The Wonky Woolins:
Not many 19-year-olds celebrate their birthday weekend with TV dragon and retail magnate Theo Paphitis. And yet for Galway’s Chloe Gardiner, it’s another milestone for the young entrepreneur who credits the role of social media and micro influencers as pivotal in transforming a transition year project into a viable business.
The Wonky Woolins began with a unicorn. Chloe handcrafted her first product as part of a mini-enterprise initiative during her transition year in school.
Inspired by characters made by her grandmother, Chloe has followed in the footsteps of her entrepreneurial family and now runs two businesses – The Wonky Woolins and Baa Baa Bandits. Originally from Edenderry Co Offaly, she has lived in Galway for the last three years.
From Creative Craft to Thriving Business:
“I was always fairly creative,” she says. “Growing up in Edenderry, there was nothing to do! I learned to crochet off YouTube and it just clicked. It made sense and I could make anything I wanted. Everybody in my family is self-employed and I have been inspired by that.”
Lockdown was a turning point for Chloe. As a result, she went from selling at craft fairs to exporting internationally. Now, she works tirelessly to fulfill demand from Belgium, France, Canada, Australia and the UK. Her chunky arm wool business Baa Baa Bandits is now on par with The Wonky Woolins – trading at home and internationally.
“Initially, The Wonky Woolins were nowhere near the scale and level they are at now,” she says. “I went to craft fairs, but once the schools closed during lockdown – and the fairs stopped – everyone was online. I knew it was now or never.”
The Role of Micro-Influencers:
Chloe Gardiner worked hard on her social media presence, developing her IG, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn channels alongside her websites. She soon recognised the potential to market her product using micro influencers. She quickly identified a niche market for her product, and she was approached by the right people for her brand.
“It definitely got the name and the brand out there,” she explains. “People wanted the product and influencers were the key to kick it all off. I never thought of them for promotion up until then. A few of them approached me. Some were customers involved in interior design and they wanted the product. Consequently, online growth happened organically.”
A Dragon’s Approval:
This online acumen won her recognition from one of the UK’s top Dragons, Theo Paphitis. The retail giant established Small Business Sunday – #SBS = on Twitter to give a welcome boost to start-ups. Both The Wonky Woolins and Baa Baa Bandits were chosen as weekly #SBS winners gaining a valuable re-tweet by him.
Not only that, but Chloe celebrated her birthday weekend of 2022 with a double celebration. On the cusp of her 19th year, she flew to the UK for the #SBS annual event. This is the ultimate accolade, providing a full day of high end networking and advice. In addition, she received her official #SBS certificate.
A One-Woman Show:
Chloe Gardiner is a one woman show. Not only does she makes all of the Wonky Woolins by hand, but she is also responsible for the marketing, promotion, accounting and sourcing of product that goes with running two successful enterprises. For the first time, she can concentrate on her businesses without having to juggle schoolwork and study. Having completed her Leaving Certificate, she is taking a gap year to focus on the next steps for her company with the help of business mentor, Declan Droney, of Kinvara Smoked Salmon. And it’s a full-time job. While the tentative first steps of Wonky Woolins began during transition year and took flight throughout 5th and 6th class, Chloe is grateful to leave her school days behind her.
“I honestly look back and I think, how did I do it?” she says. “I hated school,” she admits. “Once I had the business up and running, spending three hours working gave me a boost of energy. But I don’t know if I slept at all. It was hard to balance everything. Ultimately, this is why I want to take time now to see where the business can go.”
From School to Successful Entrepreneur:
Chloe Gardiner has wisdom beyond her teenage years. Speaking to her, it is easy to forget her youth – until she openly admits she still has to learn how to drive. With a room full of stock, her parents help to transport the carefully wrapped packages to the post office as the Wonky Woolins and Baa Baa Bandit products make their way to their new homes.
The opportunity to establish a business while still at school has given Chloe a new level of discipline. She had to separate both worlds to successfully navigate the challenges of each. Now that she is free to concentrate on her enterprise, she has been able to bring with her a high level of organisational and project management skills. Despite the hard work involved, she still loves the creative process.
Her Advice to Aspiring Business Owners:
“I would say you can never turn off. You don’t get to stop or turn off your phone. It involves a lot of discipline and organisation. It stills feels creative. I love the process and I still love seeing them go out to new homes.”