February 25, 2022
We chat with Kate Bell, at Zip us In, a maternity clothing brand focused on sustainability with innovative designs created to fit you before, during & after pregnancy. We learn about how her maternity clothing business started, what makes it unique in the market, as well as her hopes for the future of the business. Kate also shares some pointers for entrepreneurs thinking about starting their own business.
1. What was your backgrounds prior to setting up Zip Us In?
I am a second time entrepreneur and proud mother to two daughters. After watching my parents build a successful print business, I knew I wanted to run my own company one day. I started my first business in 2004 after being made redundant and as a single parent, my childcare options were limited. I called my parents, who were then retired and travelling the world, devastated that I had lost my job. My Mum reminded me that being employed had never been part of my long-term goal and that this presented a great opportunity to begin working for myself. “It’s Fate”, she said, and so that’s the name I gave my first limited company. My first business, a marketing agency, has grown from strength to strength and in 2014 I launched my second business that disrupted the maternity clothing sector – Zip Us In.
2. How did the idea of Zip Us In come about?
In February 2013 on a cold visit to Weymouth, I discovered I had hit the point in pregnancy where my increasing belly would no longer fit in to the Berghaus jacket that I had brought just weeks before discovering I was pregnant. My choice was to either invest in a maternity coat at around £80+, try and make it through the final 3 months with what I had, or create my own solution.
I turned to my Mum to help me knock up something that could expand my own jacket. The result was a panel of waterproof soft-shell that I could zip straight into my own jacket. This useful item not only become essential to me, but I was often stopped by other parents when using it to ask where it had been purchased. The Entrepreneur in me realised quickly that this solution solved a simple problem for me and therefore would probably be useful to lots of others too. The panel design was submitted for a patent, and I found just the right person to start producing the Zip Us In panels to order. With 12 years’ experience in running a marketing agency, it didn’t take me long to create a brand and launch a website and my maternity clothing company Zip Us In was born!
3. What was most challenging about running your own business?
Running a business is a little like riding on the most insane roller coaster while wearing a blindfold. You chose to take the big step and get on board and you’re excited about the experience ahead. There will be fantastic highs, most of which you’ll be moving so fast, you might not even get a chance to lift the blindfold and enjoy the view. No matter how prepared you believe you are for whatever big drop might be on the tracks ahead, they still seem to hit you out of the blue and make your tummy flip. It’s during these unexpected, inevitable dips that you may realise that although you have worked hard to prepare your business for any eventuality, did you prepare yourself? You’ll find a mass of information out there about the tools you need to equip yourself with to be a successful business owner. Things such as, leadership skills, self-motivation, task prioritization and financial understand are things often associated with successful business owners. In my opinion there is one set of tools that should be noted as the most important and can often be overlooked. Tools to manage your own mental health are without a doubt vital to running any business. Knowing your limits, understanding your own signals, and having the tools at hand for when the rollercoaster drops, will be key to the future of your business.
4. What is unique about your business in the maternity clothing market?
In 2015 when Zip Us In products hit Boots stores across the UK, ‘Jacket Expander Panel’ wasn’t a term searched for on google. Now it’s often the third highest searched for maternity product. My business created an entire new innovation that has solved a simple problem for over 30,000 people all over the world. With our patented and protected designs, we now plan to disrupt the maternity clothing industry even further with unique pieces that enable woman to continue wearing the clothes they love and that make them feel the best version of themselves, no matter how their body shape may change.
5. How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected the business, and what contingency plans were put in place to ensure survival?
It’s been an interesting few years. Initially we saw a real spike in sales with more people getting outdoors and walking. It was also great to see consumers taking time to shop around and find smaller independent brands rather than quickly turning to their usual shopping channels. We were very fortunate that just prior to lockdown, we had started working with a second manufacturer. I would always advice to have more than one supply options and this foresight really helped when supply slowed down during the pandemic. We have now taken on a 3rd factory so we have all bases covered and we can forecast and ensure supply is always ready to keep up with demand.
6. What 2 personality traits do you believe make a good business owner and leader?
Tenacity and self-awareness.
I have been described as stubborn, determined and persistent. Whatever you choose to call it, the ability to put your head down and just keep going no matter what, is a huge advantage when running a business. I have successfully pivoted, adapted, learnt but never quit.
Self-awareness is an ever-evolving trait, but when you began to master it, it’s an absolute game changer. I know my strengths and am equally honest about my weaknesses. I use my skills to find the right people to fill the gaps and continuously work on improving the areas that need it. I understand what I need to be the best version of myself; for example I know that I need daily exercise to maintain my physical and mental health and for me that’s non-negotiable.
7. If you had the chance to start Zip Us In over again, would you do anything differently?
Most definitely not. I have made my share of mistakes along the way, and I understand how essential each one of those mistakes has been to the development of both the company and myself. Every crisis, every challenge and every mistake is an opportunity to learn and improve. We have truly tried and tested our product designs and our operations hitting many difficult times along the way. These processes are now much more reliable and as a company our foundations are stronger because of these experiences.
8. What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur starting up their own business?
Find the right cheerleaders and keep them close. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely journey, you will need a support crew; people that will build you up with positive encouragement but also give you an opportunity to see your choices from all angles. Surrounding yourself with people that inspire you and keep you motivated will make the rollercoaster a much easier ride. After all it’s the people we choose to have in our lives that really make a difference to how we perceive our own success.
9. Where do you see the business going in the future?
Zip Us In brought to the market a new concept in maternity clothing. The jacket expander panel has proved the success of our concept and we’re now poised to take this business to the next level. We see an incredible opportunity for growth ahead of us, not only with our existing products, but with a suite of new innovations that we will launch over the next few years in both the UK and internationally. We aim to be the market leader for adaptable and multifunctional clothing, using innovation to reduce the amount of fabric that ends up in landfill. The fashion industry is the second largest polluter globally and is in need of disruption to really make significant changes to the damage caused by fast fashion. We believe our ALTERNITY range will provide exactly that; ever evolving clever clothing created in sustainable fabrics and designed to last a lifetime.
10. How can firms and individuals, who come across Zip Us In, support the business?
First and foremost, I’d love everyone to join my mission to reduce textile wastage. Look for sustainable options that provide clothing to last a lifetime. A Zip Us In Jacket Expander Panel is just one example of a fabric saving solution, let’s be more clever with our clothing purchases. Take a look at our website for news on the new ALTERNITY range, adaptable clothing solutions that grow with the wearer. If you feel a passion towards this cause and are as excited as me at the prospect of disrupting the fashion industry and bringing an end to fast fashion, why not join our team as a shareholder. You can find out more
11. Any final words for our Bluebox community?
I have often been heard saying “You don’t know, what you don’t know, until you know it”. Just when you think you have learnt as much as you can about your industry or your business, you are given an insight that changes everything. Each new lesson advances you further and you can often wonder how on earth you managed before you learnt that single valuable thing. I am always looking for new information, always wanting to know more, to learn, adapt and grow, standing still is never an option. I hope there is still much more for me to learn and the more I learn, the more I have to share.
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Helen Dickinson, Former Client
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Hugh Morris, Former Client
We are delighted with the services that Bluebox was able to offer. They showed an intimate knowledge of a deal cycle, managed a tight auction process and were highly communicative from the start. I would happily recommend Paul and his team to business owners contemplating a sale of their business in the next 24 months. Experience is key and this has paid off for us.
Laurence Seward, Former Client
Aligning ourselves early with Bluebox, and entrusting the team to guide us through their process proved to be a highly rewarding investment from all viewpoints. Bluebox’s support significantly enhanced both the value of our business and its ‘saleability’. I would highly recommend Bluebox to business owners contemplating an exit in the next two years. The earlier the engagement the better so far as I am concerned.
Mike Minett, Former Client
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David Stokes, Former Client
When selecting our adviser, it was extremely important that they had access to international buyers and were experienced in cross-border M&A. The team at Bluebox proved to be invaluable by identifying a strategic acquirer from America who was not known to us and by negotiating an excellent deal for all parties. I was also impressed with the process management from Bluebox, which ensured that the deal was closed in a timely fashion.
Jeff Weinstein, Former Client
When I first engaged with Bluebox, I was hesitant as to the benefits of using an advisor to firstly, find a buyer for my business and secondly, to get a deal over the line. However, now that the deal has completed with KPM, I can honestly say that the finer negotiation points handled by Bluebox and their overall management of this process has been nothing short of first class. I would be delighted to recommend Bluebox’s services to any entrepreneur contemplating the sale of their business.
Bill Ballard, Former Client
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Alan Montgomery, Former Client
The pre-sale planning programme that we signed up for with Bluebox made us develop our strategies and focus on the bigger picture. It proved to be a very rewarding investment from all viewpoints and significantly enhanced both the value of our business and its ‘saleability’. I would highly recommend Bluebox to business owners contemplating an exit in the next two years.
Nigel Parsons, Former Client
I have experienced first hand the value that can be created through highly structured pre-sale planning. It amazes me that it is not something that everyone does. It is so disappointing to see around 90% of transactions collapse before they complete and pre-sale planning will not only enhance your price, but also significantly enhance your chance of a closed deal.
James Caan, Investor
We worked incredibly closely with our advisers who provided expert knowledge of the sale process with which we were not familiar. We were truly delighted with the results.
Marten Nielson, Former Client
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Paul Duckworth, Former Client
I was delighted with the service that the team offered and their real attention to detail. The deal was not without its complexities and it was reassuring to have such experienced advisers assisting me throughout the negotiations.
Peter Bennett, Former Client
Truly delighted with the way my sale process was managed. The fact that the team I worked with achieved such a great multiple is testament to their experience and their ability to create some true competitive tension.
James Averdieck, Gü, Former Client
The team at Bluebox provided invaluable support in negotiating this complex transaction. Their access to international purchasers, and exceptional knowledge of cross border M&A ensured that the deal was concluded efficiently, achieving a highly successful outcome for us all.
Jon Parslow, Former Client
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Simon English, Former Client
Bluebox provided invaluable advice in managing the negotiations with incoming investors. Their skills in handling these discussions were evident from the outset and the vital interface that they provided between the incumbent team and the incoming investors was truly beneficial.
Henry Braham, Former Client
Bluebox have a professional, dynamic and experienced team that is greatly assisting me with my focus on my exit within the next 24 months. Their structured approach is very refreshing and their ‘Blue Diamond’ programme is adding immense value.
Matt Evans, Former Client
The team at Bluebox provided me with a seamless service from the start of the engagement until our deal was completed. Attention to detail was commendable and their understanding of corporate M&A very impressive. I could not recommend them highly enough.
Victor Lewis, Former client
Having tried to sell my business previously – and failed – I was only too aware of the importance of pre-sale planning. This is a talented team offering a service that most people find out about, but too late.
Simon Hulme, Former Client
Bluebox are a quality outfit. Their access to International acquirers and relationships with the highest quality domestic investors was impressive. My shareholders and I received excellent service from start to finish and it was refreshing to be dealing with a senior team throughout the sale exercise.
Michael Clapper, Former Client
I cannot recommend the team at Bluebox highly enough. Their expert guidance throughout the entire sale exercise resulted in my shareholders securing an excellent deal with which the entire team was delighted.
Mark Rodol, Former Client
I’m really pleased with the service Bluebox provided. The team demonstrated excellent knowledge of the process to follow and led negotiations for the hospital in a way that allowed us to ensure we received appropriate value whilst focusing on reputational risk. Communication and service were of a very high standard.
Steven Davies, Former Client
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Clive Hillier, Former Client
The advice offered by the Bluebox team throughout the process was invaluable to the shareholders. We strongly believe that participating in Bluebox’s pre-sale planning programme was a significant driver behind the success of the deal. Their project management and negotiation skills throughout the sale process itself resulted in an exceptional deal being delivered to all parties involved.
Harpal Singh, Former Client