“I just had to find other ways of making it work”

with Ali McAleavy

Show notes:

My guest this week is the wonderful Ali McAleavy, founder of Zig + Star, a sustainable children’s footwear brand.

An idea that Ali had been “just playing” with while on maternity leave with her third child, Zig + Star launched 2 years ago with the intention of making kids footwear healthier for little feet and parents’ bank balances.

We chatted about how different maternity leave is for each child, and the way each child’s experience can be different as you grow into parenthood. You think you’ll get more freedom as they get older, but they just have different needs and need you in different ways.

Ali was so honest about how isolated she has felt as a business owner, and how important making connections via networking has been to her (preaching to the choir on this!) And the overwhelm we can feel as founders when you have to wear so many hats, most of which we have absolutely no experience in.

Ali shared how she makes it work as a business owner – often that means working weekends and after the never ending bed time that comes with having kids across 3 different age groups. She’s found a way of making her week work for her and her family, and that might not look how we could expect it to, but it’s about finding what works for you.

Links:

Website
Instagram 
LinkedIn

 

About Ali McAleavy:

Ali McAleavy is Founder of ZIG+STAR. An award winning unisex, kids footwear brand which uses sustainable design to create shoes that grow and adjust with each child.

Following a career in Fashion and Buying, Zig and Star was born out of frustration of shoe shopping for Ali’s own children.

Not only do they provide cool styles that are adjustable, kid-friendly and, importantly, podiatrist approved but they are on a mission to ensure No ZIG+STARs ever end up in landfill through creating products that last longer, can be passed on to brother/sister/friend, and then re-homed through one of the circular initiatives they provide to their customers.

Ali’s Links:

Website
Instagram
LinkedIn

Transcript:

Intro
Hello and welcome to Bump to Business Owner, thank you so much for tuning in today. This podcast is inspired by my mission to find out why more and more mums are leaving the employment world for the entrepreneur life. I’ll be talking to some of the people I believe to be the most inspiring women in business about their journey building their businesses alongside motherhood. I’ll be also sharing some of my own experiences of juggling my award winning virtual assistant agency Upsource, while raising my two young children. Right now they are two and four, and trust me, it can be chaos.

Caroline:

Hello and welcome to today’s edition of Bump to Business Owner. I am speaking to Ali McAleavy, who is founder of Zig + Star, an award winning unisex kids footwear brand which uses sustainable design to create shoes that grow and adjust with each child. Following a career in fashion and buying, Zig + Star was born out of frustration of shoe shopping for Ali’s own children. Not only do they provide cool styles that are adjustable, kid friendly and importantly, podiatrist approved, they are on a mission to ensure no Zig + Star styles end up in landfill through creating products that last longer, can be passed on to brother, sister, friend and then rehomed through one of their circular initiatives they provide to their customers.

Ali:

Hello, nice to see you. Thanks for inviting me.

Caroline:

Ali’s actually a fairly local mum in business to me The first time we met in real life was on a bus post Covid and it was the best strange interaction, sitting right next to each other.

Ali:

It’s funny when you’ve seen someone on Instagram and you sort of like, oh, I know you really well and you’ve actually never met. It’s funny, isn’t it?

Caroline:

Yeah, you’ll be like, oh, how’s your day going? I saw this happen to you this morning. Yeah, it’s so true. Ali. So I love hearing about mums who have started their businesses, but also kind of how their career path led to their businesses. So please tell me a little, and the audience a little bit about your background and how that led to you creating Zig + Star.

Ali:

So I started working in fashion in the early Naughties. So I worked in fashion for about 20 odd years. I’m a footwear specialist. That was what my original training was. So I was like product development, buying, sort of worked my way up through sort of brilliant retailers in high street fashion. My last job was Head of Buying, looking after all of non clothing for Topshop. So that’s sort of where my career progressed over time. And I loved it and it was brilliant. I worked with brilliant, brilliant people, talented people within the businesses that I was at. But I did find over time, during my time within these brands, the business itself was changing. It used to be about creating brilliant product value for the customer. It was a really creative process, and then sort of retail just really changed quite drastically, going sort of like ten years in, twelve years in. And it started becoming about, cheaper retailers were coming in, it started becoming about higher margin, lower price, more options, quicker, and the creative process sort of it was more driven by sort of financial KPIs rather than creating amazing, beautiful products. The first question would never be, what margin is that product? It was like, how can we make it as gorgeous as possible and presented to the customer? So I sort of felt my engagement in fashion and retail changing. I had three children, and by the time I’d come back after my third child, I was just becoming less and less engaged and feeling like I was contributing to a problem, rather than sort of being part of an industry that sort of cared about, whether it’s the environment or just about people and humanity generally. So I was like, right, this is not working for me. And at the same time, I’d had two girls and then my third child was a boy, and I just had experience shopping for both genders, which I never shopped in a gendered way, I never liked shopping in a gendered way. I’d always have to just try and maybe go to the boys section for the girl stuff. And I started feeling that kidswear, there was a big gap in the market, particularly in kids footwear, for unisex product. I felt that you either had to choose between is it good for their feet and sort of maybe make a bit of a compromise on the styling, or chose styling and it wasn’t great for their feet. There wasn’t much unisex product out there unless you were buying sports. And then becoming more and more engaged in sustainability, I felt like that had to be something that a footwear brand had to address and it wasn’t being addressed. So sort of just started working on the product, thinking about the product, talking to everybody, and every time I said to someone, do you know what, I really think there’s a market for different product in kids footwear. Everyone will be like, oh my God, can you please do something about it was like an instinctive response from friends and family or even just people that I spoke to. Like God. Yeah, it’s awful. So I was like, there really is a gap. It wasn’t just me in the way that I shopped, and that’s it, really. I never considered myself entrepreneurial. I never considered myself like, oh, one day I’m going to start a business. I just always worked in environments with teams and different functions that supported and I liked that process, so it was a big jump for me. But it really didn’t feel like a risky jump. It just felt like something like an evolution. Like, I think I’m just going to have to do this because it feels like too good an idea to not in a way. So, yeah, it was a big decision to make when I finally handed my notice in, but it was a very happy day. It was a very happy day. I’d been thinking about it for about two years, and then when I finally did it, I knew it was the right thing to do.

Caroline:

Amazing. And that’s so interesting because you kind of touch on the industry changing. You went through that real process. It sounds like maybe it was like the fast fashion picking up during that time. Do you think the internet was kind of a part of that as well? Like kind of increasing online fast fashion?

Ali:

I don’t think it was online at first. I think it was honestly, I worked for Topshop and then just cheaper competitors popped up and whether they were direct or indirect, it started changing customer perception about what they wanted. I think everyone got swept along with, oh, when Primark first opened, and everyone was calling it Primarni because it’s like, oh, you can get oh, look at this, you can get it. And it’s like three pounds. And people weren’t thinking about the impact, like the human impact behind that, the environmental impact behind that. And then, obviously, at the same time as that was happening, sort of digital and ecom started really changing the face of the British high street and from where we were, like, ten years ago to where we are now, it’s just you keep on thinking, well, there can’t be a cheaper competitor, and then someone like Shein comes in, and it’s even cheaper. Then you think it’s just impossible and it’s just not sustainable. And I don’t mean sustainable in the environment, I mean sustainable in terms of a market of continually expecting producers and factories to go cheaper, cheaper, cheaper, cheaper, cheaper, and not accepting that there is an impact for that. So it was definitely feeling part of that. And I think businesses chased that strategy rather than sticking true to what they were always known for. It’s changed. I do think there is change again now happening. But let’s see, I think there’s lots of small businesses now. I personally would always shop small and pre-loved over a high street global business. I just think my values are more aligned with businesses like that now.

Caroline:

Absolutely. You talk about handing in your notice was a very happy day, what stage had you got Zig + Star to? Was it still just an idea or had you got the business to a certain stage where you’re like, right, I’m going to go for it?

Ali:

I think there was a couple of things. I had come back from maternity leave, all through my maternity leave with my son I wasn’t thinking, I want to leave my job. I was thinking, oh, I’m really looking forward to going back, but I feel like there’s this idea here. So while I was on maternity leave, I started developing it, talking about, know, thinking about what the product was. You know, I had a very distinct idea in my mind of what the product was going to be anyway, because of what I was trying to find for my own kids, it was very, quite clear in my mind. Started working on the UK in terms of development. I worked like footwear, if it’s quite technical product, but you need to create a last, which just sort of determines the shape of the shoe. So I started working on that. There’s a last maker. There’s only one last maker in the UK and they’re the best in the world, they’re called Spring Line. So I started working with those guys, creating my own last, started doing a few samples and just seeing what it looked like and then thinking, oh, actually, this looks quite good, and not really thinking it was. I was just still sort of sort of playing, if you like, trying to create something that looked nice and what I was looking for. And then I just started going through that. I engaged with a pediatric podiatrist to start talking about foot development and what was important. So it was bit by bit. I wasn’t sort of just like gung ho, I sort of actually, that looks quite good. Okay, let’s speak to a dietitian. Let’s see what she thinks about the development. Let’s see what she thinks about what’s really important in footwear. Bit more sampling. Then I started thinking about the name and what we stood for. And then I started thinking about adjustability growth within the shoes, increasing the length of time that kids can wear it, durability, it’s a bit by bit. It was sort of like a little I was sort of going like that. Then I went back to work and my head was just back in work. Because working in fashion, you get sucked into the vortex and you don’t have time to think about anything else. It’s like, it’s very full on and can be quite stressful.

Caroline:

Were you full time?

Ali:

I think when I went back after Ziggy, I think I did go back on a four day week, but part time and flexi working was always a battle. Always a battle. You had to really drag yourself through appeals and emotional situations and it was an emotional conversation, but I think eventually, I think they just thought, third child, I was just like I was like, it’s not going to be possible.

Caroline:

And how many years did you work there by then to try and get that?

Ali:

I think I’d worked there about eight or eight years, probably. Yeah, it was battle. I would like to think it’s changing. I think there’s certain sectors and certain industries that are much forward thinking in terms of flexible working, but fashion, I would say, is not one of them.

Caroline:

Yeah, I agree with you. It’s an industry we can’t say everything’s changing. Unfortunately, there’s not the legislation in place for that to be a necessity, is there? Okay, and do you think because it was your third maternity leave, do you think you would have ever started thinking like that on either of your first ones, for example?

Ali:

Not my first one, because I was just a bit like, oh my God, what am I doing? I’m getting it wrong. I have no idea. I wouldn’t have even had the head space, maybe. I don’t know. I think it definitely came from at the same time, it came from a bit of a disillusionment with my work at the same time as having had an experience of shopping for both boys and girls, I think.

Caroline:

Well, you wouldn’t have got that idea.

Ali:

At your first with maybe not, maybe not, who knows? But yeah, first child was a complete the maternity leave was a completely different experience and by the time the third came around, you sort of know what you’re doing a little bit. No one has all the answers, but you know what you’re doing a little bit. And Ziggy absolutely just slotted in with what I was doing. So if I was going up to visit a supplier he’d just come with me it wasn’t like I’d have to worry about naps.

Caroline:

You’d be doing that weekends with clubs and things in your first two.

Ali:

Yeah. Oh, my God. On my first maternity leave, I was like, I’ve got to do diddy dance and whatever, monkey music and all these different things. And I even did with my second maternity leave, I carried on doing all of those things for my first child. The first child got every experience known to man. Second, maybe a little bit less. And by third it was a little bit like, oh, no, unfortunately I’ve got other stuff going on now.

Caroline:

But Ziggy might be a great business person one day.

Ali:

The experience of the different maternity leaves each time was very different. And by third, I just think you’re just more relaxed and you know that well, you’ve just got more to slot into around your life becomes more of a juggle and there’s more of stuff going on. Whether it’s for the first two kids or work or starting my own business. He had to, unfortunately, rightly or wrongly, that was the decision that I made to keep my sort of life going in the direction that I felt it needed to go.

Caroline:

Well, you can be a better mum if you’re doing what you need to do as well and fulfilling your needs.

Ali:

I think so. I think equally, if you want to devote a year of your maternity leave or however long you to really focusing on your child, that’s fine too. For us, to be honest, our family, I think we thrive a little bit on chaos. Me and my husband, we talk about if that’s a difficult decision to take or we think, well, that’s a bit of a trickier one, but let’s see. I think we’ll more often than not end up taking the more trickier route, like take on more and more and more and not sort of think it through sort of logistically of whether it’s going to work or not. And I think that’s just the way we are as a family. I think it’s just what we do.

Caroline:

That’s potentially quite common with business owners as well. I was talking to another lady about this and it’s like oh, I’ve done this, how about this idea? I’ve had another idea.

Ali:

When’s a good time to start a business? It’s probably never a good time once you’ve had kids it’s really never a good time. What I’ve also realised is I’ve got an eleven year old, a nearly ten year old and a nearly six year old. And actually you sort of think, oh, the baby is I’m out the baby years. Like, oh, and there’s certain things you have a little bit more freedoms with.

Caroline:

Maybe, but actually, please tell me you get more sleep. That’s all I want.

Ali:

Yeah you do. But the sleep issues didn’t stop at baby. The sleep issues carried on all the way through sort of to now. It’s only been ten years, not long, but what I you sort of think it’s going to be easier, but actually they just have different needs and they need you in different ways and it doesn’t end. I don’t see it ending for a long time and that’s great and I love that, but you could sort of think, oh, I won’t start a business until, oh, they’re at school, or I won’t start a business. And actually, yeah, they’re not at home and I guess that’s, childcare is one thing, but they still need you in different ways. It’s still a challenge whatever age your kids are, I would say, yeah.

Caroline:

I’ve got a friend with a 13 year old and a younger one as well, but a 13 year old and they were talking about some challenges they were going through and it’s just yeah, different, challenges are just different yeah. And potentially more depending on what they’re going through and stage of life. I’d love to hear a little bit, you touched briefly on the name, how did you come up with the name Zig + Star? Because I know people love to hear about how businesses get names because I think that’s quite a challenging part.

Ali:

You know what, product development is my strong point. Marketing and branding is totally new to me but it was a name that came up at the very beginning and I sort of ignored it and then came back full circle and this is what I do about things, came back full circle and was like should I just go to the one I had at the beginning? So the name came from. My son is Ziggy so Zig and Star Star are the rest of our initials. So I’ve got daughter Scarlett, my husband’s Tom, I’m Ali and my daughter’s Ray. And I was like, oh I really like it, but there were so many something and somethings and also I was like, oh, was it a bit cheesy? But I liked the name anyway. I’m a huge David Bowie fan as everyone in family is. So I liked the reference and I liked the personal element to it. And it’s just funny because I was like some of the names I came up with afterwards were like so much worse. And I thought but is it a bit like something and something? And we just came back full circle in the end and it was what we had from the beginning so it’s quite funny. Sometimes you can agonise over things and sometimes the instinctive option is best.

Caroline:

Yeah, no, that’s so true sometimes, yeah, you can make things too complicated and I should have just gone with that. For me starting Upsource and starting a virtual assistant agency made complete sense because that’s my background, no one knows what they’re doing but I could easily transfer everything I’d done in the past kind of things and there’s obviously new skills I have to learn. How much do you think your background helped? I would never start, I mean I can’t imagine anytime right now starting a product based business because I have literally I wouldn’t know where to start. So I’d love to hear, do you think it was always going to make sense to you to start something like a shoe brand or something? Because that is what you know.

Ali:

Yeah, I think honestly starting a shoe brand is difficult. It’s much more complex than as a product itself. It’s much more complex to make and design than an item of clothing because there are so many different components involved. And it’s a three dimensional it’s almost like arguably, it’s almost like a sculpture. It’s like a piece of something. And it’s really important that you get it right from health benefits. It’s not just you can wear it if there’s anything wrong with it and it causes problem for your feet, it’s a big deal. So starting a shoe brand is tricky. 100% one thing, I worked in footwear for over 20 years, I worked on other areas as well but footwear was always where I sort of started my career and then as I moved around I took on different areas. I’ve done all sorts of things, whether it’s beauty and lingerie and swim and sunglasses, I don’t know everything, done lots of different things but I always had a real affinity with footwear. I really loved it because it was such a unique way of working versus any other category I’d ever worked on and plus I’d worked for 20 years with factories all over the world, like everywhere from when I first started my career. I used to work with lots of factories in the UK, which unfortunately, due to the industry in this country just disappeared and there are hardly any left and hardly any doing. I mean, next to nothing doing womenswear or kidswear, many sort of men’s footwear. So I worked with factories all over the world and I had great contacts. I had an element of expertise. I knew about fitting, I knew about design. So it felt like an easier progression to me. If you asked me to start a clothing brand, I could do it, but it would take me a bit longer. But definitely I think the connections with factories and things like that made a huge difference. But also I had an affinity for it. And I think if you see a gap in a market, but it’s not your area of expertise, obviously you can pull in expertise, you can do that, that’s not an issue. But it definitely made it an easier transition for me. I got support from people that I knew within the industry I could call on, like, what do you think about this? Or, what do you think about that method of production? Or that material? Or there were sort of elements of experience that sort of made things easier. Not to say, not to discourage anyone from starting a footwear brand, please do. But it’s tricky, it’s a tricky one.

Caroline:

And what areas of the business or business owner life were you not prepared for, that employed life couldn’t prepare you?

Ali:

For one thing, I would say I’ll say one of the biggest challenges, working on your own. When I’m quite a collaborative person, I like speaking to people, I’ll always make my own decisions. And even with the business, I love talking to other people about their businesses or getting thoughts on my business, but I’ll always make the decision myself based on what I think is right. But working in an industry where you had peers around you, you had different functions. I worked from within buying and merchandising. When you can do product development, you could call on design, you could call on marketing, PR, you could call on the web team, logistics, there was a function for everything. And when you start your own business, you basically, unless you’ve got funding and you can hire a huge team, which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend, you sort of have to put different hats on, you have to learn different things. So I was doing like webinars on digital marketing or export duties or whatever, all these different stuff that I had no idea of, and sort of feeling quite isolated, really, and sometimes just thinking, oh, what do you think? Or just launching through sort of lockdown, which is I did, I’d launched two years ago, obviously was difficult. Factories were shutting down, I had no shops to sell to. Everyone was shut, everyone was in lockdown. But actually, my husband working from home was a big thing because I could just go in and be like, oh, what do you think? And sometimes I just wanted someone to go, yeah. And that’s all I needed to hear, that kind of thing. But in terms of specific issues, I’d say the biggest challenge for me is becoming a marketeer. But that’s not my background at all. I’m still learning and I still find that challenging. I think we’ve got a really strong purpose and a really strong mission, but it’s one thing to know what your mission is and it’s another thing to communicate it really clearly to your consumer. And I think I’m still learning how to do that. And I’m doing it probably in a bit of a scattergun way, but I’m trying and I think I’m improving. And as a brand, we’re becoming really clear about our messaging and what we stand for, but it’s a journey. It’s not definitely not my strong point. And I would take product development over that any day. And obviously you can pull in expertise, but that’s when we’re bigger. I would love to hire, I think, with someone to sort of support with marketing and stuff like that.

Caroline:

Yeah, but I think a lot of us can relate to that marketing, unless your background is in it, it feels.

Ali:

Like a deer in headlights, because marketing is marketing. I don’t think, honestly, when I worked for a bigger business, even like Topshop, I don’t think I really understood or appreciated what marketing did. I think I took it quite for granted. Marketing is basically everything, every touch point, whether it’s your packaging, whether it’s your website, whether it’s your tone of voice and how you communicate. It’s just everything. It’s everything outside the product really is marketing. And I think I’m only now becoming sort of more understanding of that process. But, yeah, it’s a hard one, but one that is exciting. I enjoy it, I enjoy learning it, but it’s a hard one for me.

Caroline:

I’d say, when I see you with your Zig + Star bag on the tube, I think you’re excellent.

Ali:

Anywhere I go, right? Even though I’ve got nothing in it. Water bottle. I’ve got my merch on all the time.

Caroline:

I was like, I’m going to steal that.

Ali:

It’s true, it’s true. And actually, when people have bought, we’ve got a tote bag and I’ll get people saying, oh, spotted. And they’ll send me a photo, I spotted this in wherever. And I’m like, oh, that’s nice. It’s getting around. It is, it’s good.

Caroline:

And that’s really exciting for you to be like, someone in some random place.

Ali:

Has spotted or spotted my shoes and they’ve taken a photo and be like, oh, my kids party. And so I don’t know these people, they’ve got your shoes on. I’m like yay.

Caroline:

And I’d love for you to tell us a little bit more about Zig + Star’s mission because I love the fact you are a purpose led business and I think more and more women starting businesses, that is what we all have in mind. We want to leave the world in a better place than we found it. We’re not just there for profit, whether it’s treating people better or leaving the planet better. So tell us a bit more about what your aim is with Zig + Star.

Ali:

There is obviously our focus is on sustainable design and circularity. I think there’s two ways that I came to it, really. One was wanting to have a more positive impact on the world. But two, sort of having been through the process of having three kids, kids grow quickly and there’s so much waste, and we have a waste crisis globally in the world, where a horrifying stat is probably about 24, 25 billion pairs of shoes are made each year and about the same amount ends up in landfill. Because what do you do with them? Go to charity, get chucked in the bin? Where do you recycle them? People don’t have access to that and there isn’t really the facilities or the capabilities to recycle shoes. So it’s a horrifying thing and it’s just like it’s also wasteful and it costs money, basically. I say we, it’s the royal we, it’s me, there’s no one else. When I was designing the product, it was, okay, how can we make this as adjustable as possible? So it’s not rocket science. We just put a little hidden midsole under all of our leather and memory foam insoles and when you remove it, if the shoes get a little bit tight, you remove it, it creates more space in the shoe. The child can continue to wear it, it’s probably about half a size. So the child can continue to wear it probably for about six months to a year extra. My daughter just did it recently with her Zig + Star boots. She was like, actually, I can feel my toe a little bit. Took it out, fit perfectly fine. She can carry on wearing them for a few more months. So it was adjustability, it was selecting the best materials for durability and low impact. We have essentially sourced leathers that are veg tanned, reducing the amount of chemicals we use, natural rubber and yeah, so sort of the starting point of our product was thinking about minimising impact at the end of life, like creating them to be as adjustable to wear as long as possible. And then when they reach the end of their life, are they going to be easily biodegraded and broken down and recycled? So we sort of started with the end of their life at the beginning of our design process, really. And so when you finish wearing your shoes, we encourage you to pass them on. That’s what happens within families and friendship groups. You’re going to pass them on. We incentivise resale. We’ll give you discounts off future purchase. We’ll also incentivise recycling, send back your shoes for free and we’ll recycle them free of charge and we’ll give you discounts off future purchase and we do the same with donation. We work with a brilliant charity called Sal’s Shoes, and they work with very specific projects all over the world for kids. Giving kids the opportunity to get shoes where they would otherwise go without, where they wouldn’t be able to go to school unless they had shoes. Giving kids the opportunity to have quite a big impact on their lives, even though it’s just a pair of shoes. The mission was like we don’t see there should be any reason for any of our shoes to end up in landfill. We know people want to behave more sustainably, we know people are more conscious of their impact but we also know that people are time poor and we know that people are price conscious. We’re going through a cost of living crisis so it’s like we’re encouraging circularity and making it easy. We’re not charging you for the process, we’re not charging more on our products we’re just trying to make it part and parcel of everything we do so it’s an easy choice for the customer. I think customers are savvy now. Yes, they want to behave more sustainably, but they can shop around it’s making consuming more consciously as easy and efficient and low cost as possible. Really that’s how we approach it and like you’re saying, we don’t measure ourselves by I’m early days of my business we’ve only been going two years and I don’t know really what cost it will impact it will be on me to recycle all these shoes but I know this is how I want my business to be. Therefore I’m trusting the process and bringing people on the journey with me, if you know what I mean. So if I went to a retailer, for example, in my career and said, right, I think we should do takeback schemes, it would be like, right, we need to work out profit and loss, how it’s going to be, whereas I’m just building it in from the beginning and this is just how it is. And if you want to do business with us, this is how we operate. And not letting any financials waiver that that’s so true.

Caroline:

You’re really in control of the impact you can make there, because that’s what can feel frustrating. If you’d stayed in the fashion industry if you wanted to bring anything in there would a whole process to go through that and then probably wouldn’t happen.

Ali:

Yeah, exactly. Unless the financials added up. I think big retailers are really slow on the uptake and I think if they don’t start waking up to what consumers want they are not going to survive. I think if you don’t actively show that you’re trying to reduce your impact I think people will start turning away in droves.

Caroline:

Yeah, that’s a really good insight. I hadn’t really thought about that, but that’s a really good one. And I like the fact you said circularity, but making it easy as well. Like really trying to they’re all mums and dads who are buying your boots, so, yeah, just trying to make the customer’s life journey and also starting at the end of the product journey. That was really interesting just to hear that process come through, because, like I said, never worked in product, so I wouldn’t know any of that.

Ali:

It’s interesting because historically the process doesn’t work like that. You don’t think about the end of life when you’re designing products. There’s a brilliant documentary, I did a panel talk this week at the London College of Fashion and they were screening Amy Powney documentary, Fashion Reimagined. And it’s amazing because it really breaks down the process. And the regular process would be, what do I want to design? I’m going to design it. Let’s worry about fabrics and not worry about end of life. Whereas what circular brands or brands that are trying to be regenerative and reduce their impact, it’s like, right, let’s understand the end of life because that might drive the material choices and that might drive the design choices and you’re sort of just step by step, working backwards. And I think that’s what sustainable design is. It’s thinking about the impact at the end and then working backwards and how you can make that as low impact as possible.

Caroline:

Yeah, fantastic. And have you got any visions of Zig + Star for the future? Would you ever that you can share, you don’t want to, but are thinking of going outside of footwear or things like that? Definitely anything you thought of?

Ali:

I mean, look, it’s still me, I’ve only been going two years, I mean, I do have big plans. I would sort of never really say them out loud because it’d be like, are you crazy? But I do, like for me, I call our design concept good to grow. There’s growth built in, it’s good for growing feet, good for growing kids, but also it grows with the child and there’s positive impact there. But for me, clothing, anything to do with the wastefulness that comes from kids, kids grow quickly, kids grow out of their school clothes, kids grow out of their normal clothes. How do you design things that last longer and grow with kids? So I think that could apply to anything related to kids and that’s sort of where I see hopefully, the future of Zig + Star. One step at a time, obviously, but that’s the way I think the market should be going as well. So, yeah, that’s sort of a focus for me. Bit by bit. At the moment, I’m working on a sustainably designed and sustainable materials trainer, which I’m hoping to launch next.

Caroline:

Oh, wow.

Ali:

So that will have the same growth as we have on all our sort of boots and shoes and considering materials end of life recycling. Because for me, I make these decisions. I mean, I agonize over these decisions really, but just because a product material is recycled, if it can no longer be recycled after that, then for me it’s sort of not supporting a circular economy because then the life of that product ends. So it has to be recyclable and recycled. What is the impact? What’s the lowest impact? Trying to reduce any petrochemicals and things like that. So it’s an agonizing process but that’s the first stage, is that sports trainer that will be hopefully next year. Fingers crossed.

Caroline:

Fingers crossed for that. That’s very exciting. And you’re quite involved in some female founder communities and things. Has that been really key to help supporting you with your own business? Because you mentioned being a bit lonely and needy. Can I run this past you? Do you think? Has networking and getting some sort of community around you really helped?

Ali:

100%. It’s an absolute lifeline for me. We’re both members of, we’ve actually sort of met an event, haven’t we? I love it. I love it. We were talking previously. I love talking to people about their businesses. I enjoy hearing other people’s journeys. I’m sort of like I can’t be bothered to talk about mine anymore. All I do is agonise over that. And I think you learn so much from speaking to other people and hear about their journey, what they’re doing, what they’ve learned, mistakes they’ve made. And I like sharing that if I can help other people as well. But these networking communities, it doesn’t replace working in a team, but it makes you feel connected. And there’s so much value from that. And even just having some time working together, I do that with another friend. Sometimes we just sit and work together, and we’re working on different things. And that’s really nice as well, because just working on your own from home, which is what I do at the moment, can make you just go a bit crazy. So as much as possible, I like to get out, go to events, networking events, meet other friends that are freelancers or have their own businesses and stuff like that. Yeah, I find it massively helps.

Caroline:

Definitely. I couldn’t agree more. That’s so true. And I was going to ask another question. So just on like you mentioned, working at home, do you tend to work? I think people kind of go into, or mums go into starting a business thinking they’ll maybe get this flexible lifestyle. Sometimes you do, but the hours we know, if you’re putting in for a business, it’s a lot of hours how do you tend to work? How do you structure your week, in a way? Are you five days from home or do you tend to go to a co working?

Ali:

No, I’m five days from home, I work. It’s going to make it sound awful? It’s not awful. When you’re working on your own thing, sometimes it doesn’t really feel like work, it just feels like, well, I’ve got to get it done. It doesn’t feel like when I was working in my career, if someone said, right, you’ve got to come in and work all weekend, I’d be like, absolutely no way. You don’t pay me enough to do that. But with your own stuff, how I generally work is, we don’t have childcare. I’ll generally do the school run, I’ll come back, I’ll start working, I’ll work till three, I’ll pick up the kids, bring them home. If they have clubs I can work for a bit longer, I will sort them out, give them dinner. I mean, the difference with the issue with having kids from small to old is like, bedtime goes on forever.

Caroline:

Yes, that’s a great issue to talk about.

Ali:

And even though the older ones you don’t naturally need to put to bed, you need to talk to them about going to bed a lot. Come on.

Caroline:

Encouraging healthy sleep habits. Still, I guess that’s the different stage.

Ali:

And I basically just work every night. I work every night until I go to bed and if I’ve got a lot on, I will sometimes I mean, I don’t like going to bed very late, but I’ll sometimes work late and often at the weekend. Obviously, we have family time at the weekend. We do lots of lovely things, we visit friends, we do nice things, but more often than not, there’ll be a chunk of the weekend where I’ll just take myself away and just catch up on a bit of stuff, do get some prep ready for the next week. Honestly, I’m not a very organized worker. I could probably do with a bit more structure, but I feel like my brain doesn’t really work that way. I’m a bit like ideas and oh, that’s a good idea, let’s do that. So I will just try and carve out time, but I can’t, I can’t fit it into nine till three. It’s just such a short day, so I just have to find other ways of making it work.

Caroline:

Yeah, because we got similar patterns, apart from my youngest isn’t at school yet, so I have, like, a mummy day with him. But do you ever feel, I don’t know, I had this recently because I do work every evening pretty much as well. I try to say I don’t, but in reality is I do because I’m like, oh, wow, I had to finish at 2:30 to do this. But do you ever think sometimes, right, I can’t work tonight, I do just need to watch a film, watch Netflix.

Ali:

Yeah. Do you know what? More often than not, I have my computer and I’ll do a few things and sometimes I’ll be like, right, I’m done now, and I’ll have an intention to do a bit of work and sometimes you do need to have those times out. And you know what, sometimes when I’m looking at my week at the moment, I’d say, for the last six weeks, I’ve been out a lot during the week as well. So actually I’ve been getting it might be networking, it might be going to do a talk, it might be going to meet people or mentor people. And actually that for me is a break, in a way. It’s like, oh, I’m not sort of sitting there, like going through my to do list and then I will be like, oh, I’ll come back and I’ll feel refreshed. I’ll be like, right, I’m going to get loads done in the space of a couple of hours and not go to bed late. You just have to be adaptable and flexible. And look, people find different things that work for them, but that works for me. Sometimes I might have a day where I don’t do any work during the day. I actually find that I sort of don’t warm up till like a Tuesday or a Wednesday, and then I’m like, right. Learning that actually probably is something that would be quite valuable. I think I could probably be more tuned in to how I work best and actually booking things in for Monday and Tuesday, being out of work and then getting I work better under a bit of time pressure as well. So if I know, oh, God, I’ve only got two days to get done, I’ll get it done rather than procrastinating and getting pulled off onto other things that help me lose focus. But, yeah, you’ve just got to do what works for you. But for me, it can’t be a structured week because family life isn’t like that. So you just have to find those pockets of time where you can.

Caroline:

Such an excellent point. As well as family life and find pockets where you can, but also how you work and embracing that. So I think quite often if you take a day to be with a toddler or something, often people do I have had a school mom say, oh, it’s weird you do a Wednesday? Not a Monday or a Friday. And it’s like, I will be stressed over the weekend if I don’t work on a Friday and a Monday, I’ll spend the whole day stressed, not doing priorities. Wednesday it is.

Ali:

That is a good point, actually I totally agree with you. Those are the days where you feel like you can, Fridays actually are the ones where I’m a bit like, oh, I should be doing something else. Finding what works for you, isn’t it?

Caroline:

Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Ali. It’s been an absolute pleasure to chat. Where can people find you and Zig + Star?

Ali:

So we have a website, so www.zigandstar.com and obviously we’re on socials, we’re on Instagram regularly. TikTok a bit. If that’s your bag. We are there. I find it like a world I don’t understand, but give us a follow if you want. Yeah. And I always suggest to people, if they ever need any advice or help with buying shoes online, just reach out to me. You can contact us through the website. I’m always available to talk. I am the customer service person, so if you’ve got a question, it comes through to me. So I’m always available in there to support if I can.

Caroline:

Wonderful. Well, thank you so much. We’ll look forward to everyone reaching out.

Ali:

Yeah.

Caroline:

Thank you.

Ali:

Yeah, nice to speak to you. Thanks a lot. Bye.

Outro:
You have been listening to Bump to Business Owner, the podcast for mums running businesses, aspiring to run businesses, or simply supporters of mums who go on this crazy business journey. I’m your host Caroline Marshall and I run a virtual assistant agency called Upsource. I started it in lockdown 2020, I’ve seen it through maternity leave and it is growing alongside my two growing boys. Thank you so much, please connect me at Bump to Business Owner, my name is Caroline Marshall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *