Turning a vision into a business

Taking a break from our usual career or being on maternity leave and having a baby can often inspire women to follow their dreams and start their own business. Perhaps it is a passion you have always had, a vision you have wanted to follow, or you have found a gap in the market and just decided to go for it. 

Martina and I met 6 years ago in child birthing class in London. Since then, she has become a mother of two and has founded and created her own business NINE+QUARTER Maternity and breastfeeding wear.

Sharing similar experiences of starting our own businesses whilst becoming new Mums, we are excited to share with you some real experiences on how to get started, including the highs and the lows. Here I asked Martina a few questions on how she designed and created her own maternity wear line, and brought it to life.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what your inspiration was for starting NINE+QUARTER Maternity?

Hi! I’m Martina, a Mum of two and the founder of NINE+QUARTER maternity and breastfeeding wear. I’m from Sweden, married to an Englishman and 12 years living in the U.K., and presently living in Bermuda thanks to my husband’s job. I am so fortunate to be running NINE+QUARTER from home whilst also enjoying some sunny weather and beautiful beaches after work and on the weekend!

The idea came to me when I was pregnant with my first baby, Emilie, when I was in search for easy-to-rock, organic and on-trend maternity and nursing wear. After my second, Max, was born, having found that maternity wear was still largely plain, dotted, stripy or frumpy, I decided to brave it and do something about the lack of exciting clothing options for pregnant and breastfeeding women. That is when NINE+QUARTER was born! 

Martina is a mum of two and the founder of NINE+QUARTER maternity and breastfeeding wear.
Martina is a mum of two and the founder of NINE+QUARTER maternity and breastfeeding wear.

Is this different to the job you had prior to having kids?

It certainly is. I used to work in food manufacturing, analysing customer purchasing preferences. I have worked for some exciting businesses like Yoplait, General Mills (Haagen-Dazs ice cream amongst other brands), and Burtons Biscuits; a world away from maternity fashion…

You had a wonderful idea to design maternity wear for women who do not want to compromise on their style during pregnancy and after. It was a strong vision of yours, what were the first few steps you took to get it started?

I don’t think you should have to wave good-bye to your style because you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Whilst I have never been one to spend ages choosing an outfit, I want to feel excited about what I’m wearing because my outfit gives me confidence.

My go to style is jeans, trainers and an effortlessly cool t-shirt or sweatshirt. If I want to dress up, I add some jewellery, swap the trainer for black Chelsea or stomper boots, and throw on a leather jacket. In summer I swap the jeans for denim shorts or a skirt and the trainers for Birkenstocks.

When I was pregnant, a lot of the maternity tops on offer left me feeling uninspired and far less excited on the outside than I felt on the inside. That’s where I saw a gap in the market.  

The first thing I did when dreaming up NINE+QUARTER was to look at my favourite brands and designs I wished were available in maternity clothes. The next step was to research what designs are suitable for maternity and breastfeeding wear. Some designs don’t look good when stretched across a growing bump and some shapes don’t combine well with breastfeeding zips.

Being a Mum is a full-time job as it is. Some days, we can feel like we have no steam left! How did you juggle starting NINE+QUARTER Maternity and being a new Mum at the same time?

This is a great question! And such a tricky one to answer as Motherhood is a full-time job! Being a working Mum is an insane balancing act. As a mum boss, I have the freedom of flexibility, which is so precious when you have young children. I can plan my work around naps, nursery & school runs. When I was launching NINE+QUARTER and Max was still a baby, most of the work happened during nap times and in the evenings. In fact, a lot of my work still happens in the evenings. During lockdown I hardly got any work done pre kids’ bedtime and at that point, I just wanted to flop onto the sofa and watch Bridgerton!

So, the honest answer is: I’m juggling as best as I can and I haven’t yet found a happy medium. I often feel like I am either not getting enough work done or I’m not giving the kids enough attention. I’m sure many mums feel the same, but I also feel privileged to be doing something I enjoy, and I’m committed to having NINE+QUARTER in my life because it’s important to me. 

I recently saw this Instagram illustration by @motherher_ which really struck a chord…

The @motherher_ community and podcast offer empowering hints, tips and conversations about motherhood.
The @motherher_ community and podcast offer empowering hints, tips, and conversations about motherhood.

As a role model to my kids I like to think that I am inspiring them to focus on what makes them happy and dare to follow their dreams. Self-care should be a priority, for boys and girls alike, but I especially wish for my daughter to grow into a mother who understands the importance of self-care because it isn’t something I grew up with; it’s something I’m having to teach myself. 

Businesses often take twists and turns in different climates, especially in the last year. Have there been any roadblocks for you along the way? How did you get around them and keep going?

I feel like I face roadblocks all the time…some are larger, scarier and take longer to work through and some are smaller and quicker to work around. I think that’s part of building a business. To date my biggest roadblocks have been finding a factory and a designer that I am happy with, but I’m finally there and super excited to be working with our freelance designer Miriam and our factory in Portugal who are so professional and make the best quality clothes for us.

Working remotely is an ongoing challenge. Being in Bermuda means that I cannot access certain Instagram and facebook functionalities, like tagging products or uploading reels, which the algorithm favours now, and the lack of that is putting me at a disadvantage.

Covid has obviously been hugely challenging for everyone. Real job uncertainty combined with the fact that many are likely to spend less on maternity and breastfeeding wear if they are at home is probably one of the reasons why sales have been slow this year.

The other major roadblock which comes with being a small independent and self-funded start-up is brand awareness. As a small brand with a limited marketing budget, it takes time to make some noise. Turning that around is my key challenge for the next 12-24months.  

I find that the best way to work through challenges is to have a plan of action. Write down WHAT it would look like if you had resolved the issue, then capture multiple ideas for HOW you are going to get there. If you can, prioritise and give each action a timeline. Having little bite-sized actions that you can tick off your to-do list gives you a sense of progress, which in turn helps with motivation. If possible, work simultaneously on a few smaller/easier wins to keep you motivated as well as the real ground-breaking stuff. Don’t forget to think about who you might be able to reach out to for help. 

It must feel pretty satisfying being your own boss. What do you enjoy most about having your own business?

1. The flexibility to manage your time around you and your family.

2. The variety of tasks. From design to production, packaging, hang tags, website, photoshoots, operations, content, marketing, social media, customer service and more, you are involved in everything.

3. That notification that tells me someone has placed an order or sent a positive product review, knowing it is your efforts that are being rewarded. Makes me leap for joy every time!  

It is so important to surround ourselves with inspiring and motivating people who can teach us a thing or two. Did you seek any support when starting your own business, any mentorship, or advice from other business owners, family, or friends?

Absolutely! It can be quite lonely running a small business and some decisions benefit from being discussed. Luckily, there is so much support out there, whether it’s in your personal group of friends and family, online (professional networks as well as social media support groups), other small business owners (many of whom are happy to support another small businesses) or experts who offer paid services in pretty much every area you might be struggling with. I have recently started having calls with a coach to help me focus on long-term progress and perspective. I’ll let you know how that goes. Just know that you don’t have to stand alone though. In fact, I think it’s better if you try not to. 

We love women who empower women. What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start their own business, whether it be on the side, or a full career change?

You absolutely can! Here is the best advice I had, from a double business owner and mum of two, when it comes to starting your own business (or just investigating your idea):

1. Take your time and be thorough with your business plan. It is a lot easier to start over on paper than once production is underway.

2. Write down a set of questions: What’s your idea? If it is a product, what do you need to make it? Where can you sell it? What is already out there? How would this be different? etc. As you go along and work on answering your questions, new questions will arise e.g. Where do you find a manufacturer? What are the benefits of building a website from scratch versus subscribing to a platform such as Shopify? This process can take a few months or even a year but if you break down each question into bite-sized tasks, you can slowly work your way forward around baby’s nap times or your daytime job. Once you have exhausted your questions you will know a lot more about your business idea and will be able to make a more informed and confident decision about whether to push on or not.

3. Be brave, stick with your gut and your vision. I’ve made a few mistakes because it was “easier” to proceed (i.e. less uncomfortable, less likely to upset or because changing something would incur additional costs) than to say stop and change. To sell you products or services you must back yourself and in order to do that you have to back your products, so take your time with samples and product development and make sure you’re happy with the products you’re going to be selling.         

What is next to come for NINE+QUARTER Maternity, what are you excited about?

I have so many ideas and new designs that I would like to develop! For the time being my focus is on driving brand awareness. NINE+QUARTER is a small brand and not many expecting and breastfeeding mums know that we exist and offer something more exciting to wear during pregnancy and beyond.

In the future, I hope we can expand our range of multi-purpose maternity and breastfeeding wear. Those are tops or dresses that have been designed with both pregnancy, postpartum, and breastfeeding in mind. I would also love to collaborate with various independent artists and charities to create unique designs that benefit a good cause! On the manufacturing side, I will continue to look for ways to reduce waste in our manufacturing process and minimise plastic packaging. I hope one day to be a fully certified GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) brand.

Behind the scenes of a NINE+QUARTER maternity fashion photo shoot.
Behind the scenes of a NINE+QUARTER maternity fashion photo shoot.

If you are thinking of starting your own business, then we would love to hear from you. We hope you found this inspiring and useful. With a vision, hard work, and believing in what you do, anything is possible.

To follow Martina or to get in touch, visit @nine_and_quarter_maternity and her website www.nine-and-quarter.co.uk

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