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It all started when I saw a removal van outside our flat in Battersea, south-west London. Little did I know then that welcoming our new neighbours with a bottle of wine would lead to a business partnership and the launch of Munchkin & Bear in Europe more than a decade later.
That friendly gesture led to many more get-togethers and, before long, Alana Hands and her husband, Tim became firm friends. This was long before either of us had children and entrepreneurship was the last thing on our minds. Our days were busy with product development and marketing for Rimmel and advising clients on corporate reputation and communication respectively. The idea that one day we'd be partnering to launch a range of luxury children’s playmats would have seemed an improbable fantasy.
Fast forward to spring 2015 and I found myself in New Zealand visiting family. Our trip took us via Brisbane where Alana lived with her family, now made up of two gorgeous children with very different characters reflected in their nicknames Munchkin and Bear. As we watched them run around the park with my eldest daughter, Alana told me about her idea to create the mats. Why was it that the only playmats available were those very practical, not at all beautiful, primary-coloured jigsaw versions? Just because your house is overrun with children, it doesn’t mean that mums and dads don’t want something practical and stylish to augment their home.
What a great idea, I thought. And when the business launched in late 2015, the mats themselves were gorgeous – beautiful designs, hard-wearing, easy to clean and a lovely addition to a room when they were cleared of stray toys. For the time, that was that. I cheered on from the sidelines back in the UK, admiring Alana’s inspiration and hard work. But it was when I was on maternity leave having had twins in 2017 that the idea dawned on me. My family had jumped from three to five in an instant and I faced the perennial challenge of how to divide myself amongst them. Was it possible to spend enough quality time with my children – and husband - while still doing something that fed my own identity beyond that of being mum?
Well, Alana had done it. She’d created a successful business while being a busy mum. And now she was followed by a community of parents in Australia who were equally busy, but in search of practical and stylish solutions as they raised their children. So, I asked the question: Do you want a business partner to bring the much-needed product to parents across Europe?
To my surprise and pleasure, she said yes. And, so, the partnership to launch Munchkin & Bear UK was born…
I hope you enjoy the products as much as we do,