Self-Starter Stories: From Insurance Broker to becoming the Founder of a kids outdoor clothing startup.
This week's Self Starter Story features Laura Sweet, founder of Amamaya Kids Clothing. A UK startup based in Taunton, Somerset.
The brand Amamaya is inspired by Laura and her husband's travels to Nepal. The name Amamaya is an amalgamation of two Nepalese words. Ama + Maya.
Ama is taken from the most beautiful mountain in Nepal (Ama Dablam) and 'maya' translates to unconditional love.
As avid travelers and 'outdoorsy' people, Laura spotted a gap in the market for quality, locally made, children's outdoor clothing.
When Laura's daughter was born in January 2016, it really hit home that there wasn't much choice available and the options she could find, came in standard colours such a pink for girls or blue for boys.
Items were made with cheap materials and more polyester-based than the warm pieces she was looking for, so Laura set out to find a UK-based manufacturer who could help her create a line of outdoor clothing that would keep her child warm outdoors, especially during the cold winter months.
'One of the initial challenges we faced with finding manufacturers was the minimum order quantities. We were taking a leap of faith so the last thing we wanted to do was to take a huge risk by ordering a thousand units per line.
Eventually, we found a manufacturer who was open and sympathetic to working with a startup.
The manufacturer we found is by no means the cheapest, which has had an impact on our cost, but we feel they've invested as much in us as we've invested in them. It was important to us, to find people who would take a leap of faith with us so we could start small and grow.'
Another challenge they faced at the beginning of their new venture, was funding.
'We needed quite a bit of cash upfront for initial prototypes and manufacturing, so I relied on savings and credit cards to get started. For us the priority was just getting started. We didn't even have a business plan!'
The first step was the idea, and then a phone call ensued to a local manufacturer to validate the potential of their idea. We couldn't get an exact cost of the product until the final prototype was completed. So we started with children's merino wool hats and would later expand the line.'
I asked Laura about what prompted her to become an entrepreneur?
'When I was younger I wanted to be a vet, however as time went by I became an insurance broker and now find myself taking a completely different direction as an entrepreneur.
The thought of going back to a 9 to 5 corporate environment just wasn't sitting right with me. I travelled a lot in my previous role as an insurance broker and didn't want to continue after our daughter was born in January 2016. I had never previously found anything else I could or wanted to do until I had the idea for Amamaya, and it felt right'
'I had always wanted to start my own business and wrote business plan after business plan and even got to the point of setting up a business with a large loan, but when it came to signing on the dotted line, I couldn't! Amamaya Clothing just simply evolved from a small idea and and has always felt like the right thing to do for me.'
I asked Laura whether she had any key takeaways from her last job that's relevant to what she's doing now with Amamaya. Laura tells me in her previous role she learned how to save money and start-up on a shoe string, how to communicate more effectively with almost anyone and how to have a sense of humour even when things get a little bit tough!
Because they are in their first year of business, it hasn't come easy. Laura and her husband have a family to provide for and not having the comfort of a regular salary can be scary, but so far they have managed to get by with direct sales to retailers and sales generated from being published in Trail Magazine, -one of the UK's leading magazines for people who live for the outdoors.
In terms of marketing the Amamaya brand and products, Laura started with a local approach. Attending local shows both as a visitor and exhibitor which allowed her to sell and network at the same time. She's also very active on the company's social media channels and invests in paid advertising, more specifically: Adwords.
'I started building up our social media platforms prior to our launch, so we already had a small fanbase.'
Laura does everything herself but would love to get to the stage where she's able to outsource. They're aiming to do that in 2017 so that she'd be able to focus on doing what she loves most, designing and sales.
'We want to stay small for the next 3 years, until my daughter goes to school, and the plan is then to have a wholesale package available to retailers. Our office is at home, and stock as well, which takes up a ton of room, but that will be shifting soon.'
Laura's advice to those toying with the idea of starting their own business is to go with your gut. 'If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Start small, and also, just start. At some point you just have to go with what feels right.
My initial fear about starting a business, was being away from work. When I was on maternity leave, I realised being away from work wasn't as frightening as I'd previously anticipated it to be. Sometimes one can get stuck in a bit of a salary trap!'
To follow Laura's journey, you can do so via her social media channels and website linked below.
Laura Sweet has qualified for the #PickYourselfUK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year award 2017. If you'd like to enter yourself or nominate a small business entrepreneur for this award, please submit your story.
Voting for the #PickYourselfUK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year award 2017 will take place in November 2017 so make sure you get your entry submitted to qualify.