Your Name and Age: Maria Law, 49 and Sophie Law, 45 (Sweetling sisters)
Tell us about your family: Sophie and I are sisters in law, we have 8 children between us, Sophie having a mix of 2 + 2 and I have 4 girls. We grew up in CambrIdge during the 70’s and 80’s. Sophie did a foundation at St Martins and her degree at Central school of Speech and Drama, specializing in Costume design. I left school at 17 and joined the civil service as a junior press officer for the old MAFF department. I had 2 of my children in my early 20’s and when they were toddlers set up a small catering and event company in Cambridge which grew quickly and gave me my first taste of owning my own business.
What did you do before coming up with your business idea and how was it making the transition? I was working as a freelance food journalist and Sophie was busy in the theatre as a freelance costume designer.
When did you launch? The Initial concept for Sweetling first bras was June 2008, our product launch was September 2009
How did you get started? Initially we designed the business strategy and products from our own homes, Sophie spent many hours at the kitchen table – losing precious pattern pieces to sticky fingers and curious cats! We quickly realized that we had to have our own space and signed up for a studio in our local arts based building – Chocolate Factory 2 based in North London.
It was to be a fortuitous move for us. We joined in with their annual Open Studio weekend and were quickly picked up by a well regarded design collective –“East London Design Show” who nursed us through the first 2 years of getting to market. We were both very green on general business practise and quite convinced we were going to change the world!! After attending many government funded courses we began to get a much better picture of how to run and be a successful modern business – which includes utilizing all the different ‘ market places’ that our young society embraces.
What’s your favourite thing about running your own business? Both Sophie and I get very excited about each and every sale, we celebrate every single purchase that leaves our bespoke studio whether a very first bra for an excited young girl or a multiple retail order, they are all very important to us as they re-affirm our very initial idea.
What’s the thing you least enjoy about running your own business? In the beginning we had a huge uphill struggle to get any kind of press or media backing, talking about and promoting a product that deals with teenage girls growing breasts was a struggle for most traditional business people. It was much easier for them to say ‘no’ rather than to have a conversation which made them uncomfortable. This has improved since our TV appearance and also the Reg Bailey report commissioned by the government on ‘The oversexualisation of young girls’. We are also backed by the Mumsnet ‘let girls be girls campaign which has been helpful to us in marketing terms.
What has worked well about your business? Even though Sophie and I had known each other for over 20 years we had never worked together. Sitting in a small design studio for 6 hrs a day with only each other and Miss Dolly for company is a true test of a partnership. Our biggest piece of advice for anyone considering a partnership is to keep talking and to ‘jump on’ any potential disagreement early and set aside ‘a meeting’ to discuss volatile point as quickly as possible, e.g. “Sophie I can tell that you are not happy with what I have just decided/said do you want to make ‘a meeting’ about it now”.
What’s been your biggest business mistake? How did you deal with it? We launched solely on the internet, because we could not afford a shop and high street retail at that time was not interested in our product. We had to make a lot of stock to give young girls a good choice of styles and designs. We felt there would be little point in launching a site which only had 2 bras on it, also we have to carry a lot of size options and most UK manufacturers want decent minimums – so with our hands lightly tied we had to take the decision to put all of our investment in ‘holding stock’ – apparently this is wrong. After turning our stock a couple of times we have learnt which sizes are the biggest seller so can now manufacture accordingly – it’s all a learning curve.
How do you fit in work with the family? Is your partner supportive of your business? We fit our business around our families which was one of the main reasons that we set up in the first place. Our partners occasionally get jealous of the time that we devote either talking about or facilitating the business – but that is only natural and in the main they are very supportive.
Are you working towards a financial goal for your business? Sophie and I are building the brand so that we can take a satisfactory wage from Year 5.
Would you ever give up your business to do something else? No, although everyday is not perfect running your own business is very stimulating and exciting. Nothing can replace the buzz that you get when you look back and realize just how far you have come – It is quite special to make something from nothing.
Do you have an exit strategy? No.
Have you had your ‘I’ve made it’ moment? Tell us about it. If not when do you think it will come? We had a good moment when our story was broadcast on the BBC 1 programme “Britains Next Big Thing” hosted by Theo Paphitis. Now when we mention Sweetling people are very generous with their time and also quite open about the subject. From these small beginnings we can hope for a wider acceptance of celebrating every young girls naturally developing body.
Where do you hope to be in five years’ time? In 5 years time we will have a 1% market share and have introduced our brand into International Markets.
If you have a flexible working business opportunity, please explain briefly what you offer and how people find out more. We are very interested to hear from Mothers who have daughters and would like to organize and run Sweetling home parties in their area. Please email email@example.com for more information.
Your website link. www.sweetling.co.uk
If you can offer a discount or special promotion for Family Friendly Working readers, please write it here: Please use the promotional code SLDF814 for a 10% discount across the shopping cart.