Minnow Designs: solving a very antipodean problem

By Hannah Schenker

We spoke to Lorraine and Stacey, founders of Minnow Designs, to find out a little more about their busy little business.

Minnow Designs booties are made of neoprene and built for adventurous little feet, helping your little one access the fun and beauty of the natural world.

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The passion: What inspired you to set up your business?
Minnow Designs booties solve a very antipodean problem – how to get across the summer sand without burning the soles of your feet off in the process. We were both at the beach with toddlers, enormous beach bags and big pregnant bellies and the little ones of course wanted to get down and run along the scorching sand. It was a mission. One of us said, “They really should make wetsuits for toddler feet,” and the next day Lorraine (a fashion designer) had sketched up a product and we had a business idea.

The Launch: How did you start out in the beginning?
We went straight to full production as we had the production and manufacturing skills and I didn’t want to mess about with a series of small, expensive sample runs. We were really lucky it didn’t fall over. It was a VERY steep learning curve. We built our own site on some dreadful, buggy web platform and drew heavily on Stacey’s marketing background to shift units via Facebook ads. We made customer service a priority from the very beginning and I guess we just had a good idea so they sold. We’ve refined the product quite a bit in the production runs since and we’re at a point where we’re starting to innovate more easily and find a bit of flow.

The innovation: What was the biggest breakthrough for you with your business?
The initial idea for toddler beach booties was our key piece of innovation. Nobody else (to our knowledge) does a toddler specific swim sock with a soft, reinforced sole. We invented them for our own kids but found that other parents had a need for them too. Moving to prints was a turning point for us too. We love developing the stories and the patterns and getting them all to talk to each other visually. Best of all the parents and kids absolutely love them.

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Yin and Yang: How do you balance work and family?
We started Minnow because we saw a gap in the market and because we were ready to step away from our big corporate jobs to better balance it all. We do get a lot more time with our kids than we would have if we’d stayed in our corporate jobs but neither of us feels particularly balanced. We mainly sprint about madly trying to cram everything in and be semi-functioning members of our families and communities. Balance for both us is a work in progress.

The Drive: What challenges have you overcome?
Everything. We thought running a business would be easy because we both had quite broad, complementary skill sets [Lorraine was a fashion designer and Stacey a product marketing manager] but in reality we knew NOTHING! The learning curve has been incredibly steep and in hindsight we were crazy to start all this with a toddler and a newborn each. We also struggled to be taken seriously. This isn’t just women in business, it’s women in a business servicing toddlers and their parents. Lots of people, including the bank saw us initially as a hobby business and we struggled to be taken seriously. But as we move into 2017 and finally start to see our hard work come to fruition it’s starting to feel worth it. And our next conversation with the bank will be bloody satisfying!

We also struggled to be taken seriously. This isn’t just women in business, it’s women in a business servicing toddlers and their parents. Lots of people, including the bank saw us initially as a hobby business and we struggled to be taken seriously.

For better or worse: What are the pros and cons of running your own business?
Pros: We do have more time with the kids. We answer to nobody but each other and instead of building someone else’s asset we’re building our own. We don’t always see eye to eye on everything but we genuinely respect each other and it is a pleasure and a privilege to work with someone who you love and admire. And we get to choose our own team and the culture in which we all work.

Cons: The stress is enormous. Finding time to focus and work ON the business is tough when you’re working so hard IN the business. It sometimes feels like you’re in an exam 24/7. Your skills are constantly tested and if you fail, you do so publicly. The work day never ends and it can be really hard to relax and decompress.

Hopes and dreams: What next?
We’ve really doubled down on building a relationship with retailers recently and our wholesale arm now eclipses our e-commerce sales. We hope to build our Australia/ NZ business more this year by opening up the conversation with major retailers and also dip our toe more formally in overseas markets. We know that there is currently a market for us in Europe, the US and the Middle East as our free worldwide shipping offer gives us a read on the international appetite for Minnow booties. We also have some interesting collaborations in the works. We’ve recently paired Minnow booties with Escagot swimwear prints and that relationship has exceeded everyone’s expectations. We can’t wait to see where this all leads.

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You can find Minnow Designs at their website, on Facebook and on Instagram. 

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