CORK’s wife Sue Carter was so fed up with feeling ‘rejected’ by the fashion industry during pregnancy and breastfeeding that she took matters into her own hands and started her own maternity clothing business.
Called CARI, she says it’s not just about dressing for pregnancy and breastfeeding “but also for when moms are in and out and life is turned upside down for a few years as their styles change. evolved”.
The idea came to Sue when she was pregnant with her second child and already a mom to a toddler, and she couldn’t find any clothes that appealed to her sense of style.
“I love to dress up, I love the thrill of shopping and the power of clothes to uplift us. When we wear a beautiful dress, or even an outfit that we know works, we feel a little more special or invincible.
“Frustration stuck with me through the new mom / breastfeeding months when again the lack of choice limited my life.
“I was a little embarrassed to feed myself in public, at the time I used an apron, which my toddler found fun to play hide and seek with.
“I found myself avoiding going out or going back to the car, so that I wouldn’t have to feed myself in public because I couldn’t find the clothes that covered me or that suited me. It’s already a pretty overwhelming time with a newborn baby and toddler, and so not recognizing or liking what you see in the mirror can have such an effect.
“When we feel that we are not beautiful, it has an impact on the way we behave in the world. Fashion isn’t just about clothes, it’s about expressing the best version of ourselves.
Growing up in Carrigaline, London-based Sue says her mother Mary was a wonderful seamstress and she can still do everything on her sewing machine.
“So when I needed a dress for a big event at eight months pregnant the first time and couldn’t find anything, I decided to make one because I couldn’t do it all. just not bring myself to do any harm. The designs weren’t the problem for me, it was the cheap polyester fabrics.
“I bought a beautiful Missioni fabric and asked a great seamstress to copy a dress. This is the first time I have seriously thought about “Why isn’t anyone doing this?” Why are there so few options for pregnant women? “
Her background is journalism, starting in newspapers and working through the world of fashion, women’s magazines and celebrities, then in public relations / communications, working with brands and companies to help them grow and reach. new audiences. But while on maternity leave with her second child, she began to seriously think about her idea.
“I attended a workshop on how to start an online fashion business, which encouraged me, then a fabric show, and then it was all about timing, because for the first time, social media platforms had made it possible to become small. fashion brands starting up with the public, if you could get the right branding and marketing.
When the pandemic struck and the business landscape for her communications work changed, this was the opportunity she was waiting for.
“I made the decision to give the best of myself. I found a designer to work with to bring the vision to life, and that’s how the journey began, ”she said.
This trip, she admits, was more difficult than she could have imagined.
“Although the blockades gave me time, my timing couldn’t have been worse. The double whammy of Brexit and lockdowns had an impact on so many levels – the fabric trade shows and networking events I relied on to learn the new industry were called off, and then there were delays in massive importation, and also the shock of a huge retail business like TopShop, etc., the shutdown has had a huge impact on supply chains.
“So I was knocking on the doors of factories trying to discuss small, limited series when their future was on the line.
“It meant I had to learn a new industry and how to operate in it pretty quickly – I found myself fighting for the good cause of small businesses online, persuading factory owners that this was the future then. that people were stopping the fast fashion and supporting more local products. and small businesses that produce responsibly.
Sue’s Swedish partner Johan is also involved in CARI – which, she quite honestly admits, has its pros and cons.
“It’s amazing that he rolled up his sleeves and got involved, ready to take on anything unrelated to fashion. His background is finance, and this has been extremely helpful as I underestimated the operational aspect of running an ecommerce business. It’s wonderful to have someone so closely involved to brainstorm ideas and help you find solutions – and most of the time we team up with the kids. But when we don’t agree, well, things escalate a lot faster than if you kept your polite calm with a coworker! She jokes.
“I admit that working from home is difficult because I’m the type of person who needs to switch my brain to work or home mode – and avoid distractions. It’s impossible when I work in the office and there are screams and screams coming from below my two and four year old daughter!
Sue said she receives invaluable support from other small business owners, especially women.
“The bootstrap course involves a lot of getting off the ground and pushing – knocking on more doors, starting the process over and over again until you get what you need.
“My advice to anyone starting out is to create a network of mentors who can guide you, some in the same industry and others in complementary areas – and build relationships with them. Get recommendations, introductions, their contacts – they’ll have gone through all the issues before you and have the answers that might take you weeks to find on your own.
“I have found that other small business owners, especially women, have been more than generous in sharing their experiences and their time. There is incredible support from other women – many of whom are foreigners. For me, this is something that I hope to pursue and in the future, if there is anyone looking for advice, well my door is open.
Sue says she’s still at the stage where she’s excited whenever she gets a sale notification alert: “It’s a great feeling to know that someone has liked your vision and hopefully will like it. carry her.
“So far Ireland and Cork have been a huge part of our market – my younger sister and cousins have been great at plugging me in, and to me that means so much that I really want to be able to expand the brand here and offer the style options that women want.
“It’s the pleasure of creating and growing the business that is really exciting and makes any challenge worth it. “