Home > Life > TMC Talks > TMC Talks To Alison McAleavy Founder Of Zig & Star

Let’s face it being a mum is a big enough job on its own. It’s a full time commitment with no pay and mad hours! So adding ANOTHER full time job to the mix is not only very impressive but also massively inspiring. We recently spoke to ex- Topshop fashion buyer Alison McAleavy about the launch of her new unisex kids footwear brand, Zig & Star to find out how she manages it all..

Explain what you do in a sentence?

After a 20 year career in fashion, I have just launched my own brand, Zig+Star unisex kids footwear, created to challenge outdated gender stereotypes and uniquely designed to last longer.

How long have you done your job?

I left my job as Head of Buying at Topshop over 2 years ago to focus on the brand full time, and it’s taken that long to perfect the designs. I worked in conjunction with a paediatric podiatrist as I wanted the styles to not only look good, but to be good for their feet too. Before launching the brand, I worked in fashion for over 20 years, specialising in footwear and accessories.

What’s the coolest thing about it?

My whole career, I had always worked for someone else… I had a lot of responsibility but none of the risk was mine. It’s been a big leap to start my own business (especially in the middle of a pandemic!) but it has been amazing. You definitely have highs and lows but the feeling you get when you achieve something like finalising the range, building a website, and getting great customer feedback… you can’t beat that feeling.

What does your day or week entail?

My working week was all over the place during homeschooling, but now my 3 kids are back in school, I’m starting to settle into a bit of a routine. I drop the kids to school, go up to my office at home and log in to check all emails, new orders and general queries. I am loving communicating with customers, giving advice on sizing and generally finding out what they like and don’t like. I think it’s really important to be as close to the customers as possible… social media is a great resource for this, the feedback is instant, and it’s a two-way conversation.

Where did you start out?

I didn’t study fashion, I actually studied English Literature at university. But I got a job at Faith Shoes back in the day when it had concessions in Topshop and was THE place to get your shoes (really showing my age!) I was hooked instantly… as a buyer you had to find the balance of creativity and commerciality and I loved it. Plus you got to travel all over the world, which in your mid-20’s was amazing. From there I moved several times, but finally spent the last 8 years of my career as Head of Buying at Topshop.

What has been your biggest challenge?

As a boot-strapped start up, it’s just me doing everything so I’ve had to become a jack of all trades. Product development is my comfort zone but I’ve had to learn about digital marketing, web design, SEO, even graphic design… all sorts of things I had no idea about before I started. I’ve got a very supportive husband who has helped with things like logistics (and spreadsheets!) but generally it feels like I learn something new every day.

What piece of advice would you give to someone hoping to do the same?

My advice on starting your own business would be, find something you’re passionate about, and that gives you purpose. The highs you experience are great, but to survive the lows, you’ve got to be absolutely committed to your idea.. anything less won’t survive. My mission was to give kids the freedom to be themselves, and not be restricted by the outdated sterotypes that dominate the kidswear market – boys should be strong and tough, and girls should be kind and pretty. The choices we make for our kids clothes and shoes can either accept or reject those stereotypes… As a mum of 2 girls and a boy, I started Zig+Star to champion equality and freedom for all kids.

Something you’ve learnt that is crucial to either your job or to success:

Collaboration and support.. for me, I feel like Zig+Star has been a group effort and wouldn’t have been possible without people being generous with their time and expertise. I have a lot of friends from the industry who have supported me, people I’ve met along the way who given up their time to advise and help me, and then friends and family who have listened, counselled and motivated me when I’ve needed it most. I can honestly say it wouldnt have been possible without the great people around me.

How important is it to switch off?

I would say it’s taken me quite a long time to realise the importance of switching off. When you work for a fast-paced business, it’s harder to set your own schedule. Since working for myself, I found the value in taking time away from work, especially when things feel stressful. My lockdown pleasure has been walking every day, if i don’t get outside, even if just for 15 minutes, I feel like it definitely has an impact on my focus and productivity. If I can’t get outside, I will take half an hour away from a screen, and I really love listening to podcasts.

How do you manage your work / life balance?

In the beginning of starting the brand, I would say it was a struggle. I would be getting up early before the kids wake up and do a couple of hours of work before homeschooling started, and then back at it again in the evenings once my husband finished work . But now we’ve launched, and kids are back in school, it’s been much easier. Although I’m still busy, being in charge of my own schedule has made a big difference and I’ve found ways of working flexibly which mean I get to spend more time with my family. Also, the business is very much a family affair, and as I work from home, my two older daughters have loved getting involved and helping where they can.

How do manage mum guilt?

I have a very supportive husband, and we see parenting as a partnership. Somehow we have managed to muddle through with managing his busy full-time job, kids in and out of school, and starting the business. It’s not easy and I often feel like I’m not doing either job of mum or founder particularly well, but we also need to remember to cut ourselves some slack sometimes… I think parents need to give themselves a massive pat on the back for what they have managed over the last year.

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