Kate Kikano, TKD Lingerie | Be Your Own Boss

Kate Kikano, Founder of TKD Lingerie, talks to Women@Work indepth about what made her want to become her own boss, the pitfalls and advice for anyone looking to make that first step.

How did you come up with the concept for your business and at what point did you decide to make it a reality?

It was driven by necessity; I was heavily pregnant and could not find a bra to fit me in all of Dubai.

I was so uncomfortable and so tired of being told to just try a larger back size, which would be the worst thing you can do when you have heavier than ever chest. Right there and then in the mall after spending all day looking and failing to find a bra, I started to look around. There were plenty of other women who looked like me; I wasn’t an unusual shape or size. I thought if I was having this horrendous experience, other women must be too. It was an epiphany.

My initial research confirmed my belief – women who needed expert fittings and larger cup sizes were chronically underserved. That was the foundation for my business plan.

My awful bra shopping experience helped when it came to designing the customer experience in TKD Lingerie. I wanted the brand to be feminine, friendly and accessible. And that means a brand that wasn’t intimidating, it meant never body shaming or telling women they were the wrong size for our products.

I have a good friend who is an excellent designer and we worked together to come up with the name and logo. The Knicker Drawers was soon shortened to TKD (as it was a bit of a mouthful), and that brings us to today. TKD Lingerie is six years old and we have grown organically since the first day we opened. We have also opened a boutique in Bahrain and we are about to open our webstore.

It takes a village for any mom, but for a mom starting her own business, it must take a huge village.  Who are your go-to people/services?

I often feel that I have a small army behind me, for which I am very grateful!

My team at work really “get” what TKD is about and share my passion to get all women into a great fitting bra.

I have a fantastic network of friends in the local entrepreneurs’ community who are always there to give advice and to empathise with all that running a small business entails.

My kids and I are among the fortunate few to have their grandparents living in Dubai and along with my rock of a husband, our awesome helper and a few amazing friends (who know who you are girls!) I always have someone who’s got my back.

How long did it take for you to be profitable?

We’ve been cash flow positive from day one in Dubai. We’re in a growth stage and continue to invest in more stock, additional stores and our upcoming web store, so at the moment any profits are being ploughed back into the business.

What was the best advice you ever received?  Worst advice?

One of the best pieces of advice was to interview based on our core values. We place more value on customer feedback than the size of any sale.  We want to ensure that TKD places our customer at the centre of everything we do.

Worst advice…. Oh gosh there’s been so much! I have made some spectacular mistakes along the way. I think every entrepreneur does. Sometimes you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and find another path.

Since you’ve been through it, what would you tell someone starting out?

Make sure you really want to do it. Starting a business is like having a demanding child. It needs your attention constantly. Many business owners I know sometimes dream of having a normal job, where you get a salary for the work you do during business hours, and you switch off when you get home. Leaving work at work is easier said than done when it is your own business.

Which statement best describes you?

  1. I never dreamed about success, I worked for it.
  2. She’s got that whole, “purpose-driven, change making, warrior princess, super mom” thing going on.
  3. An entrepreneur isn’t someone who owns a business, it’s someone who makes things happen.

I think it’s hard to sum up in just one statement. Everything starts with a dream, a big idea. It is usually follow up with a lot of dedication and hard work both from you and your team.

Take us through a day in your life.

Every day is different. When you run your own business, you do everything and anything from seeing customers on the shop floor to overseeing the accounts and speaking to suppliers. There are always changes in regulation you need to learn about, or potential new suppliers to evaluate.

I like to take part in community events where I can speak to women about how to make sure their bras fit properly, and this is something we do a lot of. I am often asked to speak at prenatal and breast-feeding events, and this is also something I feel passionate about because I know first-hand what a difference the right support can make when it comes to nursing.

When you are running your own business there will always be more to do. But as a mother you also have a whole other set of commitments that are equally important, so trying to find a way to balance the two without burning the candle at both ends is crucial.

At any given day, I might be attending a presentation in my kids’ school after drop-off, meeting a supplier mid-morning, popping into the shop at lunch time, and then on to a playdate in the afternoon.

Do you separate your roles within the business? 

When you are part of a small team it can be tough to separate roles. Everyone has to have a lot of flexibility. At the very beginning I did everything that needed to be done and worked morning, noon and night to get things up and running. As we’ve become more established, we’ve established best practices, put into place policies and procedures. As the team grows it is easier to define roles and ensure everyone is playing to their strengths.

3 Tips for Blossoming Entrepreneur

1. Find your people.

It can be a lonely journey if you don’t have a good support network. I have been lucky to find a great network of other business owners who all support and learn from each other. Try to find others in a non-competitive space who are on a similar journey. Join a business networking group. Approach others targeting the same market and consider mutually beneficial partnerships. Find a mentor. Ask people for help. You will find that most people are incredibly helpful if you only ask.

2. Pay It Forward:

There will be times when you are the one asked for help. It is usually at an inconvenient time when you are in the middle of something else. Remember that you were once the one who needed help. There are times you genuinely cannot help, whether it is a lack of time or perhaps just capability, but when you can, do. Pay it forward. You reap what you sow.

3. Get ready for long hours and hard work:

Don’t expect it to be easy. Yes, it can be an amazing journey. Yes, you will learn so much and grow as a person. But it will not be easy and there are no shortcuts. Roll up your sleeves and get ready for hard work.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Just a big thank you for taking the time to interview me Mums@Work!