Continuing our series, we take a look at the background story behind some Irish businesses; This month we look at Slugs and Snails run by Kathleen in Sligo. We find out what inspired her to start her business and what the future may hold for her.
The Eureka Moment
Like many successful businesses Slugs and Snails began almost by accident. While expecting her first child, due in mid November, Kathleen’s Mum suggested she buy tights for ‘the baby’ to deal with the winter, in their notoriously drafty house. A beautiful healthy baby boy arrived and the tights kept him warm, comfortable and weren’t as cold and restricting as jeans or trousers but the garish girly tights she had bought did not seem appropriate. A search for boys tights was fruitless. Mums forums on the internet were littered with desperate pleas for boys tights – that was Kathleen’s Eureka Moment!
One of Kathleen’s pet hates with girls tights was the lack of design beyond hemlines, obviously because they were intended to be worn with skirts and dresses. Her designs go from toe to waistband so that they can be worn layered under trousers or on their own.
Slugs and Snails Tights for Boys
Kathleen threw herself into her new business, and has yet to find time to return to her legal career. Having no previous experience of the fashion industry she found the process of finding a manufacturer heartbreaking at times. Her plans for local production couldn’t be realised as all suitable manufacturers had closed down and moved production overseas.
After locating a manufacturer in Turkey there then followed and exhausting process of testing, sampling, retesting and redesigning until Kathleen was satisfied Slugs and Snails was producing a high quality product with luxuriously soft and warm yarns that would withstand the wear and tear of busy boys.
There was a very, very slow start to the business but it was an invaluable learning experience. Manufacturing outside the EU brought its own complications, not least language barriers and deviations on business procedures.
Launched in November 2011, Slugs and Snails is the first company in Britain or Ireland to make tights for boys, and as far as they know the only one in the world. In that time it has grown steadily.
After launch Kathleen discovered the benefit of social media, especially Twitter, in establishing and promoting her brand. Within weeks of joining Twitter, Slugs and Snails.ie had acquired several celebrity followers. They in turn tweeted about how impressed they were with their ‘tights for boys’.
This celebrity endorsement has had a huge knock on effect, with fans trying to buy the tights for their own boys and retailers approaching Kathleen looking to stock the products following customer enquiries.
Their tights are now worn by the children of A-listers from Hollywood, New York, London, Sydney, Dublin and beyond!
Running your own business
Twitter also introduced Kathleen to a community of “mummy bloggers” This community has tested products, given valuable feedback and helps to guide the progress of Slugs and Snails each season. However more than being a business link, this community has offered a support structure, as running your own business can be quite lonely and isolating.
The support of family and friends is invaluable and in this regard Kathleen has been very lucky. She advises anybody with a workable business idea to act on it. It will probably be a tough road, at least in the beginning, and can be a real test of your strength, the benefits however are huge. “The journey has been worth it, absolutely. I don’t ever take for granted the flexibility of being my own boss has provided to both myself and my son.”
For Kathleen, family life must come first and she works hard to make sure her son never feels deprived of his Mummy’s time. “I do sacrifice a lot of sleep and events to get the the most out of the days but I do believe everything comes at a price and for me this is a small one to pay in exchange for Slugs and Snails being a success.”
For Kathleen, who was still trying to determine whether or not she had a sustainable business, these nominations were a huge vote of approval and a great boost to her self-confidence and confidence in her business. She describes the awards process as “a very welcome ‘pat on the back’ and a very welcome one at that”.
In five years’ time Kathleen hopes to have developed the Slugs and Snails brand sufficiently to be the “Uggs” or “Levis” of boys tights – the must have designer brand. She feels “it’s scary and overwhelming to be responsible for both a business and one’s own destiny but life would be much more boring if we didn’t follow our dreams every now and then.”
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