Supporting children through shopping

Cecilia Crossley will have her company featured in over 30 London tube stations from today as part of the social entrepreneur section of Global Entrepreneurship Week, hosted by Youth Business International.

The Business in the Community’s arc campaign will highlight the work of From Babies With Love, Cecilia’s business which sells organic baby clothes and gives 100% of the profit to orphaned children.

Cecilia is an ambassador for Youth Business International and is promoting GEW which runs until 24 November. She set up the business while on maternity leave with her first son after realising that she wanted to do something that made a difference.

Cecilia’s background is in accountancy. She worked for seven years as a chartered accountant for KPMG, starting on their graduate programme. During her time there she became really involved in working with their corporate social responsibility department and did a lot of pro-bono work in London.

She looked at her cv and realised that the pro-bono work was the aspect of her job she liked the most. “It just came to me one day,” she says, “so I started investigating financial roles in the charitable sector.”

She got a job as an internal auditor at VSO. Having dual British/Brazilian citizenship because her mother in Brazilian she had already had a good exposure to the huge inequalities between rich and poor and an international outlook, but working at VSO taught her a lot about the challenges facing international development.

From VSO she moved to the Gaia Foundation, a charity that does work on climate change, but she began to question whether she might be more interested in doing the development work rather than just auditing it. “I wanted to see things from the other side of the fence,” she says.

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It was while she was at the Gaia Foundation that she had her son Isaac. On maternity leave in late 2010, she found herself really moved by Save the Children adverts. “I had not anticipated what the impact of becoming a parent would be and how it would change me emotionally and my outlook,” she says. It was then that she conceived the idea for From Babies With Love, which gives 100% of its profits to SOS Children, the world’s largest charity for orphans, rather than to shareholders. She chose the charity because it doesn’t operate conventional orphanages but looks to recreate the family unit with groups of 10 children brought up by an SOS ‘mother’. “I think it’s a wonderful approach which seeks to break the cycle of poverty,” says Cecilia. She chose organic clothes because she says that through her work with the Gaia Foundation she could see the environmental and social benefits it brought. “I think it’s also good for babies skin so it’s a win win,” she says.

Business plan

She returned to work and was trying to work on a business plan in the evenings, but realised that she needed the flexibility during the day to have meetings so she soon dropped to four days a week. She spent six months working on her business plan because her accountancy background had trained her to be very thorough. She set up a board of directors from people in her network, including two of her former bosses at KPMG and a friend who is an e-commerce entrepreneur which gave her valuable guidance and a sense of confidence.

She says setting the business up was a big learning curve, although finding the products to sell was not too difficult. She visited lots of trade shows and has built up good relationships with her suppliers, all of whom are established UK businesses.  By not selling her own products from the off she has been able to manage risk better, although she is now looking to develop her own range with expert help. This will help increase her profits and open up new markets. She says her aim is for bright, distinctive clothes which make people feel happy. “The clothes themselves should make people feel happy, but by buying the clothes parents can also feel good about helping other children. It’s a very positive shopping experience,” she states.

She says governance issues are within her comfort zone and, as well as working in international development, she has a masters in NGO management so knows about charity law.

What she found hardest was marketing since, as an accountant she likes to know where every penny is going and marketing’s impact is difficult to measure. Plus it was completely new to her, particularly social media. She’s making up for it, though. She’s launched an affiliate marketing programme which means others are paid to advertise the site and with this month’s poster campaign which she won through a competition she has been able to work with a design agency, copywriting experts and, through Business in the Community, she has got support from Visa Europe’s marketing team.

Working round a baby

In the past few months she has also had to work around her four-month-old son Sam. She left her job in May to work full time on From Babies with Love to give her time to prepare for having Sam. She says it made sense to leave then as the business was going well and she felt she had got “a big thumbs up” from Business in the Community, the media, her customers and other mums. “I felt if I wanted to make it a sustainable business,  I needed to work on it full time. It was the right thing to do,” she says.

However, it meant Cecilia, who is based in St Albans in Hertfordshire, could not take maternity leave and she says it has been quite tough. Isaac goes two days to nursery, has a nanny for two days and spends one day with Cecilia’s dad. She organises her day so it works for Sam and enables her to work. Three times a week he goes to playgroup for a couple of hours and her dad and nanny help out when she needs to have meetings. She also works around Sam’s nap times. “I have to be strict with myself so I enjoy Sam as a baby and I don’t want work to take that away,” she says, although she admits to having to take calls while feeding Sam or once, in Gymboree club. It’s something many mums who run businesses while looking after young children face, especially when the business is doing well as From Babies with Love is. Six weeks after giving birth, for instance, Cecilia was meeting Prince Charles [see photo].

It helps, says Cecilia, that her business is about baby clothes and she talks a lot to mums. She has once had to take her pushchair with her to a meeting after she did a childcare drop-off, but no-one minded. “In fact I think it reflected well on me and showed my passion and determination and my ability to multi task,” she says.

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