An interview with Kirsten Hartley - Leosun

Child with blonde curly hair smiling and wearing pink sunglasses

Kirsten is a mum of 2 boys just like me, and an ex-fashion buyer based in lovely Bath. She started Leosun last year just before we went into lockdown. As soon as I saw these amazing trendy bendy sunglasses I knew I had to get them into the shop. Kirsten has such a great concept but her eye for colour is second to none. There isn't one pair of sunglasses she has brought out that I wouldn't have for the boys.  

"My family loves adventure and my kids spend loads of time outdoors, so I'm always on the lookout for kids products that can withstand everyday adventures. I went on a mission to develop kids sunglasses that were not only stylish but also safe, practical and durable. The result is something we're really proud of - flexible sunglasses for kids that not only protect little eyes but ensure your little ones look super cool on any adventure!"

Tell us how and when Leosun started? 

Leosun started for a couple of reasons. The first being that I love kids fashion and accessories and I had previously struggled to find sunglasses that I really liked for my own kids. Secondly, I had always worked for big corporates where I struggled to balance life, kids and work. So I decided that I wanted to do something where I could work but also have the flexibility to spend more time with my kids and less time in a big office and hopefully avoid the daily commute in traffic!

How many people work with you?

Just me. Although I work by myself, having previously worked in fashion, my friends and some ex-colleagues have been helpful in terms of giving input and guidance when needed.

What has been your favourite part of owning your own business?

I like that my time is my own and I have control over every aspect of the business. I've enjoyed things like building the website and developing a look and feel for the brand. It's also been great finding really supportive small brands on platforms like Instagram that support me (like West Stanton)!

And on the flipside, what has been the most challenging part?

While an office job can be left behind at the end of the day, I find that your own business can be all-consuming and it can be hard to break away (especially when working from home). I've had some very stressful supplier issues which are now sorted. I also find in difficult times it's hard working by yourself, as you don't have a team to support you and share the workload with. I am also not good when it comes to accounts and business admin, but it's something I'm working on.

If you could go back to the ideation days of Leosun, before everything got underway, what advice would you give yourself?

Take your time, don't rush any decisions, get input from other business owners - they're more open than you would expect!

What do you hope is different about your brand, than others in the same space?

I hope Leosun is different in terms of offering good quality products that are also quirky and bold. While flexi sunglasses are not unique, I feel that we offer a cool and trendy version of flexi glasses.

How do you market your products most effectively?

This is something I'm still learning about, but so far Instagram seems to be the best platform for marketing. While I have dabbled in Facebook/ Instagram ads, it can be overwhelming and I am no expert. I've tried Google ad word campaigns but find they can get pricey quickly.

Where do you hope you and Leosun will be in 5 year’s time?

I hope to have built a store that makes a profit, and is manageable to run - hopefully achieving that illusive work/ life balance. Hopefully we can expand to include a wider range of our own brand of products, while still supporting other independents.

How has COVID19 affected your business?

It delayed the launch of the business by a couple of months as production and shipping was delayed. It was also a challenge as I started working on the business when my youngest started nursery a couple of days a week, and I had set that time aside to work. So it was sometimes difficult trying to balance having both my kids at home full time, while trying to launch the business.

What did you do before Leosun?

I started my career working as a brand strategist in an advertising agency, then after 4 years I had a career change and moved into fashion buying. I worked for a large retailer as a menswear buyer which I loved - amazing people, great opportunities and I learnt so much. We then immigrated to the UK due to my husbands work, so that's when Leosun began.

How to try and limit your environmental impact?

It's tricky in retail, and something I'm conscious of. The aim of the flexi sunglasses (which will be our main focus going forward) is that they last beyond one season. We produce in small runs to reduce wastage and the sunglasses are recyclable. I try and ensure we use environmentally friendly packaging as far as possible. Our eco mailer boxes are made from 90% recycled content and printed with water based ink. The tissue paper is FSC certified, acid free and printed with soy inks.

You clearly take a lot of care and consideration when choosing the brands to stock on your website. What is the most important factor for you in choosing who to work with?

I look for independent brand that offer unique, high quality products. Being from South Africa, I have a passion for SA design and products as there are so many amazing creators and makers there.

Aside from sunglasses, backpacks, socks and hats, what other type of items would you love to stock on Leosun?

I'm currently working with some amazing graphic designers and artists to create printed tees. That will be our first test of apparel, but I would love to expand to more of our own brand kids and adults clothing and accessories.

We love the name Leosun – how did it come about?

My youngest son's name is Leo, and we have a love of the sun and summer, so that's how it came about!

Shop our latest range of Leosun sunglasses here