The sheer quantity of clothes a fast-growing newborn baby can get through is astonishing, as any new mum can attest to. For the vast majority, these clothes are thrown straight into landfill, disregarding the environmental cost of production, increasing the pollution already overwhelming our Earth, and overlooking the remaining value of the garments to others. ‘Belles and Babes’ is a Bristol-based company tackling this problem head on with its range of stylish maternity and baby clothes to hire. After use, all clothes are reused, repaired or recycled. Sophie Harvey-Rich – a member of our Young Women’s Advisory Board – chats to Emma Gillespie, who launched the business in 2017, about the challenges of starting her own company, the issues today’s clothing industry needs to face, plus how she juggles mum-duties with finding a healthy work-life balance.
1.Belles and Babes is currently the only company of its kind based in the UK. How did you come up with the inspiration to launch it?
My background is in sustainability and I’m fascinated by the idea of the circular economy – valuing our precious resources and keeping them in the loop for as long as possible. Maternity and baby clothing seemed to be a key area to apply this to, and there was a gap in the market.
2. What was your experience of setting up your own business?
The biggest hurdle was getting over the feeling that I wasn’t ready! I did so much research and preparation, but ultimately you just have to go for it: it will never be perfect at the start. From branding and social media, to finances and web design, there is so much to learn in so little time. Then once you’ve set it up, it is equally – if not more – challenging to keep on top of everything!
3. Best and worst parts of your job now?
It is really difficult to fit in my work around being a Mum; I can never complete everything on my to-do list and I end up working at odd times and on evenings and weekends. On the flip side, I can work flexibly which is great – I am often replying to emails whilst doing the last night feed! One of my favourite parts of my job at the moment is creating maternity capsule wardrobes. I so enjoy finding stylish items that I think my customers will love, and I get such lovely feedback that I think I must be doing something right!
4. What advice would you give to a young girl looking to go into sustainable clothing or launch their own start-up?
If you have an idea and the time is right, go for it! Don’t feel like you need to follow conventional routes of education like university if that’s not what you want. There are so many different paths that you can take to reach your goals. It’s not easy launching a start-up, but sustainable clothing is really gaining momentum at the moment with so many new businesses being set up. You will not be alone – make sure to engage with these communities for great advice and support through the process.
5. Would you say being a woman has affected your career path?
Prior to having children, I always felt respected and treated equally in the workplace. But when I went on maternity leave to have my first child, my life was turned upside down. I actually don’t know how people manage to go back to their ‘normal’ jobs after having children – both in financial terms, but also I can’t imagine being expected to function like a normal human being with such chaos in your life! However I do really hope this business can be successful – working for myself has always been the dream. If it is, having children could well have been the best thing to happen to my career… we’ll see!
6. You must have a lot on your plate with 2 young children as well as running the business…! How do you manage to maintain a healthy work-life balance?
I’ve never been one to work late into the night: making down-time for yourself is vital, as well as a good night’s sleep. Before Belles and Babes, I worked 4 days a week, choosing to spend an extra day either at home or volunteering at a local community farm. People always asked how I wangled it but I just asked! Now I do have to work in the evenings but not excessively. My business is growing slowly, so I can keep on top of it (just!) and anyhow, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
7. What do you think are the biggest issues the current clothing industry needs to tackle?
There is so much that needs to change, but one of the key issues will be to reduce the environmental impact of how we grow crops and manufacture clothing, as well as ensuring the people involved in the supply chain are treated and paid fairly. We also need to value our clothes more and invest in quality items to combat the throwaway culture we see all too often. These changes will both reduce the amount of clothing waste, and make it easier to deal with the waste that does arise. Fashion Revolution and the more local Labour Behind the Label are doing some amazing work in these areas.
8. And finally, what gets you out of bed on Monday mornings?
Usually my son at 6am – and that’s if I’m lucky! But seriously, I love my days in “the office” and feeling that my little business is actually going somewhere. All my customers are lovely and so many take the time to tell me what good work we’re doing – that makes it all totally worth it!
Interview by Sophie Harvey-Rich – a member of the Catalyse Change Young Women’s Advisory Board – who attended our first-ever Catalyst Bootcamp. She is currently doing her A-Levels at school in Bristol.