Rachael Laine founded brand consultancy Craftymothers in 2010 to help American and Asian businesses launch into European consumer markets. What she didn’t realise then was that her first client, the US manufacturer of Salt-Water sandals, would fill most of her time since
“I was on maternity leave with my second child keeping an eye on emerging fashions and brands with a unique selling point,” explains Laine, whose career had included working on the relaunch of the Mini. “One day, while searching the internet for a pair of sandals for my eldest child, I discovered Salt-Water sandals but they wouldn’t ship to the UK.
“The products have a unique selling point: a leather sandal that can get wet. It is a family-owned heritage brand that’s been around since the 1940s. It hasn’t changed. In America, they do no marketing because it is such a known brand. Every summer you go to a local shoe store and buy another pair.”
Having got a US-based friend to post a pair, Laine contacted Missouri-based Hoy Shoe Company and suggested she could help launch Salt-Water in the UK. It agreed – so long as Laine took on the distribution.
“I had lots of experience launching a brand to market. They could tell I was hugely passionate about the product and really cared for the heritage. I knew if I didn’t take the opportunity someone else would. I was capable of the consultancy side but to take on the distribution, the selling, warehousing and the shipping was an amazing learning curve for me,” admits Laine, who financed the launch of Craftymothers with £20,000 worth of loans.
She launched the children’s Sun-San range into retailers in 2011 and has benefited from the exposure of celebrity parents including Jools Oliver and Kate Moss dressing their children in them. Next up was the launch of women’s range, Salt-Water Original, which counts Moss, and singers Florence Welch and Paloma Faith among its fans.
“Both [ranges] are seeing massive growth. The kids’ is our bread and butter. Kids have a different pair of sandals every year but the adults range spiked this year, and as a result we’re trying to stretch that offering,” she explains.
On the back of last year’s £270,000 turnover, Laine forecasts 200 per cent growth. “My biggest challenge came when the business grew so big – taking on [seven] other people and giving up some control. We also had a nightmare with one warehouse that kept sending me an inventory count which was out by thousands. We spent 48 hours in a freezing warehouse counting 22,000 pairs of shoes. If it’s not being done right and you’re a small company, you have to do it yourself.”
Laine is taking Salt-Water to east Asia and approaching other manufacturers to give Craftymothers a portfolio of brands to handle.
“Maybe more as the consultant and not taking on the whole distribution,” she adds. “But saying that, now we’ve got it all in place I can’t see why we can’t be a distributor as well…”
Whatever happens next, it is clear sandals have given Laine a step in the right direction.
Who? My best friend’s mum, Christine Olsen. She changed career in her forties and wrote the screenplay to Rabbit-Proof Fence. She taught me it’s never too late to change direction and chase a dream.
Favourite place The walled garden in Brockwell Park, south London. It’s a beautiful oasis.
I can’t live without… Facebook. I grew up in Hong Kong and it’s the best way to stay in contact with friends and family around the world.
Best book I haven’t read any new books for so long because I spend my whole time reading business manuals but we went on our first holiday for ages recently and I managed to read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It blew my mind.
Product Decléor facial oil. I have recently discovered facial oil as opposed to facial cream.
Media We’re a huge Strictly Come Dancing family. We watch that religiously. At the moment I’m reading a lot of the South China Morning Post online because of everything that’s going on in Hong Kong.
Favourite saying “Walk slowly in the right direction, don’t run in the wrong.”