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Growing a Sports Bra For Nursing Mothers into a $330k/month Activewear Business

Before I became a mother, I was a Personal Trainer, and so once I had recovered post birth, I decided to head back to the gym to catch up with clients, show Caden off, and do a bit of a work-out. As I was working out, Caden got fussy, so I went to feed her and this is when my ‘ah-ha’ moment came about! I battled my sports bra, trying to pull it up over my breasts to feed.

Once I finally managed that, my boobs were then being squashed by the tight band. Milk was being pushed down and coming out too fast for Caden. It was a mess, and I was left infuriated. “This is impossible! There’s got to be a better way!” I thought. So, as soon as I got home, I went online to look for some quality nursing sports bras. There

“Why has no one thought of this? How can mothers be expected to keep active and breastfeed when there’s nothing practical out there to do it in!”

I decided there and then if no one else would make the gear mums/moms needed, then I’d give it a go! I had absolutely no experience in fashion design, but I knew what was needed, so began drawing...

Flash forward 19 months, and Adam (my partner in life and business) and I have just welcomed our second baby girl, Ryan into the world! Four days later, $20k of nursing sports bras arrive from China, and are emptied onto our front lawn…here we go!

In 2020 we’re set to turn-over close to $7 million. Cadenshae (named after our first born Caden, her middle name is Shae) now employs 20 staff and is recognized as the leading activewear brand for pregnant and nursing mothers, worldwide. Australia, New Zealand, the UK, the USA and Canada are our target markets.

Why did you choose the maternity niche?

I didn’t really ‘choose’ it, it chose me! I stumbled across a niche market that wasn’t being serviced, so I decided to try service it! And luckily...for all involved, it turned out to be a profitable decision.

How did you validate the idea?

You mean validate starting the business? Easy. I went online when I desperately needed a nursing sports bra...there was nothing available, and I thought if I am struggling to find activewear that is affordable, practical, stylish and colorful during this time in my life...then I bet there are other moms/mums out there who are struggling too! Starting this business to me was a no-brainer...there was such a huge need.

Primarily, our demographic is pregnant women and new mums/moms. However, we have now launched a new range called ‘LEVEL,’ which is our non-nursing range, so just ‘normal’ activewear for our mothers who are no longer breastfeeding, but love our products and still want Cadenshae in their lives!‍

The co-founder is my gorgeous husband Adam, and if you must know, we met on a dance floor in a bar years ago! ;)

Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?

Not really! I had a little bit of business experience, but I had no fashion design experience, and no idea about the apparel/retail/maternity worlds to be honest! But I backed myself to be able to start this company, because I was so passionate about what we were doing. I truly believe if you’re passionate about something, and you have the ‘fire in your belly, ‘ then you’ll succeed. If you want something bad enough, you’ll make it work. Also, the research I did after thinking up the idea proved there was a huge shortfall in this I thought if we did this right, we couldn’t go too wrong? I am a practical person and I love problem-solving, so this was so exciting to me, and I knew I could do it with the awesome support crew I had around me as well (now husband, parents, friends etc.).

Have you raised any money? How much?

I had $20k which I invested to buy the first lot of stock (bras). That was completely my money which I had earned the old-fashioned way! Hard work! I sold my shares from a gym I partly owned in Australia a year or so before-hand, and the money from that was the initial investment for Cadenshae.

Any tips for finding first employees?

Yes. You have to go with your gut, trust that. Many people look good on paper, but they may not be right for the role. You need to find people that you connect with instantly, and people who are willing to learn, take direction, but also take initiative too once they know exactly what they’re doing and what is expected of them. Adam does most of the hiring for our business as he has a gift for judging a person’s character and work ethic based on one meeting. He hasn’t been wrong about anyone we have employed yet as they’re all absolute guns! Yes, get someone who has experience in what you need, yes, get someone who has the skills you need, but above all else - hire on their personality and what your gut and your intuition is saying - it’s always right.

Did you run any companies prior?

Sort of. I was a part-owner/manager (there were three of us) of a health and wellness centre/personal training gym. I’d never gone solo before. Previously, I was a medic in the NZ Army, a beautician and a personal trainer.

Business ownership is just something I’ve always wanted to do. I like the challenges involved in launching something and making it work. Before starting out, I could see that working for yourself has a lot of bonuses, a lot of stress for sure, but a lot of I wanted to do it. Working for other people doesn’t really fit my personality type to be honest! I’m a creative thinker, so I want the ability to think of something and see it come to fruition, not have to jump through hoops for someone else, or implement other people’s ideas...that’s not for me!

Family were behind us from the start, they knew we could do it. Friends weren’t too sure what to make of it all, but were supportive none-the-less!

What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?

The fact that something has gone wrong motivates me! I am a problem-solver, and I like things done I stop whatever I’m doing and fix whatever needs to be fixed as quickly as I can. Our end goal is to remain the best in the business. We are currently, but we have to maintain that lead.

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

Invest with your own money and bootstrap it if you can - that’s if you want to remain in complete control, like we do. Trust your gut. Realize that sometimes profit isn’t always ‘King,’ and make decisions based on your heart - ‘heart over profit,’ if you will! It might cost you initially, but in the long run, you’ll be winning...consumers want more from their brands these days, they want them to stand for more, be more, give aim for more than just profit - seek out what your customers would appreciate and give it to them. Give the people what they want!

What has driven the most sales?

We have a very strong social media presence, and we put a lot of time and resources into that. We work hard to be ‘available’ to our customers and to establish a genuine connection with them. We wanted to create a community of supportive mothers/parents who can all help each other out, and we have done that by being open, honest, real, and available. We put ourselves out there and it truly does result in repeat sales and customer loyalty - no doubt. People feel they know us personally, and they know what we stand for and what our brand is about…I feel like we have a special bond with our customers, and this is priceless to us, in so many ways!

What is stopping you being 3x the size you are now?

Money. Isn’t it always money? Investment. If we had a few million invested into the business we could be much larger, and we know that. We have toyed with this idea before, but having investors means you can grow as a business, but you lose complete control, and I’m not sure we want to do that just now. There’s also the DTC (direct to consumer) v stockists debate, should we remain DTC or expand into shops? We’re toing and froing on that one too...these decisions take time and need a lot of that’s what we’re doing right now...considering our options.

How do you protect yourself from competition?

To be the best, you have to work the hardest, and I know we do. Also, we do not stinge on quality...the quality of our products is essential. We work the hardest, we create the best gear with the best materials, and we invest time to connect with our customers...that’s how we protect ourselves.

What apps could your business not run without?

Unleashed - for our inventory.

Asana - for general business planning.

Starshipit - for our shipping management.

What are the next products you’re working on?

We have just launched our ‘Shine Bright’ leggings which are made out of recycled plastic bottles, they are gorgeous and environmentally friendly! We want to make more items out of this material and try to help the world to reduce waste, and do so in a positive way.

Our other range we are focusing on is ‘LEVEL,’ the activewear for moms who are no longer pregnant or nursing...but just want to stay in our gear because it’s that good. ;)

Are there any releases you can tell us about?

We’re working on something a little different for next year, and I’m pumped about it! It’s called the ‘Kiardi” (a kimono and cardigan combined)! We’re also working on a merino range which will be so great for the colder months!

Where do you see the company in 5 years?

I see us turning over around $30 million, maybe more annually. I see us having a far larger presence in the US, Canada and the UK...we have a presence there now, but we want to be bigger and be as large in those countries as we are in Australia and New Zealand. I see a staff of 50, not 20. We sponsor the fabulous Alysia Montano, but by then we’d like to sponsor a few more professional athletes as well. I have so many ideas, I’m just hoping that in five years time, we’ve pulled off a good hunk of them.

What is current revenue?

Between 4 and 7 million. ;)

Would you ever sell?

Potentially, for the right price! But it would have to be to someone we fully trusted and who would hold on to the same morals and values we have...someone who would stay grounded, take care of the customers and give back to others who need it - that’s just so important to us.

Company Name: Cadenshae
Founder: Nikki Clarke + Adam Clarke



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