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Darina Wallace had been working in buying for over 10 years in a job that involved a lot of international travel. She got married last year and knew she wanted to start a family. “I did not feel my job was ideal for the kind of hands on mum I wanted to be,” she says. So she has decided to set up her own business with her husband Chris. It launched this week.
She started work on it last year when her contract came up for renewal and just after she handed in her notice, she fell pregnant and now has a three-month-old baby.
“There is never a good time to start a business, but Chris and I wanted to do something together,” she says. Chris had used an online shopping service and, combined with his background in IT and Darina’s in buying and fashion, they came up with the idea for ShortStitch. It’s a personal shopping service for busy parents of children aged four to 10. Parents fill in a detailed online questionnaires about their children and their style and have an in-depth chat with Darina so she can get to know them better and work out what will suit their children best. Parents are then sent a box with around 15 items which are cleverly put together so they can make up multiple outfits. There is no fee for the service, only for the clothes they decide to keep. ShortStitch pays for delivery and collection.
“It’s a very personal service and the more we work with the parents the more we get to know what will work for them. By the second box we send we hope to nail it,” says Darina. Chris has developed an inventory system which records the brands and styles a customer likes and avoids them being sent the same thing each season. If the parents have more than one child it can ensure each child’s style is kept distinctive.
“When parents are working full time they want to spent as much quality time with their children as possible rather than go shopping,” says Darina, adding that shopping with four and five year olds can often be stressful at the best of times. “Many people already use things like Ocado and Amazon Prime so why not use a website for fashion?” The business is based in Shoreditch and Darina says London is a prime target due to the amount of time poor parents living there who have long commutes on top of busy working days.
Darina and Chris chose four to 10 year olds because they are not growing as fast as toddlers and have developed their own personality and style. They are also likely to have their own social life. By the time they reach 10, though, they are more independent and need less help choosing an outfit.
As part of her research last year Darina interviewed parents in a range of long-hours professions about the idea and says the feedback was very positive.
Darina has been working on the business full time while Chris, who has full-time job in IT, works on it after work and at weekends. “We are both really keen to make it work and feel it is a great business idea,” says Darina. “It is hard being a new parent and setting up a business, but we feel it is an investment for our future so we can have a better family life. We work evenings and weekends now so that we can have weekends and evenings with our children in the future.”
Most of Darina’s buying experience has been in children’s clothes and accessories and she says it is something she feels very passionately about. She has had to identify brands Shortstitch wants to work with and has gone for quality, age appropriate fashion which is both practical and fun.
Among the challenges she has faced with learning how to run her own business has been working with a graphic designer to communicate the company’s brand and building that brand online through social media. Working out a business plan has also been a steep learning curve. Darina has had experience of merchandising before, but she says doing a business plan for your own business “takes it to another level”. She has also been working with a PR expert and targeting bloggers and website as well as traditional media. “You have to get a taste of every aspect of business. It’s really exciting,” she says.
Husband and wife team
When she had her baby, she didn’t take any time out. “I’m quite a driven person,” she says. However, by the time the baby was born she had done most of the buys for the autumn season and could slow down a bit. With the launch this week, she has recently ramped up her work, working from home around her baby’s sleep patterns unless she has to go out to visit agents. She has some flexible help with childcare and her sisters lives nearby. Her parents have also helped out. The stock is stored in the spare bedroom at the moment to control costs, but she and Chris plan to move it out in the next six months.
Darina says being a husband and wife team has had its challenges, but is working well. Chris built the website, the stock management system and the fashion questionnaire while Darina focuses more on the creative and PR side. “It’s hard work, but it has helped build our communication skills,” she says.