What started as a passion for sewing has led to a full-time career for Taffy Tots Clothing owner Karen O’Brien.
The mum-of-three was inspired to start her business after she started making clothing for her nephew Jonathan, now aged four.
Three years later the 41-year-old, based in Banchory, is now designing her own fabrics and selling her range of children’s clothing across the world to customers as far away as New Zealand.
Mission to make clothes for boys & girls
Ms O’Brien, mum to Thomas, 13, Andrew, 11 and eight-year-old Fergus, said: “Having three boys myself I knew that the options for bright, colourful or fun clothing was limited.
“So I started to make children’s clothing that would offer something different from the high street.
“With the arrival of my niece Sadie in 2020, I became all too aware of how girls wear has heavily shifted towards all things pink and frilly.
“It’s now become my mission to design and make clothes that both boys and girls can wear, focusing on fun prints and great quality fabrics and craftmanship.”
Switching to career in fashion was an unexpected one for the 41-year-old who used to be a maths teacher.
Ms O’Brien said: “Sewing has always been a passion of mine and I have made evening dresses and fancy dress outfits for myself, friends and family from my late teens, but it was always a hobby.
“I completed a degree in engineering straight after school, followed by a short spell working in the oil industry before returning to complete a post graduate course in teaching.
“I taught mathematics for several years until the arrival of Thomas.
“Ten years later we reached the stage where all of the boys were settled at school and I was considering a return to a career.
“Having started to make clothes again for Jonathan, the idea of starting up my own business was born with some nudging from my sister.”
Ms O’Brien also plays her part for Aberdeen charity AberNecessities, which provides underprivileged families with items to help them look after their children, donating any unsold or sample outfits.
When she started the business in late 2018, Ms O’Brien relied on social media to promote her products before launching her website in 2019.
Since then she has also started selling Taffy Tots Clothing on a well-known website and has orders coming in from USA, Australia and New Zealand.
She said: “Not only do I now design the majority of the prints so that I can create fun and bright clothes, I am also very careful in selecting the fabric suppliers that I use.
“I want the clothes I make able to withstand all the adventures of life. The result is clothing that can be machine washed, tumble dried and hardwearing.
“I have many returning customers who have been delighted with how well the clothing stands up to wash after wash and that they have been able to pass it down to siblings or friends’ babies.”
Ms O’Brien was able to continue trading as normal throughout Covid-19 but it didn’t come without its challenges.
She said: I found myself going from working at home on my own to having my husband and three boys at home full time.
“I was aware of how important it is to separate work life and home life, so I found myself rearranging my studio to accommodate us all.
“It was a bit tight, and at times a bit chaotic, but it allowed us all to focus on our work and schooling during the day and come through to the main house to relax in the evenings.
“I’m pretty sure the boys were less than delighted with having an ex-teacher for a mum, though!”
Order book world-wide
Looking towards the future Ms O’Brien hopes to create an organic baby range and continue to grow the business across the globe.
She said: “I want to continue creating beautiful clothing for children that can be worn time and time again.
“I recently opened up my shop to buyers in America, Australia and New Zealand and am hoping to extend this to Europe next year.”
Ms O’Brien has shown her support for the North East Now campaign, which has made it easy for people to support local firms from a wide range of industries during the pandemic.
“What a fantastic looking website. So easy to navigate and visually appealing,” Ms O’Brien said.
“Having lived in Aberdeen for most of my life, I have seen how much the city has changed over the decades, and even more so over the last few years.
“This is a fantastic resource for keeping up to date with everything that the north-east has to offer.”
For further information on Taffy Tots Clothing , visit www.taffytotsclothing.co.uk
To find out more about North-East Now, visit www.northeastnow.scot