The story behind Leosun

I love sharing the story behind small businesses.  Leosun are THE coolest kids shades around, Billy loves his pair and think he looks the bees knees!  In the interview below Kirsten opens up about the biggest challenges she faced setting up a new brand during the Covid-19 pandemic, her career before Leosun, and the future of the brand!

I’m fascinated and inspired by Kirsten’s story.  From relocating to the UK, juggling life admin, kids and a pandemic, Kirsten found a gap in the market whilst on holiday.  The lightbulb moment happened when she was trying to find cool, safe sunglasses for the boys whilst on holiday.  Only a few months on from launching, Leosun has a stylish collection of cool kids accessories, tees, and things for the whole family.

Before we jump straight into the interview, Kirsten, the Founder of Leosun is a mum of two boys (3 and 6).  Kirsten now lives in Bath, originally from Cape Town.  Kirsten and her lovely family relocated to the UK just over a year ago and loves travelling, a lover of interiors, good food and the odd glass of good wine!

WHAT WAS YOUR JOB BEFORE LEOSUN?

I began my career working in an advertising agency, first on the client services side and then moved to strategy. While things were going well, I realised that I couldn’t see myself working in advertising long term. I had always loved fashion and decided that I wanted to be a buyer. I got accepted into the trainee programme at a major fashion retailer and never looked back. I loved being a buyer – from the creativity of the job, seeing your product sell-out in stores, the travel and the amazing people I got to work with. Over my career as a buyer, I took 2 maternity breaks to have my boys. Although I enjoyed going back to work after each pregnancy, I found it really difficult to balance a demanding job (with little flexibility) and being a mum. I missed out on school drop-offs/pick-ups, sports days and school plays. I was under extreme pressure to get a large workload done in the workday so that I could leave the office on time to get home to my boys. While it was tough, I am so grateful for my career as a buyer. I saw amazing places, became a pro at multitasking and pushed myself beyond my limits. It also affirmed how much I loved fashion and retail, and how this would always be a part of my work future.

HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT LEAVING YOUR CAREER BEHIND?

So when my husband got transferred to the UK for work, I decided to take a career break and focus on settling my kids into their new life here. I totally underestimated how challenging immigration is. Starting a new life in a new country with all the admin, newness and no support system is not easy. I made an agreement with myself that when I went back to work, I would do something that allowed me to have the flexibility so that I could still spend time with my boys. I also realised that I love working in fashion & retail but I needed to find that illusive balance. While I loved the break from work and the time spent with my boys, I also really missed my career. I also missed developing products and decided that I needed to get back into work somehow.

HOW DID LEOSUN COME ABOUT?

Having young kids I was always on the lookout for cool products, and having had a career working in men’s fashion, I really wanted to work with kidswear which I feel really passionate about.  On a holiday in 2019, I was looking for safe, durable and nice looking sunglasses and really struggled to find something I liked for the boys. I felt that there was a gap in the market and towards the end of 2019 began the search for products. It was a long process of sampling, testing different materials and styles and then finally production.

WHERE DID THE NAME LEOSUN COME FROM?

Leo is the name of my youngest son. As we’re from South Africa we love sunny days and everything outdoorsy. Also as the products are designed to be worn in the sun, I just felt like it was a good fit.

WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES SO FAR?
  • I had planned to launch end Feb but covid-19 caused delays (production/ shipping and general launch delays) so we only ended up launching at the end of May 2020.
  • When I started the business I planned on my kids being at school, so it’s been tricky at times balancing home school and starting a business.
  • Everything to do with tax and business admin makes my head spin, so it’s caused a little bit of stress.
  • Finding the right suppliers. Being a start-up is so different to working for a big company – it’s difficult to find the suppliers who are willing to do smaller production runs to start with. I had some hits and misses but have luckily found one great supplier who is open to working with a start-up and growing with me.
  • Navigating my way around marketing and Facebook ads – things have changed a lot since my time working in an ad agency 12 years ago!
WHAT HAVE YOU LOVED SO FAR?
  • Doing everything myself (although I’m sure this novelty will wear off). I’ve had to learn about building an e-commerce site, product photography, shipping, logistics and package design to name a few. I’ve been forced to push myself out of my comfort zone and learn totally new skills.
  • I’ve loved the feeling of empowerment, making my own decisions and choosing a product that I really love (and seeing the response from others).
  • I love that my time is my own. Yes, I work until 2 am some nights but I also get to drop my kids at school, and not sit in traffic for hours each day, just to get to the office.
  • I feel really inspired to build this little brand into something great. And it’s so rewarding when it’s your own brand you’re building.

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?

We’re going to be launching some exciting new shapes and colours in our super flex sunglasses range. While sunglasses will always be a core part of the range, we’ve started introducing other independent brands to offer a more curated collection of unique accessories (and clothing). Sunglasses are seasonal, so the aim is for the store to offer a wide range of products for kids and adults that can be shopped all year round.

I have a passion for South African designers and makers, so we’ve started introducing some brands I love – such as Feat Sock and Temple of Reason. We’re also collaborating with SA artists and illustrators on t-shirts which I’m really excited about. We’re learning and adapting as we go and are always open to feedback!

 

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