Oobi Baby wins business award

Oobi Baby & Kids owner and prolific designer Alex Riggs.
Oobi Baby & Kids owner and prolific designer Alex Riggs. Photo: Supplied

Oobi Baby is a firm fashion favourite amongst mums, with its whimsical designs often selling before the first shipment has arrived.

The company's popularity was confirmed at the recent Sydney Business Awards, where it won its category  and the overall award.

The product range now exceeds 300, with mums embracing Oobi's quest to “let children be children”.

Owner and designer Alex Riggs was stunned at the outcome. With 10 staff and less than $3 million turnover, she thought the presenter had made an embarrassing gaffe.

“We were shocked – I couldn't even get out of my seat when they announced it,” she said.

Oobi – founded in 2002 – has an enviable fan base, including 11,000 Facebook subscribers. Readers of popular blog KidStyleFile have voted it Australia's 'favourite childrenswear designer' three years running.

The 37-year-old was so confident that her retro-inspired wares would appeal to mums she started the business with more than 30 products.

“With no budget and just starting – that's quite a lot,” she said.

“I am quite a prolific designer – I never get a 'block' and I never worry that the ideas won't come.”

The product range now exceeds 300, with mums embracing Oobi's quest to “let children be children”.

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Riggs also well aware her customers are seeking affordability, keeping seasonal collections consistent so mums can mix and match.

Riggs said Facebook had provided a productive sounding board that wholesalers missed out on.

“I don't get to meet customers and that's a really hard thing for a wholesaler, because you do live in a bubble," she says.

“We are a company that thrives on feedback; I think that's why Facebook has been so amazing for us. I hate negativity, but I love constructive criticism and we're lucky that our customers like us enough to do that for us."

With such loyal and interactive fans, the Darlinghurst resident said it was inevitable Oobi would eventually open an online store to appease customer demand, and sometimes, frustration.

"Everybody's got a web presence…the fact that we don't (have an online store) is pretty bizarre!

“It's a really big job as well – and we're just not quite ready for that yet.”

Start-up pains

Starting a small business is tough. Rarely do businesses make big profits – if at all – in the first year. Alex Riggs offers some candid advice.

“People don't realise that it's really hard in the beginning. I had people banging on my door to collect the debt.

When you start your business, you're book-keeper, designer, debt collector, photographer, warehouse manager, PR agent – everything. By doing all those things, you find out what you're good at and what you'd like to hand over.

I started Oobi off the back of another business. When you start out, you can't get credit – you've got to pay for everything upfront. But because I'd already had my previous business and hadn't changed my name, I was able to purchase stuff with good credit. That month makes a huge difference.

Growth wasn't that rapid. There were a couple of good seasons back-to-back and then all of a sudden there was this demand (around Oobi's third year in business). That's when I realised that that was my turning point.

We're really diligent with keeping up the business plan. We've got one, three and 10 year plans and we do update them – we don't do everything right, but we do that. When you've surpassed your goals it's such a boost.

You have to back yourself. You can't define it, but sometimes I just know a dress is going to be really popular and everyone in the office will go 'no, don't do it!”. And I'll say, 'no, it's going to be really popular' – and it will be.

I do love my business and I love what I do. I of course complain about my job, but essentially I know how lucky I am to get to do something I love, to make people happy and to make a living on my own terms.”