Mother and Nature
The best ideas often come to you when you're not expecting them, such as maybe when you're on a walk. That was the case for Sam Jenkins, enthusiastic walker and founder of outdoors maternity brand Mother and Nature. Frustrated that there was nothing in the way of technical waterproof gear for pregnant women, she decided to take matters into her own hands and start her own brand. We caught up with her over a cuppa.
Business name: Mother & Nature
Founder(s) name: Samantha Jenkins
Loan funds received: £18k
Based in: Lancashire
1. Explain your business in the time it would take the kettle to boil
Mother & Nature is the UK’s first range of outdoor maternity wear, with a twist - you can wear it during and after pregnancy. When designing the products I wanted to produce something to the same high-tech specification as other outdoor gear, but I knew this would be expensive. As maternity wear has (potentially) such a short life span, I had to come up with something different to give the range some longevity. So the expandable side panels were devised!
2. Where are you based and why is it a good location for your business?
I am based just outside Chorley, Lancashire, but as the business is online location isn’t really an issue.
3. How did you come up with the idea?
I came up with the idea when I was pregnant. I still went out walking in the Lake District, but couldn’t find anything suitable to wear. I searched online and found that there were a lot of other women in the same situation, so I decided to do something about it! It took a few years to get round to it, but now my son has just turned five and I have been trading for just over six months.
4. What’s the business model?
The business model is currently to offer a range of outdoor maternity wear directly to the end customer with purchases being made directly through the website, plus Amazon and eBay. Within 12 months I would like to build up the brand and range, then start to target independent outdoor retailers, initially in the North and then throughout the UK. I’d also like to target stores selling maternity wear, but as the range is seen by some as quite niche, I’m not sure how this will pan out until I give it a try.
5. Who are your competitors?
There is no direct competition. There are lots of companies selling maternity wear, such as JoJo Maman Bebe and Mamalicious, plus high street stores own ranges and distributors such as Yummy Mummy Maternity. However there is nothing directly challenging this range at the moment.
6. What’s unique about your business?
All three items in the range- maternity waterproof jacket, maternity walking trousers and maternity fleece - all have the expandable side panel feature, which means the clothes can grow with your bump, and can then be reduced back down again after the baby is born. This is one of the things that makes the range unique. The other is there is no-one else doing anything like this at the moment, which is also the reason there is no direct competition.
There is nothing really comparable to this range on the market at present. There are companies selling jackets and trousers, but they aren’t designed to the same technical specification. Taking the jacket as an example, the material is 100% waterproof to the highest British Standards rating, the material is also breathable, it has a mesh lining, adjustable Velcro round the sleeves, a hood which will tuck away and a pull cord round the hood to tighten. It has all the features and benefits of any mainstream brand of waterproof jacket, but with a bump in mind, and this is what no other company is currently doing.
7. What stage was your business at when you applied for the Start Up Loan?
I applied for the startup loan after I had found a clothes designer to turn my ideas into a workable design, to see if the idea would even be feasible. This happened about three months after I decided that I seriously wanted to start the business.
8. How have you used it to grow your business?
I’ve used it as a startup fund, and it has covered design, samples, manufacture, logo design, building a website, marketing (on and offline), stationary, and an exhibition. Now I am trying to do as much as I can on a shoestring budget until the business really takes off.
9. Who is your mentor and how have they helped you?
Kirsty McGregor is my mentor, and she has been really helpful. At the beginning we talked though my plans and she gave me suggestions and ideas. She is a good sounding board for ideas and is always at the end of the phone to discuss anything. She always seems to take time out and will text and email to see how things have gone when it comes to events and other activities, whether this is during work hours in the evening or weekend. I’m glad I’ve got her for this first year!
10. Who is your regional delivery partner and how did they help you get a Virgin StartUp loan?
My regional partner was Bolton Business Ventures (BVV). They helped with the loan application, and helped facilitate things between Virgin and myself.
11. Biggest achievement so far?
To go from having the idea and setting the wheels in motion, to start trading in just under 12 months. I look back now and wonder how I did it whilst working full time and being a single mum! Also getting a really good review in Trail magazine, one of the biggest outdoor publications on the market. I’ve also had an article written about me and the range in Country Walking magazine and a fantastic double page spread in Lancashire Life! Next month my range will also be retailed in a new outdoor shop in Derbyshire, so it’ll be good to get the clothes out into a retail environment where people can browse and try the range on.
12. What's next for your business?
I am hoping to expand the range and add additional items in a larger range of sizes and colours. As the first batch of manufacture was limited in sizes it has been a bit of a criticism from some that the sizes don’t go up large enough. I would also like to get the range into some more outdoor shops, initially starting in the north, then heading further afield. I'm also looking into the possibility of getting the products into some maternity wear shops. I've entered Virgin Media Business VOOM 2016, and whether I get through to the next round or not, it's helping to get the name out there. I also have a nice new video on the website, which I wouldn’t have had otherwise!