IN this week's SME Focus we hear how two celebrities built a successful business in Glasgow after developing a novel approach to tackling an age old problem faced by women.


Carol Smillie.



What is your business called?


Where is it based?


What does it produce?

Pretty pants with a secret waterproof panel, providing extra protection during periods or while playing sport. They are also perfect for post maternity and pelvic floor weakness.

Whom does it sell to?

Women of all ages from 10-70.

What is its turnover?


How many employees?


When was it formed?

October 2012.

Why did you take the plunge?

My friend Annabel Croft, the ex-British number one tennis player, and I saw a massive gap in the market when our teenage daughters had genuine concerns about school, sport and sleepovers when their bodies started changing, and puberty kicked in.

Annabel confessed she'd always suffered with heavy periods as a young tennis player on the circuit, and worried so often when playing in a short white skirt, not to mention staying with host families around the world aged just 15. At that time, her mother gave her what she described as 'a shower cap with legs', hideous plastic pants, but they did work. "Why", she asked, "is there still nothing on the market to help when normal sanitary protection isn't enough?" Women spend fortunes buying knickers that make them thin for a night, yet the one thing they cannot control, and is not a choice, is their monthly cycle. We found it incredible that nothing had been developed when the market is so potentially huge and guaranteed. From this perspective we recognised a big opportunity to develop a range of pretty yet practical underwear that gives women and girls extra peace of mind when they need it most.

When researching we obviously consulted our own daughters first. But, keen to get a proper feel for the market, we surveyed 100 teenage girls across three schools, through the school matrons. The results were startling - 34 per cent said they had 'accidents' every month, but 91 per cent said they were so concerned about the possibility, they deliberately avoided sport, sleepovers or light coloured clothing at that time. It turns out one in five women miss work or social or athletic events as a result of their monthly cycle, add to that, the older girls who suffer pelvic floor weakness during sport and the post maternity market, and the numbers are vast. We produced two prototypes and did three rounds of wearer trials, modifying the design each time, according to the feedback. Finding a manufacturer came about through the generosity of Midge Whyte, creator of boxer short brand 'Bawbags'. He was so kind and allowed us to 'piggyback' his chain of people to get the first version to market. We designed a basic website, and we were off.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I was working full-time as a TV presenter, and Annabel continues to work full time as a pundit and tennis commentator for Sky, Eurosport and the BBC.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

We used our own savings. It was a bit of a punt to start-off with but we had confidence and belief in what we were trying to achieve.

What was your biggest break?

John Lewis believed in us and our product from the start and gave us huge credibility and a nationwide sales platform. We continue to have incredible support from business start-up accelerator Entrepreneurial Spark, which we will always be grateful for.

What was your worst moment?

Two days before our first John Lewis order was due to be delivered, our UK manufacturer went bust, and I aged 20 years overnight. Annabel was in Australia commentating on the Open Tennis, so knew nothing about it, what could she possibly have done from there? My husband Alex and I jumped in the car straight away, drove to Manchester, collected all the stock, both finished and unfinished, and drove back that evening, with no real idea of what to do next. We worked out that by 'decanting' the E-Comm stock we could complete the delivery. It would mean we had no product short term to sell online, but we just couldn't miss this incredible opportunity with John Lewis. We locked down the garage and spent the weekend, attaching swing tickets, barcodes and hangers, before sending the completed order to Annabel's husband Mel on an overnight delivery, and he personally drove it in to the John Lewis depot. That's what you call teamwork. By this time I had joined Entrepreneurial Spark, and through them, found our second UK manufacturer Haven PTS right here in Scotland. They still manufacture for our smaller independent lingerie boutiques today, but now we are in five major retailers, our main production is overseas.

What do you most enjoy about running the business? It's an incredible feeling to watch something we have created from scratch gain momentum at lightning speed. From our initial chat on holiday we are now sold through five of the biggest High Street retailers in the UK in less than four years. We also have an Australian and New Zealand agent and are supplying to three department stores in South Africa.

What do you least enjoy?

The administration and financials are not for me. Luckily my husband Alex has taken over that side of things.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

The performance of the business and the reach of our sales continues to outstrip our initial projections and at this rate going global is a very real possibility. We've even been approached by a film company to make the movie!

What are your top priorities?

Continuing to raise awareness of our product; bringing out our next styles that are currently in development; funding our growth ambitions with the right investor; supporting our partners - Netball Scotland, Endometriosis UK, Louise and Kimberly Renicks (judo Commonwealth gold medallists) and Georgina Cassar (Team GB rhythmic gymnast). All of these partners have supported us for no fee, mainly because they have empathy and believe in what we are trying to achieve; growing our team, to allow me more freedom to develop the brand with Annabel and concentrate on the future.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish Governments do that would help?

It is so difficult for SMEs to begin manufacturing at an affordable cost, either in textiles or anything else. Minimum orders from Asia or even Europe are so high, but UK manufacturing seems to be either too costly or impossible to find. What we really need is sample factories, which are willing to do small runs, at an affordable price for those crucial early stages. It would be worth involving student programmes to work alongside those factories, teaching them prototype design and development, and offering job opportunities for those who excel.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

There's no shame in admitting you don't know the answer, just make sure you find it out quickly and be honest. Humility goes a long way.

How do you relax?

I always aim to walk away from my phone and laptop away when I go home in the evening. However growing a start-up can be all consuming and it's not the easiest thing to do!