“I spotted a big gap in the market”

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When eeni meeni miini moh founder Elizabeth O’Connor-Cowley embarked on a trip to Europe in the late nineties, she never imagined returning with a life-changing concept. Elizabeth and her husband Philip found themselves inside European children’s boutiques and were captivated by the products on offer. “Australia had nothing like this at the time. There truly was a gap in the market back in the late 90’s for a boutique children’s brand and I decided to create it,” she says.

Elizabeth dreamt of the name eeni meeni miini moh one night and immediately trademarked it before informing anyone of their intentions, including family and close friends. She began working on designs, developing samples and searching for manufacturers and every spare minute was dedicated to creating eeni meeni miini moh. In 2001, their first container arrived of premium quality, innovative apparel and accessories for babies aged 0-3 months. Elizabeth left her six-figure salary behind with Philip following soon after and they both jumped into the deep end of business.

At the time Elizabeth was working for a German commercial furniture firm, Wilkhahn, as their Asia Pacific Marketing Manager. Philip is a former pilot who moved into an office/administration role with The Australian Worker’s Heritage Centre.

The eeni meeni miini moh newborn range

The duo initially operated the business from their home office in Auchenflower in Brisbane. Their products were stored off site in a self-storage facility in Milton and they say the space they hired was, “about the size of a shoebox.” During the early stages of creating the business, the couple were a two-man show. She adds, “Everything was done in-house – from design, production co-ordination, logistics, sales, marketing, dispatch and accounts. We were not in a position to hire staff or even subcontractors.”

The couple began eeni meeni miini moh with only $13,000. They put their home up as security to obtain a bank loan to pay for the first container of stock and took out a hefty overdraft facility. Elizabeth resigned from Wilkhahn a couple of weeks before their first son was born in June 2001 and eeni meeni miini moh launched later that year.

The decision to both resign from their careers was terrifying for Elizabeth and Philip. “We had a new a baby, no income, we were essentially living off our savings and about to launch a new business,” she says. Then adds, “We knew that we had to both be involved in the business from day one if we were to take it seriously and make the brand successful. It was a case of sink or swim.”

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There are a number of trials associated with starting a business. This young couple had no guaranteed income and had created a new brand from scratch. She adds, “We really had no idea whether or not any stores would want to purchase that first container of stock we brought in or not. We believed in the product, but honestly had no idea if that would translate into sales.” Fortunately it did, and the brand now caters for children from 0 to 12 years.

Another difficulty the duo faced in the beginning of the business was the fact that they had no prior experience in this industry. “We were both on a very steep learning curve. Certainly I understood garment construction as my family sewed and I too knew how to sew. However, operating a fashion business that manufactured offshore was always going to be a little different. It’s a case of making mistakes and learning from them so you don’t make the same mistakes twice,” says Elizabeth.

When hunting for reliable suppliers, they were told by manufacturers that they couldn’t help them as the childrenswear market was based in China. The pair had no idea where to start so they jumped on a plane to China. She says, “Quality is a priority for us so sifting through and going through the sampling process to get to the gold was complicated, very time-consuming and expensive.”

With the nature of eeni meeni miini moh, Elizabeth and Philip employ full-time, part-time and casual employees. There are three full time employees in their head office, four part-time employees and five seasonal employees who assist during the ‘selling seasons’.

They also have three part-time employees working in their retail store. Elizabeth says, “We have always put ourselves behind everything and everyone else in the business.” The staff are a very important part of eeni meeni miini moh. Elizabeth and Philip do not pay themselves first as they always put the business first. “First and foremost, stock and operating costs, including our team’s wages and super being paid on time, have always been and will remain our priority,” she stresses.

Fun and comfortable fashion for cool kids

Small business is the largest employer in Australia, yet many Australians feel challenged with the costs of operating their business. Elizabeth adds, “It would be beneficial if we received some tax relief instead of paying the current 30 per cent corporate tax. If this could be reduced to be in line with the rest of the world, small business would be in a better position to employ more people and manage their cash flow more effectively.”

“I’ve always had entrepreneurial characteristics and desperately wanted to create my own brand. Throughout my mid to late twenties it used to frustrate me that I couldn’t think of a product to design, even though I had a very rewarding career at the time, I just wanted to be in control of my own destiny.”

Elizabeth and her ‘small business’ happy family

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