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Identity in motherhood, changing bags, and starting your own business
At the rather lovely Danson House in Bexley, Lucy met Katie Kaminski , founder of the pioneering and award-winning real leather changing bag company CoCo Bow and Motherknot to talk: identity, careers, and starting up on your own in business.
Where can I find real leather changing bags?
[Lucy] Thanks very much for meeting me today. Let’s start at the beginning, and for anyone who doesn’t know you, CoCo Bow and Motherknot, could you give us a bit of an introduction into how it came about?
[Katie] So, it started completely by accident. I was really, really, sick when I had my first daughter and was hospitalised a month before I had her. As I lived nowhere near my family or friends, I didn’t have many visitors and was really bored in hospital. I’d always drawn throughout my life and I just found myself doodling designs of changing bags and things like that, just doodling. My daughter was then born prematurely and she had to go into special baby care; it was a really hard time. My husband suggested to get one of my bag designs made just to, like, keep my mind on something else, and so I did. It was just meant to be for me but people kept asking me where I got the bag from so I decided to take a punt and order the minimum order, which then was 50.
But because it wasn’t just one or two people coming up to me, loads of people were telling me, “that’s really gorgeous”, “I’d love to have something like that, you should make them”.
That must have been such a difficult time. At what point did you decide to just go for it?
I think, because I was on maternity leave, and I had this tiny baby and wasn’t leaving the house very often (she was so tiny) I just thought why not just do it. At the time I was a social worker and luckily, I used to contract before I went permanent, so had some savings from that, not much but I got a bit of tax back as I had been self-employed. The money was to keep me going through maternity leave but I just thought, it’s now or never.
Also, when you have a baby, the thought of leaving them to go back to work full time, or part-time, it’s a really horrible thought and I just thought, if I could make this work I could be a full-time mum so I decided to go for it; I ordered 50 bags.
It was quite scary getting it shipped in and learning about all the importing, which I had to teach myself from scratch, but I’m a spontaneous person and I do just sort of chuck myself in. I’m very impulsive.
"I didn’t want to compromise my style just because I was becoming a mum"
One of the things you’ve mentioned a few times in your previous interviews is about the concept of identity. What brought you to changing bags?
So, the reason I doodled changing bags is that I couldn’t see any I liked. I was a young mum; I hadn’t planned my baby (I was quite young), and I felt like everything out there didn’t meet my identity as a young woman. It was all very mumsy or babyish; all the baby bags had weird patterns on them that just isn’t my style.
Like the designs and patterns were really more for the child than the mother?
Yeah, and I didn’t want to compromise my style just because I was becoming a mum. Why should you have to do that? So, I decided, I wanted a handbag. I know that there are a few companies doing it now, but back then there were no changing bags that looked like handbags; I was the first to do that.
I know what you mean, it’s for a very similar reason we’ve started Milk Tops, albeit for different products. A lot of the items out there seemed a bit “mumsy”, and I think it’s a shame that word has become such a stereotype in itself, but it has. Why do you think that stereotype has lasted for so long?
I think it’s starting to be challenged a bit more now with, especially with the arrival of Instagram, but I think it’s that, as a Mum, you are quite isolated at times and I don’t know, I suppose, the people who run the big companies have been mainly quite old fashioned and not made the connection.
Yes, there’s definitely a real change happening for diversity and choice in general, customers do exist outside of the “traditional” mould.
Yeah, there was one woman who loved the fact that I made a bright blue bag, and a purple and a red one.
(rather than baby pastels!)
Yeah, she was just saying, that it was more her thing, which goes to show we’ve all got different tastes. Although I must admit I don’t do those colours so much now because a lot of people are buying my bags because they’re going back to work (the removable lining feature works well for this purpose) so they want quite neutral colours.
Also, because a lot of changing bags hang off the end of a pram there’s a lot of people now, who want their bags to match the pram, it’s a fashion thing.
"If you’re good at something... and you’re a bit silly (like me) ... try it"
You’ve mentioned that you were a social worker before CoCobow and Motherknot, you’ve also said that you were quite arty at school and you had to make a choice between art and social work. A lot of people a few years into their career can feel a bit trapped but it seems now more than ever the opportunity is there to try different things - what’s your take on it?
I must admit, I got onto an art foundation course to go and do an art degree because art was what I always excelled at school, particularly designs, so design was my area of interest. I just found the art and design world is very competitive and I worried about getting a job at the end of it. I didn’t want to study for three years and not be able to get a job. I loved working with people and social work was more like a calling. It was more to make a difference in the world but then when I was in the job I found out you can’t really make that much difference so I don’t know what I would say, because it’s worked out for me anyway.
I mean, I think it’s never too late. If you’re good at something and you’ve got a passion for something, and you’re a bit silly (like me) and just decide to go for it; as long as you haven’t got too much to lose, try it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I mean a lot of people set up businesses and they say only 1 in 5 works.
A lot of people have set up a business that doesn’t work but they’ll try something else and that might take off. I’m just lucky that my first one did so well, just pure luck.
And great designs.
Thank you 😊
Would you say that the skills you’ve learnt in social work have helped your current business endeavour now?
Definitely communication skills, being able to talk to anybody, not being fearful. It’s quite a threatening environment [social work], so you do learn to cope with stress and high-pressure situations which obviously you can come across when you run a business.
So, to sum up, can you tell me what you’re looking forward to in the next few months, either business or personal?
Looking forward to having my third baby. And that challenge.
And looking forward to growing the business internationally because we’ve had a lot of interest from Australia and America. Our sales have always been good in the UK but they’re increasing in America and Australia so we’re going to be looking at warehousing bags in those countries.
Ooo will that mean some visits?
Well, it might be through Amazon because Amazon is opening up in Australia, they might be opening a warehouse there, so that’s something we’re looking into.
We also recently did the nursery industry fair in the UK and we might be doing one in Cologne and one in Las Vegas.
That’s very exciting.
"My early sales and feedback gave me a confidence boost to keep going"
Katie's bags have won a number of design awards.
Before we finish, is there anything else you’d like to share on what we’ve spoken about today?
I guess, just that it won’t always work [setting up a business]. Mine started really well, but don’t get me wrong it hasn’t been pure … I make it sound easy like “oh yeah they’ve sold out and I’ve just made this big company” it wasn’t like that. The first lot did sell out, and I reinvested, but then you do come across issues with manufacturers and things like that so you do constantly have to work at it. It’s not something that just came really easily. I was just lucky that my early sales and feedback gave me a confidence boost to keep going. I have faced challenges but if you believe in your product enough then you should do fine…in the long run.
Wise words. Smart words. Thank you, Katie, it’s been great talking with you today.
It was great talking to Katie about her journey so far with CoCoBow and Motherknot. You can find all of her amazing bags here at https://www.cocobow.com/.
The things that really resonated with us from our chat with Katie were:
- Sometimes good things can come from bad experiences
- If you enjoy something, keep doing it in some shape or form
- If you do decide to take the plunge and set up a business, have faith in your product and persevere!
If you can relate to any of the above and would like to share your experience we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
And whilst you’re here, check out our nursing clothes – made for you and your style identity.
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