When Lauren Kennedy couldn’t find her son a swimsuit that met all her needs, including quality, fit, style and sun-protection, she decided to take matters into her own hands, quite literally. Juggling a baby and marketing role, all her spare time (or lack thereof) was consumed by creating the ultimate in kids’ swimwear. harry & pop was not only a new business idea, but one that ultimately changed her career and life path…
“I became extremely frustrated with the lack of options [of kids swimwear]. It was near impossible to find swimmers that were UPF 50+ and weren’t either fluorescent, covered in loud motifs (sharks, unicorns, sailors, fish and fairies – you get the idea), overly cutesy, far too mature or throwaway quality.” Like all good business ideas that directly address a need and gap in the market, Lauren zoned in on all the factors other swimwear brands weren’t considering and made it her mission to commit to sun protection, sustainability and quality first and foremost. “Ignorance is bliss. If I knew then what I know now harry & pop may never have gotten off the ground. It would have seemed way too overwhelming, far too much work for one woman to achieve, too many obstacles and risks… Fake it till you make it they say and that’s exactly what I did. Formal education is always helpful if you can afford the time but there’s nothing like jumping in the deep end and learning while actually doing.” We caught up with the busy mum (who has a second child on the way) to see how she turned a passion project into a business, what we should all be looking out for when choosing children’s swimwear and how she approaches the daily juggle while keeping her sanity and priorities in check…
You started harry & pop after having your first child and while still working in a communications and marketing role. What made you take the leap and turn a passion project into a business?
harry & pop happened organically. I took a year maternity leave when our son was born which is when the idea sprouted and it became a bit of a side project during that time. After going shopping for his first swimsuit (which I thought would be a simple task) I came home empty-handed. I just couldn’t find children’s swimwear that was both stylish and provided UPF 50+ sun protection. Over that summer, still searching for something that fit my brief, I became extremely frustrated with the lack of options. It was near impossible to find swimmers that were UPF 50+ and weren’t either fluorescent, covered in loud motifs (sharks, unicorns, sailors, fish and fairies – you get the idea), overly cutesy, far too mature or throwaway quality. After a year of research and wonder, I returned to my strategic communications and marketing role at a sustainability organisation but just couldn’t stop thinking about this huge gap in the market. At the time I was juggling my day job and motherhood while trying to start the business. Eventually, sleep became the sacrifice which was definitely not suitable (I was working on harry & pop late into the night and getting up before the sun rose to fit it all in around my day job and being a mum). That’s when I decided to take the leap and focus on harry & pop full-time.
How do you juggle motherhood with harry & pop right now?
Honestly, it’s a constant struggle. I often feel like I’m doing nothing well – drowning in emails, leaving wet washing in the basket for 2 days before rewashing it, forgetting dress-up day at childcare, playing trains with my son while writing the shopping list – but I’ve learnt to become much more comfortable with this. I’ve come to realise that the ever-elusive work-life-balance just doesn’t exist. Us mothers, no matter what we’re juggling, always feel like we could be doing things better but the fact of the matter is that we’re trying the best we can and we’re doing pretty damn fine. We just need to go easier on ourselves. The washing eventually gets done, emails get responded to a few weeks late, costumes get created the night before and our kids think we’re the best mummies in the world even if we are multi-tasking while making toot-toot noises. I do what I can in a day and at the end of it if all else fails there’s nothing a cuddle and a good glass of red can’t fix.
You don't have a background in fashion or design - where did you learn the ropes on kids-wear design and business?
When starting out, you’re the designer, CEO, accountant, pattern maker, buyer and everything else in-between. You need to be the jack-of-all trades when you often feel like the master-of-none. I quickly learnt, that for the skills I lacked, to surround myself with people who knew more than me and could hold my hand until I was confident enough to walk alone. I wasn’t afraid to ask questions and found that most people were willing to go out of their way to help. Fake it till you make it they say and that’s exactly what I did. Formal education is always helpful if you can afford the time but there’s nothing like jumping in the deep end and learning while actually doing.
What are some of the more challenging parts of running your own business and how do you overcome them?
When it’s your own business there’s always work to be done and it’s most definitely around the clock. The flexibility of working for yourself is amazing because it means family can come first but when home is your office it also makes it very hard to separate the two and switch off. Three days of the week I dedicate entirely to harry & pop because my son is in childcare or with his Nanna and Pa. The other four days of the week mum duties come first and I squeeze in work when I can – early in the morning before our son wakes up or when he goes down at night. I find it hard to disconnect as orders and emails are always coming in and social media is constant so the best way for me to switch-off is to get away with my boys. Every few weekends we’re off to the beach – rain, hail or shine. We’re very fortunate that my parents still have their holiday house that we grew up in so we make the most of that. There’s nothing like sea air in my lungs and sand between my toes to recharge my batteries.
If you had to give your ultimate tip to other mums wanting to start their own businesses, what would it be?
Ignorance is bliss. If I knew then what I know now harry & pop may never have gotten off the ground. It would have seemed way too overwhelming, far too much work for one woman to achieve, too many obstacles and risks. So, my advice would be – don’t overthink it and just get cracking. Resigning from your day job and losing that income stream sounds very daunting if that’s the first step you take so don’t think that far ahead. Start small, take baby steps, research, research, research. Let your ideas evolve, and as they do so too will your confident, until there’s no other option but to keep moving forward.
What are some important factors to look out for when selecting swimwear for our kids?
UPF 50+ from day dot is absolutely essential because skin damage is cumulative and related to the amount of ultraviolet radiation a person is exposed to over their lifetime, particularly in childhood. Swimwear with a UPF 50+ rating offers even better protection against the sun that sunscreen by creating a barrier between the skin and the sun that reduces exposure by a factor of 50+ meaning less than 1/50th (or less than 2%) of the sun’s radiation reaches the skin. For this reason, it’s so important that your little ones wear a rashguard with their board shorts or over the top of their maillot or bikini. The more skin that is covered by UPF 50+ fabric the better and whatever is left exposed to the sun should be regularly lathered in SPF 50+ sunscreen. Quick drying and comfortable swimmers are also really important to us. Children are so busy on the beach and don’t tend to feel the cold until it’s too late and they’re freezing and their lips have gone blue. Our luxuriously soft Italian fabric is moisture wicking and will be dry within minutes so your kids can run in and out of the water and stay comfortable in their swimmers all day. There’s nothing worse than a swimsuit that fades or sags after a few washes (like so many do) and for that reason, if your child swims in pools, chlorine resistance is important when buying swimwear. Thanks to our fabric’s innovative construction and the presence of xtra life lycra®, our swimwear is more chlorine resistant than your average swimwear fabric and resists fabric breakdown more than five times longer than your average chlorine-resistant spandex.
You’re a busy working mum, what are some hacks, apps or tips that help everything in the home and office run smoothly?
Our son only very recently dropped his day nap and I’m going to be honest and say it’s taking some getting used to. Those precious few hours of sleep during the day are now spent at the park or on play dates. I haven’t found a replacement yet for that chunk of the day that used to be so productive but I do rely on a few little hacks that help me feel like I’m achieving (even if I’m not). I don’t know where I’d be without Instagram scheduling. Once a week I plan and schedule our posts. This is an absolute life-saver and stops me scrolling aimlessly on Instagram or going down that rabbit hole. I use Later to schedule our posts ahead of time. I’m also a massive podcast fan. I listen to podcasts when I’m doing those mundane tasks that need to be done but can feel like total time wasters – commuting, cooking, cleaning, washing, exercising. With a good podcast I’ve just cooked dinner, done the dishes and gotten a little smarter. I listen to everything from business and current affair to beauty, health, parenting and gossip podcasts.