Interview with Sophie Woodrow, founder and designer of Sleepy Doe

Read how fashion designer Sophie Woodrow found the perfect way to juggle work with being a mum – by launching her own children’s sleepwear and bedding business, Sleepy Doe.

What’s your career background?

Since graduating with a fashion degree, I have spent the last 10 years working for British Heritage brands specialising in loungewear. I’ve designed womens, mens and childrenswear and love all areas of the design process.

Throughout my career I’ve lived and worked in London, Leicestershire and finally Bath. We moved here for my partner’s job five years ago and love the city.

From each of these bases I have been lucky enough to travel the world for work including research trips to Tokyo, Boston and overseeing worldwide manufacturing in Europe and the Far East.

How did your career change after having children?

It’s certainly hard working when you’re trying to juggle an equal mum/work life ratio – but absolutely doable.

After going freelance for a couple of years before I had my daughter Flossie (who turns two in January!) I knew I wanted to continue working for myself. I feel really lucky to enjoy my job; I genuinely love what I do and I’m grateful to be in a position to do it.

Where did the idea for Sleepy Doe come from?

Fundamentally I have always wanted to do something I could call my own but also I wanted to do something where I could be flexible around Floss without feeling like I’m missing watching her grow up. Missing deadlines is slightly easier when they are your own.

I am luckily this was possible and my partner encouraged me to go for Sleepy Doe. It’s been cool to be able to launch using my experience and to manufacture products I feel passionate about. Saying that, I’m often out of my depth.

The brand is inspired by my love for childrenswear and beautiful cottons. I wanted to create a range of timeless designs that can be handed down and aren’t disposable. I wanted them to be timeless and not trend driven.

All aspects of the business, from fabrics to packaging and branding, are carefully considered including our factories; I believe it’s really important to support independent UK factories and know where your clothes are made.

Elements of my previous roles designing for British brands have all influenced decisions and directions I’ve taken, but I think as a designer it’s always been a dream to do something for myself.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

I began working on the Sleepy Doe concept about two and a half years ago, but things were placed on hold once I fell pregnant.

This extra time turned out to be invaluable in the design of each product; the range I launched changed significantly from my original designs. It’s now less fussy, more practical, softer to touch, and all products are classic and easy to wear. I

love classic colours and it was really important for me to allow a good year of drawing, sampling and developing the brand before signing anything off. All the PJs are a unique fit with a pattern I worked hard with the factory to get right.

Once I had all the designs in place I started to take logical steps to make the business happen. I took each day at a time, asked advice of people in similar industries and before I knew it we were launching.

What’s your USP?

Products are carefully designed not over-designed, colours are classic and prints are timeless with the idea all products sit comfortably into any home.

Who’s your target audience?

Anyone looking to buy long-lasting sleepwear for babies and children, a product that is needed every single day. Customers who value the ethos behind brands and appreciate the care we take on each product, from design to production – it’s a very thoughtful process.

We also do matching Mumma Leggings (not just for Mums) so here I’m targeting women who value good quality, soft, well designed loungewear. I personally have more loungewear than normal clothes!

How do you spread the word about what you do?

My best pal from school has helped me with all the PR for Sleepy Doe, we have been really overwhelmed with the response so far. We use all social media platforms to promote the brand via our own images – either photos I take or via our product and lifestyle shoots.

Themes include product launches, seasonal offers, customer stories and give people a glimpse into ‘behind the scenes’ of Sleepy Doe and my family life.

We have a number of independent stockists across the country who are all carefully considered and offer a unique environment for Sleepy Doe, in keeping with our own ethos. They help grow the brand, ensuring Sleepy Doe is seen in new geographical areas as well as on their website and social media.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

Sleepy Doe is part of the Babyccino family and that drives a lot of traffic to the website. They don’t just offer a sales platform but have created a successful portal that customers connect with, it’s a very valuable partnership for us.

Social media has been invaluable, with 5,300 followers on Instagram since launching this summer. I know numbers don’t necessarily mean a lot but each new follower could be a customer and it’s an easy way to share news quickly.

It’s such a friendly platform to communicate direct with your customers too, it’s a funny but lovely feeling being tagged by friends and strangers alike and seeing people enjoying your product. I’ve made plenty of ‘real’ friends via instagram, it’s certainly started a host of relationships for me and Sleepy Doe.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Starting from scratch with no team behind me. I love my partner Dan but creatively he’s not too sure! Flossie also isn’t the best and her business input is zero but saying that, she product tests the samples well.

Whilst working for previous brands I always had a team to discuss ideas with, or who could offer support, and even when freelancing for other companies you have others to work with.

Starting out on my own you suddenly realise you have to know the answer or solution to everything, from increasing cotton prices to a missing customer parcel in Hong Kong.

And your biggest success so far?

I’ve been blown away by the response from wholesale. As mentioned above, Sleepy Doe is now stocked in 17 independents across the UK. They are all beautiful online and retail stores, some run by other working mamas.

It’s great to be able to supply them with a new brand and a product they also want to share.

Why is work so important to you?

I’ve had to work hard to be in a position I am in today. I love my job, it’s part of my identity and what drives me.

As explained above, when you design for other companies you are always following someone else’s brief, but with Sleepy Doe I’m doing it all for the love of my own ideas and designs. It’s so satisfying to use my own passion and experience as a means to earn a living and support our family.

Who inspires you?

Tons of people including my family, Mel and her salons from Melanie Giles, Vicks and her bacon waffles from Hunter & Sons, Georgia and her ceramics from Hinchcliffe and Barber. Also my lovely friend Gaby and her printed home accessories from Braw.

How do you balance your business with your family?

I run Sleepy Doe from my home – I have a desk in my kitchen and the stock room is also my spare bedroom. I wrap and pack orders as they come in, and Post Office runs will be tied in with a trip to the swings.

I work during Flossie’s nap times and bedtimes. She goes to nursery twice a week which helps a lot, but the rest I just do when I can. I’ve been to known to send emails whilst at the dreaded soft play, not ideal but it’s all possible. Some months are busier than others depending on seasonal deadlines which balances the guilt!

What are your three top pieces of advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs?

1) Know who’s supporting you

Although my partner Dan isn’t the most creative (he is the first to admit this!)! he’s there for business and financial advice and of course knew from the start what it would entail for our family life.

My parents are also good for reassurance; again they can’t help with day to day but you need a network of people who know what you’re about to leap into. Preferably those who know you the best.

2) Have faith in yourself

If this is something you’ve always thought about doing, then just go for it. It’s a cliche but you’ll only regret what you don’t try.

I don’t look back at all – it’s not that I don’t make mistakes, or feel exhausted at times as that’s all part of it – and I’m so glad I had the initial confidence to trust that my products and designs were good enough.

3) Know when to stop

As a mum there are times I feel guilty about working during precious playtimes, and of course sometimes you do have to plough on and make up for it the next day. However it’s important to give yourself a break.

This can be hard when it’s all down to you but you’ll feel happier and mistakes are less likely to be made when you’re rested and well.

You can find out more about Sleepy Doe on their website.