How I Started a Successful
Online Children’s Fashion Brand
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Amie Roberts and I am the Owner of Albie & Sebastian. My business is an online children’s fashion store where everything is designed and handmade by me.
My focus is on style, comfort and unique designs that you can’t find on the high street. I keep my prices competitive by doing almost everything myself. I have no other employees and I work as a sole trader. From sourcing materials, to design, creating, testing, researching, marketing, website design and much more! There are no hidden costs for sales promotions so I can provide the best quality of garments at affordable prices.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
The business was originally set up with a close friend who was expecting a baby boy around the same time as me. We were disappointed with the choice of boys’ clothes on the high street and lots of the brands we loved were not available in the UK and so came with a hefty shipping fee.
Whilst on maternity leave, we learnt to sew and thankfully loved it enough to set up our own fashion brand, named after our boys. The business is now run by me alone.
I have always been interested in fashion and knew this was going to play a big part of my motherhood journey but I never imagined it would be such a big part of it. Although they are young, I believe children can still be fashionable. It can make them feel good and promote self-confidence when they are dressed in something they love.
My designs are meant to be stylish, smart, comfortable and fun to wear so they get the approval from both children and their parents (the stylists).
Most garments I design are also unisex. It’s annoying shopping in stores when I find myself rummaging through the girls’ section for clothes that can be worn by both sexes! Children of both genders are the same shapes mostly, so it baffles me. More stores should be looking to have unisex sections for children in the future.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
My business has grown slowly and organically. I began by purchasing very small amounts of fabric, making baby leggings and bibs, taking some photos and posting about them on Instagram.
Once I had gained a few sales I would order more of that particular fabric. There was very little initial investment, other than purchasing a more professional machine, and I took it very slowly. I thought it was going to be a lot easier to grow, but I soon realised there was so much more to this than anticipated.
My photos needed to be more professional and I needed to establish an Instagram ‘style’ and grow a real following to keep going. Instagram was much easier back then though before the algorithm kicked in when suddenly good engagement became more difficult to achieve.
The more time I spent on Instagram, the more I started to see that so many other mums had the same idea. Which was lovely in one way, but that obviously meant more competition. Trying to stand out and be different, especially in the fashion industry, became more of a challenge. Sourcing fabrics that no-one was using is also extremely difficult. I would search the whole of Europe for suppliers, eventually finding as many as I could but doing this every new season is very time-consuming!
Who is your target market?
My target market is someone similar to me. A fashion-conscious parent who doesn’t want their child to be wearing jeans constantly, who isn’t keen on high street fashion and someone who struggles to find gender-neutral clothes. Not all girls want to wear pink dresses and not all boys like tops with tractors on – and don’t get me started with anything cartoon related! My son would love to walk around wearing a Paw Patrol jumper but I would hate it. So we keep these themes for PJs and underwear!
Many parents will agree with me, and I’m sure that many parents will think I’m ridiculous. The latter is definitely not my target market. Parents are also becoming much more socially conscious consumers and are interested in where their clothes are made. They want to know they are supporting an ethical trade. There is only me here which means I can be as transparent as possible and gain a personal level of trust from my customers.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
Social media platforms are my primary method of promoting and marketing my products. I post once a day on average. It’s a great (free) way for my brand to be seen and a lovely way to connect with my followers.
I have paid for advertising on Facebook but none have been very successful. This is something I’m aiming to learn more about this year. Since I have limited childcare, finding time to create the garments can be difficult so I’m happy where my business is at the moment.
Once my son starts school in September then I can spend more time on marketing. Despite this, we’ve still done very well, so I expect an upturn when my marketing campaign improves.
Away from the social media sphere, there are a few other methods I have used to promote myself. Last year, I entered the Junior Design Awards won a silver medal in the ‘Best Unisex Collection’ category. This brought more attention to my brand.
I have also used Brand Reps, who receive a discount on my clothing in return for photographs and promotion on their page. I have gifted items to celebrities and influencers in exchange for promoting my brand amongst their networks and followers.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
With each sale, I try to encourage my customers to post photos of their children wearing their Albie & Sebastian outfit using a hashtag. If I use their photo on my social media page, they will receive a 20% discount code as a thank you. It feels great to see photos of my clothing out in the wild, and its a lovely way to get to know my customers.
I also encourage customers to subscribe to my emails by offering exclusive discounts and special offers regularly. This is a very good way to build an email list and keep a relationship with customers.
Another approach I use is ‘giveaways’ run by marketing and branding agencies on Instagram. They are a great way to gain new followers and reach new customers who may not have heard of us before. Those who run them tend to aim them at my target market, so I’m always keen to take part when I see them offered.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Since I work alone for the company, the main concern is to achieve a healthy work/life balance. I’m lucky enough to have a studio of my own so I can be as creative as possible and have enough space to get stuck into sewing whenever I can.
Staying on top of the admin is the most challenging. I generally tend to do this after my son is in bed or if I can steal an hour whilst he is using his tablet!
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
I’ve learnt to be more prepared and not to rush into anything. I am naturally impatient, but it is something I’ve been continuously working on. If something goes wrong then you should see it as part of the learning process. I can’t control every situation but if I can turn a negative one into a positive and learn from it, I’m happy.
Before I started, I was unclear about all of the laws related to operating a children’s fashion business. There were some items I presumed were legally classed as accessories, but after doing some research, I discovered they were classed as toys. This means that a different standard of testing and labelling was required. Not to mention that it is difficult to find this information out online. Luckily, I have a great personal network of other makers to whom I can direct my queries. It’s so important to have support and guidance from business owners/creators.
Other than that, I’m happy with what I have achieved. It has sometimes been a slow-burning learn ‘on the fly’ process, but that, for me, really is the best way to learn.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The main reason I started this business, was to allow me greater flexibility, freedom and independence. So I could choose my working hours and spend quality time with my son.
I’m now in a position where I can work the hours that suit me and my family, and it can change from week to week. I have complete control of the technical process and the company finances. The benefits head directly into my bank account and not someone else’s first!
Entrepreneurship is a labour of love, but doing something you enjoy is also mentally rewarding. Seeing children from all over the world wearing items I have made is extremely fulfilling.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur is risky. Every decision I make has a direct impact on the future of the business. This can be a little scary and it can hold me back at times. I take a cautious overall approach.
It can be very stressful at times and will involve a huge commitment. I often spend more time working than I should since actually making the products is just half what I do. Income is rarely steady. I’m either too busy or too quiet. Both are stressful! And if I take a holiday, there is no one to cover my workload!
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
I love reading The No Bull Business School blogs. Sarah is a great representation of all mum-run businesses and I love her straight-talking approach. She made me realise I can run my fashion business in a way that works for my family and she always seems to get me motivated. It’s so easy to get bogged down in negativity, that you can forget to celebrate your successes, no matter how small.
There is also a lovely Facebook community called Social Mums run by Gemma Lloyd. The group was set up to help mums who run small businesses with their social media marketing. There’s a lot of support and advice on there that I have found invaluable, and it’s great to be in a community of like-minded entrepreneurs.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
In 2-3 years from now, my son will be in school full time. This means that I will be able to invest a lot more time and money into growing and developing my business.
I have lots of ideas for the direction I want to take the brand. Particularly in terms of product lines. I do not want to scale up too much in terms of taking on extra employees. I want to learn as much as I can about children’s fashion and complete more courses and spend time developing my social media marketing to ensure my business is working at its full potential.