The Interview: Naomi Raybould, founder, Beyond Nine
Five years ago, during her second pregnancy, Naomi Raybould, a marketer with no fashion experience, decided to set up Beyond Nine. She had become increasingly frustrated at the lack of fashion options for pregnancy and post-pregnancy and, inspired by her mother's maternity wear of the 1980s, she set up her own label Beyond Nine.
She launched with a jumpsuit - now a signature part of the collection - hoping to sell 10 to cover her costs, and ended up selling 80, checking orders while she was in labour. Today the brand contains more than 80 pieces of "feel-good" fashion from the jumpsuits to tops, sweats, dresses and trousers designed to help women feel themselves as their bodies change.
With sustainability front of mind, the clothes are designed to be worn during pregnancy and beyond and are made from fabrics including organic cotton-blend denim, and GOTS certified organic cotton, as well as designs made from reused fabrics. Since March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, sales have grown by 118% and the brand is on course for 62% growth in the year to August 2022.
We hear more about her story, her inspiration and her plans for the future.
Before we talk about Beyond Nine, can you give us some insight into your background before you set up the brand?
I was working for an international development charity running the brand and marketing team. Before that I was at the BBC working in marketing. No fashion experience to speak of, just a lifelong love of clothes!
You established the brand in 2017, what was it that prompted you to do that?
During my first pregnancy and early motherhood, I really felt like I was losing my identity. I hadn’t realised how important getting dressed was to me until I couldn’t wear what I wanted. When I was pregnant with my second this all came flooding back. The maternity wear market had not moved on at all – it was cheaply made and the designs were not well thought through. My Mum leant me some of her jumpsuits that she wore in the 80s when pregnant, and that sparked the idea.
What was the process like getting the brand established, designing & sourcing the product and getting it launched?
I did this alongside my day job, so worked in the evenings at weekends. It was fun! But being a total newbie to the fashion industry I came up against a lot of dead ends – it’s all network based and I didn’t have one. I have an amazing pattern cutter, who has been with me from the very first sketches, and she helped open a lot of doors for me in those early days.
When you first started, what did you have in the collection and what is the extent of the collection now?
I launched with two jumpsuits, which I ran on pre order so that I could fund the production. I had found a brilliant factory in North London who would accommodate really small runs. I opened for pre orders, then promptly went into labour with my second baby! I remember checking orders between contractions, because I had to sell 10 to be able to cover the costs of making them. I ended up selling 80! Now we have over 60 products on our site.
Why do you think the maternity market has been so neglected? During my pregnancies (apart from jeans), I tried to find pieces that would stretch or float over my bump from brands I liked, as I really didn’t want to feel like I was wearing someone else’s clothes!
Many decision makers within fashion brands are men. I honestly think that’s why the maternity market has been neglected and why the products are treated as throw-away – as if you have you baby and immediately start wearing your old clothes again!
Of course, as the name suggests, you brand can be worn whether you are pregnant or not, tell us why that was important?
We are living in a climate crisis. It is not sustainable to use all the resources it takes to make one item of clothing and design it to only to be worn for 9 months. Secondly, I found that no maternity wear felt ‘like me’ – our clothes make women still feel like themselves even if their bodies are going through incredible changes. This means no hidden flaps, zips, extra bits of fabric that make it feel ‘maternity’. We work really hard perfecting fits that can work on growing bumps and no bumps – it just takes a bit of time and out of the box thinking. Also, over our lifetimes (and lets be honest, even over the course of a month), women’s bodies go through some incredible changes, we design clothes to accommodate that, regardless of pregnancy.
Apart from the clothes being flexible enough to wear outside of pregnancy, you wanted them to be sustainably produced, can you please tell us a bit about that process, such as the fabrics you use and where you make the garments?
We use sustainable fabric wherever we can – organic cotton & linen are the main fabric we use in our collections. So fabrics that have minimal impact on the environment. We also use some sustainable man-made fabric such as Tencel. We produce here in the UK and in Turkey. We’ve recently launched our first piece of denim, and we have been working with Turkey’s first sustainable denim laundry – where they reduce water use by 80%, reduce the use of chemicals, and they recycle waste fabric turning it into new recycled cotton denim.
You have three young children of your own, and often people would talk about the juggle of that, but you say it was what drove you and gave you the courage to set up the business, can you explain that to us?
Becoming a Mum made me really fearless. I felt that if I could birth a baby, nurture a baby and raise happy children then I could do anything! Having kids also made me reassess what I wanted my life to be like and they gave me the drive to make a change.
How did you go about building the customer base that you have now?
The whole brand has really been built through social media. For all of the complaints about social media, it really is an amazing tool for allowing people like me to build brands from scratch, with no investment, that can reach every corner of the globe. I had support early on from lots of lovely women, and our community today remains incredibly strong and positive which continues to help us grow.
Building the brand during the pandemic must have been but you experienced very strong growth, can you tell us more about that?
The start of the pandemic was a really scary time for many reasons, but for business owners it felt like we were standing on the edge of a cliff. We really didn’t know what was going to happen, and for a few days I thought it might all be over! Then it went completely mad! One evening we sold more products in 2 hours than we had been selling in a month. I think the fact that people were spending more time online, some people even had more disposable incomes (because they weren’t going out or on holidays etc), people were working at home so they wanted comfortable easy clothes, coupled with a baby boom, just meant that our business thrived.
You sell via your own website, but do you have plans to expand distribution beyond that moving forward?
Our biggest challenge for a long time was that we were unable to keep up with demand. We’ve just about got on top of that now and we’re happy with the pace we are growing at. Whilst we are not actively looking to do this, if the right opportunity came along, it may be something we would consider in the future.
What other growth plans and ambitions do you have for Beyond Nine in the future?
We want to continue to expand our product offering, we have so many more ideas about what we can bring to women – how we can keep them comfortable and stylish. We want to continue to focus on working to be the most sustainable we can be. We also need a bigger team to help us achieve these things – we already have a brilliant team of women who are just as passionate about Beyond Nine as I am, so can’t wait to bring more into the fold.