Interview with Samantha Jenkins, founder of Mother & Nature
Frustrated by the lack of outdoor maternity wear, marketing manager Samantha Jenkins developed her own brand – Mother & Nature. Read how she’s grown her business from scratch – and become a Virgin Start-up Ambassador.
What’s your career background?
I have worked in marketing for 14 years, for a range of business types; manufacturing, construction, and currently as a marketing manager for an oil distributor.
How did your career change after having children?
It was when I was pregnant I came up with the idea for my business, but being pregnant it really wasn’t the right time to embark upon a new business venture.
After maternity leave I went back to work, and life carried on. I wasn’t happy in work though, I missed my son so much and wanted to spend more time with him. I had a pretty terrible time of it, commuting to Manchester, almost an hour each way and back working full time.
I then split up with my partner a couple of years later and knew I needed to do something about the situation, so started researching my outdoor maternity wear idea to see where it would take me.
I really just want the independence and autonomy of working on my own, and being able to be there for my son if he was sick, or when he started school for the holidays and school run.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
When I was pregnant I still went walking, either to the Lake District, or locally, and as my bump got bigger I started searching for a maternity waterproof jacket and walking trousers, but was surprised to find that there was nothing available.
I also found that there were a lot of other women in the same situation. It took a couple of years, but I decided to do something about it.
How did you move from idea to actual product?
Thank goodness for Google! It was here I found a clothes designer, which then led to materials, a pattern cutter and a manufacturer, all based in the UK.
It was also where I researched start-up loans and found out that a division of Virgin delivered these, also with the help of a mentor and business support.
What’s your USP?
Mother & Nature is the UK’s first and only range of outdoor maternity wear manufactured (in the UK), to the same high specifications as your outdoor favourites, but with a bump in mind.
The range is has been designed with expandable side panels, so the range can grow with your bump, and can then be zipped back down, so you can carry on wearing them after pregnancy, making it an extremely cost effective range of maternity wear.
Who’s your target audience?
Pregnant women who still want or need to enjoy the outdoor with a bump, whether this is walking the dog, hiking in the hills, going to the stables, or just taking the children to school.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
Using a lot of social media, also advertising in the Green Parent magazine, on the NCT’s monthly email, and at country fairs to get the products in front of potential customers so they can see the product and the benefits for themselves.
Also PR and product reviews, something I am trying to build on at the moment, independent reviews really count when it comes new products, especially from a trusted source like a well known publication.
What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?
So far I have found the bump and baby publications haven’t been that interested in the range as they just see it as another range of maternity wear, its the outdoor publications who have been the biggest enthusiasts about the range so far and have really backed the range.
I’ve been trying to target a range of the outdoor publications, walking magazines, consumer outdoor publications, Country File, Lancashire Life, as well as some of the baby and parenting magazine, although some have been more successful than others.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
The most difficult thing so far, is something I am trying to overcome every day – trying to get the name out there.
I naively thought that plenty of marketing would do the trick, but people need to see a brand and new company a number of times before they start showing interest, and marketing doesn’t come cheap!
So now I am doing a lot of social media, trying to plug away at the PR and reviews, and also trying to get to some of the smaller regional shows, like the Royal Lancashire Show and the Garstang Show.
And your proudest moment so far?
I was recently appointed as a Virgin Start-up Ambassador, and got invited, (along with the other Virgin Start-up Ambassadors) to Richard Branson’s house and got to meet the man himself!
It was a fantastic day, and even got my picture taken with him, a truly inspirational man. As part of the role I will be hosting some regional events throughout the year and writing some blogs for Virgin as well.
Why is work so important to you?
As a single mum work is very important to me from a practical view, as in being able to pay the mortgage, bills and provide a roof over our heads, but also I think its important to have a purpose, and also to try and be a good role model for son by believing in something and following my dreams and turning it into a reality.
Who inspires you?
Of course I have to say Richard Branson! His success has been phenomenal, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing for him.
Also JK Rowling, who followed her dream, after numerous knock backs, but kept on going as she really believed in the books she’d written. And also every other person who has believed in something and themselves, and has gone for it!
How do you balance your business with your family?
It is a juggling act every day, as a single mum I couldn’t have done this without the help and support of my parents, plus Harry’s dad also helps out.
But as I still have my day job and work as a marketing manager four days a week, as well as working on the business evening and weekends, it is very difficult.
I am looking forward to the day that I can leave the day job and focus on Mother & Nature full time, and get some time back to spend with my son.
What are your three top pieces of advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
The three pieces of advice I would give are:
- Research, research, research. You need to know everything you can about the market you’re entering to and the competition you’re up against.
- Make sure you have a support network around you, whether this is practical, like picking the kids up from school, or emotional, because you will need to speak to people, whether running idea’s past them, or just letting off a bit of steam.
- Try and enjoy it, there will be massive ups and massive downs, but don’t let the down’s dictate the way you do things, pick yourself back up and get on with it. If you believe passionately about what you do, then others will too.
You can find out more about Mother & Nature on their website.