SPOTLIGHT: NATASHA ASCOTT
We talk to the CEO of Muddy Puddles, about the great outdoors and why every child is wild at heart
Natasha Ascott is one of those women who is incredibly inspiring, energetic and hardworking (she’s probably achieved more in a day than before we’ve had a cup of tea). A former teacher (and deputy head) and mum to three young children, she took over Muddy Puddles children’s outdoor clothing in 2013. She saw an opportunity to combine her love of business with her passion for the outdoors and education and ran with it. She also runs the Muddy Academy, works with Farms for City Children (which we’ll be talking more about later this week in Brands We Love) and is currently training to teach English to refugees. An over-achiever in the loveliest sense, we chatted to Natasha to find out how in the name of all that is holy she does it all, and what keeps her going.
I wake up at… 5am. It is glaringly early but means that in the crazy juggle of business and motherhood I can get some work done and a bit of exercise before hopping my children out of bed at 7am. At which point in we dive in to the mad dash of getting dressed, breakfast and school run, which gets me back to my desk with a stong coffee for just before 9am, with everyone deposited where they need to go.
My typical day involves… the brilliant mix of all things that go into running Muddy Puddles. One of the amazing things about running a small business is that you get to stay truly involved with all aspects of it, from thinking about our products for the next season through to all our marketing plans, events, customer experience and financials. We are striving to design fun and lovely unisex outerwear that is perfectly practical and protective, and allows children to play outdoors all year round. This focus is what is always at the front of my mind.
I bought Muddy Puddles… because the moment I saw it I felt like it was a brand that presented the most incredible opportunity. As we sell a product with a purpose, this drives the focus of the entire business, which is to enable children to play and learn outdoors. Before I ran Muddy Puddles I was a teacher, and the transition from teaching brings a lot to bear on the fact that we are a business with a mission to improve children’s lives. We believe that every child is wild at heart and that this understanding has been lost in recent generations.
We know that all children unthinkingly will race to splash in a puddle or climb a tree if you take them outdoors, and that when they are given the freedom to roam all year round, they develop better concentration, healthier bodies and bigger imaginations. We use our brand every day to support our belief, through the careful thought we put in to the design and performance of our clothes to the free outdoor events we run for families and the Muddy Academy scheme, where we work with schools to provide them with outdoor learning resources.
The biggest challenges of combining business with motherhood are… My mum says that we can spend our lives striving for a balance that we will never feel we can achieve, and for sure that is how I feel right now! I think that, like all working parents, I permanently feel that I should be more present for my children and also give the business more, and it just isn’t possible to do both! I have a ‘guilt list’ of important moments I’ve missed with my children and, even worse, there must be a longer list of things I don’t know I’ve missed, like their first news at the end of the school day.
The worst part of my job… is really wanting to do so much – and it’s always the nature of a small business feeling like I do not have enough time and resources to do it all. Being a little business means that you are often impacted by the actions of bigger fish that you work with or who are in the market, which can be tough.
My favourite part of my job… I am incredibly lucky in that I really love what I do. I think my favourite thing about the job is really being able to shape it in the direction I want to go and have ideas which I can turn into reality, which can be very exciting and fulfilling.
For me: I love vintage ’50s-style skirts, and have always found my very favourite ones in the top floor of Grays Antiques in London, where there is a vintage clothes market once a month. Talking of vintage, I also have my eye on the gorgeous retro jumpsuit from Clary & Peg.
For them: My parents were amazing at keeping the best items we had from when we were children, and nothing makes me happier than seeing my youngest charging around in the OshKosh dungarees that were mine when I was three.
‘Stories rule in our house, and they have to be the item I love sharing with them the most. It is the part of the day I always try to be home for, and I’ve recently been reading Harry Potter with my two older children, which they adore. For the little one I love the Oliver Jeffers stories.’
‘I adore the baby owls wallpaper in my youngest son’s bedroom, created by my lovely friend Mouse, who has developed her beautiful drawings into the most wonderful range of wallpapers.’
At the weekend we…
‘… head down to my parents’ farm in Somerset, where we roam outdoors as much as possible, visiting the cows and sheep, stomping through the woods and playing big games of football before collapsing in front of a late-afternoon movie, followed by a hot bath and supper.’
What keeps me sane…
‘My friends and my sisters are definitely my sanity medicine. There is nothing I love more than coffee or a walk and a massive long chat with them to download what’s on my mind.’
My guilty pleasure…
‘A hot bath and curling up in front of Netflix with my husband. At the moment we are loving the new season of House Of Cards.’
Who I admire…
‘There are so many incredible people out there to admire, but I aspire to have the success of Jessica Herrin, who founded and runs the amazing Stella & Dot accessories company, which sells a beautiful product using an incredible sales force of mothers across the globe.’