Some people would be lost without theirs, but I have never bought a changing bag. I’ve just chucked nappies, wipes etc into a fabric tote and stuffed it under the buggy. Why? Because changing bags are all too often the opposite of stylish. I couldn’t bring myself to fork out on something which was, essentially, the price of a good handbag but looked so distressingly unlike one. I mean, I’d rather buy a new (non-baby) bag.
Until now. For Jem+Bea design changing bags nice enough to replace your actual handbag. I jest not. They are sleek, stylish, altogether gorgeous and wouldn’t shame even the most militant fashionista mama. Founders Dominique Hughes and Rebecca Da Silva Lima (the range is named after two of their respective children, Jemima and Beatrice) grappled with the same function versus style dilemma when they became mamas – and solved it by designing an impeccably curated, beautifully designed selection of bags. You can even have them monogrammed (be still my heart). If this isn’t the perfect baby shower/new mama present, I don’t know what is. (Having suffered yet another leaking beaker disaster (result: entire contents of bag rendered redundant, including nappies. The horror.) this weekend, I might just be poised to shop the collection myself…)
Read on for a glimpse into Dominque’s work-family life (FYI: she’s the type of woman who’d definitely be your most inspiring, encouraging friend) and some serious bag eye candy.
Tell me a little about Jem + Bea – what was your Eureka moment?
Jem + Bea has a vision to redefine the baby changing bag. It was not so much a ‘Eureka’ moment as a gradually growing difficulty when I attempted to find a baby bag each time I had a baby (of which I have had three – now aged 5, 4 and 2). I found it a challenge to find something that I actually wanted to carry day in, day out. Each time I was on the look out for a changing bag I wished they made baby bags as gorgeous as a Mulberry or a Miu Miu. This thought turned into a very niggling itch to create a company that did exactly that.
How would you sum up your design philosophy in 3 words?
Clean, modern and functional.
What’s different about your bags versus the competition?
Our changing bags have been designed by a hugely successful bag designer, Rebecca Da Silva Lima, who previously worked for Anya Hindmarch, Mulberry and Burberry. The bags are made from luxurious leathers and have well-thought-out features that are practical for baby and parent. The main thing is that the bags really do not look like baby bags – they wouldn’t look out of place in the accessories department of a store, instead of the nursery department. The bags come with additional features such as a leather clutch for the mum’s bits and bobs, a dust bag, luxury padded changing mat and thermo insulated bottle warmer.
What made you decide to go into business together?
To create a luxury changing bag company, I needed a bag designer (as this is not my forte!) Very fortunately, a close friend from school who has had a hugely successful career in accessories design was right on board with the idea. Rebecca had recently had a baby and endured the same frustrations as me.
We put our heads together one evening to discuss the potential of the business then went full steam ahead and six months later we were presenting our AW15 collection at a trade fair with great results. Rebecca’s designs are absolutely gorgeous and her experience in high end design and detail is highlighted throughout the collection. We share decisions on the designs in the final stages such as colour/prints and leather types which I really enjoy, and Rebecca has her hand in the business side too; we really are a team.
How were the early days of setting up your own business? Did you face anything unexpected?
To be totally honest, the early days of setting up the business were the easy ones. Obviously we were very nervous and had an awful lot to learn, but compared to the reality of running a a business, between the two of us covering every role from design and manufacturing, to sales, customer service and accounting – that now seems like the calm before the storm. Luckily Rebecca and I are pretty good at getting on and working through our to mega to do list each day.
I think the most unexpected thing we faced was the quick rate of growth, which is a good problem to have if you can manage it. The bags were picked up by a major UK retailer and some of the best online stockists of changing bags in the UK before our first order had even been completed by our manufacturer. We had to manage our stock levels and cash flow very carefully in the first six months.
How many days a week do you work?
It’s true what they say – when you run your own business there is no such thing as a day off. The customer service side of things keeps us busy seven days a week. We try to respond to queries within a couple of hours at weekends, and quicker Monday to Friday. Aware that I have become one of those annoying people who is always on their phone checking emails, I am weaning myself off my work FOMO.
Talk us through an average working day…
I wake around 6am and check and respond to emails that have come in over night. Rebecca and I start WhatsApp-ing around this time too, sharing our to do list and joking about the fact we are both up early again working! I then get the children up around 7am and we have breakfast together before the inevitable rush to be out the door on time for school/pre-school. It’s then to my desk (I work from home) to work until 3pm, or we go to meetings. Rebecca and I meet up at least twice a week to go over things together or to look at samples, swatches and sketches. Between 3-7pm I focus on the children and I try not to work during these times, although they will tell you I do! Once the children are asleep I will cook something yummy with my partner if he is here, settle down to work or do some research/social media until 10 or 11pm.
How do you deal with childcare?
I live on my own with the children so it can be challenging not having the extra support of a husband at home. My eldest two are in school and my youngest is in pre-school three days a week. Although we are lucky enough to be able to be flexible to work around the children, inevitably there are times when we need to be out early or home late. A neighbour and close friend with children at the same school is my life-line, taking the children to school or collecting them and having them for tea until I am able to get back. I am forever thankful for her support.
How do you ensure you give your children the attention they need?
It’s not easy but we do everything together as a unit, so I am hopeful they feel they get enough of my time. They all get involved with cooking their dinner, I kick a football outside with my son in the garden after school and take my daughter shopping (her nickname is ‘ Vivienne’ due to her emerging eclectic style!), so I try to get one-on-one time with them all.
Do you have a set weekend routine or are you go with the flow?
A happy medium. There is always something in the diary to plan around; kids’ parties, rugby or we visit friends for Sunday lunch, but the rest of the time is for us. We live in the countryside 30 miles south of London so we love to go to the farmers’ market, choose our eggs and sausages then go home and cook up a storm for breakfast on a Saturday.
Do you feel you have achieved that elusive work/life balance?
I am happy with the balance I have at the moment. I always wish for more time to spend with my family, or wish I had more time to work some days but I think that will always be how it is.
Best/worst thing about being a working mama?
I have three little people I adore and am nurturing into their own little beings, but I am also achieving my personal goals and aspirations with the business. Put these together and it makes a happy mama.
How do you find time for your relationship with your partner?
My partner is away a lot working, and as we both have our own homes, we see each other as often as we can and really appreciate our time together. We cycle together which is great fun (we road bike and are doing some charity rides together this year) and go walking, but as we are both so busy we are happy just relaxing together when we can! We managed to squeeze a few weekends away in last year too. which was lovely.
And do you manage to carve out any time for yourself?
Not really! Once the children are in bed that’s ‘me’ time. My friends all have kids too, so we do a few girls weekends away each year which gives me something to look forward to.
What would you change about your current set-up, if you could wave a magic wand?
I’d love an office for Becky and me – and a full time accountant to do the bits we don’t enjoy!