One of my favourite clothing-for-kids labels is Schnooky Pie, a beautiful, cute and quirky range of items for babies until around the age of four. Their shirt dresses and jumpsuits are among my favourite items, as are their babygrows for boys and girls. Come to think of it, I have many favourites.
Here I chat to owner of Schnooky Pie, Jaclyn Holmes about herself, how she started the business, and her biggest mistakes – and triumphs.
Tell us about yourself
I'm 33 years old and I live in Durban. I am married to an amazing man Tyron and we have a lovely little daughter who is just over two years old. I am a Durban girl through and through but I did live in London for two years, I did my BCom honours in marketing management and I love to cook. I was actually a chef when I lived in London but just felt that it wasn't the right career choice for me – I prefer to enjoy the food i cook with friends than to just cook it and give it away.
I am also a very social person… I can tend to be shy in a large group of strangers in a social setting but once I feel comfortable there is no stopping me. My husband and I love the outdoors such as hiking, going to the beach, cycling etc although since having my daughter and with our hectic work/business schedules we really haven't had much space to do this but we recently went on a family holiday to the Drakensberg and went on our first little hike with our daughter and she loved it so now we want to get back into our outdoor lifestyle.
Describe Schnooky Pie (SP) clothes in five words.
Unique, trendy, comfortable, bold and quality.
When did you start SP, and why?
I technically started dabbling in SP when I was on maternity leave with my daughter but at that stage it wasn't really SP, it was just me and my mom sewing some little pillow case dresses and outfits for my daughter. I posted pics on Facebook and shared images with friends and one thing led to another and I started getting some seamstresses to help me and launched a Facebook page.
It was only about a year later that I really decided that I wanted to give SP a real chance and to try make it a proudly South African business with all items as my own unique designs and made in SA.
Before I started SP I used to be in marketing and worked at a top SA company for almost seven years in total. Even once I had started SP I was still working for them and August this year marked the end of my contract with them. I still contract with them from time to time as SP is still small and cash flow becomes an issue. Technically SP is two years old and I have yet to pay myself a salary.
What was the infrastructure then, and what is it now?
When I started SP it was all me and one seamstress… now I have the help of a designer, a pattern maker, and a social media writer. My garments are made in Durban and printed at a Durban-based printer. I still answer all emails and social media posts, and pack all the orders.
I also still come up with all of the ranges, do all of the marketing and most of the markets. I try to get help with markets as it becomes a little bit much working five days a week (plus evenings) and then weekends as well. After all, I have a daughter and she is my first and foremost priority so I do try work my schedule around her to make sure that I have enough quality time with her (not because i have to but because I want to).
Describe some of the innovation/materials you use.
The SP range is made from cotton knit fabrics. I use these fabrics as I feel that they are nice soft fabrics suitable for little kiddies. I have dabbled with tulle for tutu skirts and some other fabrics but always find that little kiddies are happiest in soft cotton knit fabrics.
I feel that my clothes allow little kiddies to simply be kids while still looking trendy at the same time. My first range of babygrows was designed with the unique stud feature down the back. It was something that I designed to launch as I had a babygrow for my daughter that came from my cousin in the USA. I LOVED the idea of studs down the back for a number of reasons: they looked cute and I found them easier than the front ones once my daughter had started rolling. I could simply lay her on her back, put the babygrow arms on her, and roll her over and do up the studs.
I also found that when babies are smaller we tend to hold them against us and people see their backs rather than their fronts so this was something different to look at. I also liked the idea of further highlighting the studs by putting a print on the back and I actually think that the print on the back of the babygrows has now become more of the SP statement than the studs. People either love the studs down the back or they don't.
As more people became familiar with my brand, I had more requests to do bigger sizes, so with my first winter range this year, I made toddler clothing and sizes and people seemed to love it. With my new summer range, I have really tried to push the boundaries and do something very unique but which is also very much so SP and I think I've done a good job.
The one thing I like the most about my range is that I have made the range very much a mix and match range as well as a range for parents who have a baby and a toddler under four years old. The idea is that you can buy a babygrow and a toddler outfit such as a vest and shorts in the same prints and have your little ones matching. At the moment I make up to a size 3-4 but I'm hoping to extend up to a size 5-6 with my next winter collection.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
Hmmm, this is an interesting question. I think something that I wish I had known when I started out was to believe in myself more and to put a proper business plan together. I think because I didn't really start SP with a business in mind, I didn't give the business clear focus and direction in the beginning.
It took me almost a year to actually focus on what I wanted SP to be and I sometimes think that I would be in a very different place now if I had given it the proper focus.
I also tend to not give myself enough credit. I don't have any fashion background or design background etc and I have learnt how to do everything along the way by myself but I sometime don't give myself enough credit and I think this is largely because my business is still new and I haven't seen any of the financial benefits.
What are your plans for the brand for next year?
I am about to start some brand plans this month, but one of the things I've already started thinking about is extending my sizes up to 5-6yrs.
I also want to explore doing a classics range – kind of like how you have the classic black dress, jeans, black pants etc for adults
A basic good quality pair of black shorts can match with lots of items where as a printed pair you have less choice. Another thing I want to explore is trying out some new fabrics but I can't reveal what those are yet.
And a final thing I am trying to explore is international shipping. I get quite a few requests but it is fairly difficult for people to see my range as they are not able to access from online store from overseas and then it becomes difficult trying to share my entire range, sizes etc with them over email and then to work out shipping and get quotes etc so I need to find a better system such as Etsy.
What are you most proud of with SP?
That it is still ongoing, hehe. I think that I am most proud of the fact that I have been able to do most of my business myself and that I am starting to get recongnised as a brand with a distinct look and feel. I think because I was in marketing, I know how difficult and how long it can take to be a recognisable brand so the fact that people are starting to say "Hey, isn't that a SP outfit?" is amazing for me.
If you could name your top items for boys and girls this summer, what would they be?
This is very easy – my most popular items for girls are the jumpsuits. They sold out within a few days and I've already made a second batch, and I'm currently making a third and final batch. The little girls booty shorts, Tee dresses and summer/pj dresses have also been popular. For the little boys, the boys' shorts and mini harems have been popular, along with ANYTHING dinosaur.
What does it feel like seeing infants and kids wearing your clothes?
It is amazing. I remember one of my proudest moments was when Jo-Ann Strauss's daughter was wearing one of my winter hoodie and harem combos and she did a post on social media.
She didn't tag SP in her post but I think two or three people either commented on her post about my brand or sent me the image – I think that was the first time I started thinking that my brand was recognisable. I also love to see pics of little ones in my clothes just being themselves and having fun – it reinforces that all the effort and sacrifices that I'm making are helping to put smiles on little ones' faces.
You have a wonderful and personal Instagram account. Who runs it, and how do you get it so awesome?
I run my Instagram account on my own. Every post is from me and every response as well. How did I get it so awesome? well – that is just me. I completely believe in being transparent and being me. I am not perfect and I make a lot of mistakes and sometimes say the wrong things, but this is me.
I believe that as a small brand/business, the brand is me and I am the brand. As much as I try hard to give a big brand feel on social media, I always tend to fall back to into a personal space and I honestly feel that is what people like about SP… my brand is a local homegrown honest brand and I can and do have a relationship with a lot of my brand's fans.
I believe in being honest, open and authentic. People will then either love or hate you but it is better than them being on the fence about you and your brand.