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The Story of Mama + Belle® and Who Actually Invented Teething Jewellery…

Suzy Olivier

The teething jewellery market has grown enormously in recent years. At the moment, it appears that every week there is a new business popping up, and that’s just in the UK. Naturally as a business owner, it’s wise to be aware of the competition, but to be honest I’ve completely lost track as there’s just too many out there now. The ‘about me’ sections of the various websites offering teething jewellery usually contain the same or very similar story. Usually something along the lines of “my baby was pulling on my necklace and broke it, so I set about creating a baby proof necklace”, “I stopped wearing jewellery when my little one started teething, when I thought it would be great to have baby safe jewellery, so I set about trying to design something suitable”. There’s a few that fairly state they didn’t find anything on the market they liked so set about creating a range to suit their own taste and took it from there, which is close to my own story.

 

A bit about Mama + Belle:

I started Mama + Belle in early 2014. Belle was a couple of months old and I was enjoying the life of being a stay at home mum. My husband joined the RAF not too long before I got pregnant with Belle, so our life was now one of regular house moves meaning my original career of running a Personal Training and Physio business in Oxfordshire (and being a personal trainer myself) was going to be tricky. I knew I wanted to be stay at home mum for as long as possible, so I needed to find something that would allow me to generate income without having to leave the house. I was on the lookout for a product. Something I could easily store/ stock in my house and sell online.

I had looked into several various (and very random!) products and none resinated with me or appeared viable in the long run. One day, Belle had fallen asleep on me feeding… a usual afternoon scenario and I was scrolling through Facebook. That’s when I saw it. Brightly coloured necklaces that were a prize for a competition that was running on Babyology- an Australian news/ media website for parents. I remember thinking that necklaces were an odd prize for a baby/ child focused Facebook page. On further investigation, I found out the necklaces were indeed teething necklaces. A completely unknown term to me and certainly nothing I had seen before. I thought it was absolutely brilliant and immediately wanted some for myself. I headed to good old Google to find some in the UK. To say it was slim pickings would be an understatement. The offerings were nothing that I would wear without baby, and some were simply overpriced. Not knowing if my baby Belle would take to it, there was no way I was spending £30+ on a necklace, call me a cheapskate if you wish.

So my only other option was to order one from Australia or America where there were hundreds of businesses offering a huge variety of teething jewellery, but the international shipping costs were just too high. That’s when I realised I may have found my product. I became a woman possessed by the idea and banged on every door (virtually speaking) to try and figure out how on earth I was going to create teething necklaces. Through some divine encounters, I found a factory who was willing to work with me and they agreed to allow me to order in very small quantities. I had no start up capital, except for £2000 of saved maternity pay, that was it. I needed to buy stock, create a website, design branding, buy packaging, cover insurance and safety testing costs and have something to pay for advertising. I had no experience in retail (other than being a sales assistant for Faith shoes when I was 16!), and didn’t know anything about websites or branding, so the next couple of months were a baptism of fire to say the least. Not having the capital to hire professionals, I had to figure out how to do everything myself. With no family or close friends nearby (thanks RAF!), I was going to have to figure everything out around looking after Belle. Thankfully Belle was still on 2 long naps a day and had long feeds, so I could perch the laptop on my knees during feeds and get on with working. Slowly but surely I designed my first logo, created the website, and carefully figured out how to edit images so they didn’t all look like selfies (which most were!). I did have to seek legal advice to make sure I had the correct insurance and that the safety testing was up to scratch.

Finally after taking my first product images on my bedroom floor with an Ikea blanket as the backdrop, I was ready to launch. I remember the excitement on launching on a Thursday evening at 8.30pm (apparently back then it was the ideal time to start an online business!), and waiting for my first order. It took 10 minutes after hitting the ‘go live’ button for my first order to arrive, and I cannot tell you how excited I was. I was home with my baby sleeping in her room, and I had made money, not much, but it had started.

Within a few days the business was busier than I could have ever dreamt off. Suddenly the realisation of designing packaging that required hand tied satin bows on every box may not have been the best idea… within 2 weeks I had blisters on my fingers and I was tying bows in my sleep! This was just one of many many many little mistakes (there were some BIG ones too!) I made and learnt from along the way. I got pregnant with baby number two at the end of 2014, and yet again we had another house move due, so I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with a busy business. I decided to ‘take my foot off the pedal’ and let the business coast a long for a while until I was ready to push again- push the business that is. Delilah arrived on the 1st of September 2015. Unlike her big sister, she didn’t go along with feed routines, and would happily spend the good part of a day feeding! I allowed myself to sit back and enjoy that phase of motherhood without worrying about the business. I dispatched orders as the came in, and worked on the business as and when I found the time. When Delilah was 10 months, and her and Belle started playing together, I realised the time had come to get back into the business. That’s when I rebranded, designed a new website, had my first 'proper' photoshoot (all with RAF wives, even the photographer!), designed a brand new collection and exhibited as my first trade show in London in January (had to wait to do trade shows as I’ve always had a baby attached to me feeding since 2013!). Since then, things have been racing ahead with me, and I cannot express how grateful I am for the success of Mama + Belle. I genuinely appreciate every single one of my customers and retailers, and couldn’t be more excited to see my products in John Lewis this coming autumn.

From the start I wanted my business to do more than just give mums stylish teething jewellery that they would love with or without baby, and allow me to be a stay at home mum. I wanted a business that did some good in the world. That’s when I decided that I wanted to give at least 10% of profits to charity. At a previous church we attended, I had the pleasure of meeting some young ladies that had been saved and looked after by a charity called Stella’s Voice in Moldova, who fight to save those affected by human trafficking. My heart broke hearing their stories and knowing there are so many more that need rescuing. I knew instantly that this was the charity that I wanted my business to support, and I loved the fact my business wasn’t just out to serve me and my family.

 

So that’s me… well that’s Mama + Belle in a nutshell.

 

Now looping back to to my first paragraph. There are literally hundreds of teething jewellery businesses that claim they came up with the idea of teething jewellery. Obviously there will be plenty of cases when mums have thought ‘I wish there was baby proof jewellery out there’ and set about looking into it, when they discovered teething jewellery and then set up their own business selling their version of it. Though they may have thought of the concept, they certainly didn’t invent the idea of the silicone based product we have today.

 

So who did invent teething jewellery?

Well it’s my pleasure to introduce you to Amy Creel.

Amy is the founder and owner of Smart Mom Jewellery trading as Teething Bling, and is indeed the inventor of teething jewellery. After seeing a few too many other businesses claiming the invention (even in national newspapers!) I thought I’d contact Amy to help set the record straight and give her the praise she most definitely deserves.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amy was very kind to answer some questions…

1. How did you come up with the idea for chewable jewellery and how long ago was it? 

It’s a cliché but I actually had a light bulb moment.   I was in church with my family.  My baby was sitting on my lap, contentedly playing with my necklace. I was wearing a cheap strand of pearls and she suddenly yanked on them. The pearls flew everywhere — up and down the pews. I was so embarrassed! As I ran out of the church, I found myself wondering, “is there such a thing as baby-proof jewelry?” I began some basic research - checking on patents and trademarks, sketching out ideas - but as often happens with new Moms, I got distracted by life and time ticked away.

4 years later, my sister-in-law, Maria, welcomed her first child.  We were overjoyed. But a week after giving birth, she wasn’t bouncing back.  One afternoon, she went to lie down and never woke up.  She had died from a previously undiscovered heart defect, exacerbated by labor and delivery.  She was only a few years older than I was.  After her death, I realized that if I truly wanted to launch a business, I needed to get started right away.  So in 2006, I started Smart Mom.

2. How did you discover that silicone was a good material to use?

I wanted to use a material that was proven/tested (and had been around for a long time) so I looked at various baby products and realized the ‘ coating' on those infant spoons might work.   I knew it had been in use for decades, was odorless and tasteless, would not support the growth of fungus, mold or bacteria and could be easily cleaned.  I also knew it was possible to ‘color’ the material.  So that was the starting point.  And now that’s what everyone uses :)

3. What was the very first teething necklace you created? What did it look like? 

The first designs were terrible!  They were big and clunky and didn’t look like jewelry at all.  I think I went back and forth with the factory 10 times before I got something I (sort of) liked.  Since teething jewelry didn’t yet exist, there were no designs to work from.  I had to create everything from scratch (including the original silicone molds that all of the teething jewelry companies now use) My first necklace was a red heart.  I chose that to honor my sister-in-law.

The very first teething necklace!

 

4. Once you had the idea and knew it worked, what were your next steps? 

I had no marketing budget so had to get creative!  I started a grass roots campaign to spread the word.  I contacted influential Mommy bloggers and asked them to review my product in exchange for a write up.  Because this was a brand new concept, there was a lot of interest.  And slowly, over time, I was able to build momentum.   I also focused on my social media as a way to give the company credibility with retailers.  My Facebook page now has 82,000 followers (and I add about 100 more each week) and I am very proud of that because it’s completely organic.  I never took any shortcuts.

5. How long was it from the point of coming up with the idea to launching Smart Mom/ Teething Bling? 

I had the original idea in 2002 but it wasn’t until 2006 that I actually launched the company. 

6. How quickly did the concept grow in popularity? 

It took about 2 years for the product to catch on.  It was great to have an original idea but the downside was that not everyone ‘got’ it right away.  There was an education component.

7. How does it feel to know that a concept you invented is being imitated all over the world? 

That’s an interesting question!  On the one hand, it feels like confirmation that I really did have a good idea and that feels good.  On the other hand, the competition has made it hard to maintain integrity in the industry.  SO many people are selling similar products (I can’t keep track anymore!) that I have no way of knowing if they are conforming to the strict safety standards I set for myself.  I know a lot of ‘pop ups’ won’t do their due diligence when it comes to safety testing and that makes me nervous.   So overall, it’s bittersweet.

8. Many teething jewellery businesses all over the world, claim they invented the idea. Have you ever taken action (legal or other) against their false claims? 

I have.  And I have shut many of them down over the years.  I am the only company that can legally claim the title of “original”.  But it’s an on-going battle that I’ve largely chosen not to fight anymore.  I know the truth and feel a certain peace with that :)

9. Smart Mom appears to have enjoyed huge success in Australia, what’s been the most challenging element of running and growing the business? 

Patience is key.  With few exceptions, there are no overnight successes in the entrepreneurial world – and the reality is, most of us will fail.  Having a successful business takes a very long time and the work can be relentless.  This is not for the faint of heart.  It’s demanding and difficult.  I find that my easy-going personality is a plus but I know many entrepreneurs who are high strung and feel that’s the only way to succeed.  I guess it ultimately depends what success means to you – I didn’t need to be a billionaire.  I just wanted a profitable company that would allow me to be home with my kids.  And I wanted to honor my sister-in-law which I feel I have done.

 

10. After selling in Australia, which countries did you expand to?

I was the first to sell in the USA as well as the first in Australia/New Zealand, Canada, Japan, the middle East and Europe.

 

So there you have it folks. No one in the UK invented teething jewellery, or anywhere else for that matter. It was the very lovely Amy Creel who not only came up with concept but actually went about to invent the physical silicone based product we know and love today. There are of course many businesses who have grown and developed on this idea, which has an inventive and ingenious nature of it's own, however, the original is and always will be Smart Mom Jewellery.  

On a side note, I've been asked recently why I claim to be the 'original stylish teething jewellery business in the UK', the reason quite simply is because that's what I and many of my customers believe. The idea of 'stylish' is in the eye of the beholder, so many other businesses are welcome (and do already) refer to themselves has being the 'original fashionable/ stylish etc..' and that's just as justified. I love that most teething jewellery businesses are run my mums, it's such an amazing experience to have something that allows you to explore your creativity and create income for your family, so I'm all for some friendly and honourable competition. :)

As always, happy teething mamas!

Suzy x



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