A mini baby business boom


PARENTING:Three women on how their baby-focused businesses fit around their family lives

LIKE MANYan expectant mother Claire Etherington spent much of her first pregnancy researching how to give her child the best start in life, which led her to the world of breastfeeding and cloth nappies, natural mattresses and organic food.

Living in Plymouth at the time, she was planning to move with her partner, Brian Murphy, to his native Limerick when their baby was six weeks old. “I wanted to source most of the things I was buying for him in Ireland rather than bring them over,” she explains. “But I couldnt find the things I was looking for in Ireland, and that was when the idea for my business started.”

She was surprised, coming from Britain where there has been a lot of government support to encourage people to use cloth nappies, that there was nothing like that here. “Even our public-health nurse, the first time I took our son to be weighed, thought that his hips were in plaster because it was that long since she had seen a cloth nappy.”

Last summer, when her son Ethan was nine months old, Etherington started looking seriously into setting up an eco baby-product business, a big part of which would be reusable nappies. She launched her Ecobrats website in December.

Her target market in Ireland is very small at the moment, she says, as it’s for those women who already know about cloth nappies and generally are not doing it for the cost-saving benefit but doing it to save the environment. “But the women I am really interested in are the lower-income families who would see real benefits from using cloth nappies – forgetting about all the health and environment benefits of using them, but purely from the economics point of view. The people who would most benefit from the cost savings are the people least likely to consider using them, which I can’t really get my head around.”

She estimates that by using cloth nappies, rather than cheap disposable ones, it is realistic to say you can save about €700 per child over the two-and-a-half years before potty training. The savings are much greater on any subsequent child, as the cloth nappies are already bought.

It is that initial outlay, which she puts at €200-250, that can be a stumbling block for many, and why she sees potential in a “nappy instalment plan”, in conjunction with an organisation such as the credit union movement. However, she does not understand why the Government does not promote the use of cloth nappies considering the impact on the environment, as it is estimated that more than half a million disposable nappies go into landfill in the Republic every single day.

The business is quite a departure from her former work as an airframes and engines technician; she was studying engineering at university when she became pregnant. “I guess when you become a parent, everything changes, doesn’t it?”

She did a “mumtrepreneur” course organised by the Limerick County Enterprise Board, and was interested to see that all her fellow participants were either non-Irish, or they were married to someone who wasn’t Irish, and they had all lived outside Ireland.

“Everybody’s motivation for their business idea was because they had either come to Ireland, or back to Ireland, and had found there was some need they could not fulfil over here,” she says.

As well as wanting to pass on things she discovered as a new mother, Etherington (27) sees the business as a way of bringing in some income and getting a better balance between family life and work life.

“It’s more important to me to spend the time looking after Ethan than it is bringing in money at the moment.” However, she is determined to make a success of Ecobrats. “I am interested in building something that will stand the test of time but also fit in with our family life.”

  • See ecobrats.ie or tel: 061-748498

CLAIRE WILSONhas no doubt that if it wasn’t for her four-year-old daughter Eve, she would still be sitting in an animation studio somewhere, working for someone else.

She left her job in England to return to Ireland when she was six months pregnant and was not sure if she would go back after maternity leave, but was hoping she wouldn’t.

“I saw how un-family friendly it was; people had to work at weekends and tell their kids they couldn’t be there for their parties. It just wasn’t what I wanted to do; I really wanted to be with her. So whatever it took I was going to figure out a way of not having to do that.”

The solution came in an unexpected, roundabout way. She started a blog at their Co Wicklow home in 2005, to keep up with friends around the world. Wanting to include pictures of Eve in the blog, she bought her first SLR digital camera.

People complimented her on her photographs and asked her to take pictures of their children. So two years ago she started Gingerpixel photography, named after her blog. “Then I discovered as I was going along that I really loved to take pictures of newborn babies.”

Wilson (36) established Newborn.ie last November to capture irresistible black-and-white images of infants. Booked out for the first months of this year, it is going “really, really, well”, she reports. Her youngest client has been six days old, but she’d meet mothers leaving maternity hospitals and go home with them if she could, she jokes, such is her love of photographing tiny babies

Eve goes to a Montessori school just across the road from their house in Greystones and that keeps Wilson fairly disciplined to work within the hours of 10am to 4 pm. But it’s all flexible; if it’s a quiet day she might keep Eve at home, if it’s busy she might catch up in the evenings when Eve is asleep.

Her husband Matt also works from home, in IT. They swap parenting roles according to each other’s work demands or, occasionally, just have lazy mornings and coffee together. “It’s perfect really.”

  • See newborn.ie or tel: 087-9111207

AFTER SEVERALyears of full-time motherhood, Orla Coleman, who had been a cabin-crew member with Aer Lingus, was keen to go back to work. But she knew how hard it would be to combine a job outside the home with raising Isabel, now aged four, and 17-month-old Dylan.

However, during a trip to England, she spotted a flyer advertising personalised jewellery, incorporating a child’s fingerprint. It appealed to her as a mother but also gave her an idea of how to capitalise on her hobby of craft jewellery.

After more than a year of research and development of a website, Coleman (38) set up Pinky Prints last November. She uses silver clay to capture a child’s fingerprint, which is fired, polished and then fitted to sterling silver jewellery, ranging from cuff links and key rings to pendants and charms. She also engraves the child’s name on the item.

It is early days and still all about trying to get the word out but Christmas was “fantastic”, she says. While people from Kildare and Meath have brought their children to her home in Marino, Dublin for the finger-printing, she is working on an impression kit that can be posted out and eliminate the need for travel.

At busy times, she works evenings once the children have gone to bed. “It’s like you’ve got two jobs.” But even if it can mean long hours, Coleman is delighted with the way it is going. Isabel is in Montessori and she has childcare for Dylan one day a week so that she can book appointments for clients.

Being able to work around the children means there is less pressure on both herself and her husband Matt, who works for the travel agency Trailfinders, than there would be if she was working outside the home, she points out, “I have more flexibility,” she says, “it’s the best of both worlds.”

  • See pinkyprints.ie or tel 086-7963834