Getting To Know You: Clare Willetts, founder, Not Only Pink and Blue

Clare Willetts

Clare Willetts, tells us why she gave up a career in advertising to start Not Only Pink and Blue to help children exclude some of the negative stereotypes limiting them in their formative years.

What do you currently do at not only pink and blue?

As founder of not only pink and blue I am CEO and pot washer! I have a small team who help me with the business but we all muck in when things need doing. So as well as setting the strategy and the business objectives I also do social media, blog posts, shoots and IT!

What was the inspiration behind the business?

For the majority of my career I have been in marketing and advertising working both agency side and Brand side. I worked at several agencies including at M&C Saatchi as Managing Partner before moving to head up Customer and Brand Experience at Virgin Group.

I had been getting increasingly frustrated by the pink/blue divide over several years and had started to research the effect of the messages it sends to children (girls t-shirts telling them to smile and be pretty and boys telling them they are heroes). I was shocked at how young these start and how early children learn some of the negative stereotypes limiting children’s likes/dislikes, beliefs and behaviours.

I wanted to do something to challenge the stereotypes these reinforce. I also wondered where all the other colours were – after all, there are 11 colours and over 10 million shades to choose from! As well as all the colours, I wanted to see more inclusive books with diverse role models, and toys that feed imaginations.

We had to adapt our launch plans due to COVID-19 but we went live during lock-down and have had a fantastic response from parents and carers as well as new and potential Partners.

Who do you admire?

I admire people who have really put a purpose or cause at the centre of their business. Rose Mercario (ex CEO of Patagonia) is an inspirational business leader. To run a successful business that really lives and breathes it’s purpose is fantastic.

I admire Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her ability to speak about complex issues in clear, understandable terms is inspiring. She is an amazing orator, fantastic writer and a shrewd business woman.

I also admire anyone who has set up their own business. It takes a real leap of faith to jump into a plethora of unknowns and no matter what your specialism there is always something else to learn.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

Perhaps not planned a launch that focused on pop-up shops just as lock-down started!

There are some things that I tried to do myself before I decided to get an expert to look at them – contracts, Trade Marks things like that. I could do them but it took me so much longer than someone whose expertise it was. Once I handed contracts over to a small business lawyer it made life so much easier!

The other thing I would have done is add more time into my plan – everything takes longer than you think it will, so I would have doubled the time to go from from paper to live.

What defines not only pink and blues way of doing business?

Not only pink and blue is a purpose driven business that aims to challenge stereotypes and grow a generation of equals.

We have a marketplace selling clothes, books and toys from independent businesses who create quality products for children. We believe that all colours, clothes and toys are for everyone and that children should see themselves in the books they read. Therefore, on our site there is no boy/girl filter but you can filter by weather, price and age and search by activity or product. We meet all of our Partners (virtually during COVID) and to get to know them better and really understand their businesses.

Along with this we also work with leaders from multiple fields to map and promote the benefits of a world that does not stereotype children.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

I was given two bits of advice that have really stuck with me.

  • Fall in love the problem you are trying to solve, not the solution you have decided on. Businesses evolve and change over time and you need to adapt to that. The business you set out to build might not be exactly the one you end up running. But if you trying to solve a problem you are passionate about you will flex and adapt the business as you go.
  • Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction. Nothing with ever be perfect so better to get going with something that is almost there (or you think is almost there), otherwise you risk not doing anything at all.

I would add to those;

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes it’s hard but I have found that friends, ex-colleagues and other small business owners are extremely generous with their time and expertise if you ask.

Finally, enjoy it! There will be ups and downs, plenty of times you don’t know how to do what you need to do next (especially in the early days) but if you are still smiling and enjoying it, then you are doing well!