Meet Natasha Barber, the Founder of SKEANIE Shoes for Kids

Author: The Collective   Date Posted:17 February 2020 

Can you run us through the current business stats?
SKEANIE’s footprints have definitely made an imprint in the marketplace, and now sells to over 200 stories in Australia and overseas, including France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Singapore, New Zealand and the United States. The Classic Pre-walker collection has also been awarded The Seal of Acceptance by The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) for the promotion of healthy foot development. SKEANIE shoes are Podiatry Designed and Approved in Australia

What inspired you to start SKEANIE? Did you specifically set out to create a shoe with a foot health/podiatry slant to it?
Whilst I was travelling with my family in Denmark, I purchased a pair of leather soft soled shoes for our 3 month old son. I struggled to purchase a replacement pair of soft-soled leather shoes for a reasonable price and quality in Australia. I started to work on creating leather shoes that would ensure natural movement of babies’ feet without obstructing soft bone cartilage, tissue, muscles, and nerves. A significant amount of research was undertaken and I reached out to reputable Podiatrists, Suppliers and Manufactures worldwide to help create super-soft shoes that were light and flexible. I'm confident SKEANIE has helped support children’s feet all over the world.

What were you doing before SKEANIE?
After studying through Deakin University I enjoyed a career running my own IT/ Project Management business; a time which allowed me to cultivate my skills in strategy and innovation. But my dreams were bigger, and I knew I could bring something new to the table in terms of children’s wear. So after returning home from my holiday in Denmark, I decided to farewell my corporate position and take the first step in developing a new line of soft-soled shoes for children. The experience has been so rewarding and definitely changed our lives.

Is there a story behind the name SKEANIE?
Yes, there is. After my first extremely cold NSW country winter, I created an item manufactured from polar fleece which was a cross between a skivvy and a beanie. The concept and the product worked well at keeping the chill at bay; however it was extremely difficult to explain and therefore not very easy to sell. I had trademarked SKEANIE and registered the domain name, so when I needed a name for my little shoes, I thought that SKEANIE was a perfect fit! It is funny when our shoes are referred to as SKEANIE’s, it just seems so fitting.

You’ve gone from starting the business on $6,000 to being considered a multimillion-dollar enterprise. Can you give us some insight into what that journey’s been like?
It honestly has been a dream come true. Giving parent’s peace of mind about their children's well-being, and seeing them happy in their favourite pair of SKEANIE shoes makes me so proud. It's also definitely empowering to realize that an innovative idea supported by optimism and determination is the start to a great business plan.

Have there been business decisions you’re particularly pleased you made along the way? And are there any things you’d like to have done differently in retrospect?
Market research was crucial for me to gain a broader understanding of the existing kids' shoe marketplace and envision where SKEANIE would fit in. Another important decision was to work alongside talented Designers, Podiatrists, Suppliers and Manufacturers to effectively create ergonomic, comfortable and stylish shoes for our little ones. There are a few choices I have made along the way, that haven’t worked out to be the best; however they have certainly helped me learn.

Worst day in business?
I can think of one particularly bad day. When you own and run a small business there are certainly good and not so good days. I am pleased to say that I most definitely have a lot more good ones!

Have you had a mentor and if so, how have they helped you and the business?
No, I have not had a formal mentor, although I have a great support network, both personally and professionally which have helped me and my business.

What is the best advice you’ve received, and do you have any you’d like to share?
I believe it’s always important to have a clear vision for your business and identify what you want to achieve every year. I value good ethics in business, and my team is an extension of my family. It’s important I keep ahead of industry trends to stay relevant and up to date with the industry. I am thankful Australians have embraced SKEANIE and have allowed me to continue to develop elegant and practical footwear for kids. One piece of advice I will always give to anyone looking into starting their own business is “Love what you do!” As a small business owned you spend so much of your time working on your business that you really need to
love and enjoy what you do.

Words you live by…
Imagine, Believe, Achieve.

What’s currently on your to-do list or your mood board…
I am currently working with Austrade on entering the emerging Asian markets. Our current project is working with Austrade Singapore and CBME (Children-Baby-Maternity-Expo) towards exhibiting at CBMA South East Asia which will be held in Singapore in April. SKEANIE sales from Australia to Singapore have increased quite rapidly over the past two years and we look forward to taking our products to the Singapore market.


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