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Inverness mum’s business meets global demand for princess-free clothing

Emma Broomes, owner of Scarf Monkey, and her daughter Matilda. Supplied by Craig Johnson, Inverness

Former headteacher Emma Roomes was inspired to start her own business after becoming fed up with the choice of clothing available for girls.

Now fours year later the 47-year-old’s business Scarf Monkey is selling clothes worldwide and has a turnover of more than £100,000 a year.

It all started from her dining room table with one print machine before moving into her shed, where Ms Roomes still does all her work.

The mum-of-two had previously spent 22 years as a teacher and taught in Austria, Colombia, and Vietnam before deciding she wanted a career change.

Need for something different for girls

Ms Roomes, who lives in Inverness with husband Will and children Matilda, 12, and Oscar, 11, said: “For about five years I was trying to decide what to do with myself and then we came home from Austria.

“My intention had to been to buy a whole new wardrobe for my daughter while I was in the UK as I wanted her to have some things that her friends didn’t have.

“But there was literally nothing. It came to the point where she was wearing clothes that were too small for her because I couldn’t face buying anymore unicorns or mermaids.

“It wasn’t that she didn’t like them. We always had a wardrobe full of princess dresses but there was just nothing else.

“It was just so boring. I thought I can’t be the only parent who finds it difficult to find variety.

“The gender difference with boys and girls clothes, particularly when it comes to animals, is astounding.

“The clothes I saw were so uninspiring and it popped into my head that I could do better than that.”

Matilda Roomes in a green Scarf Monkey t-shirt
Matilda Roomes in a Scarf Monkey t-shirt

She noticed that animals on boys’ clothing are often predators, like sharks or T-rex, while the girls’ clothing always had rabbits and butterflies, or princesses and unicorns.

With Matilda not wanting to conform to the pink assault, Emma decided she could do better – and proved it by creating Scarf Monkey, her business of empowering clothing options for girls.

Her t-shirts feature everything from sharks and wolves to suffragettes and
important women from history, female astronauts, scientists, athletes, as well as designs related to science and space.

Months of research before launching

Having no previous background in art, Ms Roomes first spent months on YouTube learning how to draw, use design software, create designs and print t-shirts.

She said: “I’d never drawn anything, I had no sewing or fashion experience, I’d never run a business before. I had to learn all those things at 43.

“The first thing I had to do when I got here was to learn how to draw so I spent weeks and weeks and months and months on YouTube watching how to draw and use design software.

“Then I had to create designs and print t-shirts so spent many more weeks learning

“I spent the first three years working from my garden shed, and the response was amazing.

“We’re now able to produce our own organic cotton t-shirts, and our clothes are cut, dyed, sewn and printed entirely in the UK.”

A girl modelling scarf monkey clothing - an orange t shirt

Scarf Monkey products are now sold worldwide and turnover is set to break the six-figure sum mark for the first time.

Ms Roomes said: “My biggest market is in the UK but I do sell to Australia, Ireland, Canada and the US.

“This year is the first year when the turnover will be more than £100,000.

“The first year I turned over nothing.

“The business is definitely growing massively. But I understand why so many businesses fail as it’s so hard and there’s so many pitfalls.

“You make mistakes and they are expensive. The sheer grit that you need to keep going have revolutionised my views of small businesses.”

“I make a point of supporting local businesses.”

Hopes to grow the Scarf Monkey clothing business

Looking to the future Ms Roomes intends to make the business wholly organic, expand the clothing line and open a factory.

She said: “At the moment it’s just girls’ t-shirts that are organic but I want to make it for all the clothing.

“Then I’ve got plans to open a second line in unisex clothes. There’s a huge need for gender-free clothes.

“There’s loads of boys who don’t like the traditional things you get on t-shirts and where do they shop?

“I don’t find any kind of clothes right or wrong but I think everybody who wants to wear something should be able to find it.”

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