Featured Entrepreneur: Carolina Gomez-Aubert, Founder of Lunamano

26 JUN 2012

Lunamano Bee Lovely

What’s the name of your business and what promise does it make to customers?

My name is Carolina Gomez-Aubert and I am founder of Lunamano. We make hand embroidered clothing for children between the ages of zero and six years. Our garments are created from reclaimed textiles sourced in El Salvador. Vivid colours and an air of nostalgia rooted in Latin American culture make every garment special.

By working with a cooperative of Salvadorian women, we ensure all products are made to the highest standards of the fair-trade/artisan tradition. We don’t like waste so we are as resourceful as possible.

You can find us online at www.lunamano.com and follow us on Twitter at @lunamano. You can also find us on Pinterest at www.pinterest.com/lunamano.

What made you decide to start your business?

I grew up watching my grandfather run his shop in a remote village in El Salvador. It was a magical world, you could find everything in there. The textiles area was my favourite part of his store.

As the youngest of my cousins I was more interested in playing “shop” than barbies. At 12 I sold second hand clothes and jewelry to the employees of my mother’s business. I always found choosing products, talking to people, setting up a traveling store, and writing receipts a real joy!

You know how they say “do what you love, love what you do”?

I say, continue to play as you grow up, and you’ll love what you do.

Did you have a business before you started working with School for Creative Startups? Or did you just have an idea of an enterprise you’d like to start.

I had the business going very, very slowly before I joined S4CS, it was more of a hobbie that I wanted to grow as a business but didn’t know were to begin or who to turn to.

What kind of customers do you think your product is perfect for? Why?

Our products are perfect for those mums, or family members of a child, who care for the environment, who are interested in learning about where materials come from, who want to know where the things they buy are made and how they are produced. They like listening to their Grandmother’s reminisce at our hand smock technique and hearing how they used to wear similar garments growing up. Its perfect for families who want colour, magic and heritage in their lives.

It’s perfect for parents who like their children to wear comfortable clothes they can move and play around in. We use natural fabrics; gentle to their skin and gentle to the earth.

What made you decide to enrol in School for Startups a year ago? What challenges were you facing and what did you hope to learn?

I know there are many resources out there for entrepreneurs but none are as as tailored as S4CS, with a particular focus on “creative” start-ups.

The decision making point was when I looked at the application form, asking me questions I had no proper answers to. They were really important questions like “describe what your business is about”.

When I saw that I knew joining the program was the right move.

One of the biggest challenges I think every creative entrepreneur faces is the feeling that you are alone in this huge, massive world and that no one else is in that boat with you.
I hoped that by joining a community of like-minded individuals the journey would be smoother, and I could learn from others too.

I was particularly interested in getting help in the area of finance. Numbers have always been a tricky thing for me and I hoped the course would teach me to look at them from an accessible angle. It did.

I was stuck and I hoped to be unstuck.

What meaningful answers did you discover in working with Doug Richard and the experts he’s brought in to advise and mentor you?

Many. To name a few:

Invisibility is our biggest challenge so we must rely on bigger shoulders and piggy back on their success.

As creative entrepreneurs we have to get our story right. We must engage people, with excellent photography, video (if applicable) and make sure all this translates to an online presence we are proud of.

Our time is very precious so plan and outsource were possible. Specially because there are people out there that do things better than you can do them.

What meaningful and useful skills have you acquired over the last year through School for Creative Startups? How have you put them to use in working to build your enterprise?

Social media. Learning how to use it better, how to raise awareness of a product/service through free resources like Twitter and Facebook. I’ve also learned how important it is to keep on top of these things. Learning that you need about 3-4hrs per week on social media is also a relief. It is nice knowing you can use social media to your advantage without being consumed by it. For example, I used Pinterest to create a mood board for an editorial photo shoot that is taking place in L.A.

Negotiating. I thought I had this one covered, needless to say, but I have learned some new tricks that I have applied to negotiating prices for swing tags, labels and product shots of our garments.

Pitching. It was a very productive experience to do this in front of my fellow colleagues and hopefully I will be putting this into practice when pitching for investment sometime in the next couple of months.

What were the most important topics we covered at the bootcamps and seminars? Why were they important to you?

I really benefited a great deal from the demystification of cash flow forecasts, balance sheets and P&L. That’s my business lingo at play right there.

It was such a relief. Because it meant I could do it. And it was wonderful to learn that I didn’t need to start any of these from scratch, templates online are widely available and now I know what to put in all those little boxes.

A general awareness, that Doug drilled in to us in the most generous way possible, that our currently small, invisible businesses can actually grow and be big.

How has your business changed based on what you’ve learned?

In a year it has grown to being a once in a while Saturday Market hobbie, into having an ecommerce site, being stocked in some London shops, having press exposure and hopefully receiving a capital injection which will take Lunamano to the next level.

Who you have met, through School for Startups, that made a real impact on you?

Chris Cunniff, I know its his job as programme coordinator to be there to support us, but I think he really goes out of his way to help us out in anyway shape or form. He is really committed to seeing us thrive.

And I have to mention two fellow entrepreneurs, Davika Dass and Dominik Oliver Cort. Davika always has very insightful questions that inform the rest of us, and he is a laboratory of ideas and mad creations. The combination equals some very long hours dissecting each others businesses.

Which speakers and mentors have had the biggest impact on you and your business?

They have all had some impact in one way or another but I’d have to say the talk with Rosie Wolfenden, one half of Tatty Devine, was very inspirational. They began with a stall in Portobello Market and ten years after they have over 100 stockists around the world, concessions in Selfridges and Harvey Nichols and two London shops. It’s proof that it can be done.

Both Media and Doug have been an amazing influence, I like their directness and how they can make you look at something in a completely different perspective. Media really uses her contacts to help us, and thanks to her I am working with Post Creative who are developing my website.

Doug’s humour and impressive business mind, has rubbed off on me I think.

Do you feel more comfortable designing products and services that meet the needs of your customer?

Absolutely. As creatives we tend to make things all about ourselves which is great for the creative process but there comes a point when you have to step back and ask yourself “Will my customers respond to this?”

Which of your products are you proudest of? Why?

I’d have to say it’s the bumble bee dress, made with untreated cotton and a button detail that gets every child and grown up excited. Bumble bees are incredibly popular and we are opening contact with businesses like Neal’s Yard for some promotional opportunity in conjunction with their initiative “Bee lovely-Save the Bees”.

Are you more comfortable pitching your products, services and business to people in a position to help you or buy from you than you were before?

Yes, its about confidence: I was lacking in that before. And it is very important to know what you want to get out of an interaction and to be able to understand what those you face also want.

Is there anyone you’ve pitched to, or sold to, recently that you’d like to tell people about?

I had to send a proposal to Wilderness Festival and Vintage Festival, both known to be tough to get into, but I have a spot to sell at those festivals this summer.

Are you able to effectively market your business?

This is a tricky one, not because I can’t do it but because I do find it quite time consuming, which is why have enlisted the help of a friend who does this for a living. Had she not come on board a PR and marketing strategy would still be missing.

As your business grows, do you feel you’ll be able to negotiate with suppliers, sales channels and investors comfortably?

I think I will. The investors bit is the most challenging one I think, because it is no longer your money, its someone else’s money.

Do you feel you’ve developed relationships through this program that will help you in the months and years to come?

Yes, I know that as part of the alumni I can rely on the S4CS resources and its community if I feel alone in that boat again.