Gayathrie Schatz: Bringing Mr Bubbagazee to Life

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Photo: Dirk Hanekom, CreateSA

First the good news. Your endless search for that extra special gift for young children is finally over. The bad news? You need to be a little organized and plan head, but otherwise Gaya Schatz to the rescue. This South African mother of 5-year-old-twins has come up with one of the more creative approaches to gift giving and all you need to do is stealthily sneak the child-in-question’s drawing, scan and upload it to the web and hey presto, ten days later, a stuffed likeness turns up at your front door. Handmade, huggable, and most definitely unique.

“And yes, if you don’t want to tell the child it was made in Africa with love, it’s OK to say you ‘magicked’ it,” Gaya laughs.

Born in Mafikeng, not far from the Botswanan border, Gaya studied marketing management at Varsity College. She went on to work in advertising and spent several years in companies like Redbull and Triumph Lingerie and ad agencies such BBDO Cape town and FoxP2 before taking time off to raise her twin daughters Maya and Malia.

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“I knew I wouldn’t be able to do the long hours, and I loved the idea of working from home where I’d have more flexibility and wouldn’t have to ask for leave. So I enrolled in a Bandwidth Barn VeloCITI Y entrepreneurship class for people with business ideas who need support in starting up. I thought I’d start an online shop selling baby products, but that idea evolved dramatically within a short period of time.”

The inspiration for Gaya’s business basically came when she was searching for a gift for her god daughter.

“What do you get a child who has everything and doesn’t need another toy? She loves to draw so I thought why not turn one of her drawings into a cuddly toy. I already had a lovely seamstress making kids sleeping bags that I was selling online so I asked if she could help, showed her the picture of Mr Bubbagazee and the result was amazing.”

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And so The Little Bo Baby Company was born – like so many businesses – to fulfill an unmet need. Bringing art to life, Gaya contracts disadvantaged women from the Hout Bay area not far from Cape Town to turn children’s drawings into a 3D plush toy for bedtime cuddles. They are trained by her two head seamstresses, Esme and Janina, but sadly Janina recently passed away.

“She will be sorely missed,” Gaya says. “But I feel good knowing her legacy lives on in her toys.”

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Janina

The 6-month course at Bandwidth Barn proved to be a great resource for Gaya, not only in terms of what she learned to launch and grow the business, but also because it’s where the 36-year-old met various digital experts that helped her build the website where customers upload drawings and place their orders.

“Finding the right team to make your vision come true is very important. Working in advertising taught me a lot and my strengths are clearly marketing, client service management, and being able to multitask. But I had no technical experience and so it was really vital that I surrounded myself with people who could implement what I wanted to achieve. This goes not only for the digital side of things but also production.”

When asked what she feels are the biggest barriers facing women entrepreneurs in South Africa, Gaya immediately responds “education, financing and credibility!” But quickly adds: “Many women have trouble overcoming the belief that they should home looking after the family. That’s both a hurdle we as a society need to address but also women themselves. Often, it’s a psychological barrier.”

Today The Little Bo Baby Company has four subcontracted employees and brings in a few extra hands on bigger projects. The creative female founder spent the first few years building the brand and now is scaling the business, ensuring quality while increasing quantity. The business is entirely self-funded and Gaya reinvests everything back into the company, mostly in marketing but also to hire dedicated staff.

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Photo: Dirk Hanekom, CreateSA

“I am trying to grow it organically. Cashflow and all the incoming orders keep me up at night and finding the time to balance it all with the twins has been a challenge but nothing that cannot be managed. I never give up though. And I’ve been lucky as I have a very supportive and hands-on husband! He rocks my world.”

So what are you waiting for? Turn that “masterpiece” on the fridge door into a stuffie to be cherished forever.

Gaya’s startup tips:
  • Never stop learning, the journey of running a business is full of fresh challenges.
  • Identify your strengths and weaknesses early on and find others to fill the gaps.
  • It’s ok to follow your gut!
  • Be organized and disciplined and have a plan of action.

You can follow Little Bo Baby Company on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.

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