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How Mama Mio secured a superstar non-exec

Remember 1995, when Oasis and Blur reigned, and Britannia was Cool” The mid-nineties were the years when pop stars and entrepreneurs mingled at 10 Downing Street parties, and Tony Blair was whiter than white.

Sian Sutherland was a bit of a player in that scene. Then in her mid-twenties, she launched her new restaurant in Soho and, full of the spirit that anything’s possible, she bagged a Michelin star in year one.

Ten years on, and (she’ll forgive me this) with the stretch marks to show for almost a decade of motherhood, Sutherland is now building a sassy, potential blockbuster brand in the skincare sector.

Created with friends Kathy Miller and Tanya McKay, Mama Mio provides "skincare for supermamas". While the brand is still quite small ($3m turnover and 12 employees), it’s building a reputation in all the right places. Stocked in 600 upmarket retailers in the UK and, significantly, the US, Mama Mio will arrive in New York’s iconic Macy’s department store later this year.

The marketplace for beauty and skincare products is not only hyper-competitive, it also sees new entrants every week. So what makes Mama Mio stand out?

First, Sutherland reckons they’ve discovered a whole new segment. "Between the three of us founders, we had seven children in six years," she explains in a stylish, American-style cafe in deeply trendy Clerkenwell. "We realised that we were a segment that no-one was talking to." Most pregnancy products play on fears of stretch marks and stress the negatives; Mama Mio would be a postive, life-affirming brand that focused on mothers and motherhood. More than one customer has said to Sutherland: "when I discovered Mama Mio, it was like finding a sister."

The other, big differentiator for this wannabe mega-brand is its serious board structure and backers. Sutherland’s varied entrepreneurial career (she also ran an ad agency with Kathy Miller) means that she’s no lightweight dabbler in the beauty sector, but an experienced brand-builder. Mama Mio was originally backed by Investec, and has focused on the huge US marketplace from day one.

She’s also recognised the importance of getting the best possible advice and input into the business. So, on a trip to the US, she was introduced to Bob Nielsen, former group president of Estee Lauder and the man who built brands such as Aramis, Tommy Hilfiger, Prescriptives, La Mer, Donna Karan, Jo Malone and Kate Spade.

Bingo! Not only did Nielsen agree to invest his own money, he also became quasi-chairman of the business and is leading the professionalisation of Mama Mio – a  new CFO arrives imminently.

"We’re moving from a niche to a mainstream brand; from the nursery department to the beauty floor," says Sutherland. You can’t miss the garish pinks, blues and greens on Mama Mio’s packaging. This is a small business with plenty to shout about.

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