Going it alone: A clothing range is born

Ruth Peters' twins gave her the inspiration to launch a brand of organic cotton maternity wear
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The Independent Online

or most women, starting up a new business venture wouldn't be high on the list of priorities when they'd recently given birth to twins – particularly if they had no previous experience of the business world and were very keen to stay at home with their babies. But Ruth Peters' twins – now a little over a year old – provided her with the inspiration to set up a new name in organic maternity and nursing wear.

"I was already a convert to organic foods and liked the idea of babies' organic clothing. But I couldn't find any organic cotton nursing tops. When you think about the amount of time a baby spends next to your clothing, then you realise it's just as important to have chemical free clothing yourself," explains Peters, who lives in Wallingford, Oxfordshire.

In fact, Peters says she found it hard to find any nursing tops she liked – regardless of whether they were organic or not. "The design just wasn't right with so many of them. Many were slightly too short and exposed my tummy. Others didn't fit well or feel nice and very few allowed you to breastfeed discreetly, especially with twins. I also couldn't see why a top couldn't be designed to be worn during both pregnancy and nursing."

Peters decided to design a top herself, using ideas from existing high street brands and amalgamating them together. Not what you might expect from someone who – until giving birth – was a primary school teacher with no experience whatsoever in the world of design, clothing or retail. "I basically thought about what I'd like to wear that would be fashionable and practical. It really wasn't that hard," she insists.

The more she thought about her potential new garment – which she has decided to sell online – the more excited she got. "I knew I wanted to stay at home with my babies and I knew that any business I did run would have to fit around their routine. This struck me as perfect because I'd be able to deal with the internet orders while they were sleeping in the morning and evening. And I always take the twins for a walk into town to give them some fresh air, so I decided that would be a good time to post the garments."

Originally, Peters wanted her top to be made in the UK. "The whole ethos of my idea was around being ethical and environmentally friendly, so it was important to save on my carbon footprint. But I discovered that it's not possible to buy organic cotton with elastane in this country – and I needed 5 per cent elastane to allow for stretch. So I started to look around for organic producers outside the UK and came across one in Turkey that already works for some UK manufacturers."

Peters had to fork out £6,000 to cover the minimum order of 1,000, as well as the import costs and VAT. "It did feel quite scary parting with that kind of money when we'd got the twins, but we had some savings and I thought it's now or never. I knew that if I went back to work, I'd feel it was too much of a risk to leave a full-time job to do it."

Having recently received the garments, Peters is raring to go. But Mama Cocoon – the name she has given her new business – is not without competition. "Since the roots of my business idea, companies including Blooming Marvellous and Noppies, have launched similar tops, but I'm not worried. It shows that there's a market for it. Also, my top is £20, which is a competitive price."

Among Peters' biggest challenges to date has been setting up the website. "Writing the copy, working out a returns policy, deciding on a price for package and posting, and organising photos and online payments – these things all take time and effort. But a local friend and my brothers have helped."

Peters also struggled deciding on the colours of the tops she would sell. "In the end, I decided on 500 black and 500 white simply because I want to start small and those are colours that are basics in most people's wardrobes. If I'm successful, I'll order more colours and more designs. Sometimes I've worried whether I've made the right decision because pregnant people have said to me, 'Put me down for two', whereas if I had a wider choice, they might say, 'Put me down for three of four.' But I think I must walk before I run."

In addition to her internet site, www.mamacocoon.com, Peters has sourced a couple of local retail outlets in Wallingford that have agreed to stock her tops. "I think there's good potential with the retail side because they'd fit well in maternity shops as well as shops that specialise in organic items," she says.

Peters feels her most shrewd business move to date has been to team up with Lollipop, a manufacturer of real nappies. "They have given permission to their advisers to sell my tops alongside their nappies. I think this is my real advantage because reps of Lollipop go along to things such as antenatal classes, where we'll both have a captive audience."