I met Zoë initially via an agency I freelanced at. Our paths crossed briefly as she was about to leave for maternity, but one of my friends got to know her well when she returned ahead of leaving again to have her second child. Our paths crossed again recently at a Mothers Meeting event. Mothers Meeting, for those of you who don’t know, has managed to galvanise the influential, cool mums of London, organising business focused inspirational events, partnerships with brands like Nike, and essentially providing a forum for Mums to feel like themselves and meet like minded London Mums.
This particular meeting was focused on how to use social media to drive your business forward, and Zoë was speaking as part of the panel about the success she’s had with www.dresslikeamum.com and how she’s building her brand and business. I caught up with her to find out how she’s built the brand so far, and what her plans are for the future. I’m always fascinated by what kicks people into making the leap to work for themselves, and for many parenthood is exactly the driver they needed (or necessity in some cases), so this is the first of a series of interviews that I’ll feature with amazing mums who are becoming entrepreneurs in their own right.
Tell us about what you’re doing now and how you got here?
I started my career after University at a furniture design company, before deciding that I actually wanted to go into what was effectively ‘cool hunting’. I got a job for GDR, which is a trend research agency. I really wanted to create more digital focus at the agency, but they were a little stuck in their ways and wanted to maintain their focus on the physical side of the business, so I left because they weren’t pushing their business model. I did a short stint at a digital agency for 6 months, freelancing as a Head of Strategy.
I went on to free-lance for Spring Studios, a fashion and luxury communications agency. They had a big pitch for a fashion holding company called Labelux and needed some help. The fashion industry was obviously quite slow on the uptake of digital (this was about 6 or 7 years ago) and I did this huge project that involved an audit of luxury and fashion brands online, ranking them in terms of their digital competence. That allowed me over a couple of months to study the landscape of fashion and digital, which was really useful.
Spring won the pitch and offered me a job working on brands like Bally, as a strategist but also an account director, which was good because it enabled me to learn all about the complications of photography for online etc. I stayed at Spring Studios for 5 years, on maternity for 1 1/12 of those years, split over two periods. After having my second, it wasn’t worth it financially to go back to work. After childcare costs, it equated to little income a day and getting home at 7pm each night.
During maternity I’d started this Dress like a Mum Campaign. When you’re a mum you’re suddenly an open book– people feel they can make massive assumptions about you and pigeon hole you. It’s changed a lot over the last year, but it still happens. During maternity leave the first time round I got really lazy with what I was wearing, wearing jeans and a t-shirt because I was breast-feeding and I wanted it to be easy. When I went back to work I realised I’d forgotten how much I loved clothes. I had my whole wardrobe back again and I realised that I’d forgotten that part of me altogether.
When I got pregnant again, I decided I wasn’t going to compromise any element of my fashion sense during the pregnancy. People would give me compliments, saying that I dressed well ‘despite’ being pregnant. That was the start of the thought for me, the question of why it would be any other way? I’m still me, just with a bump! People often made comments once I’d had my baby, saying things like “you don’t look like a mum / act like a mum”. There was one particular instance at Shoreditch House. I was in the lift and a cool Scandi girl said to me “Is that your baby?” and when I said yes, she immediately said “You don’t look like a mum”. I just thought it was so strange that she felt she could have this opinion and say it despite only being on the lift for one floor!
Before I went on maternity leave, I was on a project where a high street brand was launching a baby brand. I studied all of these customer segments, and could see immediately that Mums are a huge audience on facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, despite the opposite assumption (at the time). It’s still an un-tapped demographic. So after I met this lady in the lift, it made me say ‘Actually I do look like a mum, and there are loads of mums who look like me’.
I started doing research online for terms like ‘dress like a mum’ or ‘what does a mum look like?’ and everything I found was overtly negative. One author in particular (who has since apologised to me!) wrote the piece called ‘Why I’ll never dress like a mum’. I decided this was wrong and that such a dated approach needed to change.
I changed my Instagram account to @Dresslikeamum with the aim of turning a negative into a positive. I was also giving women breast-feeding friendly outfit ideas, because that’s what I really struggled with my first baby. I made an announcement on Instagram, because it was my personal account, and said ‘this is what I’m doing, feel free not to follow me if you’re not interested’. It just went from there really.
I got involved with Mothers Meetings, which was really good. I’d just gone back to work after my first baby, and we were doing a pitch for Gap and we were talking about different cool, real people we could use and someone mentioned this girl Jenny who lived in Peckham (where I lived), and the fact that she’d started this thing called Mothers Meeting, and used to be a graphic designer. I was like ‘what??’ as it was exactly what I’ve been looking for. I hadn’t done NCT, and I just felt like these were the women I wanted to meet. I became friends with Jenny, I’ve done events with them and it was a real turning point for me, because I was suddenly around Mums that were inspiring, motivated, risk-taking and supportive. That helped me boost my following and boost the network.
I had a meeting with ASOS, who gave me clothes at the beginning. I quickly realised that when I was saying comments like ‘you could wear dungarees’, people were asking where my dungarees were from. Often I’d bought them a few months ago, and you weren’t able to buy them anymore. One of the Mum’s from Mother’s Meetings had a contact at Topshop and I emailed them and explained that it was detrimental to my brand if people couldn’t buy what I was recommending. 98% of my audience of my women, and 68% of them are mothers. I know how that is, you don’t have much time, you’re not massively stimulated by the outside world and you don’t have time to read magazines, so to have a feed that is easy high street fashion recommendations is perfect.
Then women started to email me saying they loved what I was doing, and thanking me, saying that they’d forgotten who they were and that my feed had reminded them – all of these super nice emails. It made me realise I was on to something.
Brands started to contact me and give me gift cards to spend in store. I spoke to Mamas and Papas and did a campaign with them. I put a campaign together with real parents, and I was in it as well. Tomorrow I’m doing more filming with them. I became a brand in itself – I got a logo and a website done (my audience actually asked for it – I’d assumed they wouldn’t have time to read it!).
I wanted Dress like a Mum to be much more like the Sartorialist, focusing on street style, but it was difficult to find the right people for it. At that point I accepted it had to be about me. I had to lose the paranoia about being photographed, and you’ll never see me pout or anything like that. I’m constantly taking the piss out of myself. Taking a photo of your-self isn’t something that comes naturally to me. For my first photo I chopped my head off and said ‘here’s my outfit guys!’, but people demanded to see my face. Now I use a tripod, or my ‘Instagram husband’ (who is very supportive) helps me. The wall I use as a backdrop is right outside our house. Neighbours often say ‘she’s at it again – taking photographs’!
The blog now has 13,000 followers and I have an agent. Mums started to be accepted as a digitally progressive audience, and I got introduced to this agent who wanted someone who represented that. Now they negotiate projects for me.
What I’m more interested in and what I’d always had in mind was this network that I’m building of fashionable mums. I’m meeting Instagram in a couple of weeks to potentially work with them on a number of projects for example. I don’t really want to be a fashion blogger as such as I don’t really see any longevity in it. I’d prefer to be an expert consultant in an area – whether that’s the mum demographic, or something else. At some stage I’ll start to ask for something back from my audience, whether it’s focus groups or support in another way. I’ve got that audience now and have built it up relatively quickly (in under a year).
What do you think really grew the network for you?
Definitely support from other people. When I first worked with Topshop they reposted it on Instagram and I got 1,000 followers in a day. Mothers Meeting has been great because they’re my target market. Once you get to a level of about 5,000, things really speed up. I get close to 100 new followers a day now because the network expands. Reposting also helps, but it depends on who it is and whether your networks cross over. I’ve also had emails from girls who aren’t mums yet, saying that I’ve inspired them that it’s not all over when you become a mum, and that you can still be cool and that life goes on! That’s amazing.
What made you take the leap to do things differently?
I’ve always wanted to be my own boss, I just didn’t know what it would be and I’ve toyed with lots of ideas. The good thing about Dress like a Mum is that it comes easily and I really love it. I know what I have to do with it, I don’t have to run it past anyone and that’s great. I know what my brand is, what my brand pillars are, and the freedom of it is super fun.
By the time I was supposed to return to Spring, when my daughter was 4 or 5 months old I realised there might be something in the blog. You look around at other blogs and you think ‘if they can do it, I can do it’!
How often did you feel like ‘it’ wasn’t going to work?
Time is my only enemy really and that’s because of childcare, which is a chicken and egg scenario, and I can’t really commit to it at the moment. I was listening to a podcast this morning, and there was a great quote “if you let doubt in, then doubt will take up too much of your time”. Dress Like a Mum is going to be a success, it’s just working out how. I’m really open and positive, so if it doesn’t happen then something else will. I’ve put myself out there now and I’m not going to go back.
You’re obviously writing the blog, collaborating with brands, doing consultancy, all alongside being a mum to two kids. What do you find difficult about managing multiple jobs?
It’s not easy to manage it all. I’ve cut TV out of my life (and I like TV!) and I look at social media in a different way now. Before I used to be much more engaged in looking at other people. Now I know I have to go on and do x amount of posts, and it’s more if I have time that I’ll do that. I’ve learnt to prioritise essentially.
What do you do to spur yourself on when you get the fear?
I just have a word with myself! It’s still quite new. I don’t have a lot of risk at the moment and I’ve never doubted that there’s something in it. If I’m not enjoying it, I can close it and do something else.
What makes you feel good / powerful?
The response from people when they really like something you’ve put out is really cool. The decision-making side of the business is great. There were times when I worked full time when you felt you did a great piece of work but you’d question if anyone had even read it! Now I’m in a position where every piece of work counts because it’s me and it’s on my back, and that’s amazing.
What’s the best compliment you’ve been given?
When people think what I’m doing is entrepreneurial. I’ve got ideas of where I’m going – but ultimately I’m quite reactive – I’m neck and neck with the future, so that’s great when people think you’re doing good work. You do get compliments online saying ‘you look nice’, but I know it’s taken about 20 photos to get to that! I know it’s not true!
What drives you, your legacy, or enjoying the moment?
Definitely enjoying the moment and just going for it. I was walking along the other day, and had this realisation ‘this is my job!’ I was with my daughter, we were at a press day and looking at all of these lovely clothes, and that’s amazing.
The campaign is great and so many people are on board with it now. Last week Mother and Baby wrote about me and said ‘she has changed the misconception that Mums can’t dress’. I thought ‘I’ve done it!’ and of course that’s still a big part of what I want to achieve. I’ve got things like charity initiatives I have ideas for, like a red lipstick day that I’d love to be equivalent to Movember.
How do you define success now?
I would really like to earn more money! It’s all well and good doing this kind of thing, but until you’re earning decent money, it’s not really a business. When I can pay off my credit card and pay for childcare, I’ll see that as success. I feel like I’ve reached other factors for success though, I’ve built the brand, I have an audience, and I’m making good contacts.
Where would you like the business to get to?
I’d love to have a physical home for the brand in some way. I also want to start doing unique collaborations, to build the brand more and start to look at products like a ‘Dress like a Mum’ nappy bag for example, or a leopard print nursing bra! Something that doesn’t exist and it should.
How do you start your day?
Normally with a kid jumping on my face! That’s followed by breakfast (or kitchen trashing with Weetabix everywhere!). My oldest son goes to nursery three times a week, so I work and do my meetings from Tuesday-Thursday and do things like emails when the kids are napping. My mum comes up once a week to help out, or sometimes my brother.
I do 2 or 3 Instagram posts a day, mainly in the evening. It’s quite a lot – but I’m getting into a structure now and have a content calendar for the week, which makes it a lot easier.
My Instagram posts are then seeded out to facebook and Twitter (but it’s different audiences). I post additional content on facebook, like links to relevant articles that I think my audience will like. If I had more time I’d like to have a different focus and strategy for each channel.
How do you organise yourself? Any essential apps or tools you can’t live without?
I’m a big Google calendar user, which is amazing. Notebooks and lists really! Sometimes I’m so busy I don’t even have time to write the list though and I just run with what I have to do. The star on my Gmail is useful, so I know what I have to reply to.
How do you come up with new ideas?
I try and think about what my audience want primarily. I have a structured content calendar, and I try to work back from events I know I have coming up. So for example, I’m going skiing in March, so I’m trying to work back from that in terms of content ideas.
Instagram is my main driver, but you have to have a life to have something genuine to say on Instagram, as my feed is about me. Some mums ask me questions directly, like ‘I need a party outfit that I can breastfeed in’, so then I’ll do a piece on that. I try things out. I don’t have to run it past a million people. It’s my brand, so I can try it and if I don’t like it I can take it down.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a TV presenter, or a DJ. Who knows, it might still happen – I’m talking to people about doing podcasts, and potentially going on Lorraine!
What would you tell your kids about working out what they want to do in life?
I’m going to tell them that anything is possible. There will always be competition, but they should go for it and not over-worry about things. If they are interested in something then to follow it, not just go into a job for the sake of it.
If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be?
A detective! I like finding out things…although I don’t like the dark side of it – but I think it would be really interesting to solve clues!
Single best piece of advice you’ve been given along your journey?
Just to go for it. Encouragement rather than advice has been important for me. A lot of the Mothers Meeting mums have been really cool – when people don’t doubt you and just accept that it’s something you’re going for, and an assumption that you know what you’re doing is brilliant.
To find out more about Zoë, sign up to her instagram @dresslikeamum or check out her website at www.dresslikeamum.com
For more on mothers meetings check out www.mothers-meeting.com
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