@barneyandwilf

It’s #MumBag and #MumBoss #Monday where some very talented and interesting women let us into their minds and their bags to see their inner workings.

This week we have a pair of Mums who have come up with one of those genius ideas that is also really simple, like the best ones always are.

Cat and Jen met at NCT and became good friends. When their kids started nursery they found themselves drowning in all the artistic creations they came home with.  Not having the heart to chuck them out and also not having the wall space to show it all, they started to scan and digitally reproduce the images and make stylish poster prints to show them off.

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At first they made them for family and friends and they were a real hit; so they decided to give it a go as a business and BarneyandWilf  (named after their boys) was born. Two years on and they are winning Design Awards and featuring in Tatler.

I caught up with these two inspiring ex City-girls to see how they got to this point:

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What does your business do in a nutshell?

Cat and I create poster prints out of children’s own artwork. We found ourselves in the position where we were being overloaded with lovely/ crazy things the kids had created each day at school and nursery, but having it stuck on the walls just created clutter and we had nowhere to store it all.  Plus we didn’t have the heart to throw it all out. So we came up with the idea of digitally reproducing the images into little squares, fitting 24 to up to 90 pieces onto a poster you would actually want on your walls, and then we could throw away or store the originals guilt free. Lucky for us the idea really caught on with parents as it’s something all Mums and Dads face. And the modern framed grid collage looks contemporary enough to have anywhere in your home.

When did you start it and why at that time?

Cat and I did NCT together and, as our youngest sons were about to turn 1, we had had so many comments about the prints we had made for friends and family we decided to give it a go selling them properly. With tiny children, it took another year to get going, and the boys, Barney and Wilf, have just now turned 3.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Fitting it in around the children who were so young when we started. We used nap times and evenings to get things done and relied on Cat’s husbands amazing IT skills to get a website going. Also as we both have backgrounds in the City so getting up to speed on digital marketing and the Instagram and Facebook world have been learning curves.

What has been your proudest moment?

Winning a Junior Design Award and being introduced at school as the mum at school with ‘that genius business idea’. It makes it really worthwhile (even if its really not as glamorous as it sounds!)

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What is your best mum hack for making it all work?

Wine! And working in the evenings. It’s not for everyone I know, but I’m used to working late from my banking days. I literally cant get anything done if my children are in the house, and now the naps are a distant memory it really is the only time I can get any work done. It’s quiet, you can drink wine and there’s nothing worth watching on the TV anymore.

You seemed to have found your ‘thing’ – do you see it that way?

Both Cat and I agree we have been really lucky to find a unique business idea which has taken off and addresses a gap in the market.  So, yes, to a certain extent we have found a niche, but I would also say we did stumble upon it during those hazy, sleep deprived baby years, and would be keen to try other businesses in the future now we have found our feet a bit.  But we are still very much a new business, and as the saying goes you get luckier the harder you work.  It has been quite a struggle getting up and running with such young children at home, so it’s not for the feint hearted.

What encouragement would you give a mum thinking of starting her own thing?

Give it a go and be brave.  Honestly, everyone is blagging to a certain degree. Coming from a background in Corporate Banking in the Middle East my skill set couldn’t have been more different, but Cat and I sent a few emails and genuinely loved our idea, which I think rubs off. Before we knew it people were ordering prints and featuring us in magazines and blogs.

Also something Anna Whitehouse (Mother Pukka) said which I really took on board, was keep the activity going, and I definitely find this works. If sales are quiet, just keep sending emails to people who could help you, posting on Instagram and generally interacting with people and building networks. We might not sell a print, but we will make a relationship, attend a function, make a new friend with great insights…its all part of building a business and makes you feel like its ticking along. Working alone can be lonely so expect quiet times and use friends or family as sounding boards.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t take it all so seriously!  In my previous career I was in such a rush to achieve achieve achieve, that I never took stock of where I was or asked enough questions of the people around me. Now I have been forced to slow down with 2 young children and working on my own small business I have realised what’s important in life. I moan about it at 7am but I really do like that I can take the children to school and be the one to pick them up most days.

Will you show us your #MumBag?

Number of items in your bag: 10

Mark your #MumBag out of 10 for:

Entertainment: 6  A Thomas train and a favourite book. We are never far from a train with Wilf around and he played with this very patiently waiting at the doctors surgery the other day (and probably picking up every germ possible!)

Food: 0  Complete snack fail today. Probably why my children are so awful in public! Must buy snacks.

Drugs: 8 Currently fighting the dreaded lurgy going around, Lemsip is my friend. And 8 hour cream for everything.

Clothing: 4 Spare monster pants for Wilf. Always. Bless him, always far to busy to be bothered to go to the loo. And always baby wipes, to assist in the aforementioned accidents.

Skank: 6 Receipts, hair ties and a dry cleaning ticket from 2015 (inside my wallet)

Actual nice things for you: My lovely Jem and Bea MAMA bag with a few bits of makeup. I always have a few bits for after the gym, when I ever get there. We met Jem and Bea at a Mums The Word meet up in Tunbridge Wells and it was great to chat to a business further down the line to us. They were generous with their time and contacts and make the miost beautiful bags.

What is the most comedy item you have found? Annie’s latest artwork handed to me the other day. Her face stuck to a bumble bee. However she is white blond and the way she has cut her head out makes her look completely bald. I did have a giggle.

What is the oldest item in there? A couple of those receipts probably. Oh and my coin purse from Marrakech. The blue leather is so old and battered but I love it and reminds me of fun travels.

What is the item you’re most proud of? Rich gave me my bag when I had Annie, and I’m most proud of the fact that despite it being cream I haven’t completely trashed it yet.

Describe your baggage-type:  I definitely err on the side of messy, but every now and then I get a bit OCD and have a big clear out. But yes, hoarder most of the time.

Let’s see it then:

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Thank you for reading x

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Mum-Bling 4: Making Mum Mates – It’s A Minefield Out There

I saw a girl in a cafe the other day and I liked the look of her.
She had cool eye-liner and a nice top.
We got talking and had things in common.
She was nice and we clicked.
It took everything I had not to ask her for her number. It was too soon.
But when she left, I wished I had.

No, this is not the start of a very bad One-Day type novel.

This happened to me last week. I am a happily married woman. I am not a predator or a repressed lesbian looking for an affair. Though I realise I sound like both.

I am just at a stage in life (late 30s, new baby, new ‘hood) where I am making new friends again and it is harder than I remember.

It’s not like school. All lumped in together and, via a few painful years of writing notes, walking around the school field arms linked with that day’s BFF, train track braces and bad perms, your group is defined. I still have those mates, the stalwarts who have seen me flower from young Boris Becker to, well, middle aged Boris only with tinted brows and lashes.

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It’s not like uni or my early twenties either. Those glorious hedonistic years where we lived in each other’s pockets very happily. Sharing dreams, houses, clothes, secrets, fags* (*Mum please read that as library books), money, no money. We had limited responsibility and unlimited energy. We started careers and moved cities, taking the party with us. That bunch are etched on my heart forever. Geography keeps us apart, Whatsapp keeps us together.

It’s different for some reason.

And it’s not like; we’re all Mums so we must be friends because we’ve all got birth in common. That’s like saying all celebrities are friends because they have being famous in common. You wouldn’t see Beyonce hanging out with Susan Boyle just because they can hold a tune. Or Beyonce and Rhi-Rhi for that matter, but that’s a whole other story.

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There is no shortage of places to scout for potential mum-mates either;

Toddler Groups – A place to make a mess not in your own home and have tea served by a friendly old lady who asks you how you are. Try not to cry.

Soft Play – A chance to catch a fungal skin infection whilst drinking crap coffee and trying to sneak a look at Facebook whilst squeezing yourself down a dark tube that smells like sick.

Cafes – Places full of other mums with babes in prams getting a caffeine fix. Pram hood up = don’t talk to me, it’s asleep and this is my time, bitches.

A variety of music/ movement/ singing classes where you get very used to doing the Hokey-Cokey in a room full of strangers, before noon and without any alcohol. Sometimes you start to believe that the Hokey-Cokey is what it’s all about.

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One 360 degree sweep around these places and you know whether any of these ladies are going to be your BFF. Don’t get me wrong, I have had many lovely chats with many lovely ladies but you just know. WE just know.

So when you do meet one that matches your mental (in both senses) criteria, how on earth are you supposed to make them realise what a perfect match you are without handcuffing them to you and saying;

“Look how similar we are, you’re wearing converse too. You used to work in London? So did I. When did you move back here? Do you miss it? No – me neither. Yeah, wine, I LOVE wine ha ha. I’m a lightweight now though, not like the old days ha ha ha. You called her Olivia? That is such a lovely name. It was on our list too, actually, but she looked like a Grace so we went with that. No way! My 2nd is 10 months too. Much easier second time round isn’t it? Way more relaxed. Yes I loved Breaking Bad, did you watch Homeland too? Ha ha ha. Aren’t we really laughing loads like old friends? Ha Ha. Yes I am a REAL laugh. Your husband has a beard and works in London. Dan? That’s too funny mine’s called Dom ha ha ha. We should so get them together. WE should get together.”

Wait, what?

I am a peacock. Dancing around showing my wares, my bottom drawer, my dowry.

It’s like speed dating in stained clothes with no make-up and instant-coffee breath.

She is never going to love you. You are too needy. Children are needy enough. Need off, weirdo.

If one person on their own is hard, try penetrating a whole NCT group. Not like that, though I am sure a sex-starved Dad has thought about it.

NCT groups are like war veterans. They have been through a life-changing experience together. They could spot each other’s nipples in a police line up.
They stick together in public. Sure, you can enter the circle and chat for a bit, but move away to pick up a toy for your little one and the drawbridge is pulled up and you are there, waving from the moat.

I have even heard of people being properly spurned by someone they thought they were getting on well with. A friend-of-a-friend asked a woman for her number and she flatly refused to give it. Ouch. Atleast give a wrong digit and save the poor woman the humiliation. Mean Girl.

The magnificent Sharon Horgan nails the feeling in the close-to-the-bone and eye-watering episode of Catastrophe (Episode 2, Season 2) where she turns semi-stalker on a Mum she wants to be-friend. Watch the whole series if you can find the time. It totally wins.

Looking into this a bit, it is actually a thing.

Author Marla Paul has written a book called the Friendship Crisis which says that after you hit 30 self-discovery gives way to self-knowledge.

This makes total sense as, instead of forging friendships through new and shared experience like you do in your teens and twenties, it means the older we get the pickier we become about who we spend our time with and what we do with it.

And, according to a NYT article, Sociologists in the 1950s said that the following are crucial to making close friends:
• Proximity
• Repeated, unplanned interactions
• A setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.

So, factoring in being more picky PLUS the time needed for your children, school runs, jobs, running a home, life-admin, sleeping, your partner, yourself, the mates you already-have-and-don’t-actually –get-to-see due to their partner, children, jobs … no wonder there isn’t the time left for repeated, unplanned interactions with a total stranger you like the look of.

But worry not, I have come up with a solution and I think we need to get digital, digital.

We’ve all got single mates on Tinder and Grind-r, finding folk they like the look of nearby for a bit of Netflix and Chill.

Well now it’s your chance to get in on the online action with my dazzling new app,    MUTH-R.*

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Fed up of seeing all those laughing faces across the crowded church hall?

Want to talk to a mum just like you about pilates and piles over a bottle of pinot?

Well now you can.

Just upload your profile to Muth-R and swipe right until you see The One.

Proximity. Check. Find someone near you.
Repeated unplanned interactions. Check. Message each other willy nilly.
A setting to let your guard down. Check. It’s the internet, the ultimate place to be free.

Now remember to date safe, ladies.

And by that I mean remember your hand sanitiser if you’re meeting at the soft play.

*You saw it here first, Google.