ADVICE ON BRANDING A CREATIVE BUSINESS WITH THE FOUNDERS OF TIBA + MARL
I remember the first time I met Anna and Lydia, founders of Tiba + Marl. Back then, it hadn't actually launched. It was an idea that was in the pipeline. I spoke at a Mothers Meeting event and remember them showing me a really cool prototype of a rucksack after the session. They said 'this is a baby change bag', and I remember thinking (and saying) 'fuck, girls, you have got something amazing here.' My daughter was about a year old at the time and I remember having to fight off friends and family members who tried to convince me I needed to buy a Cath Kidston puke bucket for a change bag (I bought a Lazy Oaf canvas tote instead). Sometimes you see creative entrepreneurs just hit the nail right on the head, and I knew they had.
I've stayed in touch with the awesome Lydia and Anna over the past few years and I was so excited to be asked to be the model for their Spring Summer '17 lookbook at the start of the year (the pictures of which you'll find throughout this post).
I also knew that this was the perfect opportunity to sit down and pick their brains over two of my favourite things, creativity and business.
For those who don't know...(and seriously where have you been if you don't?), what is Tiba and Marl? What do you sell?
We are a brand of contemporary, trend-led changing bags and accessories. We felt we wanted to create a collection of bags for the kind of guys and girls who (before kids) had a cool, modern aesthetic - and wanted post kids, to continue with that vibe rather than having to go mumsy or frumpy. The kind of person who wore Acne, Wang, loves lux sportswear and mixed high-street and designer and was inspired by great design. We wanted to make bags for them that they would be happy to wear with or without children.
Tell us about how Tiba and Marl came about?
Myself and Lydia both had the contacts, skills and passion for accessories having both spent our entire careers creating bag ranges for the high-street and luxury labels. Once we had children we were lamenting the general un-inspiring offer of changing bags, and thought 'screw it, lets do it ourselves - lets shake up this industry'.
You tapped into the (growing) market of stylish women who become mums but don't want to relinquish their sense of style. How did the idea come to you? Was it an immediate 'light bulb' moment or a slower burn?
The minute we discussed it we knew there was a valid gap in the market that we should seize the day (when is there ever a gap in the market?!) but there really was... It was just the right time to tap into the zeitgeist of the modern 'mama' phenomena, where Millenials and Gen X women (and men) were having babies, but wanting to do it in their style, without loosing any of their previous identity and style. We felt the same, and just from talking to a bunch of peers, knew we were onto something.
I'm interested in when businesses mix creativity and the business marketing needed to make a success of the business, is this something that came naturally or have you had to work at it?
We've had to work hard. First came the branding / the product / the creativity - and the practicality of getting the brand to market. Then came the trading - initially we were pretty much overwhelmed by demand (we had a 1000 people on our waiting list before we even launched) and spent the first year just dealing with orders! It's now 1.5 years later that now with the luxury of being able to employ some staff we can take a breather and really consider our past performance / marketing / future business strategy.
How important is the Tiba and Marl brand? Did you work on this before actually designing any products, or did it happen organically?
It took a few years of brainstorming. It definitely wasn't an overnight process. We were having babies, working in demanding creative roles - and it was hard initially to fit in growing a business. We've never had to copy other brands to convey our brand message or had to emulate other brands product (we've had this happen to us though!) as we knew who we were and what we wanted as a result of taking it slow and steady before launching.
Have there been any pivotal moments in the growth of Tiba and Marl?
Having Selfridges and Harrods stock us in our very first season was incredible. It was really validating, as usually they wait for more established brands who have more of a trading history. They both took a punt of us, and it has been invaluable for us as a brand, in particularly Internationally, as whilst a buyer may not be aware of TIBA + MARL they will be aware of Selfridges / Harrods and that has great brand association for us. We've had some amazing models, bloggers, music industry and TV personalities adopt T+M - even in the early days - obviously that helps bring brand awareness to us to a new audience.
What advice would you give someone who wants to set up a business?
Think it through. Be realistic. Take your time - research, research, research. It's great there are a lot of new mums launching businesses now, but ensure your product / brand is unique and is not another 'me-too' - ensure the brand is original and has integrity.
Can you name me a big fuck up moment? What did you learn?
Hahaha... Yes of course we've had fuck ups, jeez - we've had loads! Some have been annoying like missing a deadline for ordering a new range which has meant the stock came in April rather than January (oops) - some have been due to the naivety of running your own business (working out never-ending VAT / corporation tax/ duty etc). You never know whats coming next with your own business, but at least its not boring, and once you've made that fuck up hopefully you'll never do it again!
In terms of marketing your business, you use social media well. What tips would you give a fledgling business starting out?
We are just learning that if you don't know how to do something ask an expert. We have had success through Instagram and Facebook, but more because we knew our brand and love creating cool imagery and content - but we are not experts on social media and there is massive potential there - so we are currently outsourcing and relying on the expertise of others.
How have you hung onto the coolness of your brand when doing collabs?
We've been offered several collabs and have politely declined a few. The most commercial collab we have done is with Mamas and Papas, and with all due respect to them they are a high-street giant and we did wonder initially whether the brand alliance was workable. However, we met with them several times and took our time, talked it out - and soon felt completely comfortable with the mix of their brand vision and ours. We have massive respect for their team, they are contemporary, ambitious, have really clear brand vision but are also really relaxed. We really loved our working meetings with them so it felt right and they let us have complete creative freedom. I think maybe that's the key - to have the feeling you are not selling out and that the essence and DNA of your brand is still identifiable no matter what collab you work on.
Which other creative business women do you admire?
Natalie Massenet, ex Net a Porter founder who grew NAP from her apartment to a business worth around £350m... Now thats girl power. Someone like Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen who with dignity and vision took over the helms of a much loved label and has managed to maintain its success and creativity whilst making it commercially viable - she had massive boots to fill and it must have been terrifying. At a more personal level we are lucky to know many creative business woman, people like Jenny Scott from Mothers Meeting who has revolutionised mum-meet-ups. And Clemmie Telford, our good friend who works for Facebook and was recently listed amongst the 'Top 30 creative trailblazers' in UK advertising. We love knowing high achievers as it normalises ambition and makes it seem more attainable.
What's next for Tiba and Marl?
We have sooooooo much in our heads and on mood boards and sketch books! More collaborations and exclusive product with super-esteemed retailers. A brand new, super-lux range in the making for AW17. New product, new colours, new exciting stockists. In the immediate future we have our PINK collection hitting 1 June - and then a new Mamas and Papas collab in August... Then AW hits 4th September. We've been busy...
Don't you just love Tibe + Marl! I love their attitude and knowledge that their brand is safe because they have stayed true to what their own vision for the company is rather than be swayed by what everyone else is doing. Stay tuned for more interviews with inspiring creative entrepreneurs like Anna and Lydia.
What was your biggest takeaway from this interview? I'd love to know! Leave a comment below!