NZ Herald retail and small business reporter Aimee Shaw speaks to Air Force officer Natalie Pitts about juggling working in MIQ for the Air Force and her small clothing business Go Mama.
What does your business do?
Go Mama is a business that creates active wear, swim wear and fitness equipment designed to support women throughout their motherhood journey. We launched the business in February last year after working on the design and sample process for around 9 months.
What was motivation for starting it?
It all started in lockdown last year when we were out for a walk and I saw a house that was using their garage to run an online business. I said to my husband 'I'd love to be able to run a home-based business and have that flexibility with the kids to reduce their daycare hours and cut out the commute we do, and futureproof us for when the kids start school' as I had no idea how we were going to do the work-life balance then. I said what would I sell and he said 'Why don't you do maternity active wear - it is all you talk about, along with how much you wish the maternal mental health system was different, how much exercise has helped you and also how much you wish the things available were more affordable'.
We were in lockdown at the time so I had some time on my hands to do some research into it and it sort of just grew and grew from there.
How was your business funded?
I tried to get a loan from the bank but they said no so I asked my Mum and Dad who said yes and so we borrowed $30,000 which we used for the initial bulk outlay of start-up stock.
Is this your first time running a business and what were you doing for work prior to this?
This is my first time running a business. Before this and I actually I'm still doing this now is I'm also in the Air Force. I've been in the Air Force for 21 years. My base is in Whenuapai and I live out at Gulf Harbour so it's over an hour commuting each way. My husband is also in the Air Force but he's posted to Wellington so he goes down on a Monday morning and comes back on a Friday so I think with this business it was about looking forward ahead thinking about how we were going to make this work when the kids start school and their school hours are 9am to 3pm.
I'm an operational support officer. At the moment I am deployed with Defence to an MIQ in Auckland and my role there is MIQ Manager. The main part of my role is ensuring daily functions of the MIQ meet Government direction.
How do you juggle Defence commitments and running a small business?
I tried not to let my Go Mama stuff interfere with my Air Force job as that is my primary role. When I'm there I'm invested with the Air Force so all of my Go Mama work is done out of working hours; often in the evenings or on the weekends. At the moment working in MIQ so I'm on a rotation of week on week off so when I have my weeks off I get quite a bit of time to pumping out a lot of Go Mama stuff. It's busy but we love it.
How big is your team?
It's just me. There's a lot of things that probably take a lot longer than they should because there are a lot of things I don't know how to do - I've never had any experience with fashion design, running a website, marketing - there's a lot of things I don't know but Google and YouTube have definitely helped me along the way. I use my husband too, he is a very good sounding board to bounce ideas off.
Where are your garments made and what does your design process look like?
They are all made in China. If I was to design a product it would take 3 to 4 weeks to receive the first sample. Sometimes it arrives and it is bang on first time and we get it put into production from there. Other times it comes back and we have to modify things like the straps may be too short or long or I need a bigger cup size. Once I've put in a bulk order it is usually a couple of months to deliver. Sometimes I choose air freight because it is really quick and hassle free and here within a week. Sea freight until recently was a lot cheaper but it can take 2 to 3 months to arrive at the moment I'm finding.
What's your focus right now?
Using different marketing platforms, trying new ways to get our brand out there and trialling what works and doesn't attract as much attention. We're working with magazines, on social media, and we're doing email marketing. I'd like to dip my toes into Australia a little bit more as well as the shipping there isn't that much more expensive than it is around New Zealand.
What are your long term plans for the business?
I'd love to see it continue growing. There's a lot of things I want to do within maternal mental health space, which is a big driver behind the business. We have maternity active wear and it is to promote women being fit but it is not the only thing we do. We want to make it easier for women or inspire women to get out and get moving. We've had a few meetings with Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Aotearoa and I'd really like to grow our relationship with them to see how we can help women. The other area we are doing a bit of work on is with pregnancy and postpartum exercise personal trainers that can offer endorsement to our product and help us build basic fitness programs for our website.
What's it like running your own business, any unexpected tasks you've found yourself doing?
I love running my own business, I like that I can scale it depending on what else we have going on in our lives. I wasn't a big social media user before starting Go Mama but I know the importance of it's reach and so starting out talking to the camera I found it so weird, but when I see other people on social media it doesn't look weird, so I had to get past that mindset and carry on being confident in doing it. I model and try on a lot of the clothes on social media to show people the items and I didn't ever think I'd do that as I'm not a fitness model by any stretch but I think it's empowering for others to see different body shapes.
What advice do you have for other people wanting to start their own business?
If you're passionate about it then go for it as the motivation is there to want it to work.