Saying it like it is...a magazine editorial

Posted by Kim Lancaster on

Here’s a lighthearted peek into the world of Mininuds. It’s such a joy working with ‘The Natural Parent Magazine’ crew. Thankyou for the opportunity guys. A brilliant example of a small team doing great things, with empathy and compassion. The world needs more people like you right now.

Embracing puddles, mess, mud and fun, Minimuds create warm, waterproof outerwear for your little adventurers in bold, bright colours, allowing them to explore outdoors whatever the weather. With a background in design, former dressmaker Kim Lancaster was passionate about the benefits of the ‘outdoor classroom’, so set out to create appropriate, fun and functional clothing. Here she talks about the inspiration behind her business, the challenges she has faced along the way, and her exciting plans for the future.

The passion: What inspired you to set up your business? 

I’ll briefly take you right back to the beginning, so bear with me! (This bit will be quick and painless). 

As a young designer and commercial dressmaker, I was always drawn to colour and contrasts, style, and simple functional design. On the flip side, I was a quiet homebody with a glaring aversion to glitz and glamour, noise and hype, and ALL things catwalk. So that was the first of many elements that all collided at the crossroads and eventuated in the creation of a fun and functional kids label. 

Worlds away from the catwalk (and more than a decade later), I actually set my mind to creating Minimuds. By then I had three boys of my own, and a yearning to get back to a much simpler existence. I was studying early childhood education and working in a brand new integrated preschool/long daycare centre in Alpine Victoria, Australia. We were struggling with the combination of our high country climate, a muddy outdoor play space which was yet to be properly established, and kids who were desperate to explore it. 

I found myself gravitating towards, (and feeling really excited about) the idea of bush kinders, ‘play based’ learning, and the benefits of the outdoor classroom. I loved the Scandinavian notion that ‘there is no such as thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing’, and I firmly latched on to it. It dissolved all the mama guilt around my own boys wanting to play outside in all (often extreme) weather, and opened up a much broader world for them to explore. It also made parenting a whole lot easier, and the anxiety levels in our household dropped a few hundred notches.  

So you can imagine where this is going. Minimuds became our uniform of choice, although it wasn’t called Minimuds back then. But it was a complete game changer for me. In a topsy turvy world of massive piles of laundry (created undoubtedly through deliciously rascally antics), and the energiser battery-type stamina of my three boys, I could at least harness their drive for adventure and teach them how to unleash the power of their own imagination. To play, and invent games, and ride fast, and skid to a halt in a plume of dust, and to stop and breathe long enough to marvel at how magnificent the stars are in the night sky.

The soothing balm of nature. It’s free, it’s magnificent, and it works the kind of magic our kids need more of. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. 

The launch: How did you start out in the beginning? 

It was probably after a whole lot of prodding from my early childhood co-workers, after seeing my own boys playing hard and staying dry. As an early childhood education service with 3 alpine centres, we were finding it very difficult to source affordable waterproof outerwear. So I set about making them myself. 

It was tricky at best to source waterproof fabrics hardy enough to withstand the rigours of energetic and reckless little adventurers, which were also comfortable to wear and easy to piece together in my little domestic sewing space. So Minimuds was definitely a slow evolution. I purchased an industrial sewing machine and a 50 metre bolt of royal blue Poly Oxford, (which at the time seemed incredibly optimistic), and set to work making a class set of very simple waterproof pants. As word spread, one class set became two, and other centres popped up with small orders. Before too long, my optimistic 50 metres didn’t seem so outrageous, and our garage soon became a chaotic, creative hub of activity. 

The rest, I guess, is history. We are still very much in a constant cycle of learning and improving, expanding and moving in all directions. Sometimes backwards, often awake in the wee small hours nutting out a solution to a curve ball (and we’ve had a few), but mostly forwards these days. 

The innovation: What was the biggest breakthrough for your business? 

I plodded along for a couple of years under my own steam, only just treading water both financially and also in the sense of keeping up with the demand, so for me the biggest breakthrough has been outsourcing some of the work. It provided me with the opportunity to get back to the drawing board and design the rest of the range knowing that I had the scope to be able to fill larger orders and confidently market the product nationally and globally. 

Of course outsourcing came with its own challenges, and again it was quite a long and arduous process, mostly driven by my OCD around stitching perfection and the lessons learnt while ‘letting go’. It was almost an umbilical attachment, and my difficulty in handing the project over to relative strangers (and trusting them to display the same level of attention to detail) was almost a deal breaker.  

So for me, the biggest breakthrough was also possibly my greatest personal obstacle, and the two danced around each other in a conflicting mess until I loosened the strings and relaxed a bit. 

Yin and Yang: How do you balance work and family? 

We are a deliciously blended clan these days, but if I were to take you back a decade or so the landscape would look completely different. As a single mum of 3 boys, the balance constantly eluded me. I was on a treadmill of keeping everyone afloat, myself included. Not enough work..too much work..not enough time, exercise, social interaction (‘you should get out more’…), and the ever present mama guilt was eating me alive. My world view was distorted and chaotic, and my household was fractious. Something needed to shift.

And shift it did….in the form of a BMX accident that almost stole my middle son from us. That’s another story, but oh my. The clarity. It came like a smack in the face, and we were very rudely catapulted into a world where everything seemed frivolous and small talk irritated me. It was the awakening I needed…our lives were peeled right back to just the important stuff, and although it’s not the standard channel to contentment, its evolution became exactly that for the boys and me.  

We moved back to our homeland in Alpine Victoria, to a life that was a whole lot simpler and a village to raise my children. We exhaled.  

The balance has definitely become easier to achieve over the years, as the boys tested out their independence and started forging their own paths. I met my partner, poached him from corporate Sydney, and effortlessly (yes…really!!), three became 5. All teens, and all bringing their own personalities and spunk to the table. It’s a different kind of chaos now, and yes we have had our moments but it really is a happy space. We are definitely the lucky ones. And being able to share the load…that’s an absolute gift which I’ll never take for granted. We work together well, both in business and family, and I have Brett and every one of our 5 kids to thank for that. They have accepted and embraced the changes with enthusiasm and open mindedness, and it makes me incredibly proud. 

The drive: What challenges have you overcome? 

All of the above! 

There are still lots of challenges. I am creative and artistic….which doesn’t usually pair with ‘business-wise’ or ‘good at managing finances’, haha. I depend on Brett for that logic.  

I have struggled (and continue to struggle) with being a consistent social media presence. It’s just not how my brain works, but I’m learning. Slowly, slowly. 

I’m terrible at self promotion, but I’m working on that too. People these days need to see the face behind the brand, to resonate with the motivation behind it, and to get a sense of authenticity. I’m cool with that. 

2020 has presented us with the biggest challenge so far, and that came on Jan 1 in the form of a monster of a bushfire that lurked at our doorstep for the whole month, keeping us alert and on edge with every changing breath of hot, smoky, sepia toned wind. We were evacuated for more than half of January, and also shifted our entire warehouse of stock and 5 machines to safer ground. It was mentally and physically exhausting, not only evacuating the entire Minimuds studio but also packing all our irreplaceable belongings (and when it comes down to it, there aren’t many of those) into the boot of the car and driving away, with the knowledge that we may not return to home as we know it. It took us (and the whole township) ages to resettle and actually begin the year again. 

But here we are still. Our house remains untouched, and the studio is restored to its former warehouse status. We decided on a restart, a NEW New Years eve, and did a second cathartic countdown to midnight on March 1.

For better or worse: The pros and cons of running your own business 

I love the creativity. I love the notion of getting kids off their screens and outside, and I love that I can help with that in a small way. Working from home is both wonderful and difficult, because I don’t tend to ‘knock off’ at the end of the day if there’s still work to be done, yet I have the flexibility to work to my own timetable. I can work around my partner and my kids, and it affords me the luxury of being available to them when they need it. That’s the best bit. 

Hopes and Dreams: What next?

I’m always dreaming up the next project. I’d love to see Minimuds grow and expand, both in production and reach. We’re adding gorgeous gumboots to the range this winter, and I’m super excited to show them off. I’m looking forward to visiting bush kinders and outdoor classrooms this year (because who doesn’t love a road trip) making connections and taking the brand to the people. Who knows what’s next. I’m just enjoying the changing autumn leaves right now and living in the present. Happy to be alive.