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Career

How Louise Stainthorpe went from stay at home mum to 'badass businesswoman'

The once-shy mum has reinvented herself and her family’s fortunes.

By Fleur Guthrie
Within minutes of meeting Louise Stainthorpe, it's clear the co-founder of nappy company Rascal and Friends and single mother of four young boys is a multitasking "mumpreneur" .
With business emails and social media messages streaming in (she woke to 270 notifications this morning), a make-up artist applying lipstick and her littlest son Louie deciding to showcase his talents on a recorder, you could forgive the 36-year-old for being distracted as our interview begins.
But while chatting about everything from "poonamis" to retailing trips in China, the Waikato woman isn't fazed. However, the quiet confidence she exudes now hasn't always been there and for the last decade, Louise struggled with low self-worth as a stay-at-home mum.
She finally got her groove back after teaming up with her brother Grant Taylor, when the siblings thought of a savvy business idea to develop chemical-free nappies. Rascal and Friends is now one of New Zealand's fastest-growing companies, distributing to eight of the world's largest supermarket retailers – all in a little over 24 months since launching.
Growing up, Louise and Grant didn't always see eye to eye, but now they can't imagine better business partners.
"Starting the business has given me the freedom to become myself again," tells Louise. "Being at home with kids can make you feel like you're in this bubble and your view of yourself sort of implodes.
"I was also in an unhappy marriage, so that sucked out my self-confidence too," admits Louise, who separated from her husband a year ago. "My biggest struggle coming back into the workforce has been not believing in my abilities and feeling like I'm not offering enough.
"I've tried hard to force myself out of my comfort zone, such as speaking at events, and I'm getting better at getting involved in conversations, where I once used to hold back and listen."
Grant, 34, adds, "She's literally blossomed from someone who was very shy and really struggled with her self-worth to a badass businesswoman."
Laughs Louise, "Me? Badass? Oh, I don't know about that!"
"It's true," insists Grant. "The development we've seen in Louise, starting from when she didn't think she could, to now knowing that she can, has been huge. As well as being a supermum."
"It's quite nice to hear my brother say that," she smiles, revealing that while they didn't have a bad relationship growing up, if anyone in the family was going to clash, it would be "us two".
She continues, "But ever since going into business together, we get on really well and while we have differing opinions on some things, we have nothing to fight about."
As the company's director of product development and customer service – while also taking care of her sons, Owen, 12, Elliott, 10, Christian, eight, and two-year-old Louie – Louise works up to 12 hours a day from her rural home near Hamilton.
After getting the kids off to school, she answers customers' emails, sorts out its "very demanding" social media channels or drives up to their headquarters in Auckland for meetings.
With the boys' rugby practices filling in four afternoons a week, the busy mum begins work again after they go to bed until about 2am to accommodate clients in other time zones.
"Because I'm the only parent in the household, it's hard sometimes trying to work and be present with the boys," explains Louise. "But we have a really good routine going and I think they do realise that the hard work I'm putting in now benefits them."
While engaging parents through social media has been paramount for the fledgling company, dealing with troubleshooting has been Louise's biggest learning curve by far.
"Initially, I took any online criticisms very personally and had to learn to overcome that," she admits. "I remember one time a mum messaged us with a little bit of an issue, so I replied, 'Would you like to flick me your phone number?' And this lady couldn't believe I was ringing her at 9.30pm to chat and problem solve while we were literally both folding our washing."
Prior to having kids, Louise studied hotel management in Switzerland before returning to Aotearoa, where she took on catering contracts.
After starting a family, she knew she wanted to be at home to raise her children, so she set up a cattery in an empty building near their farmhouse to help bring in extra income.
Meanwhile, Grant was looking to start his own business and kept overhearing his sister talk about her frustration to find affordable, chemical-free nappies that didn't irritate her son's eczema – or seep out the sides.
"They leaked when I was holding my nephew and that's when the struggle became real for me!" laughs Grant, who is expecting his first baby in November.
"So like many other Kiwi entrepreneurs, we got a team of geniuses together and we worked out how to make a great nappy with no nasties in it."
Needless to say, Louise was not short of product testers in the early days, trying prototypes and designs on her sons.
"The day Grant came over and asked me to be fully involved in the business, I cried!" she recalls.
"They were happy tears. It was so nice to be asked to become part of something really exciting, and use the knowledge and experience I had gathered from my many years parenting young children."

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