When Lesley and Olivia Askaroff set up their business selling a new version of the Moses basket, they were keeping up a family tradition. Olivia’s grandmother ran her own nursery textile business for over three decades and passed on her knowledge and experience as well as her passion for the nursery industry.
Meanwhile, although Lesley was originally in the jewellery business, she ran her own nursery shop and became involved with the family business after taking a career break to look after her children when they were little. Lesley’s husband had been helping his mother to run her business, but she started going to exhibitions and trade shows with her husband for support.
When his mother retired, Lesley’s husband kept the business going, importing containers of wicker and palm leaf Moses baskets. The baskets all originate from the tropical climates of North Africa and China and would often arrive damp or infested with tropical mites and insects so they would need to be fumigated upon arrival in the UK with harsh chemicals and pesticides. This created a lot of waste and the chemicals used were very strong.
Going around the trade shows Lesley noticed that, while other products had evolved over time, the Moses basket had not moved on, despite safety issues, such as fraying handles and hygiene. Additionally, they were also aware of the risks of SIDS associated with the kind of traditional bedding used in Moses baskets, which is very similar to padded cot bumpers which are not recommended due to overheating risks. They felt it was time for a re-design.
Lesley’s husband drove the idea in the early stages while she was looking after the children and running her shop, but both strongly believed in the uniqueness of the idea and product.They did a lot of market research on their Moses basket idea, seeking the advice of various professionals, including professors and midwives.
Creating the brand
The idea for the basket was five to six years in the development. In the meantime, Olivia had grown up and gone to university where she studied graphic design. After she graduated she was looking for a job and started working on the new basket, the iconic Moba. The recyclable basket is made from a bespoke plastic that is anti-microbial, hypo-allergenic and washable, with integrated handles designed to be strong and durable for safety. It has over 300 air holes around the sides and base of the basket to maximise ventilation and comes with a luxury mattress and a 100% pure cotton liner.
Olivia designed the brand and exhibition stand plus four prototypes for the Moba which were taken to the biggest nursery trade show in the world in Cologne “to test the water”. The reaction was really positive. They spoke to John Lewis on day one, who wanted to launch the product exclusively. This gave them the impetus to take the next step and launch into full production. But, as Lesley says: “Having an idea and getting it made are two different things. The Moses basket may look simple, but it is a complex bit of engineering.” It required a 12-tonne tool for injecting moulding which the business had made in the UK. Indeed all the company’s suppliers are UK-based.
The process of getting the product to market took 1.5 years, involving refining the design and working with manufacturers.
Lesley says Olivia’s contribution was vital. “We didn’t realise how important creating a strong, eye-catching brand was. The product wouldn’t be the same without Olivia,” she says.
Being in a small firm gave her a good grounding in all aspects of running a business and there are not many graduates who are presenting to the head buyers at John Lewis within a few months of leaving university.
The company is based in Eastbourne on the South Coast where they have their office, factories and warehouses. Lesley says one of the big challenges for the business has been sourcing the right manufacturers which fit with the company’s values and offer high quality and trying to ensure the company doesn’t grow too quickly, meaning it is spread too thin. They had “an overwhelming response” initially and there has been interest internationally, from the US to Australia. Interestingly, the UK has been a harder market to crack because often one Moses basket is shared among a family and friendship group which Lesley and Olivia say is a nice idea but presents hygiene issues. Lesley says experts such as midwives could immediately see its value and love the product.
Moba are also the only Moses basket company to work with the Lullaby Trust, the charity that campaigns against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and have raised nearly £8K for the charity since their launch last year through donating part of their sales and fundraising events.
Over the next year Olivia and Lesley will be working on developing the Moba brand by increasing their product range as well as focusing on brand awareness.
Asked what it is like to work with her daughter, Lesley says the two work well together and are mutually supportive, complementing each other’s skills. One drawback is that the lines between family and work can blur so they have to agree not to talk about work over family meals.
Olivia says being in a family business which takes in three generations of women has been very positive and her grandmother is an inspiring role model for her. “She achieved so much and that gives me confidence,” she says. “One of her mottos is ‘turnover is vanity, profit is sanity’ – the idea being that you have to manage your business well and not grow it too quickly or become greedy. So many small businesses fail in their first few years because of those pitfalls.”