Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Natalie and I am a wife, mama of two young children, and a Service Woman in the Royal New Zealand Air Force. In 2020 I conceived an idea to design maternity activewear for women to feel motivated to do physical activity to support their mental health. This is when Go Mama began.
All of the Go Mama clothing serves the purpose of being comfortable, supportive and functional to wear during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Our clothes are designed to expand as a mama progresses through pregnancy, and most of our tops have discreet zips so it is more accessible and convenient to breastfeed/nurse when you are on the go. Our main customers are pregnant women or those who are on their breastfeeding journey.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I have had a full career in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, so sport and exercise have always been a big part of my life. During my maternity journey, I was constantly looking for budget-friendly clothing that was comfortable and flattering on a pregnant body and functional for breastfeeding too. I found a few things on the internet, but they were all expensive or didn’t ship to New Zealand (where I live).
After having my first child, I unexpectedly suffered postpartum depression and found physical activity was the most effective tool in managing my mental health. Once again I found there was a lack of suitable activewear that was also affordable to enable me to conduct physical activity when I was pregnant or wanting to breastfeed on the go.
With my print marketing, I always try to include a discount code to track which audience I am reaching. For example, if I advertised in a magazine, I would use the magazine name as a discount code for readers to receive 10% off their next order.
During the first New Zealand lockdown in 2020, I was out walking and came across a house that had converted the garage to shelving with stock. As we passed this house, the courier driver was loading sacks and sacks of parcels in their van.
I said to my husband that my dream would be to run a side hustle from home, but I didn’t know what I would sell. He suggested I consider maternity activewear as I had mentioned multiple times that I couldn’t find anything suitable and affordable to wear. I was also passionate about the link between physical activity and mental well-being and passionate about supporting other mothers in their journey too.
Immediately I started researching. I have minimal experience in business and even less knowledge about fashion or design, but I knew what I wanted the business to look like and I knew the purpose and ethos behind the brand. I was still on part-time parental leave so my income wasn’t much, but I had the financial support of my husband who was on a full-time salary. At this stage, it was still a concept so outlay was minimal.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
To figure out whether creating budget-friendly maternity activewear was even feasible, my first start was Google, which quickly led me to Alibaba. This period was a very steep learning curve as I navigated through supplier terminology and shipping incoterms. It was also fortunate that our country was in COVID lockdown so I had time on my hands to research, research and research some more. The more I learned about the sourcing process, the more I looked at other options outside Alibaba such as manufacturing in Australia, Bali, India and even New Zealand but nothing could compare to the prices offered by Chinese suppliers on Alibaba.
I used the Request For Quote tool to canvas suppliers and what their companies were capable of providing in terms of quality and price.
This period was a lot of trial and error. I was hand-drawing designs based on items I would have liked to have worn when I was pregnant or breastfeeding, which created barriers for some suppliers. I found a fashion designer on Fiverr who produced basic sketches and using these sketches I boosted my response from suppliers. However, often what sounded great in email communication, resulted in a less-than-ideal prototype, or what I wasn’t expecting to be so great ended up exceeding my expectations and likely ended up in the range you see today.
I had to manage my start-up costs carefully as each sample produced cost a minimum of $50. I needed samples of each product, and any adjustments incurred additional fees. Once I was happy with the samples and had built a range of clothing, accessories, and fitness equipment, the bulk financial outlay was required. Most items also had a minimum order quantity of 100 pieces, so there was no cost-effective way to manage the bulk orders. I applied for a bank loan for this which was not approved, so my parents were able to support me with a personal loan instead. I also contacted two separate lawyers, two website designers, and an accountant during this phase to ensure I was not missing any obvious details that were going to trip me up after I had already committed to the bulk purchases.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I began building my website around the time I started requesting samples through Alibaba. I had an idea of what I wanted the website to look like so I used a theme on Shopify. I chose Shopify as a local website designer I had spoken to said that was her platform she worked with and at that stage, I thought I would need some assistance from her.
A lot of preparation went into launching Go Mama. I had created an Instagram and Facebook profile months earlier to ensure the handles would be available. Go Mama Maternity was the closest I could find to the brand name and purpose. I started creating content 2-3 weeks before launching to gain interest and build anticipation. I made my first sale within two minutes of launching, which I was very excited about.
I am now back at work nearly full time so I am earning my salary from the Royal New Zealand Air Force. This allows me to cover the bigger costs such as marketing initiatives and exhibition fees. I am trying different platforms to see where best I reach my target market so am funding everything from magazine advertisements, flyers, social media networks, baby shows, sponsoring charities and influencers. I am hoping that over time I will be able to identify where my money is best spent for marketing and can funnel costs into 2-3 areas.
The income from sales is partially used to cover the accountancy fees, monthly postage invoices, Afterpay fees, Shopify fees, marketing material (business cards, flyers, etc), packaging material (courier bags, hang tags, returns cards) and new stock.
If there were any lessons learnt from the launch, it might have been to start spreading the word about Go Mama earlier. I was a little nervous about it not coming to fruition and I wanted everything to be ready before launch, but the fear of failure held me back from plugging the business sooner than I did.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Marketing is a continuous process. It is the one constant with Go Mama and I am consistently brainstorming ways to reach potential customers, and to be honest it is the one area I have considered outsourcing. I enjoy thinking of new ideas but the workload in the design and distribution phase is time-consuming. I already have two small children and a full time job so I have to carefully manage the time I have.
So far, community groups on Facebook have delivered my biggest returns. I target groups that have 30,000-500,000 members. I try to use language in the promos that appeals to the emotional connection of pregnant or new mamas, rather than focusing on the product and the price. I find community groups reach my target because most often people in these groups know someone who may be pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or has a baby.
I have also purchased several Facebook and Instagram ads. This has not been a rewarding experience so far. My Facebook engagement increases, but it often does not translate to any sales. I have only purchased one ad on Instagram and although I was getting dozens of notifications daily that my post had been ‘liked’, it seemed that profiles were ‘liking’ and ‘unliking’ immediately because the number of likes never actually increased overall on the post.
With my print marketing, I always try to include a discount code to track which audience I am reaching. For example, if I advertised in a magazine, I would use the magazine name as a discount code for readers to receive 10% off their next order. None of the discount codes I have created have been distributed yet so I am unsure of the returns of this system and have been advised it takes around three months before you are likely to start seeing a response.
My next main effort in marketing is to focus on creating newsletter content to engage customers who have signed up on the website, and also to encourage return purchases. I have Shopify emails but don’t find this app overly intuitive. I also have Klaviyo but do not have enough experience to build a newsletter that I would be happy to send out under the Go Mama brand. I have also signed up to Mailchimp. So I have plenty of options! I need to dedicate a couple of times to figuring out which platform would work best for Go Mama and potentially work with a Content Creator on designing the first newsletter for release.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I have only been running a live business for two months, but I am very excited about the potential and progress Go Mama has made so far. The sales are consistent, and often exceed my expectations of a side hustle. There are a lot of opportunities and doors to open, I just wish I could do everything at once!
My customer lifetime value is limited, and the maternity period of pregnancy and breastfeeding is relatively short. This is why I have designed most of the clothing to have discreet features so the items are suitable beyond the maternity stage.
To counteract this, the customer lifetime turnover is quite frequent. There will always be women becoming pregnant and thus begins a new customer opportunity.
My short-term goal is to build a customer base and attract recognition as a maternity activewear brand of choice. My long-term goal is to grow the business to a level that I can transfer this to a full-time role and work locally to support my children as they reach school age and require a parent to be available on reduced hours or for extra-curricular activities.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Planning and organizing have always been a strength of mine. I put a lot of thought in to processes and have created the brand from ground level using these skills.
The technical side of marketing, such as SEO, newsletters, etc is a challenge for me. It requires constantly producing new content which most of the time just flows, but I can get a little bit of writer’s block. As a mum of two with a full time job and a side hustle, I feel like I live in a constant state of fatigue so this can hinder my ability to come up with fresh ideas on occasion! The easy part of this is that I strongly believe in the quality of the products, and the ethos of the brand. I am always looking for ways to save money so am doing everything myself but in time this will be the first area I outsource.
I have also tried to save money in the development phase of Go Mama. This has at times ended up costing me product satisfaction. As an example, when working through sample adjustments with suppliers, I chose to communicate via email my requirements, and was content that they would be able to make the required changes. I did this to save on another sample fee (plus $30USD postage).
However, when the bulk orders arrived, some adjustments were not to my satisfaction. In hindsight, I wish I had covered the sample costs until I was completely satisfied with the product and it was exactly what I was after for the range. My biggest advice would be to always get the final sample you are happy to distribute, even if it is only a little change, it can make a big difference to you feeling proud of the product you are delivering to customers.
Obviously, COVID had a part to play in Go Mama as well. It was probably the pandemic that created the opportunity for me to consider an online side hustle. COVID could also be attributed to the change in consumer behavior and the increase in online sales. COVID also had a negative effect with shipping delays (my order was scheduled to arrive in 20 days and took nearly four months) and increased freight costs. I have used this experience to order well in advance, particularly on items I have already identified as bestsellers to ensure customers are not left disappointed by product unavailability.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My website was built using a free theme on Shopify, and the additional apps I use are:
I don’t find these particularly user-friendly if you are an amateur like me, although apparently they have been designed specifically for people with my skill level! These apps are mostly free so I will likely continue to use them until the growth in Go Mama requires a more intuitive program in order to best meet customer needs.
For shipping, I have an account with New Zealand Post and use eShip to integrate between Shopify and NZ Post.
I use Instagram and Facebook. I also have Pinterest and LinkedIn accounts but am not very active on these yet.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Between my full time job, being a mum, and running Go Mama, I find I don’t have a lot of time to read books. However, I commute in traffic daily which is over an hour each direction so is perfect for listening to podcasts.
I like to mix it up but most of the time I will just search a podcast of what is most relevant to my business at that specific time, whether it’s email marketing, other activewear business stories, maternity podcasts to better understand the current challenges women are facing or social media marketing.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Find something you are passionate about. You don’t have to have all the answers at the beginning, but the business will grow organically if you have faith in your brand.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Not yet. I am still working on reducing costs where I can so I am the sole operator in the business and do everything from designing, arranging logistics, marketing, packing, and dispatching orders. In time I do hope to receive help with digital marketing and content as this is the main area I don’t feel qualified enough in.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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