By maternity bag makers Dominique and Rebecca of Jem + Bea
Interview by Helen Baron
Absolutely Mama: Where did the idea for Jem + Bea come from?
We’re old school friends who found ourselves plunged into the baby world together. After spending our twenties in London, we ended up living back in our home town and met for regular playdates and nights out, which led to conversations about baby bag frustrations – and whether we could make our dream bags a business. We wanted to create bags with the same designer look and quality materials as a luxury handbag, but with all the practical bits and bobs you need in a changing bag, for parents who love accessories and want to keep their style identity as well as being a parent. The bags are centred around simple, modern shapes with a luxury edge and made from handpicked leathers and materials.
AM: Was starting a business difficult? Did you have relevant experience?
Getting the collection up and running was relatively easy as Rebecca had the relevant supplier contacts and design experience, having previously worked in the fashion industry as an accessories designer. Difficulties came in areas that we weren’t so knowledgable about, like web design, taking product to market, shipping logistics and VAT! But by talking to friends and family we were able to get lots of free advice, tips and recommendations before making any potentially expensive decisions (or mistakes!) about products or services.
AM: What action have you undertaken that’s been pivotal to the business?
Taking the plunge and going to our first trade fair very early on was pivotal. We found out about the Harrogate Nursery Fair from a chance conversation with an exhibitor at The Baby Show and at that point we were only in the early sampling stages. The next fair was in the following month but we knew we had to show at this fair as it was only once a year. With this deadline looming, it really focused us and we managed to get everything from the branding to the final samples done in under a month, ready for the show. There we met many of our stockists who are still stocking us today – including John Lewis. Having such a key department store take an interest so early on was a real boost and we knew we’d made the right decision to launch the brand and get the product out to market when we did.
AM: Could the government be doing more to support small businesses?
Yes, definitely. When you look into funding for a small business it’s such a minefield and nowadays the government-backed loans for small business are still quite limited and very high in interest. However, there is lots of advice available and many online business seminars giving great advice about importing, VAT and how to write a business plan.
AM: What’s the most challenging thing about being your own bosses?
Not really having much time to yourself! It helps that there are two of us, so we can lean on each other when one goes on holiday, but the emails still keep coming and you can never really switch off as there’s always lots to be done between us. However, I think this is often the case, even for bosses with 100+ staff! When it’s your own business it’s difficult to switch off because you can’t help but be passionate and want it to succeed. The fact is, if we don’t do it, it won’t get done – so we are pretty disciplined and just get on with it.
AM: What do you enjoy most about your work lives?
With four kids between us, having the flexibility around when and where we work really helps. We also love the exciting stage at the beginning of the season when we’re designing and researching; we can let our creativity run wild! Collaborating with bloggers and brands is also really fun and rewarding.
AM: Is there anything you would do differently if you were to start again?
Probably get a fulfilment house sooner!! We started out packaging and sending bags from our homes but, given the size of the product, space quickly became an issue and we were prisoners in our own homes waiting for the courier to arrive. We forgot what colour our flooring was for months!