Tease and Totes is a fashion company founded by twin sisters Danielle Newnham and Natalie Bardega, who strongly believe in the empowerment of women and children, and that fashion is the best medium to spread that message far and wide.
Danielle Newnham was on the founding team of apps agency ubinow, recently bought by Havas WorkClub. She co-founded digital innovation studio We Make Play and is author of Mad Men of Mobile, and a forthcoming book about female innovators and entrepreneurs in tech. She is an advocate of women in technology and regularly speaks at conferences.
Prior to Tease and Totes, Natalie Bardega spent her career as a buying manager, in charge of a multi-million pound budget for Jane Norman.
“…Not all women and girls want to wear pink or aspire to be a “princess”, yet we found very little in the market for girls who had grand aspirations, and nothing for women who were or wanted to become entrepreneurs…”
We stumbled across you on Twitter and we loved what you did straight away as you are a bit like the clothing equivalent of us! What gave you the idea for the business?
Danielle: Thanks so much! Having worked in the tech industry for ten years, I was always acutely aware that despite the fact there were some awesome women working in tech, we were almost invisible (an issues for several other industries also). There weren’t as many visible female role models and I saw that as a huge problem when it came to trying to attract more female talent, as well as in encouraging more young girls to get into STEM.
As a firm believer that, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” I thought how great it would it be if more of us were visible? At the same time, I attended a great tech conference (Y Combinator) where I saw a sea of young guys wearing T-shirts with their company logo on. I saw how these tops became conversation starters and that’s when I decided on the idea of doing slogan tops for women.
As you can see from our range, all of our slogans are designed to make the women who wear them more visible (Fearless, Unapologetic, Here’s to the Crazy Ones). The slogans are also designed to make the women who wear them feel empowered in achieving all that they dream of.
Not all women and girls want to wear pink or aspire to be a “princess”, yet we found very little in the market for girls who had grand aspirations, and nothing for women who were or wanted to become entrepreneurs. We started Tease and Totes to fill that gap.
What are your career backgrounds?
Natalie: I have always worked in fashion. I started out working on the shop floor of Jane Norman after I finished University. I really just wanted to earn money before finding out exactly what I wanted to do.
I was fortunate enough to work in the shop below their Head Office so I got to know the CEO and owners of the company who offered me a job working as a Buyers Admin assistant. I absolutely loved it – the company was still relatively small so I got to work closely with the owner’s daughter and the CEO which was a great experience as I was learning first-hand about the business and being part of its growth.
I stayed with Jane Norman climbing the ladder to Head of Buying before deciding to leave and go travelling. It was a hard decision to leave as I had seen it grow and worked with some of the most talented and inspiring people but we had been bought out and it seemed the new ethos was not the same.
I then travelled alone for three months across America and when I returned I worked for a few more fashion companies but I had lost my passion. The original Jane Norman ethos was still ingrained in my heart and I believed the fashion industry had lost its connection with the consumer – I still loved fashion but was more interested in working for a small company that cared about its workers and customers. Luckily for me my sister suggested starting our own business so I get to do that.
Danielle: I have a more mixed background. I worked in music and fashion before finding my calling in a “new media” tech startup in 2006. Shortly after that, and just after the iPhone was released, I joined two engineers from the previous start-up at their newly founded apps studio, ubinow. I was the only non-technical member of the founding team so was in charge of everything from finance to HR and new business. It did well and was recently sold to Havas.
In 2011, I had a baby and decided to write a book about mobile entrepreneurs Mad Men of Mobile whilst on maternity leave. I am now writing a second book about female innovators and entrepreneurs in tech, and setting up The Junto Network, which will include filmed interviews with tech founders, innovators and investors.
What is it like working with your sister? Do you ever fall out?!
Natalie: Well not only is Danielle my sister but we’re twins! We have always been incredible close although very different. Friends have often commented on the fact that we argue like a married couple, but we have never fallen out, we just know how to push each other’s buttons!
Working with her is a great experience, because we are different and our strengths lie in different fields so we seem to balance each other out. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we have disagreements, but I think we also push each other further as we know what each other are capable of and want each other to succeed.
At the end of the day we are passionate about Tease and Totes and the ethos behind it, so that drives us onwards and upwards.
What has the response been like to your products?
Natalie: So far the response to our products, ethos and Wednesday Woman interviews (we interview inspiring women every week on our blog) has been great.
Danielle: Yes, in fact, we have been pretty overwhelmed by it. Through platforms such as Instagram, we get to interact with customers all over the world and get immediate feedback. It’s great to have positive feedback but it also helps us define our product range because we can put concepts up and get immediate feedback as to whether this is something our customer would want to buy.
How do you use social media to raise awareness of your products?
Natalie: We see social media as key to raising awareness of our product and also the message behind the brand, and we use Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to do both these things.
We use Instagram mainly to post inspiring quotes and our product range, but we use Facebook and Twitter to not only show our product, but also share stories / articles that inspire and empower women.
As I mentioned earlier, we use our blog to do weekly interviews with awesome women. (These have included Assistant Commissioner of the London Fire Bridge, Dany Cotton, the first woman to be awarded the Queens’s Fire Service Medal; Sophie Radcliffe, who took on the BBC when she was told she couldn’t audition for “World’s Toughest Army” because she was a woman (naturally, she got them to change their minds), and Emma Sinclair who is a successful entrepreneur (and youngest person to launch an IPO [Initial Public Offering]).
For us, social media isn’t just about pushing our product, but it’s about building a community with messages of inspiration and empowerment.
How do you make sure people don’t imitate what you’re doing?
Danielle: We also set out from the start to make unique and well-designed tops, in part, to minimise copycats. With slogan tops, you do see a lot of people claiming successful designs as their own when they are not however, we have worked hard to build a story around Tease and Totes and to build a community so that we’re not just another run of the mill retailer creating products that can be easily replicated.
How important is ethical sourcing to you?
Danielle: Very important. From the start, we had a strong vision of what we wanted to achieve with Tease and Totes and that includes using the most socially responsible materials wherever we can, such as our Misfit Rebel tee which is Earth Positive – made from 100% organic cotton and manufactured solely using sustainable energy generated from wind and solar power.
What have been the greatest hurdles for you to overcome?
Danielle: Fashion is a tough nut to crack – it’s over saturated and that’s why we have chosen a niche market. We don’t want to compete with the Topshops – what we are doing is totally different. Rather than being all things to all people, we have chosen to focus on a core audience with a unique message.
What are the best bits about running your own business?
Natalie: In this case, it’s definitely working with my sister; I love seeing her in action. She is an incredible woman who manages to juggle running a business, writing and being a mum. I also have my passion for fashion back.
When running your own business, you have to be passionate about what you do so that when things are tough, you persevere. I also love being in control and steering the business the way we want it to go in.
Danielle: For me, it’s always been about seeing direct results of my work. I think if you’re not a nine to five person it’s very hard to work for someone else. We’re only answerable to ourselves, which means we can pick the direction we go and equally, move fast if we want to change something. We set the hours we work (I have a young child so this works really well for me and I’ll often work evenings when he is asleep) and, we get to make our vision a reality – there’s nothing quite like it.
What are your plans for you the future?
Natalie: We have big plans! Along with our women’s clothing range, we are working on a children’s range where 100% profit from one line will go to the Worldreader Charity; a charity we feel strongly about.
As a dyslexic, I really struggled at school but as I grew older, I really fell in love with books and learning. Books have a real impact on imagination and learning, and we believe every child should have the opportunity to read and learn, no matter where they are in the world
We are also hoping to grow our Wednesday Woman into something bigger – we’re looking at putting on a TED style event next year which will include lots of fabulous inspiring women doing talks for an audience of women and children. We have so many ideas, so watch this space!
Danielle: As well as continuing on the path we’re on of creating slogan tops with inspiration and empowering messages, we also want to extend that to technology to help tell our story, as well as the story of many fantastic pioneering women in history.
We think fashion is one of several industries which could be made better by bringing it into 21st century, and we plan to do that using the technology our customer uses all day, every day – currently, their mobile phone.
The idea is to tell a story behind each collection so e.g. we’re looking at RFID (radio-frequency identification) which will allow our customers to learn the stories of historical and modern day, female role models every time they buy an item from us. Our vision is to empower as many women and children as we can, and we believe fashion to be the best medium to distribute that message far and wide.