1993 saw Laura Tenison launch JoJo Maman Bébé and the business has been a runaway success ever since. From fashionable maternity wear to the Breton-inspired children’s collection, nursery products to toys, the business offers everything little ones (and parents) could need from pregnancy through to preschool. As mother to two boys, Toby and Ben, Laura juggles a heavy load but has been well-recognised through many awards and, in 2004, she was awarded an MBE for services to business.
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Q: What is your first childhood memory of travel?
We did not really have holidays, as such, when I was a child. We just spent long lazy days in the countryside of South Wales, swimming in the river, picking bilberries in the mountains, and galloping around on our ponies. I remember it was always hot and so tricky to get to sleep, because the sun seemed never to go down and the combine harvester kept going long after bedtime. It was a pretty idyllic childhood (if a bit lonely), until my teenage years, when I was desperate to get away.
Q: Where have you had your best holiday to date?
As soon as I left South Wales to try to find my fortune, I became an avid traveler. First, I spent 20 months on a quest to buy silk for my first business. I travelled from home to the Middle East, Israel, Jordan and Syria, where I bought fabrics in Damascus and Aleppo; the souks were totally amazing and I have always wanted to return. But it’s too late now; what is happening there now is so incredibly dreadful. From there I travelled on to India, South East Asia, China and Japan (with a break in Australia to earn money half way through). I became a seasoned traveller and have no fear of going far afield to find new suppliers and factories. When my children were little I took them with me and one of our best ever holidays was in Rajasthan.
Q: Where was the first place you went with a little one in tow? How did it go?
When Ben, my oldest, was 5 days old I took him on Brittany Ferries to stay in my house in the French countryside. I still love rural France and spent two years living there and running a businesses before launching JoJo, so it felt like home. A few people commented on how little he was as I sat on the ferry, but he was happy. I knew that if I stayed at home I would get no rest since JoJo was still a very young company and I could not stay away. I had already been back at work for a couple of days, so going on holiday was the very best way of getting time with my new baby. Our neighbours are like family and we enjoyed two weeks together before I had to come back to work.
Q: How do you find the experience of travelling with children generally?
Travelling with little ones is an exhausting business. I remember having two babes in arms and taking a long flight to LA alone with them, spending 5 days there with jet lag then flying back again. It was the most exhausting and lonely experience of my life! However, more sensible holidays with children are a joy, a real chance to give them your full attention, relax and enjoy playing with them and just being a full time family for a change. When you juggle work with children, as I always have, life is a frenzy of feeling guilty.
Q. Do you ever travel with your children for work?
When they were little I always took them on photo shoots. They became very proficient models, which was so useful. As soon as they started school that became more tricky and I gradually travelled less and less for JoJo, handing the buying and factory visits over to others. Now that they are teenagers I can travel again – they quite like having the house to themselves.
Q: Where was your best holiday with your child?
I wish I could say that our trips to Africa, India, Morocco or the Middle East were the best. They were, of course, amazing and the boys learnt so much. However, whilst proper travel with your children is a great experience the BEST EVER holiday that we all agree upon was the time my friend Daisy Waugh asked me to come on an all-inclusive in Barbados (something I would never have dreamed of doing myself). It was pure heaven: the children had seven pools and their friends, plus pizza and chips on tap. Daisy and I sat on the beach drinking cocktails and reading our books. Once a day I walked into the local village to prevent cabin fever. All in all, it really was a proper holiday and I’m ashamed to say that we returned for the next three years running and would still be going back had the resort not closed down.
Q: And your worst?
This one is tougher to answer, because in the end I always love holidays. But two years ago I hired a villa in Sardinia, which was mega expensive. It looked lovely in the photos but was really a total rip off: dated, grubby, bobbly sheets and, worst of all, the swimming pool tiles were all coming loose. When we arrived, the children all jumped in the pool and then jumped out again with their feet bleeding. We had to wear shoes in the pool and not touch the sides. The owner was unapologetic and refused any form of refund – she was unbelievably nonchalant about the situation, despite some gory photos!
Q: What is your must-have travel accessory when away with children? Have you any particular favourite pieces from JoJo Maman Bébé that you love to take away with you?
When my children were little I found that if I travelled light, life was a lot less stressful, so despite the fact that I am a children’s wear retailer, I would recommend you DON’T take too much. As soon as your kids are old enough, get them to carry their own suitcases: this means you have to keep things to a minimum so that everything will fit into a little rucksack or wheelie bag. The best ever travel product which we have designed is our JoJo Pocket High Chair – it’s a way to ensure a peaceful meal without a baby on your lap. The chair rolls up into a tiny size, so you have a go-anywhere high chair. I would also recommend taking sun protection suits. My boys are brown but they still burn. In a suit you don’t need to keep remembering the sun cream. Our sleeping bags are vital, too. Take a travel version so that they can sleep in their car seats or on planes. Keeping to a routine makes life much less stressful, so if your baby is used to being put down in their sleeping bag, they should be happy to sleep anywhere.
Q: And top tips for travel with kids?
My first piece of advice is to try to get them into the new sleep routine the first day or two. Don’t let them nap, and try really hard to keep them awake until it’s bedtime where you are. This is agony on the first day, but will make the rest of the holiday worthwhile. And it’s good to be thick-skinned on flights – everyone will hate you if you have a baby, but just be super nice and apologise profusely when they projectile vomit all over the poor businessman sitting next to you.
Q. What inspired you to found JoJo Maman Bébé? What are your hopes for the future of the company?
I love the way that Breton children are out on the beach whatever the weather, digging for sea life, often with their grandparents during school holidays. After living in France I was shocked to see how many British people kept their children indoors “because of the rain or cold”. At JoJo, we concentrate on making clothes for children and babies that are super practical, as well as adorable, and made to last for future generations. I wanted to bring some Breton style back to the UK and make sure parents had no excuses to keep little ones cooped up. To this day, our best-selling styles are our rainwear, outerwear, swim and sun protection styles – all made for serious outdoor fun, whatever the weather.