Darlo: Entrepreneur Of The Week – Chloe Hoole

Chloe & Jim

This week’s entrepreneur of the week is Chloe and Jim from Darlo.

Darlo was set up to make a difference.

According to a Unicef report, of all the malnourished children in the world
1 in 3 live in India. A staggering 40% of India’s children receive less food than required for healthy physical and cognitive development. These children are deprived of the source of energy which keeps us ticking every day!

A little giving here can go a long way to making a big difference there,
which is why at Darlo’s heart is the belief that
a little giving changes lives.

Darlo is an ethical babywear brand motivated by a serious social mission to help the world’s malnourished children. 

Our super soft organic cotton comfies collection offers pure comfort for your little one and with every purchase from the Darlo range we will provide a whole week’s worth of meals for a child in India. 

The Darlo range is produced from super soft organic cotton so when you buy from Darlo you can be assured of the following:

  • We’re always bright & cheerful with a splash of colour
  • Our soft organic cotton offers pure comfort for you little one
  • We never use nasty pesticides or chemicals on our products ever, so…
  • Hurrah for the environment and the cotton farmers in India
  • Our workers receive a fair wage and work in clean and safe factories
  • Absolutely no child labour used in any part of production
  • One Darlo product provides a week’s worth of meals for a child in India!

Where did the idea for your business come from?

In 2012 I spent time in various developing countries such as India, Cambodia & even had the opportunity of volunteering at an orphanage in Bolivia. This was incredibly eye opening and I was particularly affected by the lack of support structures for children in these developing countries. Basic rights that are often taken for granted in the West such as food, shelter, and clothing are regularly being denied to children. This was something that stayed with me when I returned and I simply could not ignore the obvious truth that a relatively marginal financial contribution here in the UK could go a long way to making a big difference there.

Darlo

When I did return home I met my soon to be boyfriend Jim and we talked at length about my experiences and what we could do to help. We both felt that the attitude of ‘what difference can I make on my own’ is ridiculous and defeatist! Financially the contribution really doesn’t have to be a lot to make a profound difference in developing countries if enough people are involved.

So from the living room of our East London flat we set out on launching Darlo, an ethical babywear brand with ’a little giving’ at the core. With Darlo you are not only buying beautiful super soft organic cotton baby wear but you are helping the environment by buying organic and for every item sold we will provide a whole week’s worth of meals for a child in India.

How did you know there was a gap in the market for it?

When we first started we initially only planned to sell baby vests. We had some samples made and I carried these samples everywhere in my bag. If I saw a mum in the park, on the tube or bus, I’d just stop them and ask what they thought of the design, the pricing, and the unique one feeds one offering. The response was always very positive yet often people were not willing to pay more than they would for a standard organic item. This feedback was invaluable in helping shape our pricing strategy.

We visited our first ever trade show, Play Time Paris. We didn’t have a stand but we had our samples with us. We managed to speak to a couple of buyers over lunch and get further feedback. We listened and learnt that buyers preferred to buy in ranges rather than individual styles so off we went to design the range and 6 months later we had our own stand at Bubble. The buyers from Play Time actually came to visit us and we thanked them for their advice and where it had led us.

What were you doing before you started? 

We actually still both work in our full time jobs. I work in brand management and Jim works in finance. At the moment we are working long days but it is all totally worth it.

Neither Jim nor I have ever worked in fashion, textiles or importing so we have really had to learn as we go along. We were incredibly fortunate to find a great mentor who at the early stages of Darlo was invaluable to our progress and understanding of the textile industry. In particular she was brilliant in helping us with the logistical side to our project and working with factory’s in India.

We are constantly learning, asking for help, listening to feedback, taking advice and evolving. It’s been a real adventure!

Chloe and Jim at Udaan Ghar

Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Yes, I have always been interested in launching my own company. My dad has his own business and so perhaps it runs in the family blood – I just needed to find the right business to pursue.

How did you raise the funding?

We managed to secure a start-up loan through Start Up Direct, a delivery partner for the government backed start up loans scheme and we have had a great deal of support from them and they were invaluable in helping us move forward with Darlo.

Right now we fund the business ourselves. As I previously mentioned we are both still in full time employment so each month we contribute to Darlo to help with our cash flow at these early stages of the business.

Describe your business model and how do you make money?

Darlo is a social enterprise which essentially means we are a business that put people and planet first. We are an ethical brand with a difference. For every item we sell from our 100% organic cotton range we will donate a whole week’s worth of meals to a child in India. Working in collaboration with Mumbai based charity Project Crayons, we have created the A Little Giving Food programme.

We operate on a wholesale strategy primarily as this is where the volume is for us right now. We debuted our first collection at Bubble London trade show last July where we were shortlisted for the Rising Star award. We were really happy with the response from the show and several boutiques placed orders. We delivered into stores in September and our online store went live at the end of October which allows us to go direct to consumer.

Our current collection starts at wholesale £5.99 for a body suit and goes up to £16.99 wholesale for a gift pack which contains a sleep suit and blanket providing two week’s meals.

What challenges have you faced since starting and how easy has it been to overcome them?

Our biggest challenge has to be the arrival of our first production. We were not 100% happy with one item from the range and ended up rejecting this stock. Having a quality product is of the utmost importance to us so and we had to stay true to this. However when you have been dreaming of the day your stock arrives so you can start getting out there and selling, for it to arrive and not be as perfect as you had dreamt at first is pretty soul destroying and it hurts your cash flow! But you just work through it breaking down the tasks and working out what to do next. Luckily our factory in India have been fairly co-operative with this issue and we have managed to recoup the majority of our losses here but we probably lost about 6 weeks in total where we had sales forecasted. I had three different cash flows forecasting several scenarios until we had managed to sort the issue out and move forward again.

Darlo organic cotton sleepsuit in coral and grey

What was your biggest breakthrough?

Before our first trade show our mentor had pre warned us of the challenging times right now and how hard it is for a new brand to launch. We were told that some buyers prefer to wait until you are more established before entering into business. We did of course go to Bubble London dreaming of sales but we had adjusted our expectations so our main aim was to build relationships within the industry and generally raise our profile and get on radars for the future. Therefore achieving a sale of the entire range on the first day was a brilliant feeling! Our first stockist ended up taking our entire range. It was at that moment that everything then became very real. We had been working so hard and Darlo means the world to us and we think it is great, but of course we are biased. The moment someone else buys into you and your brand is so special.

What advice would you give budding entrepreneurs?

Firstly, seek help and advice. You don’t need to set out on this journey alone and there are a number of people who are already further along the journey that are all willing to help and offer advice so take it.

Secondly believe in yourself. Back yourself 100%! Yes you will make mistakes but have no fear because if you know in your heart of hearts you’ve got something special then you have and you will get there!

Darlo1

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time? 

In five years’ time we would hope to be offsetting the Project Crayons food bill and to have expanded the A Little Giving Food Project in other parts of Mumbai.

We hope people see Darlo as a credible force in fighting malnutrition and the promotion of ethical fashion whilst offering stylish unisex baby clothing. We want those who want to follow our work in India and the A Little Giving Food Programme to be able to do so in good detail. We want to be a transparent and inclusive brand with a completely ethical supply chain from the cotton farmers in India right the way through to the shop floor.

In addition we would obviously like to be in several nationwide stores, as well as boutiques nationwide. We would also hope to have begun distribution in mainland Europe and perhaps the US. If all this was to happen it really would be a dream come true for us and Project Crayons!

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