When Motherhood is the Kick You Need: Q&A with Onloan Founder Tamsin Chislett
It's our second instalment of Mama Tales, and boy are we still buzzing from the chat we had with Tamsin Chislett, CEO and half of the powerhouse duo behind Onloan.
Tamsin and her co-founder Natalie are on a mission to change the way we wardrobe (more on that below!) and - in case they weren't inspiring enough - raised their first round of funding whilst both pregnant. Yep, both. No laying around eating Twisters by the boxful here!
Tamsin and Natalie are not only reframing how we shop, they're re-defining what it means to be a working mum. With Nat on mat leave, we sat down with Tamsin to chat about her journey and how she keeps the balance at home. Trust us when we say this is one not to skim!
We'd love to know a bit about your background to start. What were you doing before you had your first son, and how has your career shifted in the time since?
My career to date has been pretty "varied" (or you might say random!) From management consultancy in London, to moving to Uganda to work for a cotton factory, to living in Manchester doing business development for a tech startup, and then back to London to work for an impact investment firm. I went back to that firm after 6 months maternity leave, then left another 6 months after that to start this business.
So it sounds like Onloan is the first business you've really started on your own. Was there something about becoming a mother specifically that woke up an entrepreneurial spirit in you?
I've thought about starting a business for a few years now - I definitely caught the bug from working for and with entrepreneurs. But I think its fair to say that becoming a mum gave me an extra push to hurry up and get on with it.
After my son Mo (now 2) arrived I realised that if I was going to work long hours, it really ought to be for something I was really driven by.
Also, becoming a mum made me feel generally a bit old and like I should stop wasting any time!
Absolutely! So tell us about Onloan - how did the idea come about and how has it evolved since you launched?
Onloan is a fashion rental subscription. We loan clothes to women, for work & the weekend, from premium contemporary brands, on a monthly subscription.
I've had a long-standing interest in sustainable fashion, and think rental is such a cool way to enjoy clothes without treating them as disposable or indulging in fast fashion.
Since starting Onloan, we've realised rental is also a great way for customers to explore their personal style - you're not committing to a piece, so you can be braver! Its also perfect whilst pregnant (you can size up as you need to), and as a new mum when your body shape is still changing.
What's your favourite part about providing this service?
My favourite part is nudging customers to loan an item that is just slightly out of their comfort zone - and then getting photos and messages from them telling us that they love wearing it! We provide a personal styling service that saves customers time (another win for mums!) and suggests new brands and styles for customers to enjoy.
Have you found there to be barriers to working as a mum? What solutions do you believe are necessary to make it work for mums like you?
I think it's exhausting to combine working hard with being a really engaged parent - but that applies to mums and dads (my boyfriend and I split parental leave 50/50 with our first son, and he's going to stop work to look after our second son due to arrive in mid-September).
I would encourage all dads to take shared parental leave, because I think it's so hard to comprehend how challenging it can be for families otherwise!
I think the government should subsidise high-quality childcare - not least because it is shown to have a massive impact on social mobility.
And I'm really excited about embracing flexible working in my own business, as a way to attract talented people who also happen to be parents. Clearly I have a few strong opinions on it!
It's definitely a lot to manage parenting and running a business. How do you find balance? Any advice?
Well, the most crucial bit is that my boyfriend and I do pretty equal shares - and to be honest, he's about to do quite a bit more than his fair share! I collect my son from his childminder every day, and I have learned to embrace that total switch in my brain as I go from running a startup to hanging out with a toddler between the hours of 5.30 and his bedtime.
It was weird at first but I love it now - it's like an enforced check and balance on the intensity of running a startup. It's still wild, especially as I'm 7 months pregnant now too - and like everyone I have days when it feels impossible and I just want to go back to bed.
I've also definitely sacrificed a few things... like ever tidying the house, and doing any exercise! But they were never top priorities so maybe I just like having an excuse not to do them...
Your go-to family meal - the one that never fails? Eek, fishfingers and peas? I need help! Thank goodness for Mamamade for baby #2.
An unexpectedly challenging part about becoming a mom? The sleep deprivation in those early weeks. It's a cliche for a reason, I had no idea it could be so hard.
An unexpectedly amazing aspect of parenting? How universal the challenges are. I could chat to literally any mum anywhere now and find shared experiences.
Your mantra when the going gets tough? Just pause and remember that even having the chance to try and build a business whilst starting a family is such a blessing. Sorry, that's a bit cheesy - I blame pregnancy hormones!
Onloan subscriptions start from £69/month for two pieces, including shipping, cleaning and minor mending if needed. Learn more on their website, onloan.co