Doers and Dreamers...Catriona
This weeks Doers and Dreamers is Catriona. Catriona and I started our businesses at really similar times. I kept meeting her at different events and we got chatting. She's a mama of one with one on the way and followed her passion to set up her childrenswear business Little Lulu's making pre walker shoes. She's got some amazing tips on logistics.
Hi Catriona tell us a bit about yourself? (and your business)
I'm a proud mum, designer, shoe lover and creator of Little Lulu's. I've always loved shoes and that led me to move London from Sheffield to study footwear and accessory design at Cordwainers' College. After graduating I began a career in handbag design, while still maintaining my love of shoes. I've been working as a handbag designer for over ten years before launching Little Lulu's.
What was the driving force to start Little Lulus?
Throughout my whole career as a designer I knew I wanted to do something of my own but I didn't really know what that was. It was only after I had my daughter, Layla, that I had the push I needed. I knew I didn't want to go back to work full time and there isn't a wealth of part time work for shoe and handbag designers here in Sheffield so I put my thinking hat on. Initially I was going to hand make baby shoes that were to be sold at craft fairs and markets but as I began researching and designing them I knew I wanted them to be very intricate and special. The kind of quality and craftsmanship I aspired to exceeded my own skills. I started the search for a factory who could make them for me in the UK and Europe. When I found the wonderful atelier in Italy who now make the shoes, I knew that the brand was to be a high end luxury item. The branding and packaging all had to reflect that.
What’s your workspace like?
I currently work from my home, however I am moving my office in the next couple of weeks, which is exciting. I would love to say my work space is always tidy and that makes for a tidy mind but that is just not me, I'm afraid! However it is still an inspiring work space. I have a large notice board in front of my desk where I pin my research of adult fashion that has inspired me or colours and trends that I am going to make my key colours for a season. I have an arrangement of box shelves on the wall behind me that I use to display the shoes at trade fairs. I like to plan out my stands in advance and display any new designs. I also currently have all of my stock and an area for packing.
Tell us about a typical day?
My working day is always very varied. I think a lot of my friends and family imagine my day to be spent mostly drawing beautiful shoes day in, day out. That is definitely part of it, and I'm not going to lie, it is one of my favourite parts of the job but there is so much more. It will often involve packing boxes to go out to customers, keeping on top of my website management, getting in touch with buyers and existing customers, getting in touch with bloggers and press to spread the word about the brand, planning social media output, finances, planning future collections and photography, liaising with the factory about existing or new orders and samples.
How did you launch?
I launched the brand at Bubble London in July 2015, which is one of the childrenswear fashion trade shows. It was a great launch pad because I won their Rising Star award, which brought some great press around the launch. Also the prize was a free stand at their next exhibition which was really wonderful because trade fairs are a very expensive way of marketing, especially for a new brand. It is well worth it though and so many people say you have to just continue to show every season so that buyers get used to seeing you and trust that you are a brand with longevity. The website launched the following month in August 2015. So much has happened in my first year I feel really excited about the future.
What’s your favourite online resource (app/tool) that is indispensable for work?
As a new business I have been constantly contacted by people trying to me sell stuff but the one that has really helped my business has been Norsk Supply Chain. They are a shipping wholesaler. As a small company shipping is an issue because I didn't initially have the quantity of packages going out to receive the better prices from shipping companies. Shipping my shoes abroad was very expensive. Norsk works as a wholesaler of shipping so can offer much better prices to small companies like mine. I can receive much better prices to send goods to markets such as USA and Germany because they are countries who do a lot of internet shopping so there are loads of parcels going there daily. Also they have a service so should an international customer want to return a pair of shoes to me, they don't have to pay the whole fee of returning the shoes to me, they can pay a local fee and send them to a depot in their country, they will then be returned to me from there. It's not very glamorous but it is saving me time and money which can only be a good thing really.
How do you manage family and work life balance?
This is a constant struggle for any working mum, even when you are your own boss. I am very lucky because we live close to family and I get a lot of help. My fabulous mother in law looks after my daughter two days a week, which is amazing but I often have to try to cram in a bit of work while I am on duty with Layla. She will start pre-school in January, which will be great but we also have another baby coming not long after she starts. I think you just find a way of muddling through. Something often has to give and I'm afraid it is mostly the house work that suffers. I don't have an Instagram worthy show home but I don't think I was ever going to really. I read somewhere that J.K Rowling was asked once how she wrote a novel while looking after her baby, she replied that she didn't do any house work and lived in a constantly messy home. If it's good enough for J.K. Rowling then it's good enough for me.
What have you found most surprising since setting up your business?
I find as my business grows that I keep learning. The old phrase "Every day is a school day" has never been so true. You wear a lot of hats when you run your own company which means I am often doing jobs that are not really my strong area. I hate doing my accounts but it is so necessary. I can't wait for the day that I can hire a professional to help me with that side of things.
On the tough days how do you self motivate?
This first year of business for me has been full of highs and lows. I have had many hours of missed sleep as I lay in bed worrying about this and that. I am a great procrastinator but I always feel so much better after I have had a good few hours behind my computer working on my to do list, ticking jobs off. I think my confidence in the brand is what keeps me going in a way. It isn't easy getting knock backs but that's just part of business. As long as I keep believing in it, then it will be a success.
What’s been your business highlight so far?
Ooh I have had a few highlights, I guess the first one was being awarded Rising Star at Bubble London but a far more tangible highlight was receiving my first wholesale order. Gayle from Carry Me Home and now Hustle and Fox was the first retailer to take some of my shoes. I was thrilled and pretty pumped to be in a shop in London's West End. She doesn't realise it but I love her a bit for that! More recently I have just shipped out a very large order to China so I can now say we are a global brand.
What have you got planned next?
Well we have another baby on the way but that by no means that I am going to take my foot off the gas. I am doing research into other international markets to target and I am planning to expand into first walkers, shoes for toddlers next year. In the long term I would like to offer matching shoes for kids and parents but that's a few years off.
And finally….what’s your top tip for anyone thinking of starting their own business?
I would always say to anyone thinking of starting their own business to just do it, but don't underestimate the amount of work that's involved. It isn't easy and you can't leave your worries at the office but the highs are all yours and there is no better feeling than seeing something you have created being appreciated by others as it grows.
To find out more about Catriona and her beautiful shoes please visit www.little-lulus.com
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