Melanie Chiknagi finds growing room for her baby clothing range, The Picklesuit
The Whitehall Park businesswoman tells Alex Bellotti about the challenges of entering the baby wear market.
As the mother of a two-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter, Whitehall Park resident Melanie Chiknagi is no stranger to the trials of early childcare. Alongside the late nights and teething issues, however, one of her biggest bugbears was the creeping hassle of some simple buttons.
On a typical baby grow outfit, there are usually about six to eight ‘poppers’. With no indication as to how they should match up and with a wriggling baby making things no easier, the tireless routine of having to take the whole outfit off to change a nappy eventually became too much of an irritation for Chiknagi, and so she set about drawing up a new type of design, called Picklesuits.
“It was a nightmare – especially when they’re small, having to change nappies all the time and doing it in the night when it’s dark,” the 33-year-old explains.
“I started off just working out how I could get rid of this really annoying part of my life. My husband kept turning to me and saying, ‘This is ridiculous’, and we’re fairly intelligent people, so thought if we can’t do it, surely there are other people struggling with it too.”
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The innovative design of Picklesuits includes a zip up each leg, which allows parents to change a nappy without having to take the upper half of the outfit off – particularly useful in the cold depths of winter. Protective flaps stop the child feeling any irritation from the zipper, and a simpler series of poppers exist on the front of the outfit, to make it easier for when it needs to be taken off completely.
Chaknagi first set about designing the baby grow in July 2013, using her son, Samson, as a “clothing guinea pig”. A pattern cutters on Caledonian Road gave her enough time to perfect the outfit, and after 18 variations on the design, she eventually found a factory in Tottenham which allowed her to finally go into production in November last year.
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The Picklesuit has since snowballed in popularity, and a February exhibition at London’s Baby Show showed Chaknagi just how successful a good baby product could be.
“It started off as a cute little idea for ourselves, but once we saw how much interest there was in it, it became quite exciting. At the show, we needed to bring out more models and people were asking interesting questions about where it was made, what the fabric was, whether I had thought of this or that. It was great and we really engaged with a lot of people.”
Having expanded the business to now sell an additional range of bibs and baby accessories, the next step is to get the Picklesuit into the big shops. “We want to keep making them ourselves so we can keep up the standard,” says Chaknagi. “There are so many small things like stitching that I wouldn’t want to let go of, but I’d love to have some wholesale orders or distributors just to get it out there a bit more now.”
Most encouraging for her throughout the long process of getting the product to market, though, is how much support she found from the local community.
“I was really moved by how willing everybody was to help me – I didn’t have many people saying, ‘Sorry, we don’t want to try and help you.’ But you have to give everything to it, otherwise it falls apart.
“I definitely have huge respect for all small businesses and anyone who’s invented anything now, because I know what it is – it’s not just a one week thing, your whole life goes into it.”