In today’s Behind the Biz interview I’m chatting with Helen & Claire, two mums and sisters-in law from Yorkshire. They are the founders of Lister & Bruce – 100% organic cotton unique pyjamas for children.
Please tell us about Lister & Bruce.
We launched Lister & Bruce in 2018 after spending too many evenings talking about setting up a business by ourselves, we finally took the plunge. We both really wanted to put our creativity to use for us and not someone else and to create something that we really believed in after years of marketing big brands for other businesses.
Our first product launch is the MyJamas range – a collection of beautifully soft 100% organic kids’ pyjamas. They are designed in the UK and ethically manufactured in Portugal and they have a unique twist – clever cuffs. These are matching cuffs on the left and right, wrist and ankle; meaning children know which way round to pop them on at bedtime. We don’t claim to be teaching kids how to get dressed but they just love getting it right and it gives them a lovely little confidence boost right before they go to sleep. Anything we can do to support little ones’ independence is a good thing in our books. Feedback to date has been 5* across the board and one mum has just bought her little boy his third pair which is pretty good as we’ve only been selling for 3 months!
How did you decide upon the name of your brand?
It is a real family affair! As we were both inspired by our own mums when starting this business, we named it after them. Lister is Claire’s mum’s maiden name and Bruce is Helen’s mum’s maiden name. MyJamas is pretty self explanatory but all our kids called pyjamas ‘jamas’ so it was always going to be part of the name!
What are the steps you took to source your first manufacturer?
This has been one of the biggest challenges for us as neither of us came from a procurement or buying background. We started out with trusty Google, just researching and trying to find similar businesses and who their suppliers were – this proved fairly fruitless! We then approached several people in non-competing fields at trade shows and were given a number of recommendations, but many proved to be in China or further afield and for our first run we were keen to keep production closer to home, to save on both air miles but also to make it easier to manage.
Eventually we found our family run manufacturer through a friend as is so often the way, we trusted his judgement implicitly and he had worked with the family for over 25 years so we knew there was no danger of being ripped off or sent shoddy products. It has meant our production costs are quite high but the quality is far superior than anything else we looked at and they are just as passionate about using organic materials and no chemicals as we are.
Why did you decide to use organic cotton? We’d love to know more about the benefits.
There are several reasons we wanted to use organic cotton. Firstly, as you sleep in pyjamas all night and the MyJamas design are a snug fit, we felt it was important not to have any chemicals next to children’s skin. The skin is the largest organ in our body and so it’s important to look after it.
Organic cotton is also far kinder to the area in which it is grown. The chemicals used on ordinary cotton can get into the local water supply and is bad for the health of the cotton pickers working in the fields and the factories that then process the cotton. Because of the chemicals used, ordinary cotton also requires around 80% more water than organic and as cotton is often grown in areas where water is scarce, anything we can do to reduce usage is a real benefit.
There are so many other benefits and I would be lying if I said we knew them all when we went into this (our primary reason was health of children’s skin), but the more we learn, the more determined we are to only use organic materials moving forward.
What did you do before setting up Lister & Bruce.?
We both come from marketing backgrounds.
Helen – I spent 15 years in marketing and latterly was the client services director of a marketing agency, predominantly working with big FMCG brands.
Claire – I have worked in advertising and events agencies in London and Dubai for the last 12 years.
Did you always have your heart set on the journey of self-employment?
Ultimately, I think we both wanted to have something of our own but it wasn’t clear what that was going to be, when it was going to happen or if that was going to be together. It’s very easy to get sucked in to a job and time passes so quickly.
We both knew we wanted to get out of agency life. Being a mum and working in that environment is hard as it can be very demanding on your time. Helen made the getaway first and it wasn’t until a little while after she left that we started to talk and Lister & Bruce became a viable plan.
Please share a business high and low with us.
A real high was finding our manufacturer and then receiving the final product. It had been a gruelling process and to finally find someone that could turn our idea into a reality was wonderful.
There have of course been lows too, having the first set of samples come back with the sizing not quite right (and neither of us being seamstresses) was pretty tough!
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Part of me wants to say ‘just go for it’ but in reality I would say ‘plan, plan, plan’. Taking the plunge was the best thing we did and we were very thorough in setting up with a proper business plan, a marketing strategy and setting ourselves goals, it doesn’t mean we have always stuck to them and we certainly have achieved all our goals but having a plan in place means there is a focus and we both are very clear of what we are doing and what we want to achieve.
I would also say, accept and ask for help, you will know so many people with expertise you don’t have, use your network (LinkedIn, friends, family) and see if you can help them in return with something. We have taken advice from so many people in different fields and some of it has been invaluable and made us make decisions we never thought we would.
Where do you hope to take your business in the year ahead?
We hope to have a wider reach, to get our products into bricks and mortar retail and to further develop our products and offerings (We have so many ideas on paper and in our heads!). The feedback to date from our customers has been 100% positive across the board and we know that MyJamas are a really premium product, it’s just about driving awareness and getting people to trust a brand they don’t know and take a chance on us. We are also in the process of developing new products that will sit under the Lister & Bruce umbrella and we are also developing new designs for MyJamas, which is very exciting, so watch this space.
Thank you so much to Helen and Claire for taking the time to be involved with Behind the Biz. I really enjoyed hearing about their business journey and the story behind Lister & Bruce.
I think the business they’ve created is wonderful. The styling and branding is lovely and their passion for the business shines through in this interview. I just know they’re going to do so well.