How an Aussie mum built a babywear empire

When she couldn’t find what she wanted for her baby, Mirabai Winford decided to go out and create it herself.

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How a new mum’s search for quality organic baby clothing led her to create a successful start-up business. Business View speaks with Purebaby Founder and Creative Director Mirabai Winford. 

When law student Mirabai Winford fell pregnant with her first child, she was committed to finding the best and safest products for her baby. She never envisioned it would lead her to launch a babywear empire.

An advocate for organic products, Winford wanted environmentally safe and organic baby products. The trouble was she could not find many.

While the market for organic products is currently at an all-time high – estimated to have reached USD$80 billion globally in 2014 – she said it was a very different story in 2002.

“In Australia, the organic market was behind the rest of the world; there were just strip shops where you could buy organic products. In organic cotton clothing, there was virtually nothing available at that time,” says Winford.

“I was searching for products that I felt comfortable putting on my child. Products that were safe for my baby’s skin, good for the environment, beautifully designed and, most importantly, affordable. And I just couldn’t find anything. I realised there was a niche in the market for beautifully designed organic baby wear.”

Winford knew there was a market for beautifully designed and environmentally safe clothing, so she set about creating a range of clothing to meet her needs.

“I wanted to create a range that was aspirational, beautiful, comfortable for babies, well-priced and also organic. My philosophy has always been to make organic cotton more viable as a commercial fabric and more accessible to the market.”

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Winford hired a freelance designer to bring her ideas to life, travelled to India to find factories with ethical working standards and experience with organic cotton, and created her first range.

Purebaby officially launched in Australia in 2002 with an aim to create fashionable and affordable organic clothing for babies and children.

Made from 100 per cent organic cotton, Purebaby’s supply chain is certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard, which she believes makes the brand a unique offering in the babywear category.

Winford approached boutiques in Victoria and New South Wales to stock the first range, which sold well and from there the business began to grow.

“I could see there was demand out there, and the feedback from retailers about colours, styles and design helped to show us what people wanted for their babies.”

Today, nearly 15 years later, Purebaby employs 100 staff and has an annual turnover of $16 million.

The brand has a national retail footprint including 10 Purebaby stores, two outlet stores, nine concession stands within David Jones department stores, and an online store. Purebaby products are also sold in specialist and department stores across the country including David Jones and Baby Bunting.

Purebaby continues to grow: it launched its first international store in Dubai in September, and another three stores in Australia (Warringah, Miranda and Geelong) are due to open before the end of 2016.

With the combination of new and existing stores, Purebaby expects to increase sales by 20% over the next 12 months.

MANAGING THE GROWTH

Experiencing a steady growth trajectory since launch has not been without its challenges. Winford says managing the business’ growth has always presented the biggest challenge.

“When I was first starting out, the high standard of supply chain requirements that we had made things difficult,” she says. “There were only a limited number of factories that could produce organic cotton to the standard and quality that we required, so we couldn’t manufacture our products just anywhere. Also, when you are a small business you can’t always meet the minimum production numbers required by factories, which presents a number of issues.”

As the company grew, the challenges changed to upskilling staff, supply chain issues and the competing demands of Winford’s expanding remit.

For the first five years of business, she was responsible for all aspects of the business, assisted by a freelance designer and a book-keeper. In 2007 however, her husband Sanjay joined the company to manage production, logistics, finance and IT, enabling Winford to shift her focus back to the creative side of the business.

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DRIVING CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT

As Founder and Creative Director, Winford oversees all aspects of the business, including design, marketing, retail and sales. Purebaby does no traditional advertising and relies on word-of-mouth and social media to drive sales and attract new customers.

“Social media is an important platform for us Purebaby it allows us to showcase the brand and enables our consumers to engage with us. It is an interactive process now; people want to feel like they are part of an experience and that they can engage with other parents through that platform.”

Purebaby’s current focus is to build customer engagement through a dedicated content strategy, incorporating bespoke content, user-generated content, blogs, competitions and promotions. It has also launched educational workshops and events hosted in-store, such as The Nesting Workshops, an initiative where first-time parents can learn how to prepare for the upcoming birth of their child.

Winford says digital is a huge growth area for the brand, and long-term plans include expanding the online store, which currently accounts for 12% of retail sales, into a global e-commerce platform.

“We receive so much interest and sales from international markets, such as Asia, the Middle East and the US, and we would like to expand into those markets. However, we believe there is still a lot of potential for us in the Australian market.”