Inspirational Woman: Lara Soetekouw | Founder & Managing director of Big Blue Cuddle Ltd

Lara2Tell us a bit about yourself, background and what you do currently

I’m one of those persons who have lived pretty much everywhere and feel at home in any capital city.  Half Italian and half American, I’m married to a Dutchman and now live with our 3 children in London. My professional background is in Management and Marketing Consulting for big consumer goods companies, but 3 years ago I fulfilled a long time dream to start my own business and support the not-for-profit sector with a for-profit company.  I launched Big Blue Cuddle, an online store of children’s clothes with a charitable mission.  Big Blue Cuddle selects up & coming brands that produce colourful and original children’s clothes.  They provide Big Blue Cuddle a selection of their stock at a generous discount, the clothes are then sold for their regular full retail price in our online store, like any other store, but between 15% and 50% of what customers spend is donated to the children charity they themselves select at check-out. Throughout the website and in our social media we give credit to the brands for making our donations possible.

We tend to work with brands that are new to the UK market and have never been sold here before.  This means that they can also choose to sell through our site excess stock from previous collections.

So at the end everybody wins

  • Brands have a good solution for their surplus stock, start getting noticed in the UK market and build a reputation as a “good” brand in a relevant and understated way
  • Customers discover new brands, buy great clothes which are truly different from anything else available on the high street and have the satisfaction of having helped raise funds for a good cause without spending anything extra
  • Charities receive funds that can make a big difference and raise awareness about their projects and cause.

I hope I have started something that one day will be imitated by others, in other sectors or in other countries.

Why did you start your business?

I enjoyed consulting, but in my career I wanted to contribute more to society than helping big companies get even bigger.  I’ve always been very inspired by those businesses who managed to “do good” while also being commercially successful and wanted to create my own.

I noticed that I was bored by the high street choice of baby and children’s clothes in the UK, where generally speaking there are lots of pink clothes for girls and blue for boys.  We bought most of our children’s clothes in the Netherlands where clothes were much more imaginative and playful.  I decided to call up my favourite brands to see if I could help them get into the UK and it is in talking to them that the idea for Big Blue Cuddle came up.

I thought it was such an obvious concept that if I didn’t start it somebody else soon will. I quit my job and rolled up my sleeves.  I think there is no other way of becoming an entrepreneur, but to let go of the edge and jump in.

What appealed to you about setting up your own business?

I think a lot of women on maternity leave at some point contemplate the idea of working for themselves, in order to be their own boss and determine their own working schedule.    With 3 young children that was definitely one of the reasons I launched by own business.  In reality, however, it is not always the ideal solution: I am often working all hours and spending the whole time at the park emailing from my phone instead of playing with my children. We’re just destined to juggle!

What’s been your greatest achievement personally?

I’m really proud of Big Blue Cuddle’s business model: it supports smaller independent brands, giving them a springboard in the UK market, it creates a margin that can be donated to charities and it provides novelty and excitement to customers.  I hope I have started something that one day will be imitated by others, in other sectors or in other countries.

If you weren’t doing what you do, what would you be doing?

I’m very excited about all the new social and ethical enterprises being launched in the UK recently. When I first started telling people about Big Blue Cuddle the concept didn’t exist. I love doing a job that is commercial but also has a very tangible and direct positive impact.  I’m sure that If I wasn’t working on Big Blue Cuddle I would be working for another social enterprise.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

It’s a cliché, but my children! I see what they enjoy wearing and what clothes I find practical so of course they influence my choices of suppliers and of the models I sell in the store.  But I also want them to set an example for them, to grow with a working mother and to see that we should all do what we can to help others less fortunate than us.

What challenges are you facing now?

The feedback I have been receiving is amazing.  I want to grow Big Blue Cuddle to a much bigger size, but I can’t do it alone.  I’m now looking for potential business partners or non-executives directors who are as passionate as I am about combining childrenwear with supporting children charities and, ideally, who have already set up  or worked for a successful online retail business.  Know anybody?

For more information on Big Blue Cuddle

Website: www.bigbluecuddle.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/bigbluecuddle

Twitter: @bigbluecuddle

Email: [email protected]

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