As part of our series of finding out what's involved in creating and running your own successful small business we caught up with Kylie Walsh of Little Monstas Clothing. It's all about finding the right balance within your life and family to run a flourishing small business, design great quality kids clothing and enjoy growing with your treasured partner all at the same time - easy!
Tell us a little about yourself, what’s the day to day life like for a small business owner with a family, partner and everything else that makes up a full life?
Starting an innovative new small business (very small, since it’s primarily my partner, Dan, and I, with just a little help here and there), while also raising an energetic four-year-old boy, is a bit like juggling fiery torches, rusty chainsaws and feral cats.
I’m a person who likes to be busy, though. When I’m not in the shop, which Dan usually mans, I’m at home designing, cutting and sewing. Otherwise, I’m trying to organise activities with my son, Jayden. It’s certainly hectic.
I had a number of different jobs over the years, but I always had a passion for sewing. When Dan and I had Jayden, that passion became focused on children’s clothing.
Who inspires you, that encourages you to reach out and make things happen?
Definitely my son, Jayden, and my partner, Dan. Dan and I have to be each other’s biggest supporters, because neither of us would be capable of doing this without the other. And everything we do, we do for Jayden. I guess he’s our main motivation.
While it’s really hard work and we’re kind of feeling our way as business owners, Little Monstas belongs to our family. It’s ours and only ours. We’re our own bosses, which brings a tonne of responsibility and pressure. Sometimes we fire up with each other when things get tough, but in the end, I know Dan is always there for me.
You have to draw on all the support you can at times. Family, friends and – especially – our customers provide us support and advice that can be really valuable at times.
How did the idea come about for Little Monstas? Was it something you’d always dreamed of doing or one of those brilliant light bulb moments?
Little Monstas is really a culmination of all of our passions and interests – Dan’s interest in business and marketing, my love of sewing, and design and our passion for children’s fashion after the arrival of Jayden. Dan and I like to wear cool, funky, attractive clothing that demonstrates our tastes and personalities, and we figured children deserved the same thing. Clothes are an expression of our self image and a big part of our public image. We just knew local parents would value high quality, hand made clothes that are made right here in the ACT, because that was something we wanted.
You obviously have a passion for what you’re doing – what do you find stimulates your inspiration; that gets your creative juices flowing?
We’re always on the look out for new sources of inspiration. Just as fashions in adult clothing are always changing, we think children’s fashions should be constantly evolving. Sometimes new ideas are inspired by fabrics we find, or we might think of ways to adapt adult styles into clothes for kids. Some ideas have just grown out of our own brand, such as clothes with attitude (Dan screen prints t-shirts with some really funny and funky slogans) and we’re working on a range of monster designs for our autumn line – keep and eye out!
Have you learnt new things about yourself by building the business?
Well, I’ve always known that I’m fiery, but sometimes the pressures of business bring out the worst in me. I’ve learnt the importance of focusing on what really matters in life. We’re doing this business for our family, so we have to make sure that the business doesn’t overshadow our family (which it sometimes threatens to do). We have to make sure to make time for Dan and I to spend together, and most importantly Jayden needs time with both his parents. Giving everything the time and energy it requires is the hardest part of juggling a small business and a demanding family life.
In terms of the business, I’m very proud of the way that we’ve built it up slowly. We’ve never over-extended ourselves financially, so we’re not tied to a certain strategy or way of doing things. If an idea turns out to not work, we can just drop it and try something else. This kind of happened by accident, since we just weren’t in a position financially to go in all guns blazing at the start. But I’m really glad we did it that way.
What do you enjoy most about the business?
I love the moment a new idea comes to me. I love seeing the things we have designed and made on real children and to see the joy that those clothes bring to kids and their parents. Even more than that – and this is such a cliché – I’d say the best thing about my job is the customers. I’ve made some great friends through our shop. As a parent, it’s great to speak with other parents and share these special experiences.
What’s been the hardest part or experience you’re had since starting the business?
The demand on our time is probably the hardest part of the job. As a very small business, every time we use a casual to man our shop it has a big impact on our profitability. Having the shop open seven days a week means we don’t get a lot of family days, which are so important.
What do you think has been the most successful promotional activities you’ve explored to getting the word out about Little Monstas?
Definitely Facebook! We’ve always had a website, but Facebook kind of revolutionised our business. It just makes Little Monstas so much more accessible to customers. They can check on what we’re up to whenever they like, and we can let them know about new designs and current special discounts. Facebook is the most prominent social media site on the web right now, so it’s a great resource for a business. And it further builds on the friendships I’ve made through the business, since when people interact with Little Monstas on Facebook they are literally talking to either Dan or I.
We have a lot of fun through our Facebook page.
For example, I’m still waiting for Dan to get off his bum and propose to me. One night he said to me that he’d propose if Little Monstas got 5000 fans on Facebook. We have over 3100 fans right now, so I hope Dan has been checking out rings!
What are the hopes and plans for Little Monstas this year?
The next year is both scary and exciting for us. We’ve decided to actually close the store and focus on our website (and Facebook, of course), markets and supplying clothes wholesale to other retailers. This was obviously a really difficult decision, because both Dan and I have loved having a shop and meeting the people who just wander in. But on the flipside, operating seven days a week has put pressures on our family and actually constrained our ability to make more clothes. By focusing on other avenues for distribution, we’re hoping to bring Little Monstas to even more people in the future. We’re also developing a party plan strategy, which will still give us the means to engage with potential customers face-to-face. We are very proud of and confident in our clothing, so we’re confident that the business will actually kick into a higher gear without being shackled to one physical location.
What would be your top 5 tips you’d give to someone starting out?
1. Don’t over-extend yourself financially, especially in the beginning when one bad week could almost ruin you.
2. Listen to your customers. They will tell you what they want and you need to be ready and willing to hear what they are saying.
3. Be unique. Differentiate yourself from your competitors and build your brand so that people associate your products with quality and value.
4. Keep it simple. I hate over-cluttered shops, where you can’t even see what’s for sale. If you’re going to have a retail location, make sure it’s a nice place to visit and your products are displayed in a way that shows them in the best light.
5. Don’t neglect the rest of your life. In the end, your family is more important than your business. Don’t let your work overwhelm your relationships.
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