Always the entrepreneur, Alexandra Riggs’s first foray into the business world was at local markets where she sold her own giftware which was then picked up by stores in Australia and Britain. The 34-year-old noticed that “Children’s wear and children’s gifts always flew off the shelves”. So when she saw a gap in the market, she decided to try and fill it.
“My customers said children’s clothes and gifts were my strengths. I’ve been selling to some of them since I was 22 years old.” So she must have been doing something right.
“A lot of mums know an Oobi without reading the label,” Riggs says. It helps that celebrity mothers such as Naomi Watts and Cate Blanchett are fans of the clothing brand.
Oobi Baby aims to be inspirational, educational, challenging and inspiring with its stimulating, colourful designs. The inspiration for the brand came from Riggs’s fashion designer mother who had a store in Melbourne in the 1960s called Oobi. “It’s a word we used when we were little for anything quirky,” Riggs says.
When she started her own Oobi, Riggs admits she took a big leap designing fabric prints and clothing styles herself.
“The minimum order of fabric is typically 1000metres so I took a big risk when I ordered my first designs. Some people helped by allowing me to start by ordering 500metres.
“In the end, people want to see you succeed and small businesses help each other. But you do have to wear your heart on your sleeve.” Riggs, who has done some mentoring, has this advice for new business starters: “You have to take risks and will probably make mistakes but that’s the only way to succeed.”
She likes the retro, quirky and, as her website (www.oobi.com.au) states, “groovy”, look. One of her best sellers are the box-pleated baby bloomers she launched four years ago. “They take ages to make and were a hard sell at first but now they’re our signature product.”
Oobi has been going strong for four years, so much so that Riggs’s husband Terry quit his advertising job and began working with the business 10 months ago. As the market for baby clothes grows, so does Oobi. The company also has two other full-timers and a sales representative. The company distributes to the US, Britain and Japan and has stores in Scandinavia. But Riggs says Australia is their main focus and where they hope to develop. “We have a lot of customers all over Australia and it’s our number one priority to grow in our home market.”
So if you spot babies wearing leg warmers or opera gloves this winter, you’ll know you’re looking at an Oobi baby.
Click here for more case studies of sewing businesses and the remainder of the article.