“I felt like I’d been sold a lie”

with Claire Gleave, founder of Natal Active

Show notes:

For Claire Gleave, running was a way of getting some headspace, away from being a full time mum. It also gave her a business idea: activewear for pregnancy and beyond.

Having taken voluntary redundancy after her second mat leave, Claire was focused on her family. I think we can all relate to her feeling of ‘being sold a lie’ when it comes to working and raising a family and ‘having it all’. But when her second was preparing to start school, Claire decided it was the right time to work on her business, Natal Active.

We spoke about some great and practical details of launching a business: how Claire financed hers without investment rounds; how a partnership with a household name isn’t necessarily a great model for an independent business, PR and celebrity endorsements and charity partnerships. But we also spoke about the more emotional side of business, the pressure we can feel as founders to be a huge success, even when that’s not necessarily the right thing for us and our families, and how Claire has created a business that suits her and what she wants from her lifestyle.

We finish with 3 tips for starting a clothing brand, so if that’s you right now, make sure you stay to the end.

Listen in for:

  • Claire’s career pre-babies and why she took voluntary redundancy after her second mat leave
  • Being a full time mum. Choice is a privilege 
  • Keeping something for yourself as a mum
  • We’ve been sold a lie 
  • The idea for Natal Active and the right time for it
  • Making a lot of mistakes and wasting a lot of money on the way!
  • How Claire financed Natal Active
  • The Covid effect 
  • Her John Lewis partnership and whether it’s the right model for a small business
  • PR and celebrity leverage
  • How Claire makes her business work for her, structure, in-house v outsourcing
  • Being a lifestyle business
  • Charity partnerships
  • 3 tips for starting a clothing brand

 

Resources

Dept of International Trade
Shopify Capital
Kickscount
CoppaFeel!

Links:

Website
Instagram
LinkedIn

 

About Claire Gleave

Claire Gleave, Founder of Natal Active and boy mum of three!
After three pregnancies wearing her husband’s t-shirts on runs, and then breastfeeding three babies while trying to wrestle her boobs out of uncomfortable sports bras, Claire had had enough.

She was sick of looking a mess and being uncomfortable, and on realising she couldn’t be the only mum out there feeling the same, the Natal Active range became baby number 4…

Launching an activewear brand for pre and postnatal mums in the middle of the pandemic, while home-schooling her three boys, was not part of the business plan Claire had embarked on when she realised her dreams in 2020.

From winning awards, being stocked in some major retailers like John Lewis, to being the celebrity (and even royal!) mum’s workout gear of choice and achieving the huge milestone of 25000 sales earlier this year

Claire Gleave’s Links:

Website
Instagram (Natal Active)
Instagram (Claire)
LinkedIn (Natal Active)
LinkedIn (Claire)

Transcript:

Intro

Hello. I’m Caroline Marshall, and welcome to Bump to Business Owner the podcast speaking to mums in business. You. I’ll be in conversation with some of the most inspiring women and mothers in enterprise about their journey, how they created their successful businesses alongside raising their children and what that looks like in work and family life.

Caroline (00:28):
Hello and welcome to today’s episode of Bump to Business owner. I’m your host, Caroline Marshall, and today we are welcoming Claire Gleave, founder of Natal Active and boy mum of three. After three pregnancies, wearing her husbands t-shirts on runs, and then breastfeeding three babies while trying to wrestle her boobs out of uncomfortable sports bras. Claire had had enough, she was sick of looking a mess and being uncomfortable and on realising she couldn’t be the only mum out there feeling the same. The Natal Active range became baby number four. Launching an activewear brand for pre and postnatal mums in the middle of a pandemic while homeschooling her three boys was not part of the business plan Claire had embarked on when she realised her dreams in 2020 from winning awards, being stocked in some major retailers like John Lewis, to being the celebrity and even royal mum’s workout gear of choice and achieving the huge milestones of 25,000 sales earlier this
year. I cannot wait to hear her story. Claire, thank you. Wow. A journey you’ve been on.

Claire (01:28):
Yeah, thank you. That was such an amazing introduction. Thank gosh she’s talking about somebody else.

Caroline (01:33):
It’s all you. And I’m literally as a boy mum, I’m like, I think three is another level of activeness.

Claire (01:43):
Yeah, it has its moments I must say.

Caroline (01:46):
And so what did you do before? Was your background at all in fashion, in clothing and products, anything like that?

Claire (01:54):
No, nothing remotely linked to the business now. So I studied journalism at university and actually then went into the dark side of pr, spent the majority of my pre-baby career at Coutts Bank, which was famous for being the then Queen’s Bank, I’m assuming maybe now the King’s Bank as well. So I was there for probably about 10 years doing PR and marketing. So very much with a financial services focus, but actually always with a strong focus on marketing to female clients and also marketing to entrepreneurs. So I had a kind of early introduction, I suppose, into many, many business owners of all different shapes and sizes and industry types, and a lot of female business owners as well because that was quite a big growth area for the business at the time, which was always really super inspiring. I didn’t necessarily know that that was going to be my chosen path later in my career. So it’s lovely. Maybe one day I’ll actually be banking there as well. You never know.

Caroline (02:56):
Oh yeah, life goals, ambition that. Yeah, that is, it must’ve been being around those inspiring entrepreneurs and I think when you see it, that must’ve been probably more of planting a seed than you thought maybe.

Claire (03:11):
Yeah, exactly. I think you really get a feel for, because it’s very easy to look at the sort of end result of what an entrepreneur has achieved. So whether that is a huge exit, which would be the case for many of the entrepreneurs that bank with Coutts or even further down the line, like you chatting to me today, four years on from starting my business and where we are now compared to how it’ll start and actually every business owner has a story about what led them to start their businesses and what inspired that first seed of an idea. But lots of people have ideas and the majority of people don’t then go on to do something with it. And actually there’s so much hard graph whether you run a really tiny business or whether you run a really big business, there’s a huge amount of work that goes in the background. And so having a real awareness and understanding of people’s stories was massively inspiring.

Caroline (04:01):
Wow, that is so true because I think, like you said, I know plenty of people who’ve had great ideas or I’m going to do this and it just never comes to fruition or I think people kind of start it and then the reality of the consistency to keep going.

Claire (04:17):
Absolutely.

Caroline (04:17):
When it’s not exciting anymore or making you the millions straight away you thought it might.

Claire (04:23):
Exactly. That’s always a challenge or anything at all. Absolutely.

Caroline (04:27):
So had you always planned to work, have a structured career from there. You are not our first mom who worked at Coutts weirdly on the podcast and you actually know each other, which is really nice.

Claire (04:39):
We do.

Caroline (04:39):
And so do you think that sort of career would’ve worked with how your life now or has been the past few years with babies?

Claire (04:48):
It’s difficult to say because I think, so my eldest is 13 now, so when I went on maternity leave with him, the whole world was very different in terms of flexible working and remote working. So as an example, we lived in Oxfordshire at the time and I commuted into London and we had an office in Oxford at the time and I really had to battle to work two days a week out of the Oxford office, which they did allow me to do, but I mean working from home just was not a done thing. And so I actually left cos at the end of my second maternity leave partly because there was an opportunity that came up, they were doing some restructuring and there was an opportunity that came up that was a job I probably ordinarily would’ve loved to have gone for, but it just wasn’t feasible for me to be doing the hours and the commuting that would be required to do it. And so I was fortunate enough to be able to take voluntary redundancy at the end of my maternity leave and that kind of just works out timing wise really perfectly. But I think maybe now there would be more flexible opportunities to pursue something that than there were 10, 11, 12 years ago.

Caroline (06:01):
It’s really hard to know because I think I get a lot of that on the podcast or I think things might be better now. And I think in some industries and then in other industries, they’re really pushing hard for it to go back to the old way.

Claire (06:13):
Yeah, definitely.

Caroline (06:14):
Or that brick wall I think. So it’s just continued effort to make over the next few years, I guess. But like you said, to have to fight for two days in an office.

Claire (06:24):
I know exactly, and it seems ridiculous now, but it just seemed very normal then. It was having to make a business case and what have you, and that was just what you did. Whereas now that just seems crazy. You couldn’t imagine it really. So it’s been a huge sea change and it’s really positive for women in corporate careers because there is a huge loss of talent and skill that comes when women have babies because if they typically, many would like to go back and work more flexibly and if the option’s not available to them, it’s just
really variable, like you say, as to the company and the industry as well.

Caroline (06:59):
Yeah, it’s exactly that kind of thing. And I think they’re saying now it’s not a gender pay gap, it’s a maternal pay gap. It’s like they’re doing really well at getting a quality in graduate schemes, things like that, getting women into finance and then the gap falls when we’re a lot of women now. I think the average age is after 32 to have babies. So then it’s like you’ve primed your career and then it’s like, oh.

Claire (07:26):
Exactly. And that’s a lot of skill and experience. It’s lost if you can’t make that work on both sides of the equation. So it’s a difficult problem to solve I think.

Caroline (07:36):
Yes, thank goodness I’m not trying to solve that problem, just trying to help. So have you always, in the bio, talked about your running and continuing it throughout all your pregnancies and things? Has running always been part of your life then?

Claire (07:53):
Yeah, since I was in my early twenties really, it sort of started with a bit of a drunken bet after watching the London Marathon, my boyfriend who is now, my husband was running it and I said, oh yeah, I’ll give that a go next year. And I was not a runner at all and decided I was going to do it. And actually working for Coutts was really good because you had a lot of opportunity to join charitable places within the marathon, which is why I’d ended up doing it so many times while I was working there. But yeah, so I did it the following year and just really got bitten by the bug and have then run ever since. So probably a good 20 something years now of running. And yeah, I just love it and I was able to continue it to different extents in my pregnancy.

(08:39):
Every pregnancy is very different and I certainly found that. But my last pregnancy I was running to about 37 weeks, probably more of a plod actually by that point. But I was keeping going and it’s always been, exercise has always been quite a big part of my life, really important for me for just physical and mental wellbeing. And so I was keen to keep that up in whatever way was comfortable with the babies when I was pregnant. So when I couldn’t run anymore, I would do things like spinning and swimming. It’s just very much, I dunno, it’s very much second nature to me to be honest.

Caroline (09:14):
Do you think it’s keeping a little piece of you, especially with your first, I think that’s the hardest part of identity crisis. Who am I? Everything changes from your body type no matter what in pregnancy, your body type changes, even if you kind of feel better afterwards, everything kind of changes. And I think if you can continue something that is yours, it makes you feel a bit you.

Claire (09:38):
Yeah, absolutely. There’s definitely a big part of that. And I think also just getting a little bit of headspace, particularly I have my three children, there’s four years, just over four years between all three of them and it’s very full on, I mean it still is now, but particularly when they were very little in a different way and actually that sort of hour where you can just go out and just clear your head. I mean, I know we haven’t had a brilliant summer, but even to just get out in the weather now where if it’s not raining, it’s a lovely feeling. And yeah, I think it’s just really important to whatever your interests are, but to just try and carve a little bit of time for yourself as a mom particularly, I was a stay at home mom for a good five years and it’s very, very intense. And so you do lose yourself in that process a little bit. So it’s one thing you can kind of cling on.

Caroline (10:33):
Reflecting on that time as a stay at my home mum. How was that? Because its quite a long time five years, I’m a worrier and I would’ve been about my career kind of thing.

Claire (10:46):
It was tricky. I mean I did little bits of work in between, so I wasn’t completely not working, but I was predominantly not working. So I did a little bit of work in my husband’s company a couple of days a week for about six months. And then I took on a project for someone that I’d worked with at Coutts as well at one point. But largely I wasn’t really working and it wasn’t really, it just sort of worked out like that. We moved house, I had a third baby and actually it was easier in some ways to be at home and actually I wanted that as well. It’s very different for everybody. And so there’s no, certainly for me, no judgement on what anybody chooses to do. But for me, I felt very much when they were young I wanted them to be with me.

(11:31):
I still feel like that now, but obviously now they’re all in school so it’s a little bit different, but I wanted that time with them. That’s not to say I found it easy. There were times when I found it really challenging because I did, in hindsight particularly, I feel that I kind of see it looking back now since starting the business over the last few years, I did very much lose me in the sense that I had always been so career driven and it was such a huge part of how I defined myself that I did struggle sometimes with what I saw as maybe sometimes the men reality of being at home and suddenly your job is doing the ironing and doing the laundry and cooking dinner. I mean those are still things I’d largely do. I just also run a business at the same time.

Caroline (12:17):
I think it’s kind of easier to do then, well harder time-wise, easier to do them when it’s not feeling like that’s your main job. I think that’s the hard part if you’re a stay at home mum. it’s also asking for help I can imagine is hard. Like well, it’s my job kind of thing.

Claire (12:32):
Exactly, exactly. We were very lucky we would have a cleaner and stuff come in, so it was not like all the drudgery I would feel like was all on me. But I look back now particularly even when I had the times when it was difficult with the kids when they were little, just in terms of my adjustment to that period rather than finding them particularly challenging. But I look back now and I think, gosh, I was so lucky to have that time. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was hard, but it was amazing and we had so much fun together. We did so much and I love that I’ve had that time with them and they’re my priority in everything really. And I was really lucky that I was able to have that time because not everybody has that opportunity. If you’ve got to go back to work, then that’s what you have to do. And for some people that’s what they want and for some people it isn’t. So actually to have choice is hugely fortunate. And I look back particularly now, especially because they grow up so far, and I look back now and I just think, gosh, I’m so glad that I had that time with them. I was very lucky.

Caroline (13:41):
But I think bringing up an excellent point, obviously the privilege of that. But I think the point of adjusting from career women, I always think this is huge adjustment, especially if you’ve had it quite a privileged upbringing where it’s like, go have a career, do this. They’re not telling you to have babies at school.

Claire (13:58):
No, no, that’s true.

Caroline (14:00):
And then it’s like, oh, I did all of this and now it’s kind of I think to really such confidence to lean into, right, I’m going to do the whole motherhood thing and address what I do later. I think that’s such confidence. I don’t think I’ve ever really had that.

Claire (14:16):
Yeah, I definitely felt, I think there was also some resentment in there as well. I think certainly when I look back, I can think, I dunno if you feel the same or others, but I felt a bit like I’d been sold a lie. This whole idea that you can have it all and it’s really great. And I hear people now talking about, oh, sit down before you have your babies and figure out with your partner how it’s all going to work. And we didn’t do any of that. We were just going to have babies. That was just the plan. And we didn’t think about the logistics of any of it. It was just what you did once you got married. And actually I did sort of feel like, well actually I have been sold a lie here because both of us can’t work really full on without bringing in a nanny or something like that. My husband’s business, he ran his own business and that was really taking off after my eldest was born. So there wasn’t the option for him to be as flexible as he now works super flexibly and is very hands on with the kids. That wasn’t really an option when he was, my eldest was little.

Caroline (15:21):
And that’s quite often the case because they’re not necessarily a senior or established or something like that. My husband is completely way more flexible now than he was when we first had our kids. I think that’s really common.

Claire (15:34):
And again, I think it comes back to times have changed in the last 10, 12 years where that is just normal. I do the school run, I tend to do the pickup. My husband takes them to school. There’s loads of dads on the school run, but about 10 years ago you wouldn’t have seen that. So there is a difference from that point of view. But yeah, so I think very much this whole idea that certainly through my twenties was the real message of, you’d see, I can’t remember the lady’s name, but she was hugely successful fund manager that had six children. Nicola Horlick, I think.

Caroline (16:09):
Yes, I think I’ve read an article on her.

Claire (16:11):
And I mean hats off to her. She achieved some unbelievable things, but there was that sort of feeling that everyone can have that and actually without bringing in a significant amount of help you, the reality of it is you can’t.

Caroline (16:26):
And the reality of it as well is we had briefly a part-time nanny, and then she left to get her dream job came up, she left, it was in cooking and it broke my child’s heart and I was like, I can’t do this again. And no disrespect to anyone else, but just for how my child was, what I saw, I just felt I have to make flexible working and wraparound care work. We’re not doing this again and just babysitters and established hopefully some local babysitters. But it is that thing I think because my mum was a full-time working single mum. My stepmum worked full-time. My husband’s mum worked full time all in-house jobs. And I’m like, oh, well if they can do it, that’s how, it’s just I’m not working hard enough if it doesn’t work. And I think it is, it was sold a lie. The reality of what that looked.

Claire (17:15):
Yeah, I know know, it’s definitely, it’s a huge challenge and there’s so many different configurations of how you make that work and different things work for different people. And for me personally, I wanted to be the one that’s taking my kids to school and picking them up. We did have an au pair for a time. We had two different pairs when the boys were very little who were lovely girls, but very much a big sister role rather than full-time childcare, so an extra pair of hands. That was when I had the third just because my husband was working so much and it just meant I had a bit of extra help. And that was again, really fortunate to have that. But it kind of gave me that halfway between just having, it’s almost like having your mom over, except you don’t want your mom to come over every day and be doing everything so you can kind of give a job to do, but help with the kids as well. So that was really lovely. But certainly for me, I predominantly wanted to be the one that was the caregiver for the kids. So you have to, something’s got to give.

Caroline (18:18):
It does. And that whole, apparently I saw Rachel from Koru Kids saying recently that the au pair option is getting less and less because of Brexit and other things happening. So that is another childcare option that isn’t an option at the minute for people, which is quite an interesting one because like you said, it means that while there’s other things that are positive, that’s another impact along with the whole rising cost of childcare is that what was a good option like 15, 20 years ago was pairs and that’s not a thing or becoming less common now, which was interesting when I read that. And so Natal Active, when did the seed start to come?

Claire (18:59):
So it really started probably after I had my first baby because I was hugely frustrated with the lack of breastfeeding clothes that were around. So I mean the only option really then, so again, 13 years you could go to Mothercare and and they were all just either not very nice or they were handwash only if you had something that was a bit more expensive and it just was very impractical and it was really frustrating. So I had started and going a bit back to your point earlier about lots of people have a seed of an idea and then sort of get so far and don’t do anything with it. And that was exactly me. So I started working on some designs and some ideas and contacting some manufacturers because I thought there’s got to be a gap for this. But then I had my second baby 18 months later, so they’re very close together, the first two, and it just kind of fell by the wayside. The frustrations were still exactly the same, but I just wasn’t in a head space to be thinking about starting a business.

Caroline (20:04):
One to two is a big shock, isn’t it, with how much time and space you have.

Claire (20:09):
Exactly. It was just very full on. And I think because the gap, I still felt the gap was there and then I was thinking as well, well, it’s really frustrating when I’m doing all this exercise in my pregnancy now I’m buying some Nike leggings that are a size bigger, but they keep falling down and they’re still really expensive. And then like you said in your intro, trying to breastfeed with a sports bra because I was really lucky. Oh, local gym had a creche. We’ve lived in two different houses since having the kids and both our local gyms had a creche, which is an incredible facility for mums, and every gym should try and have one.

Caroline (20:49):
No, I was very lucky with my second and had that and I was like two hours to sort my life out.

Claire (20:56):
But going to the cafe afterwards and then trying to breastfeed with a sports bra on was a bit of a nightmare. So I kind of had the idea, but it wasn’t really till my youngest was coming up to the time where he was about to start school. I thought right now I’ve got to start thinking about doing something because what do I do all day when they’re in school? No one told me how quickly a school day goes because it flies anytime really. But I thought, okay, I need to go and do something. And so I then started the ball rolling earlier in that year. So he was starting in September, 2019 and I got some breastfeeding things made up. I was approaching manufacturers, but I was then also looking at maternity wear and had an idea for support bands built into maternity leggings and stuff.

(21:45):
And I then I think had a good chat with a friend because I was like, I can’t really do both. I either go down a focus on breastfeeding or a focus on wear. And she said, well, look, you love exercise, you’re always doing stuff and it makes sense for you to run a business based on the back of something that you love doing. So that was then the decision that I made. And I’m really glad I did because I am really passionate about it and not that I’m not passionate about breastfeeding, and obviously we still have breastfeeding clothes in the range, but exercising in pregnancy and beyond is something I know a lot about as well. So yeah, that was then how that developed from there. So I started approaching manufacturers and designers because although I can draw on a piece of paper and honestly some of my drawings are just absolutely embarrassing. But then we started, so I started sampling with a few different manufacturers and narrowed it down then to the two that I still work with to this day, making lots of mistakes and wasting lots of money along the way as well, but with a view to then really cracking on with it in the September to launch in early 2020 was then the plan.

Caroline (22:56):
Wow. And so you said wasting lots of money, which is quite normal, especially in product businesses. Did you bootstrap it? Did you get any investment from friends and family? How did that work?

Claire (23:07):
No, so I had quite a big reasonable redundancy payoff from Coutts when I left. So I had put that aside and hadn’t used it and used that then to fund the business or a chunk of it. So I think maybe from memory about 20,000 pounds in. And then I took out a small business loan as well. I also got a startup grant through the local government that you could do. It paid towards things like laptops and iPads and bits and pieces that I need and and then took out an enterprise loan as well to help pay for more stock once the business started trading. And we had the need for more stock and just, I needed obviously the cash to be able to buy stuff. So that was kind of how I bootstrapped it in the beginning. And then because I run the business through Shopify, you actually have access to Shopify capital. So I used, probably taken out over the period maybe three or even four Shopify loans, which are now all paid off. So I’ve used that to kind of give myself working capital over the last few years, and I’m now in a place where I’m actually just trying to build the cash back into the business without having to repay any loans and be able to grow it a bit more organically like that. So I haven’t at any point yet taken on any investment. It’s all been myself.

Caroline (24:45):
That’s amazing. But you’ve been really as well as your own investment, it’s like using local money that’s available to you, loans that are available to you. So that’s always really helpful stuff. I think people don’t realise there is some money there that can help.

Claire (24:59):
Yeah, absolutely. I would recommend it to anyone starting out actually look at, so I’m based in Worcestershire and the Worcestershire Council have access to all, there’s all sorts of support out there for small businesses. You just need to look, know where to look. I mean even the Department of International Trade, they give you grants for marketing internationally as well. So I’ve done a piece of work with them to target the Irish consumers, and I think I got something like 6,000 euros for marketing in Ireland. There’s a process that you have to go through in order to get that money, but there are pots of money out there for small businesses to access, but you’ve got to know to look for them.

Caroline (25:42):
Such helpful advice. And so when you were launching 2020 something hit during that year, that might have changed things. How did that look like? Did it change anything for you? We’ve had some clients that said their business was booming, it was just the struggle of managing people or was it like this isn’t going to work in a pandemic?

Claire (26:06):
Yeah, I mean certainly the plan of starting a business when all the kids are at school went out the window very much. But my plan had been to launch in about the February, so my clothing was all in production and my manufacturers are based in China and they obviously shut down first. And then by the time they started up again, we were in lockdown here. And I did have many conversations with my husband where we were like, should I be doing this? Because I was homeschooling three children and that was no mean feat.
Caroline (26:44):
I say, what was that like? Were they all of school age and need to be homeschooled?

Claire (26:49):
They were all of school age, so my youngest was in reception. I always liken it a bit to childbirth because you forget how you forget the bad bit. I think.

Caroline (26:59):
There’s a lot of that with Covid and when I really ask someone and they’re like, it was awful.

Claire (27:06):
I think my kids say to me even now, oh, we really loved mummy school because you used to give up at lunchtime like, oh, thanks kids. But it was, I think really it was just more me putting pressure on myself trying to get a paragraph of writing out of one of the kids, which would, it’s such a different setup to if you properly homeschool. We were trying to replicate school at home and it doesn’t really work, but we modelled through as best we could. And actually the children were all of, so they were then four, seven, and nine I think. So they were all of an age, they were quite happy to be at home. They were all really good company for each other, so they didn’t miss their friends so much because they had each other to play with. And actually we had some really great fun together as well.

(27:57):
So as much as it wasn’t always easy, again, it was a really lovely time, but so my clothing was already in production and I had paid for everything, so I thought I’d already started building my social media in anticipation of launching in February, March time. So I thought, well, I’ve kind of told people it’s coming and I’m starting to build this social media presence and I paid for the stock, so I may as well just go for it and see what happens. Not really realising that actually for many businesses, I feel awful saying this because for so many businesses, COVID was absolutely horrendous. But for me and an online active wear business, it was incredible because everybody was at home shopping online, exercising at home and buying leggings.

Caroline (28:49):
And that’s what pregnant women would live in, isn’t it? I know, but you don’t have to go to work necessarily.

Claire (28:55):
It was unbelievable. I’d watched these sales coming in and I was thinking, oh my God, this was not what I’d expected at all. So it really took off, hence me having to borrow some more money to get more stock because I’d obviously started with really small quantities. I didn’t know how well things would sell. And yeah, I largely just focused on social media at that time and I was doing all the dispatch myself from home, and it wasn’t so huge that I couldn’t manage it at all. So it just worked quite well and just kept it ticking over in that year. And then I think after lockdown, there was a bit of a peak as well of sales, and then it went slower. 2022 was quite tough, but it’s plateaued now a good place and we’ve stayed fairly consistent over the last 18 months in terms of sales.

Caroline (29:46):
And you’re still in John Lewis as well, have you still got stocking?

Claire (29:49):
No. So we are coming out of John Lewis now. They’ve got a few things left, but not very much. So that kind of came about because also where in Covid, a lot of celebrities were exercising at home and loads of them were pregnant. So I was really fortunate to get quite a lot of celebrity support and that obviously really ramped up the profile. So that was how John Lewis came to find us really early on. I mean, they approached me, it was within the first six months, but it took about, I want to say maybe a year before we were actually stocked with them, but they’re obviously having issues of their own and making their own changes now as to the brands that they stock. Although we’re in the process of launching hopefully next few weeks on another platform with another big retailer, there’s other opportunities that actually probably work better for my business.

(30:41):
As much as John Lewis was incredible and I happily continue to be stocked with them. The business model makes it probably, I would imagine they’re huge, but maybe a bit more difficult for them, but also for me as a small business, because you are having to provide a lot of stock upfront and waiting many months to get payment for that, which is very difficult as a small business for cashflow, whereas a lot of other big retailers are now moving to more of a marketplace platform and dropshipping with those sorts of platforms is a much better setup for us because it just allows us to just have much more flexibility with stock levels and cashflow while also bringing the brand to a new audience. So yeah, there’s more coming later this year.

Caroline (31:30):
That’s a real reality, isn’t it? So many small businesses out there would be like John Lewis. Yes, please. And that is the reality. You haven’t made it once you’re stocked in a major retailer and the other pressures it brings. So thank you for sharing that. So you briefly mentioned, yeah, I mean the celebrities you’ve had endorsing your brand is incredible. That is again other brand dreams as well. Did you do gifting or anything like that? Was that a strategic move or they literally found you and were just in love with the brand?

Claire (31:59):
Yeah, so I started off initially, so I wasn’t paying for any marketing support in the first 4, 5, 6 months, but I approached some just on Instagram in dms. And I think the really big celebrity that made a huge difference for me was when Rochelle Humes wore my stuff. And actually that was, and I only tell this story now because she’s moved house, but I actually Google stalked her and found her address on a planning application. So the week that I launched the business and I had the stock, I made up a box and of guessed her sizes and made up a box with some products in and sent it off. And that was in the June. And I just thought if it comes to nothing, it comes to nothing. I’ll just try. And then in the October she was about to have her baby and she took a photo, like a selfie in the mirror and she was wearing one of my brass, which is quite distinctive. And by then I had such a good following loads of people, although she didn’t tag me, lots of people tagged me and said, oh my God, I think that’s one of your bras. So that was super exciting. But then she then went on to order some kit from us herself. So you can imagine I was on school run and get the Shopify ping and it was like Rochelle Humes place an order!

Caroline (33:19):
That would be so exciting.

Claire (33:22):
It was super exciting. It was amazing. And she then did some stories on her Instagram when she had the kit as well. So I mean my website absolutely blew up and the sales just kind of went huge. So that was a real moment as was when Vogue Williams wore some of my stuff just after she’d had her baby actually, and I had got to know her PT at the time. So that was kind of how that came about. And that again was another really huge moment for the business. And at that point I then took on a PR agency to help with some of that celebrity side of things because it isn’t as effective now, but it was a real peak time for influencing, I think.

Caroline (34:06):
I can imagine in Covid, especially for a brand like yours. But it’s still a testament to what you did say. Obviously you did the hustle bit of stalking who would be a good fit and finding how to get your stuff to them having an excellent brand. So she wanted to come back and buy from you and then using your relationships for the Vogue one. So I think that’s three really key points for people and it is timing. There’s that element that you add to it as well.

Claire (34:33):
There is. And actually now, I mean I don’t use the PR agency anymore because I’ve been trying to bring costs in a lot more over the last 18 months, but I do still get celebrities wearing my stuff and sometimes it’s a little bit hit and miss. You might send something and you never see it again, and other times you do it, I can’t afford to pay people, so I’m reliant very much on gifting and then their goodwill if they want to do something with it. But actually people are usually really receptive if you approach in dms, and I’m always really mindful of how to do it. I’m not one of these people that’s very in your face, bolshy, putting myself out there, but I’ll just send a polite message and maybe I’d follow up if I felt it was appropriate. And if something comes a bit great, and if it doesn’t then it doesn’t.

Caroline (35:22):
Yeah, and I like to think there’s a little bit of the respect on their side, the awareness of small businesses that you just don’t have stock if you’re gifting it.

Claire (35:31):
There is a bit of a mix, shall we say, because you get some people that are absolutely amazing and then you get others who I wouldn’t ever name names, but they will make you feel like they’re going to do something with it and would like more and more and you think, oh, okay, I’ll send some more. And then it never sees the light of day. And that’s quite frustrating because although you don’t have a contract and you’re not paying, and so arguably they’re not obliged to do anything. There is a bit of an element of don’t keep asking for a small business to give you more if you are not genuinely going to do something with them. I totally get it. If you’ve just been sent something randomly or you might have just been sent a one-off thing and you don’t use it, that happens. That’s not a big deal. But I have had a couple of people that I sent quite a significant number of items on their request and then it’s never been used. And that’s really frustrating because again, I don’t know, I think now I’d probably be a little bit more pushy, but I find it, it’s difficult to say, hang on a minute.

Caroline (36:32):
A little bit cringe on their side if I can say that. And it’s also, I think there is, while I do think this is awareness of small brands, I think there was another clothing brand targeted at pregnant people, and they seem really big online and you are big brands, but you’re not big brand as in you’re a small business. And I think there’s that real lack of understanding with some people that because you’ve got a huge following and amazing brand doesn’t mean you are a big brand. I think that’s the difference, isn’t it?

Claire (37:01):
Oh yeah, absolutely. And I think I’ve spent a lot of money at The Bean and getting very professional photography, Dan. I think the website looks really good. And yeah, you get that even sometimes if you have a customer complaining that they haven’t, I mean, I’m trying to be very hot on customer services, but they haven’t had something in time or they can be a bit abrupt. And I’m like, actually, I’m doing this on my own and so I’m trying to get back to you as quickly as I can. And then, oh, I didn’t realise, I thought you were huge. And so I try to communicate to the customer base that we’re not dt. I suppose maybe we’re quite small, but we’re certainly by no stretch a big brand at all.

Caroline (37:40):
You don’t have a customer service team.

Claire (37:43):
No, but it’s just literally me on a different email address and that’s what always makes me laugh. People think, oh, it’s the customer services team. I’m like, no, I use three different email addresses for different communications.

Caroline (37:55):
That’s great. So if anyone listening and ordering, it’d be nice to Claire when you message her.

Claire (38:00):
Yeah, exactly.

Caroline (38:01):
And that’s a really good point because there’s something we were talking about over email that ties in nicely was were you thinking about scaling it to have more of a team? And it sounds like you’ve made a decision not to. What has that journey looked like about the growth on your side?

Claire (38:17):
So I think during Covid and that sort of immediate aftermath, it grew so quickly and I had a friend that came and worked for me then because I just couldn’t manage the marketing and the dispatch and the customer services and everything myself. I had a friend that came in and she was probably doing 20 hours a week and supporting the business in that way, and I had an ad agency and then I had a PR agency. I very much wanted to predominantly outsource and necessarily have employees.

Caroline (38:50):
Love that, I’m all about outsourcing.

Claire (38:55):
The commitment to having employees wasn’t necessarily, it’s also something I didn’t really feel like I needed. So my friend, she had other jobs as well, so she was effectively self-employed, so she was effectively a freelancer. And then I outsourced other elements of the business. She then was with me I’d say for about 18 months, but she was then offered a full-time job and had decided to go into that, which was absolutely fine. But I was also getting to a point because we were still fulfilling everything from my home office and we just taking over the upstairs top floor of my house a bit and there is something, although I’m still working from home, it’s much harder to switch off. And as much as she was a really good friend and we’re still very good friends, you’re having somebody in your house every day. And so I kind of used that opportunity when she chose to leave, I was looking at whether I bought somebody else in and I thought, do you know what?

(39:49):
Actually I think I want to put everything into a warehouse now and get it dispatched for me. So that is what I then did in the summer and everything. Then got moved to a fulfilment warehouse, which we’ve had some teething issues with and we may make a move later this year, but it largely has been okay. It’s always difficult letting go, but what that’s then meant is, and like I said earlier, I’ve been trying to pull costs back. So actually my background is pr. I know how to do pr. I may not have the relationships that I did use a really great PR agent freelancer. She was fantastic, just couldn’t afford him anymore. And so I now do my own PR and I have access to certain all the journalist inquiries and stuff and I can make my own pitches and I’ve had some good success with that.

(40:41):
I do my own email marketing, I do my own socials. I have a girl that helps a little bit with some videos for socials, which is good, but largely I’m doing that all myself. Customer services is quite straightforward as well. And so actually I don’t use the PR agency anymore. The only thing that the big cost that I still have on top of the warehouse is my advertising agency, advertis, because they’re really good creatively and they know how to do it and I just don’t have any interest in learning. It really bores me. And so I think I would rather pay somebody to do all of that for me. And actually then it, the juggle works quite well because I only really work school hours now because that was the other thing actually that I found when we were really growing. I was working around before the kids were up in the evenings after they’d gone to bed.

(41:36):
And there was a period of time where I was really just working a lot and I wasn’t really seeing friends and family. Everything was very much about the business. And I think last year I took stock and thought I want to do this, but I wanted to fit around my life and I didn’t want the kids to be in afterschool clubs unless they wanted to, which they generally don’t want to do the clubs that are at school annoyingly. So I don’t get the longer day always the way I know. I know exactly. But they do do a lot of activities outside of school, so I tend to pay taxi service to all of those, and I want to be the one that’s doing that and be the one that’s around for them. So I think that all kind of came to a head at the same time where I thought I need to make this work for me. And actually now I have a really lovely balance where it’s a really good lifestyle business. I think there’s a huge opportunity to scale it in future if I want to. But at the moment, that’s not necessarily right for me. And I mean this summer, because my husband also runs his own business, but he’s got a huge team, so he has flexibility in a different way. But we we’re taking the children to Vietnam and Thailand for five weeks, backpacking.

Caroline (42:51):
Life goals.

Claire (42:54):
I know. And it’s such an incredible position to be in because I can do a load of work. I’ve got a lot to do before we break up in five weeks time.

Caroline (43:03):
Well, yeah, there’s always a sacrifice of something.

Claire (43:05):
Exactly. But I know that I can plan a lot of things in advance for those five weeks that we’re away. I can take my iPad with me so I can deal with customer services inquiries every day and everything else is just dealt with. And for me, that is just such a perfect setup. And so yeah, I think I will probably look at it again in the next few years, but at the moment, although I don’t have little tiny ones anymore, so my youngest is eight now, the challenges are just different. We are juggling lots of activities and clubs and whatnot,

Caroline (43:40):
And I hear from friends with teenagers, sometimes they go through a bad face and you just want to be around. So they have that option to talk. They’re not talking as much as my three and 5-year-old who just tell me everything. And it’s like if you’re more around, they’re more likely to say, okay, actually this happened and I’m a bit feeling a bit miserable about it, which I hear because I think some people base that hope that they’ll have more time in the tea years and it’s not necessarily the case, sadly.

Claire (44:05):
Yeah, exactly. They just need you in a different way.

Caroline (44:08):
Yeah. Oh, thank you for sharing that. I’m so excited for your holiday. And I think it’s a really good point. I also had a bit of a restructure and took Unity. I had a VA and personal, I’ve got people who support me in other ways in the team, but I got to a point where I needed some help in the home rather than the va. And it kind of seemed like having two was a bit of a luxury at this point, and it does lead you to other opportunities. It sounds like the smart thing you’ve done is when the person supporting you took their full-time job, it’s like, okay, well I could really deal with fulfilment and advertising. They don’t interest me and I want my house back kind

Claire (44:42):
Of thing.

Caroline (44:43):
So I think that’s really smart.

Claire (44:44):
Yeah, definitely. I think what works for each small business businesses different, but it’s difficult because I think we’re sort of, again, I suppose goes back a bit to the idea of being sold a lie. Maybe that’s a bit too harsh in this case, but you get this idea that when you run a business, it’s a negative thing to not want it to be huge. And when I started out, I was like, this is going to be massive. We’re going to take it internationally and it’s going to be huge. And I still think it could be. I think it absolutely is a scalable business, but it’s just not the right time for me. And actually I feel okay about saying that, whereas I didn’t necessarily at first because I thought, oh, am I letting the side down? I should be this amazing entrepreneur doing this, that and the other. But actually, yeah, that’s just not where I’m at. And maybe like I say, in a few years time, hopefully if I’ve kept the momentum on the business well enough, and that is difficult sometimes when you’re on your own, then we can get to a place where we go, right, let’s ramp this up now maybe with a bit more cash in the business than I’ve got at the moment as well because I’m sort of not spending everything

Caroline (45:50):
Small business realities there. And I love that. I think hearing more about lifestyle businesses and it being okay to be a lifestyle business, I think that is hugely valuable. I think I’ve seen lots of stuff about that online recently of if I have a business that’s making this amount of money for years and not going for the growth at this point, but doing it, maybe being open to it. And I think something that’s also really something to note as well is you’ve got a lot of charity partnerships there. And that’s what I love as well about the women on this podcast is like, we may not be having huge businesses, but we’re still trying to make the world a better place, whether it’s circular economy or yeah, like I said, giving back to those who need it. And you’ve got some really good partnerships, don’t you?

Claire (46:36):
Yeah. So we work predominantly with Kickscount and then also with CoppaFeel. So CoppaFeel is the Breast Cancer Awareness charity. And I think I had seen in some bras that I own that they do these reminder labels about checking your breasts for lumps. So because when you’re pregnant, your boobs are changing a lot when you’re pregnant and breastfeeding, and obviously you’re also really distracted because there’s lots of other things going on in your life. I just felt that was quite an important reminder for mums to have. So we have a CoppaFeel label in all of our bras and some information that we send out on how to check yourself for unusual lumps. And I think breast cancer in moms that are pregnant and a year postpartum is quite rare. I think statistic from memory is something like about one in 3000. But actually since starting the business, I have been by a good handful of mums to whom that has happened.

(47:33):
And whenever they see that we have these CoppaFeel reminder labels that they’re always like, that’s such an amazing thing because this did actually happen to me. So that’s just sort of an awareness spreading message. And then with Kickscount, so if people aren’t familiar with Kickscount, it’s a charity that encourages moms to monitor their baby’s movements in their pregnancies with the aim of reducing the rates of stillbirth in the uk. Fantastic small charity. They’re always struggling for funding like many small charities are, but the work they do is invaluable. And I knew about Kickscount in my pregnancies, I did in my second pregnancy get admitted for reduced movements, which thankfully were fine, but it was just another charity that I felt really obviously resonated with my audience, but also was one that we could really support. So we have Kickscount reminder labels in all of our leggings.

(48:34):
We sell their wristbands on the website as well. So that money obviously goes directly to them. You can donate to the charity through the website, charity when you make a purchase. So we get lots of people that put a couple of extra pounds in, which is never huge sums every month, but it’s a small amount. And then I launched probably two years ago now, a pre loved scheme. So our customers, all of our clothing can be worn all the way through pregnancy and as long as you want to wear it afterwards. But I absolutely recognise that for some people, you don’t necessarily, even if they fit, want to still wear what you deem to be maternity clothing once you’ve had the baby. So we will buy back old natal active gear from our customers, and I pay a 10 pound gift card for the first item and five for subsequent items.

(49:27):
So they can obviously gift that to somebody else or use it for a purchase. And we then resell the pre loved clothing. So usually we’ve done it on the website. I have got three boxes of pre love stuff here that I need to sort out because we’re actually going to start doing it through Vinted. So rather than doing, because now we have the fulfilment warehouse, it just makes it more complicated. So I thought, right, if I do it on vented, my plan is to get this sorted before the summer. But I feel like I keep telling people it’s coming, it’s coming, and I haven’t had a chance to do it yet. But then we can kind of keep adding to it rather than it being right. We’re launching the big sale now, and we can always have sort of a run of pre clothing on Vinted that people can purchase, and then all the funds from that, all the funds raised from that will go to Kickscount as well.

Caroline (50:21):
Fantastic. It just shows the power small businesses. That’s why everyone should support people like you because we are also, it’s not just your amazing business, but also you’re trying to do great things with it as well.

Claire (50:31):
And it’s small amounts, but it’s just trying to do something really and help profile and awareness as well.

Caroline (50:37):
Oh, well, Claire, honestly, thank you so much. It’s no mean feat starting. I have such respect for product-based businesses. I feel like it is so hard to get launched and everything you guys go through. So if we could just end on what are your top three tips? If there’s a woman, a mother sat here being like, I’ve really got this idea for a clothing brand. I think it’s got legs. How can they take it from being the person with the idea to actually try it?

Claire (51:02):
So I think firstly, you’ve got to be really clear about what your niche is. So in my case, active wear is a hugely saturated market. And so my focus was very much on maternity and on breastfeeding as a niche because that was an area that was underserved. Actually. We’ve subsequently launched normal, for want of a better word, postnatal leggings and non breastfeeding brass. But actually that’s not a core part of the business because you’ve got to focus on your niche and I think talk to people to really understand what it is that they want. So depending on what problem it is that you are trying to solve for people, and then really just do lots of research, I think it’s so important to have good manufacturers. That’s such a key thing. And it can be really difficult to find because people are very understandably very protective of their manufacturers.

(51:59):
So it’s not like you necessarily get recommendations. And I think I was really fortunate because I was never able to visit my manufacturers because of covid and travel restrictions. And in fact, they’re actually coming over here next month to see me, and I am going over to China in the summer when we do our big backpacking tour. I’m leaving my husband with the kids for a couple of days and heading over to see the clothing in production in person because there’s just no substitute for that. And it’s so important to have good relationships with the manufacturers. But yeah, so I think that would be, I mean, it’s just really sampling and just getting advice from as many people as possible on the design process, the manufacturing process. I’m still learning new things all the time. I’m by no means an expert even four years on.

Caroline (52:49):
I think we’re all constantly learning, aren’t we in this small business world? Thank you for sharing, because we are learning and you never stop learning. I think that’s the beauty of getting older, is you start to realise this whole thing is just one big learning journey in life.

Claire (53:03):
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Caroline (53:05):
Claire, thank you so much for coming on today. Where can people find you to find out more by some of your products?

Claire (53:12):
Oh, thank you for having me, Caroline. Yeah, natalactive.com is our website, and we’re also Natal Active on Instagram. Instagram I use for lots of sharing, lots of videos of different moms wearing our products. They’re really nice and inspirational on there. You can also follow us on TikTok, which is a little bit more behind the scenes.

Caroline (53:32):
Will it have your travels on TikTok?

Claire (53:34):
Maybe. Maybe. I’m always a little bit careful about showing my kids on socials. They pop up a little bit occasionally, but yes, I probably will be doing something because I think it’s quite interesting to see how, it’d be quite a nice thing to show how you can flexibly run a business and go and do something amazing like travelling. So undoubtedly, but I’m terrible because I film lots of content and then never end up finding the time to use it. So I’m determined to get better at that.

Caroline (54:06):
I can’t wait. We should have another mini episode of like, okay, so how did the travels go?

Claire (54:11):
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.

Caroline (54:13):
Absolutely. Oh, well thank you so much, Claire. Absolute pleasure. And wish you luck for your travels over the next few months.

Claire (54:19):
Thank you very much, and thank you for having me.

Outro

Thank you so much for listening to Bump to Business Owner. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. Please do rate, review, follow or subscribe wherever you’re listening. It really helps us to connect with more mums and business owners. You can DM me at Bump to Business Owner on Instagram and I’ll be back next week.

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