Claire Gleave is a mum of 3 who launched her revolutionary maternity and breastfeeding activewear brand Natal Active during the peak of lockdown in 2020. The brand has gone on to be worn by countless celebrities and in December launched into High Street stalwarts, John Lewis and Bravissimo.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I am a many times marathon runner and ran through my three pregnancies – each time feeling frustrated that I had to size up in leggings and wear my husband’s t-shirts – looking terrible doing nothing for my self esteem or motivation to workout. Maternity wear was pretty poor generally and maternity activewear was just unheard of! At the time I was working in marketing for a financial services company so while I toyed with doing something about the gap in the market, I wasn’t sure how to go about it. I also had my three boys in quite quick succession so a business wasn’t really top of mind until my youngest started school and I realised that I really didn’t want to go back to corporate life!
How did the idea come to you for the company?
While I felt frustrated by the lack of options, it was really when I had my third son and had to wear a very ugly support belt under my bump but over my gym gear, that the idea really took hold. Why wasn’t there a pair of leggings that incorporated this for mums so it didn’t look so horrible? And then when I would still be trying to breastfeed him out of a normal sports bra at the gym I thought enough is enough and as I later started planning for him starting school, I started working up ideas with designers and sourcing manufacturers.
How did you achieve awareness?
I ended up launching in the summer of 2020, during lockdown and while now homeschooling the boys. My plans for having them all in school didn’t really work out! However lockdown meant that a lot of high profile fitness influencers were working out on Instagram and many were also pregnant. Having already developed some relationships, I was able to get my clothing out there and seen on the right people.
After a few months I also hired a PR agency – a big cost for a small start up but invaluable in terms of helping me get press coverage and also getting my brand on to influencers that I otherwise would have had no chance with.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
I launched the business from my own savings but quickly took on a £25k business loan to help expand the product range in the early days. I later borrowed from Shopify too – while not the cheapest, the repayments are flexible to sales and I have already almost fully paid that back. This enabled me to make further stock investments as well as investments into marketing.
What are the key successes?
My biggest success was being approached by High Street retailer John Lewis just 7 months after launching. After much going back and forth I signed a contract with them on our first anniversary of trading and we launched into their online shop in December 2021. This was huge for me – and something I hadn’t even planned to consider until year three. It was my big audacious goal so to achieve that so early on has been quite mind blowing – but is also a huge credit to the brand and the quality of the products.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
Cashflow is always a challenge, especially as we now move towards more wholesaling and you have payment terms in place. I have also struggled with stock and getting the right processes in place to manage demand and ensure we don’t run out but equally don’t over stock. There has been some trial and error but we are getting there now!
What are your plans now/for the future?
My next focus is on expanding the brand more into Europe as well as growing the UK business. We are also in the process of moving our main manufacturing from China to Turkey as I want to be closer to the whole process – its been hugely frustrating to not be able to get out to my manufacturers in person in the last two years and even if I could, the logistics with the family don’t make travelling to China very easy!
I am also currently looking into investment and funding options to support future growth.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
I think that if you really believe in something you have to go for it, or you will never know. Sit on the idea and research it (maybe don’t wait 5 years as I did!) and make sure that it is solid, but do it. If funding is an issue start small – prove that your product can sell and then invest. I am a low risk person – it may mean things are slower to take off but your exposure is more manageable.
Can you share you top tips for entrepreneurial success?
- At the idea stage, be careful who you tell. Only talk to the people who will give you trusted feedback – not those who will think you are amazing whatever you do and not those who will discourage you because they don’t get it. A lot of people made me feel my idea was ridiculous. I am glad I didn’t listen!
- Be prepared to be flexible and work hard. I consider myself lucky that I get to be the one that is home for my children around school and while I want this, it does mean a lot of early mornings, late nights and figuring it all out when we have holidays.
- Recognise what you can’t do well and outsource so you can focus on what you’re good at. Whether its social media, email marketing, ads whatever – you can’t do it all and while it costs money to hire people, its money well spent.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
- My husband who is a successful entrepreneur himself and whose opinion and expertise I value more than anyone’s – even if he knows very little about maternity activewear! One day I hope he can work for me…
- My friend Kathrin who with two kids, went back to college and then uni to qualify as a midwife. The work and dedication involved in doing something like that is a million times what I have done starting a business. And then once qualified its hard work for little financial reward. Following a dream and a passion like that is more inspirational than anything.
- My mum who raised 3 kids pretty much single handedly – now I get how hard that was.
- Tara Hill Norton, who founded the incredible Sweaty Betty – she’s a total business heroine and has been amazing in giving me some of her time on this crazy journey too.
- Sarah Tremellen the founder of Bravissimo – her business started not dissimilarly to mine (albeit pre online shopping) and she has grown it massively over the years to a trusted high street brand. When we launched our leggings in to their stores last year I was given the opportunity to tour their warehouse – now that’s business goals.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
“No guts, no glory” – you have to take the plunge in something you believe in. It may not work out but it sure as hell wont if you don’t try.
What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?