In January 2016, Danish-born and trained contemporary dancer Anja Stavnsbjerg launched Muddy Creatures, a kids’ concierge shopping service designed to take the stress out of planning and purchasing little ones’ wardrobes. Following Muddy Creatures’ success, the business has since expanded to include Cubs Cartel, an online kids’ store. CWB’s Laura Turner speaks to Stavnsbjerg to learn more about her retail concept.
For even the most hardened shopper, planning and buying a young child’s wardrobe can be a daunting task. For some, the sheer practicalities of the job in hand with an infant in tow is daunting enough, while others can feel stumped by the vast choice – or lack of – and then there are those who may simply need a helping hand in building and styling outfits.
On becoming a mum, Danish-born Anja Stavnsbjerg found herself experiencing some of these predicaments and discovered buying clothes for her son wasn’t turning out to be the joyful experience she had hoped for.
“As a consumer, I do enjoy shopping,” says Stavnsbjerg. “But I found – especially in the first year with a newborn – that the challenge of finding good quality, stylish childrenswear which, while embracing environmental values, also combined the many ‘wardrobe leaps’ babies and toddlers go through, simply proved too time consuming.”
As so often is the case, Stavnsbjerg’s struggle was what led her to start considering a business of her own that would meet the gap in the market she’d encountered. What she came up with and launched in January 2016 is MuddyCreatures.com, an online childrenswear concierge service designed to help customers with their children’s purchases in those whirlwind early years.
Although a trained dancer by trade, Stavnsbjerg didn’t enter the retail project blind, as she goes on to explain. “I moved to the UK in 2008 to study at the London Contemporary Dance School. At the time, I didn’t really have a set plan for how long I would remain in the UK, or if I would even pursue a career in dance, but it felt like the creative output I craved at the time.
“Following graduation, I actually worked with a menswear concierge start-up across development and buying, which is when I first noticed a gap in the market for something similar to service childrenswear customers. That is when I started to think through the concept of the Muddy Creatures concierge.”
The Muddy Creatures service, which caters for 0-6 years, sends customers a personalised, hand-picked box full of clothing with “Scandinavian spirit”. It can provide items suited to any season, mood and occasion, with the added bonus that no two boxes are ever the same. Essentially, Muddy Creatures’ job is to do the thinking for the customer, freeing up precious family time and helping enhance the joy of the early stages with a child.
Application for the service is very straightforward and begins with the customer signing up to the website and creating a profile.
“We invite customers to explore colours and themes from a selection of look books, which enable them to creatively describe their own preferences and style. We then merge those preferences with our carefully curated selection of brands, which include MarMar Copenhagen, Mini Rodini, Gro Company, Soft Gallery, FUB, Poppy Rose, Angulus and Tiny Cottons among many more.
“A refundable £1 deposit is taken when ordering a box and shipping and returns are completely free, as is the personal selection service we provide when building a bespoke box of delights. The customer then simply pays for what they decide to keep. As a UK based company, we currently ship within Europe as it is the most effective way for the concept to work and keep returns and delivery straightforward for the customer.”
For any online retailer, minimising returns is a persistent challenge. Muddy Creature’s preventative measure is very simple: communication, and lots of it.
“The most important thing is speaking to, and listening to, our customers,” maintains Stavnsbjerg. “Not one box is dispatched without first carrying out a telephone consultation with the client, in which we define their child’s specific requirements and discuss any special preferences. That way, the customer is far more likely to be happy with the selection we create for them.”
Once a customer’s personalised box has been built, Muddy Creatures ships it to their home or place of work. On arrival, the items can be tried on for size, with 10 days to decide what is being kept. Any unwanted items are then returned, free of charge.
Owing to popular demand from existing customers of the Muddy Creatures box service, Stavnsbjerg recently developed her business further with the addition of a conventional online kidswear store, CubsCartel.com, which she introduced last December.
“The concept behind Cubs Cartel is more about offering customers a different way to shop with us, rather than us providing a completely different offering. It’s the perfect complement to Muddy Creatures as it gives customers a chance to create their own selections from our range of exclusive kids’ brands. While it’s still relatively new, there has been a great reaction from both existing and new customers,” she says.
The mission statement of Cubs Cartel is to present the same hard-to-find labels as its sister company, but to also create a personal connection with customers instead of becoming faceless, an aspect which is paramount to Stavnsbjerg.
“The aim is to show the personable side of what we are offering; we have a telephone customer service from 7am-11pm every day and we also offer complimentary gift wrap and express next-day service. We hope that this gives our customers the ability to shop in the most enjoyable way.”
Whilst the concept behind Muddy Creatures and Cubs Cartel is unquestionably impressive, in Stavnsbjerg’s eyes, it does not overshadow the attention to detail given to the curated brand portfolio the businesses mutually share. The hand-picked line-up of childrenswear labels have all been carefully selected to meet Stavnsbjerg’s criteria of “quality and longevity combined with understated style and values”. Her own personal tastes are also reflected, with the Scandinavian brands resonating with her Danish roots.
“As a business we have our own style, which tends to favour clean looks and minimal lines. I want to represent brands that are hard to source and offer something unique to customers. We’re keen on cultivating long-term relationships with our brands, rather than pursuing seasonal trends, and have hopefully achieved a complementary mix of style and aesthetic. We also want our offering to be fun and not take itself too seriously.”
Being so immersed in the digital realm, I was interested to hear Stavnsbjerg’s views on the main pros and cons of having an online business. For her, the main advantage of online retail remains the convenience: everything is faster and easier to purchase.
The main downside, she feels, is the anonymity associated with digital services and the fact that it is harder for retailers to achieve brand and customer loyalty. Stavnsbjerg counteracts this by proactively helping customers get the best out of shopping through her services; constantly looking for new ways to interact on a personal level, such as building knowledge of individuals’ previous purchases and favourite brands. Making the sites as easy to use as possible is also a must.
“The Muddy Creatures and Cubs Cartel websites are both mobile optimised and have been designed to be very user-friendly and our main focus is to keep it that way,” she says. “All of our logistics are also optimised to ensure the customer is up to speed with what is happening with their order across all devices, via both text and email.”
As with any new enterprise, increasing visibility is amid the top priorities, with Instagram having proved incredibly effective for the job. “It is our only promotional platform so far,” says Stavnsbjerg. “It’s invaluable for creating a community around our brand, by which people with similar interests and values can connect with us and vice versa. Have a follow to find out more at @muddycreatures and @cubscartel.”
Despite launching two retail business in one year, Stavnsbjerg has further plans in place to continue growing her ventures. In the near future, she is set to increase the size range as well as taking on additional brands to complement the current selection. On a more tech-specific note, a mobile app for Muddy Creatures is her ultimate wish.
“The business is a convenience luxury that fits well into a high-paced lifestyle, which in turn demands 24-7 responsiveness. An application would be the ultimate platform for us to engage our customers in a fun and creative way whilst allowing them to shop with ease.”
Although digital is currently Stavnsbjerg’s medium of choice, I was keen to know if a bricks and mortar shop could ever be a possibility further down the line. “The process of Muddy Creatures and Cubs Cartel is an organic one – so never say never,” she replies.