This week, we’re sitting down with the lovely Suzie Levett, founder of cosy kids’ sleepwear brand, Snug-a-licious. In addition to managing her own small business, she’s a single parent who has learned never to take all of life’s precious moments for granted, whether she’s hiking around Clearwater Bay, taking her son to Ocean Park for the 10th time or sitting down with a movie and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s! We talk to her about overcoming life’s hardships, successfully balancing work and family and her all-time favourite haunts in Hong Kong:
Can you tell us a bit about your background? What brought you to Hong Kong?
I was born in Hong Kong. My family have been out here since the 1960’s. I went to school here and then headed off to the UK for university, where I did a property economics degree. After that I spent quite a few years in Sydney where I trained to become a naturopath and then worked in the field of women’s health and fertility. I moved back home to Hong Kong in 2009.
What was the inspiration behind Snug-a-licious? How did it come about?
I found after my son Jake was born, I was just splurging with creativity. Jake’s father, Simon Ransom (an engineer with a big eye for detail) and I spent a long time analysing all the baby products and discussing how things could be improved upon during the first few quiet months with our newborn. We conjured up quite a few inventions over that time!
Eventually we saw a real need for more lightweight clothing in HK, which catered to the humid environment. We found that there were a lot of stores which sold baby clothing, but they were more catered for European countries and were thicker and bulkier than our requirements here. We also saw a need for clothing which was practical and casual, comfy and fun!
We researched various materials and were enticed by the merits that bamboo material had to offer. This was followed up by some aggressive sourcing around at trade shows around China, until we found someone who came up with clothing samples which were the softest we had ever experienced. We were sold at first touch!
Tragically, Simon was taken from us in a traffic accident shortly before my son’s first birthday. I immediately started up the company as a means to support our son. It was something Simon and I started together and I felt strongly compelled to make it happen.
I have been hugely inspired by both Simon and Jake to make a go of it and create lovely stuff that I hope makes them both proud. I have put the words “with love by Handsome Ransom” in the neckline of all the clothing as a little acknowledgement to Simon. He still lives on through the thousands of children that wear our clothing. Snug-a-licious has in a way become my other baby!
What are your personal favourite items on the site?
Our long john pyjama sets!
What is your favourite aspect of running your own business?
It’s hard to say. There are so many things I love about my set up. I like being my own boss and managing my own time, which allows me to work around my son and his requirements. I also love the fact that I can get up super early and get everything done, then take off for a hike into the hills anytime I want to. I guess it is the flexibility. I also like the fact that I am constantly learning new things all the time, as I need to be a bit of a jack of all trades.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
I think it is not so much saving time, but using your time properly and effectively. As a single mother, there is never going to be enough time!
I find that it is so easy to get lured away from productivity by answering social e-mails which ding in – Facebook is such a time killer. I work from home and my son is at school from 8.15-11.40am, which is my most productive time as I am under the gun to get as many tasks done without any interruptions. I turn all social media off and then power through, trying to limit phone calls around that time too. I actually find having a little deadline like that in the day really helps keep me focused.
I often will eat at my desk which saves time, but it’s not terribly social and I don’t recommend it! I also have an app, which allows me to make and strike to-do lists as they are executed. I have to write everything down in my calendar too, or I’ll just forget!
What is the biggest challenge to running a small business?
The biggest challenge is to not get too bogged down in the small things. Make sure you’re focusing the majority of your time working on things which will bring results to the business. If you are not doing that, then ask yourself why. I find I slow myself down with small admin tasks, when I should be focusing on things like sales meetings. If I’m honest, I have to call myself out on it as it’s just putting off what I find the least attractive, but most vital side to the business. It is also essential to know when to outsource things, which means knowing when to let go!
I wish I had more time for…
My family and myself! When I initially set up the business, I put myself under tremendous pressure. I stopped exercising and spent all day at my desk and threw myself into it. I now work on utilising my time more effectively so that I always have a few hours just for myself and for Jake. Balance is key!
I always feel saner after….
Hiking the hills above my home in Clearwater Bay. I also find if things are getting to me, some time with friends (and by that I mean Ben & Jerry’s) helps!
Favourite activity with the kids in Hong Kong?
I love going on junks. Jake is now at the age where I can relax (a bit more). I find anywhere where there is swimming is great. I have found a couple of rock pools and I love exploring those and have also had some amazing weekends in Lantau on the beach. Jake loves the outdoors so camping is one of his favourite activities too. We are also partial to a bit of lazy dim sum with friends, late on a Sunday morning in North point.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Hong Kong?
Panevino is our favourite restaurant on the Island. Their Tai Hang restaurant has lots of room for fidgeters to explore and move around safely. They also have a private outdoor garden area. The food is good value for money and their pizzas and pastas are amazing. What kid doesn’t love a good bowl of spaghetti?
I also love my local restaurant, which is Po Toi O fishing village. Any restaurant which puts big plastic sheets down is a big tick in my book! And let’s be honest – it’s vital! It’s a similar set-up to Lamma, which is also great. The kids love to look at the live seafood in the tanks and then there’s the obligatory ice cream on the way home. Perfect!
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
It’s hard to beat Thailand. Everyone is so friendly and helpful. I remember my first holiday one-on-one with Jake when he was 2 years old. I have a great shot of a Thai waiter who was walking around filling water glasses from table to table with one hand and with Jake on the other side sitting on his hip, all so I could eat my breakfast! I also love a good foot massage, so I will often take Jake with me to the places on the beach. He is always the centre of attention whilst I get some semi peace and quiet, until he decides he wants to practice massages on me. I tend to go to Phuket and love the Bang Tao area.
Activity that I do not love to do but do it anyway because my kids love it…
My son is obsessed with motorbikes and policemen. So we spend a lot of time stalking policemen! I always preferred firemen myself, but there is no swaying him. He is also a nature boy, so we are often at Ocean Park. I spend a lot of time being dragged from what I am about to do to go view a moth or a frog outside. I do love that he has such a keen interest though and the excitement can be contagious.
Can you talk us through your career pre and post babies? How did you get back into the swing of things after having children?
When I was pregnant with Jake, I was extremely ill and debilitated throughout the pregnancy so was unable to work. I started scrambling my baby brain together when Jake was about 6 months, which was also when our helper Tina started thankfully. I could finally write an e-mail without having to pin Jake to the floor with my feet! I worked from home, whilst Tina entertained Jake in the background. I was able to ease myself into it gradually at the beginning. Then I just threw myself into work later on. I am still trying to find the balance. I think I work more efficiently now that I have a child. I am a much better multi-tasker then ever before and I always have a better place to be (i.e. with him), therefore I’m less likely to dilly dally as I just want to get the job done.
Do you have any tips for aspiring “mamapreneurs” and working other mamas in Hong Kong?
Tap into your network of friends. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I learnt so much from pals who were in the business and the time they spent with me was invaluable. Also, be efficient with your time. Don’t pretend you’re being productive by tinkering with non-productive tasks. Plan and allocate your time well. Finally, take time out for you! Exercise regularly, eat well and sleep well.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
That having a child will teach you more about yourself than anything else you have ever done in your life. Be open to learning just as much from them as you plan to teach them.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Setting boundaries at home between work and personal time with Jake. In the past, I have over extended myself and that has proven a disaster in terms of quality time. I am really working on being in the now with my son. I have now established a cut off time where the phone/computer/iPad is then turned off so that I am all his. I also wish I could bottle up my son’s energy and tap into it!
My most humbling mama moment was…
Realising that Jake only slept all through the night when his dad did his swaddles. I would call Simon on business trips insisting that the baby had changed and that sleep had gone out the window. Then I’d see the twinkle in his eye the morning after he’d arrived and he’d swaddled our son into yet another full night’s sleep. This happened time and time again.
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Jake and I make pancakes on the weekends quite often. It’s messy, but he loves to get involved. We also like dim sum and meeting up with his surrogate “Grandma” who was my amah growing up in Hong Kong and very much part of the family.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
New designs for the brand… and then I can’t help but get on Pinterest and search out ideas and pin away until sleep comes.
My favourite moment of the day is…
I love reading to my son at night. It is a small window when he is tired and “less busy” and there is potentially a chance of a cuddle. And as much as I love him, I am generally more than ready to go and plonk down in front of the BBC and switch off!
One thing I won’t sacrifice as a mama is…
I do need time out for myself, or it takes its toll. Whether it’s going for a hike, a foot massage or a night out with friends. My son is rather active and my business can be quite demanding, so I need to ensure I look after myself in order to keep up and stay sane.
You’ve had to go through a lot of trials and tribulations. What is the most important thing you’ve learned along the way?
Don’t take your partner for granted or ever let them feel that you do. It’s very easy to focus on what they don’t do, than what they do do for you. It’s terribly important to let your other half know how great they are. A week after I lost Simon, I wrote to a lot of my friends and asked them to sit with their other halves that week and list 10 reasons why they loved them so much. I just don’t think that any couple can do that enough. (Ok maybe not loudly and in an obnoxious gushing way in front of everyone else in Starbucks – but you know what I mean!). I also think it is important to live in the now and make this day count. Be spontaneous!
Even when my child has a family of his/her own, I’ll still…
Have him in a set of Snug-a-licious pyjamas!