked,” says Georgie. “We have very similar tastes and often buy the same, quite niche, items without knowing the other has bought it! In May 2015, we were sat in the garden in the summer sunshine and talked about setting up a business. I said, ‘I have a kaftan idea’, and Sophie said, ‘I want to do beachwear!’
“We spent the rest of the summer deciding on the name and listed it as a company; we got our website domain, our Instagram name and our email address sorted. We chose five designs we were happy to launch with but didn’t tell anyone. Only our husbands knew.
“The initial set-up took a long time. We are not designers or pattern cutters, and we went to and fro with factories and manufacturers. We did eventually find a patter cutter who taught us all there is to know about fabrics. We spent a lot of time sourcing trimmings online – ours come from Thailand. When you sew trimmings on to fabric and wash it, it can pucker; combining the right fabric with the right trimming is key to our designs.”
Helena Chapman and Maja Griffith create skin-changing facial oils harnessing the bioactive power of natural ingredients. With five children between them, it was during afternoons at a local nursery that the pair consolidated their partnership.
“In no time at all, we were discussing how our skin was all over the place since having our families. We wanted a range of natural face oils that could be used every day, were well priced and beautiful to use,” says Maja. “We both felt bombarded by how much was out there, but not at all informed.
“For two years we researched bioactive ingredients and sourced and blended until we came up with our range. We sought out scientific advice on blending, but essentially it was just us, in the kitchen with syringes, vials, measuring jugs and a dispensing unit!
“We gave the oils to our friends to try and asked them to be honest. We think using the oils should be a moment to benefit both skin and mind, so we have an approach we like to tell our customers about: Pause. Breathe. Be. Our friends told us their skin was transformed – and then they came back to buy more.
“We work together on Mondays and Thursdays; on the other days we work separately. After the school run we rotate going to one another’s homes; we start with coffee and do reactively what needs to be done [Helena focuses on sales, new business and pitches, Maja does the marketing and PR].
“For both of us, family comes first. We have a mutual understanding that we work hard together in term time, and in the school holidays we speak more on the phone. It’s definitely getting easier to manage as the kids get older. But we have the same mindset about our families, and our husbands are fantastic in their support, which is important.”