Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Inspirational Women: Ruth Cozens and Leanne O'Shea designers and internet entrepreneurs of Tobias and the Bear

Wednesday already, hope you're having a good week. 

Today on the blog an inspiring story of 2 mums taking a leap of faith and starting their own business. I'm always interested in stories of people who change direction, careers or location in life. It's like beginning a new chapter, with all the excitement and anticipation of a good novel. It takes a huge amount of confidence and trust. After years of experience working for the biggest names in online retail, Ruth Cozen and Leanne O'Shea have embarked on a new chapter by starting a new kid's clothing line, Tobias and the Bear. Embracing motherhood and an opportunity to take a new direction in their careers and lives, Ruth and Leanne spotted a gap in the kid's clothing market and realised they were the ones to fill it.

They kindly agreed to take a few moments to answer a few questions for the Notebook about their journey so far.

Can you tell us a little more about your background working in fashion, and how you came to create Tobias and the Bear?

LO: I started out learning the ropes as it were at Drapers magazine - the industry Bible for pretty much all sectors - and was there for five years working with a great team. This was followed by six years at my-wardrobe. Ruth and I were founding team members and learnt a lot about building a business and establishing a brand. We discussed the idea for TatB after both returning from maternity leave. It seemed crazy that we couldn't find something as simple as a printed legging for boys (neither one of us wanted to dress our babies in restrictive clothing like jeans) and when we did, they were priced so highly they felt less like a wardrobe staple and more like something for best. It's a bit of a cliche really but we saw the gap and decided to do something about it - and before our boys had grown up!

RC: I started my career as a graphic designer with a small design agency in Central London. After 4 years I moved to the then new company, Net-a-Porter where I learnt a huge amount about selling fashion online. After a few years at NAP I left to pursue a freelance career before joining my-wardrobe and forming the creative side of the business. It was Leanne's idea to start the brand and I thought it was so genius (having also developed an expensive addiction to baby leggings) that I just jumped on her and persuaded her that she needed me to be part of it! I think we both figured that we had nothing to lose - if we couldn't sell them then at least we wouldn't need to buy leggings for our boys for a few years!

Where does your inspiration come from?

RC: definitely from our boys, Toby and Arlo. As a bit of a backlash against the general UK market of baby boys wear we intentionally looked to things that felt very boyish and non-cutesy. We started with their namesakes, the Fox (for Tobias Fox) and Bear (for Arlo Bear) and then made a wish list of dozens of other ideas - a few of which you can see online now but many of which are coming soon. From arrows to beetles and everything in between.

Leggings from Tobias and the Bear | SHOP NOW |

Who do you see as your customer?

LO: I think our customer, mum or dad, is like us really - they're interested  in dressing their kids well but they're not overly traditional. They're looking for something a little bit cooler than the norm, but they're not a slave to spending a fortune on fashion. They love interiors, books, and nice holidays, they research the bits they buy their baby, like to dress well themselves and keep an ear to the ground for new labels, new restaurants, and anything that inspires them. They're 21st century parents.

What does style mean to you?

LO: That's such a tricky one to pin down. Some days it's about being really relaxed and (hopefully) effortless. Other days, it's more dressed up but ultimately it's about being comfortable.

RC: for me it's about finding things that suit you rather than trend pieces and wearing them with ease and a certain flair so that they become part of your identity. I don't think I've nailed that myself so I've instead turned my attentions to Arlo's wardrobe - he's definitely the stylish one of the family.

Where do you shop for your clothes? Do you have any pieces / accessories you can't live without?

LO: I'm rarely seen without my Mulberry Polly although I'm on the lookout for an upgrade... and Astley Clarke stacking rings are a bit a of an obsession at the moment.

RC: Skinny jeans and a boyish top are definitely my go to pieces. I love French brands like Sandro, Claudie Pierlot and Maje but I'm also a sucker for a Zara spree.

Top and jeans, both Sandro | SHOP NOW |
Polly bag, Mulberry | SHOP NOW |
Stacking rings, Astley Clarke | SHOP NOW |

How has your style and professional outlook changed since having a baby?

LO: Actually, not a great deal. I've always favoured flats over heels for day and my style is such a mix of the relaxed with a little bit of polish that I've not made any conscious changes. I do blow dry my hair less though! Professionally, I'm probably more focused than ever because every minute counts - I like to spend real time with Toby everyday if I can so it's important to get things done. I'm also more determined - everything I do is in some part for him and I want to do the very best for him.

RC : My style has changed very little as I've always been a bit lazy and simple in what I wear. I agree with Leanne re professional outlook too, I went from being the person locking up the office every night, to the first one to leave. I've become much more entrepreneurial too, I want to be flexible in how I work so I can spend time with my little man. I always have one full day off with him during the week even if I have to work late at night instead to get things done.

What has been the hardest part of creating your business?

LO: Deciding not to manufacture in the UK (for the time being anyway). We really wanted everything to be Brit based but the production costs and minimum order quantities were so much higher and we almost shelved the whole thing. Then Ruth looked into manufacturing abroad and we realised we could do it, do it well and do it quickly so we took the leap.

Where will the Tobias and the Bear journey take you next, do you think?

RC: as Leanne said, producing in the UK is still very much a priority for us and we are looking for ways to make that happen sooner rather than later but it's actually surprisingly tricky to do (if any UK manufacturers are reading this and want to get in involved, get in touch!). We're concentrating on leggings for now and want to get quite a few more styles out there and then we may well broaden our horizons into other ranges using out prints.

To discover more about Tobias and the Bear visit their website at or visit their Facebook page

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