A business idea can come about in the most unexpected of ways. Like when Natasha Barber was travelling in Denmark with her kids, and struggled to find suitable replacement shoes for them. Soon after, her children’s shoe brand SKEANIE was born. Here, we chat with the long-time entrepreneur (she launched baby sleepwear range uh-oh! in 1994), about the road to success…
So, Natasha, tell us about your business…
SKEANIE was established in 2005. While I was travelling with my children in Denmark, I struggled to purchase a replacement pair of kids’ soft-soled shoes for the same price and quality in Australia. I started to work on creating leather and flexible rubber soles that would ensure natural movement of babies’ feet without obstructing soft bone cartilage, tissue, muscles, and nerves. A significant amount of research was undertaken and I reached out to reputable suppliers, designers, podiatrists, suppliers and manufactures worldwide to help create super-soft shoes that were light and flexible. I’m confident SKEANIE has helped support children’s feet all over the world. uh-oh! essential collection was born in 1994 out of a desire for fashionable, affordable and long lasting sleepwear.
Who are your clients?
Our clients include David Jones, Mothercare, Amazon and independent boutiques.
What prompted you to start your business? Did you identify a gap in the market?
After completing a Diploma of Financial Services at Deakin University, I enjoyed a solid managerial career running my own IT/Project Management; a career that helped to cultivate strategy-innovation. After the birth of my first child, I bid farewell to my high-profile corporate position and took the first step to develop a new line of soft-soled shoes for children. I couldn’t find a replacement pair of soft-soled shoes for the same price and quality in Australia, and started to work on a leather and flexible rubber sole to protect the shoe and the foot.
What’s special about your business? What is your point of difference?
SKEANIE Shoes are made from super-soft leather and feature flexible soles to ensure that little feet aren’t damaged. SKEANIE is an Associate Partner of the Australian Podiatry Association (NSW and ACT) and our Classic Pre-walkers have been awarded the Seal of Acceptance by the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). uh-oh! has been producing beautiful, soft jersey cotton nightwear and baby sleeping bags since 1994 — the quality of the products is second to none.
I also design all of our products and am inspired every day, particularly when I travel. The collection is constantly updated to ensure we capture feedback from industry contacts and mothers/customers.
To be a successful business owner, you need to be courteous but also conscious of employees and have a long term vision.
What was your first major achievement in the business?
My first major highlight was getting noticed by a large department store, which recognised that there was a need for our product offering. One of my most memorable moments was of a mother approaching me in the street to tell me how much she loved the brand.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I have had many highlights and my fair share of challenges along the way. I think you certainly need a bit of both in business. I try to learn from the challenging times and turn them into positives.
What is your marketing strategy?
We continue to build on the success of consumers through public relations, which helps us to seed out our product to influencers, bloggers and celebrities who trial the product and share that dialogue with their wider community. Our Instagram account has given mothers the platform to showcase and celebrate the range on their little ones.
Social media is very important to our business as the majority of our market is using it. We can see a direct ‘call to action’ from social media, and we love involving our customers in our design decisions etc.
There is always opportunity for improvement along the way. Over the years, we’ve invested in systems that give our customers an enjoyable consumer experience with selecting product and checkout. With global trends and consumer expectations in the current environment changing at rapid speed, customer centricity will continue to be incredibly important. We’ll need to work towards creating a personalised and optimised omni-channel experience, to drive improved processes and encourage multichannel thinking.
Are you a mentor?
I have a nurturing business spirit and enjoy seeing others reach their full potential. I invest time with young designers and those who are coming up the fashion chain who want to learn about design and business.
What does the future hold for your business? Where to from here?
At the moment, we are looking at expansion to South East Asia, together with growing our product range within the Australian market.
What’s the best business tip you can offer our readers?
To be a successful business owner, you need to be courteous but also conscious of employees and have a long term vision. Make sure you invest time in conducting thorough market research before launching a business. There are so many layers and considerations that you need to plan for, before starting to think about launching a big idea.
I love my business because… I see the joy SKEANIE and uh-oh! bring to mothers around the world, and helping children to take their first steps in life.
At A Glance
Business name: SKEANIE, uh-oh!
Business Structure: Company
Year business established: 2005
Your Position: Director / CEO
Number of employees: 2
Industry: Kids shoes and baby sleeping
Do you export? If so, where to: New Zealand, the USA, and Singapore
Name: Natasha Barber
Lives: Bowral, NSW
Marital Status: Married
Children: Yes, Hamish (10) and Bella (8)
Do you work from home, the office or a combination of both? Office
Typical work week: 50-60 hours
Typical work schedule (Mon-Fri etc.): Seven days per week.
Memberships, Associations: The Entourage
Career timeline before you started your business:
IT&T Project Manager, Financial Planner and Mortgage Broker
Are you among the first in your family and friendship group to run your own business? If so, were you supported or discouraged?
No, I have both family and friends who are self-employed. Definitely supported all the way.
Is this your first business? If not, what other businesses have you owned/do you own?
I have been self employed since 1997. Initially as an IT&T Project Manager and then I became a Financial Planner / Mortgage Broker.
What do you do to relax?
Garden and Entertain.
First published July 2015.