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From being made redundant during the pandemic to creating eco-conscious and ethical clothes for kids.
Chris Rice (left) and Ben Hatfield (right) have been friends since childhood and launched their ethical babywear business Marlo & Cole after losing their jobs in the pandemic.
The brand makes comfortable and unique gender-neutral babywear created to inspire a love of music and the creative industries. The clothes are gender-neutral and eco-sensitive, with each collection being printed and manufactured in the UK. We spoke to Hatfield about bouncing from redundancy to running his own business and working as a dad in a traditionally mum-focused space.
We had both been made redundant, so starting the business was a huge booster for us both. Rather than trawling job sites during one of the worst times to be job-hunting, we were starting something for ourselves and blazing a new trail. That’s a huge motivator. Plus, it was a lot of fun! We were talking everyday, probably more than we had done for years and it was all so creative. We kicked around far-fetched ideas, impractical ideas, sensible ideas – we were aiming big.
As we began to crunch numbers and evolve our business plan, it became a little more ‘real life’, but the enjoyment didn’t subside a bit. We were learning new skills and ways of working both individually and as a partnership. This stage of the planning was all during Lockdown 2. Our redundancies had kicked in and all this work starting the business was doing wonders for mental health by keeping a structure to the week, keeping us creatively active, keeping us talking to each other as well as our partners and trying to acquire new skillsets. For us both, it was definitely turning lemons to lemonade.
Both of us have other jobs as well, along with young families, so flexibility is kind of critical. That’s one of the reasons we felt that getting into business together was an obvious choice. By working with each other it meant that we could evolve our ways of working depending on personal life situations. For example, Chris had his first kid back in November. That meant that his mind was barely on this planet, let alone tuned into work, so I took on the business for a while. So the business flexes to family lives, personal needs, and other roles. If it didn’t, then it wouldn’t work.
It is indeed, and most of those mums are the makers, too. So, as working dads who don’t sit and make the products, we felt we could spend more time working out how to create amazing products and work on cool partnerships across the creative world, be it bands like The National or artists like Marianna Madriz.
On the whole, we have been welcomed into the space by other brands and we’ve partnered with some amazing brands for competitions who have loved the fact we’re dads! Some people have commented on it as odd, or even provocative, that two dads have entered the baby clothing space, but how can you gender an entire industry?
By being dads ourselves, hopefully we are changing the gendered view of the industry and baby and child-centric businesses. Plus, by telling the world that Marlo & Cole was started by dads, we hope that we are encouraging other dads to take a more active role with encouraging creativity with their kids, getting them excited about sharing the music and books which excite them. In short, hopefully we help dads to express themselves and share experiences with their kids. That said, we are definitely not a business only for dads!
My eldest will often choose a Marlo & Cole t-shirt – even in the iciest depths of winter and will refer to them as the ‘swimming dolphin’ or ‘piano monkey’ t-shirt! She is the reason why Marlo & Cole exists so that will never not be an amazing feeling! Recently, a friend told me his son wears the ‘red guitar’ tee almost every week. The recognition of our brand’s designs by the imagery is exactly what we’re after, so it’s great that seems to be happening.
We wouldn’t exist without the government Startup Loan scheme and I’ve got to say, that was a really great scheme. We were partnered with mentors and the whole process made it much easier for us to understand what we were planning to undertake and the importance of the business plan.
What could they do to help? Write off the loan!? Or at least sack off the interest! Also, we make clothes from cotton and that (obviously) has to be imported. The customs delays and import taxes are becoming a big issue for businesses like ours, plus the ability to do trade overseas has obviously been put in a bit of a strangle hold recently due to Brexit. I’m not sure exactly what they could do now, but all we will say is that it used to be a lot easier for businesses like ours to trade internationally. It’s not impossible now, but it’s complicated as hell and it’s costly.