Their birth inspired a company that has become a real Yorkshire success story, now Amanda Scacchetti and Olivia Robinson tell Sarah Freeman why Mamas and Papas has always been a family affair.
Amanda Scacchetti admits she is her mother’s daughter.
In the Huddersfield headquarters of Mamas and Papas, the company her parents founded in the 1980s, the 33-year-old can often be found agonising over online customer reviews of their pushchairs and booster seats. Any potential flaw is investigated and any suggested improvements carefully noted.
“My mother’s a perfectionist, whenever she visits one of our stores, you can see her looking around like a hawk. Every so often, she’ll say, ‘I spy with my little eye, something beginning with D’ as she wipes her finger along an offending dusty cabinet.
“I guess I inherited the same eye for detail and if we have a bad review it doesn’t take long for people to know about it. My ambition is to have all our products rated five stars and we’re getting there. I take it very personally if someone criticises our products, not because I think they’re wrong, but because we invest so much time in making sure they are the very best they can be, that it’s disappointing if they don’t meet someone else’s expectations.”
We are sat in the staff canteen of their sprawling headquarters where every Mamas and Papas product is designed and tested to within an inch of its life. We’re here to talk about how Amanda and her younger sister Olivia are now taking a pivotal role in the firm and how its history has come full circle.
It was Amanda’s birth which set the wheels of Mamas and Papas in motion. In the 1980s baby wear was best described as functional and Luisa, who had moved to Yorkshire from Italy as a youngster sought inspiration from her homeland.
Buying a buggy, the kind of which had never been seen on the streets of Huddersfield, the admiring glances from other mothers convinced her there was a gap in the lucrative baby market. In those early years, before David gave up his own job working for a toy company, Olivia and Amanda remember how hard their parents worked to make the business a success.
“When my dad was still working at the toy company on evenings and weekends he would be unloading stock, they didn’t need to teach us about working hard to achieve your dreams, because we saw them doing it.
“When I was 14 and Olivia was 11 we were sent to board at Queen Margaret’s School in York. At that time, the business was really starting to take off and mum and dad were away travelling a lot, so it just seemed to make sense and it did make us really stand on our own two feet.
“I couldn’t believe it when I got to university and there were people who had never used a washing machine and didn’t know how to boil an egg. We have always been quite independent and I think that’s a tribute to how we were brought up.”
While Luisa and David are still very much at the heart of Mamas and Papas, their daughters also now have a central role in the business with Olivia as creative and brand director and Amanda as head of product development.
They both insist there was never any pressure to join the family firm, but particularly having become mothers themselves they believed they could help write the next chapter in the history of Mamas and Papas. “You have to keep the brand moving on,” says 30-year-old Olivia, who learnt about the business from the shopfloor up, doing her apprenticeship at the Romford store before moving back to Yorkshire. “When Mamas and Papas first launched there was nothing else like it, but over the last 10 or 15 years the baby market has undergone a massive expansion. The realities of motherhood have also changed and we knew from having our own children.
“Right from the start mum would insist that every product underwent a nail test, basically if a product had a catch to release or a button to press you had to be able to do it with fully manicured nails. We still do the test, but we do try to tell her that most mums these days don’t bother with their nails. Mum and dad have spent the last 30 years building this business, but I think we can offer a different perspective.”
Olivia and Amanda have a full board meeting with their parents once a month, but any issues which crop up in between tend to be discussed over Sunday dinner. The family admit they are in many ways the archetypal Italian clan.
“There’s a Scacchetti triangle in Huddersfield, well in fact if you add in our uncle more of a square,” says Amanda. “We talk a lot and I know some people think working with their parents would be the last thing they would ever want to do, but I can’t think of anything else I would rather be doing.”
In the design and development rooms, the team is working on the collection which won’t be seen in shops until 2015 and getting to grips with the demand of new markets. As Amanda says, when your selling to Russia where temperatures regular drop to -40C you have to make sure your winter range is pretty robust. In May, Mamas and Papas will see its first store open in Beijing, the start of a five year expansion into China. Not bad for a company which started with one small store in the centre of Huddersfield.
The company employs 500 people at its Yorkshire headquarters, but there is also the next generation of Scacchettis waiting in the wings. Olivia’s two children, four-year-old Marni and two-year-old Auden appear in Mamas and Papas latest advertising campaign along with Amanda’s three-year-old daughter Milla. Her nine-month-old son Arlo was a little too young, but one suspects its only a matter of time. Mamas and Papas began as a family affair and it looks likely to stay that way.
Mamas and Papas: Bringing up baby
The founders of Mamas and Papas, David and Luisa Scacchetti met as youngsters at a wedding in Italy and became childhood sweethearts. David, whose parents were Italian, was born in Bradford and Luisa’s family moved to Huddersfield when she was 11 years old.
The company began in the early 1980s with the couple opening a shop in the centre of Huddersfield called Mr Baby.
After opening their first retail store in Northampton in 1998, the company now has 64 stores in the UK and sells its products through 3,500 outlets in 49 countries.
Alicia Keys, Gwen Stefani and Natalie Portman are among the celebrity fans of the range, which this year will see its clothing line expanded to up to six-years-old.
At its headquarters in the West Yorkshire town it employs 500 people and is on the brink of a massive expansion programme. Alongside stores in Russia, Lebanon and Korea, the opening of the first Beijing branch of Mamas and Papas in May will be another landmark for the company.