Friday, 18 February 2011

London Mums: Jennifer {Scamp Baby Gifts}

Welcome to a new London Mums interview, featuring Jennifer Robertson, a co-founder of Scamp Handmade Baby Gifts. Jennifer lives in Camden with her two children, Ava (5) and Jonah (2). Read more to find out about her lovely online boutique and London favourites. (Photo above of Jennifer (left) with sister and co-founder, Stacey).

Tell us about Scamp Baby Gifts and why you started it?
My sister and I created Scamp Baby Gifts, an online shop where we sell handmade gifts and personalised keepsakes for children, including appliqued pictures, blankets, bunting, cushions, bibs and cards.

With four young children between us, we saw a gap in the market for a range of lovely, distinct and affordable items for children's rooms. We've been interested in making things since childhood. Combining the idea of handmade children's products with my experience in the marketing and creative field seemed to make for a good business idea.

Where do you find inspiration when it comes to designing and crafting your pieces?
It often begins with a simple sketch of a shape or item that we know is a firm favourite with children (and their parents!). Animals, vehicles and treats like our cupcakes are often the starting point. Some of the best fun, in terms of creating, comes when choosing from our vast array of fabrics that we have squirrelled away over the last few years. We then work out the coolest colour combinations and source some quirky embellishments that can be added to create the finished piece.

For our other products, initial inspiration often comes from finding a gorgeous fabric and working out how to combine it into products we know are popular -- such as our blankets or bunting. There can be lots of trial and error, but that's definitely part of the process.

What was it like starting your own business? Any advice for mums who hope to launch a business of their own?
Starting my own business has been at times a steep learning curve and challenge, but one I have no regrets taking on! I have a background in marketing and have worked in a commercial environment (laterally at the BBC) for the last 15 years. Having tried my hand at lots of different aspects of business helped ease me into what I'm doing and means that I have some level of knowledge in most areas. However, not having an account department, IT helpdesk, PR team and salespeople to go to at different points for advice takes quite a bit of getting used to.

I did quite a bit of research in advance of starting the business to make a solid business plan. I found particulary in London, lots of places to go to for free advice. The City Business Library, the British Library Business and IP Centre and Business Link all have information you can access and/or courses you can attend. I also follow a lot of related organisations and small companies on Twitter and Facebook, so I often find out about relevant talks and events that are useful.

Since starting up, I have attended a few business talks. I've also braved a couple of networking events, particularly for self-employed mums, to meet people in a similar position as myself. Working for yourself can be quite isolating, so I do like the chance to speak to people who understand where I'm coming from. I always come away with new advice or useful contacts.

Do you have a 'most popular' item from your shop?
The Hootie McTootie personalised picture is one of the our best sellers. Hootie is more for girls, so due to its popularity we decided to create a more boyish one too... hence Hoot McToot was born!

What are your favourite things about living in London with kids?
I love walking and not needing to drive places. Having so much on your doorstep is brilliant. (I live in Camden, so heaps of kid-friendly places to visit and things to do.) The park life, particularly in the summer, can't be beat. Even visiting some of the museums is only a bus ride away.

I love the diversity of things that I can do with my kids each week. This week has involved a trip to the Transport Museum, then a wander through China Town, watching the Chinese New Year Celebrations unfold. Today we had an 'East End' kind of day and spent the morning between the food and stalls at Broadway Market and the animals at Hackney City Farm -- what other city could offer you the chance to do so many different things?

Do you have any favourite London spots - both kid-friendly and just for mums?
Our family LOVES London Zoo. It is only 15 minutes walk from where we live so has been like our local playground for the past 4 years. The kids are fascinated by the animals (particularly the gorillas with a new baby recently having been born) and never seem to tire of our visits there. It's also a place that adults can really enjoy too (which is more than I can say for many of my outings to places like soft play!). The zoo really is a perfect place to spend anything from an hour to a whole day with the kids - particularly if you've got a membership. Get there for opening at 10am and you have the zoo to yourself (for at least a few moments!).

Apart from an evening wandering around Soho and central London with my husband, my most favourite London treat is sitting on one of the couches at the Everyman Cinema in Hampstead with a glass of wine and a great film.

What are your top three must-have baby/child items?
The first item is on my mind at the moment as I am potty training my second child. An exceptionally useful product I got for my daughter was the Potette Plus - a very handy travel potty that I keep permanently under the buggy.

I also love my buggy - a Micralite.  Despite having two kids it has been good to me the last five years. I know many mums who bought a pram type pushchair to start with, found it too bulky after six months and then bought a MacLaren. I've never needed to do that and have had the Micralite the entire time.

Finally, and this isn't a bought item, my bag of tricks that are kept close at hand for those moments when keeping the children quiet/happy/entertained is an absolute necessity. It is a small tote bag stuffed with everything from crayons, paper, little books and cars to a tape measure (seriously - the kids love pulling it out and then retracting it!) and a pack of snap cards.

Your favourite shops for kids? Both in London and online?
When my kids were a bit younger, I found Blue Daisy in South End Green, Hampstead, a really useful and well-edited shop for practical baby items. Their selection helped take the stress out of having too much choice. Another I shop I love (and so do my whole family!) is TK Maxx. I am always amazed at what I can find there. It may be a bit like a jumble sale at times, but if you have the stamina it is really worth persevering to root out hidden gems always at a fraction of the price - wooden toys, beautiful clothes, gro bags, books have all been bought over the last few years. PO.P is another favourite clothes shop (but to be honest, only in the sales), and after discovering Du Pareil au Meme on a trip to Avignon a couple years ago, I now love them. Home to lovely French clothes but at reasonable prices!

A website I often refer to for finding out about good places to buy things (although not a shop in itself) is Bambino Goodies. They always seem to have sourced the unusual, cool and quirky.

A perfect day includes?
I love being out for the whole day with the family. So a day that involves getting on a train and having an adventure is a perfect for me. Some of our best days have been trips out to Broadstairs or Brighton -- grabbing a 9am train and adding in some sun, pebbly beaches, picnic, ice cream, fresh air, sandcastles, fish and chips, and that feeling of relaxed tiredness on the way home that only comes if you've had a brilliant day.
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