Parentpreneur story Lara Soetekouw-Giometti of Big Blue Cuddle

Just go for it. Don’t plan and prepare too much. You’ll learn along the way and will need to adapt and change your business anyway. It’s a bit like having children, if you think of all the implications and down sides, you might never do it.

 

Your name: Lara Soetekouw-Giometti

Names and ages of children: Giacomo (boy, 7), Livia (girl, 5) and Giulia (girl, 3)

Business: Big Blue Cuddle

Location: London

Website: www.bigbluecuddle.com

Tell us about your background:

Born and raised in Italy by an American mother, I have lived and worked in several European countries. Bizarrely, London is the one place where I have lived the longest, I moved here in 2001 from Amsterdam with my Dutch boyfriend (who now is my Dutch husband and responsible for the unpronounceable last name!). Our three children were all born here and all think they are English even if we all speak four languages.

Up until last summer I was a management consultant working for large consumer goods companies. I often worked silly hours, sharing the care of the children with our wonderful live-in nanny. I wasn’t happy with my “contribution to society”, professionally or at home and decided that something had to change.

I’ve always wanted to start my own business and be my own boss. Also, I’ve always admired for profit companies that help good causes significantly at the same time, so when I came up with the idea behind Big Blue Cuddle, I knew I just had to give it a go.

Big Blue Cuddle is an online store which puts surplus stock of colourful and imaginative children’s clothes brands to good use. I select brands that are either unknown in the UK, still fairly small or just a bit quirky and ask them to sell me a selection of their stock at a discount. The clothes are sold for their regular retail price and the margin created is donated to children’s charities. Between 15% and 50% of the value of each purchase (not profits) is donated to the charity that the customer selects at check-out.

I left my job in June 2010 and started building Big Blue Cuddle from scratch: cold calling suppliers, learning about retail, contacting and selecting the charities, refining the model, defining the look and feel of the brand, designing the website… sometimes it felt like a mammoth task!

However everything progressed fairly quickly and the website went live at the end of November 2010 with only 4 brands. Its original formula has attracted some fantastic reactions and now it sells clothes from 12 brands, with new brands joining every month.

What do you do on a typical day?

I’m the only person working on Big Blue Cuddle, so I need to take care of everything. I’m constantly on the lookout for more clothes, researching new brands online and approaching the ones I like to see if they’re interested in working together. As well as ordering stock I keep our current suppliers, and companies that have indicated an interest, up-to-date with the company’s achievements. I keep the website updated, dispatch orders using Royal Mail’s quick online service and keep the accounts up-to-date.

I keep in touch with the charities I support, helping to promote each other’s organisations and working together on certain events. Twitter, Facebook and blogs also come in handy to promote the brands and clothes I sell, our achievements and fundraising and the charities’ work and events. Promoting the website and getting the attention of the media can be quite time consuming.

… And then of course there are the kids to bring to school and pick-up, the after school clubs, the playdates, the laundry, the homework, the PFTA meetings and the housework. There is never a dull moment!

What projects are you working on now/ have you worked on recently?

I occasionally organise sale events in carefully selected locations to give people an opportunity to see the clothes in person and to get “out there” myself.

Big Blue Cuddle’s next event is at Cupcake Parsons Green, where I’ll need to put up a “pop up store”. This requires quite some preparation when you’re used to doing everything online.

Recently, I managed to get Plastisock on board, a Scandinavian brand I’ve always liked and which makes wonderfully colourful clothes.

How do you manage your working day with your childcare arrangements?

It’s hard! There are emotional, logistical and financial restraints to consider. It’s very much required that you, and the people around you, are creative and flexible

Giulia, my youngest, goes to nursery 3 mornings. So I can work from 9.00 to 12.00 three days a week. Our nanny, who used to work for us full days and is essentially part of our family, has stayed with us through think and thin and now takes care of the kids at least one afternoon a week in exchange for room and board. I’m in front of my computer working late most evenings and I’m also there for at least a couple of hours each week-end while my husband takes care of the kids.

Even when I’m with the kids my mobile is never far away to check an email, Tweet something or reply to someone. It’s a juggling act and everybody is making sacrifices to make it happen – not just me, but the kids, my husband, our nanny and our friends. But I’m also much more present in my children’s lives and in the house, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

What is your greatest achievement?

To date my greatest achievement is probably coming up with the actual Big Blue Cuddle business model. It’s unique and it provides something for all parties involved:

Suppliers have a good solution for their surplus stock and build a reputation as a “good” brand in a relevant and understated way

Customers discover new brands, buy great clothes, which are truly different from anything else available on the high street, and get the satisfaction of helping raise funds for a good cause without spending anything extra

Charities receive funds that can make a big difference and raise awareness about their projects and cause.

I think it’s great and more and more people seem to agree with me. Let’s hope it catches on!

Who or what inspires you?

My children and children in general inspire me. On one hand, I love their colourful world and want to help them build it by offering colourful, fun clothes. On the other hand, I see children as our future and want all of them to have the opportunity to grown into happy, healthy, discerning adults. I’m proud to be doing my bit to help.

What do you hope to be doing in five years time?

I would like for Big Blue Cuddle to inspire others, so that together we can help charities even more. I hope that Big Blue Cuddle has branched to other countries and that’s it’s selling other products such as books, accessories and toys. Maybe there will even be a shop in brick and mortar!

What do you do to relax?

I love cooking and probably most of my free time is spent cooking something nice for my friends and family. I often get my little helpers involved too, killing two, no three… well, a lot of birds, with one stone.

I read too, and find it helps me wind down and sleep well. As I work in the evenings I tend to go to bed still “wired”, my head’s often buzzing with ideas and to do lists.

What advice would you give other mums thinking of starting a business?

Other mums must realise that starting a business is by no means the easiest option nor, necessarily, the one that’s going to give you the best work/life balance.

Just go for it. Don’t plan and prepare too much. You’ll learn along the way and will need to adapt and change your business anyway. It’s a bit like having children, if you think of all the implications and down sides, you might never do it.

Make a routine of meeting with people you can talk to during the day. Starting a business on your own and working from home can be very lonely, you need people to bounce ideas off, check your plans and listen to your frustrations. You can’t just rely on your other half.

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