‘Often girls' clothes are pink, cute and impractical. They promote kindness, but not always confidence. And boys' clothes are often blue, aggressive and adventure seeking. They promote confidence, but not always kindness. I wanted to bring these two characteristics together and allow all children, no matter what their gender, to celebrate both kindness and confidence.’ – Sally Dear, Founder of Ducky Zebra
In February last year, OxLEP announced the launch of the new ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire’ programme, set up to revitalise high streets and town centres across the county, following the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Oxford City Council-run programme – delivered by social enterprise Makespace Oxford – is being supported by the government’s Getting Building Fund, with £1.9m of funding for the project secured by OxLEP.
Since the beginning of the programme, vacant units across Oxfordshire have been transformed into shops, co-working spaces, and creative and community hubs in a bid to bring back flourishing town centres, in what already – pre-covid – were spaces struggling to stay afloat, while competing with ever-increasing rent prices and challenging business rates.
Some of the underused spaces now on their way to becoming thriving hubs of activity once again are situated within Oxford’s iconic Covered Market, with short-term leases offering space to a range of exciting community, environment and socially-minded businesses and vendors.
In partnership with Oxford City Council, Makespace Oxford has now supported six locally-based social enterprising businesses through the programme, securing short-term ‘pop-up’ licenses on a revenue share model, whilst also providing fit-out grant funding, business development advice and marketing assistance.
Ducky Zebra was one of five businesses that took up residence in the Covered Market in October 2021 through the ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire’ programme. They showcased their sustainable, gender-neutral children’s clothing brand in the iconic market only several months after the clothing brand had officially launched – before ‘popping-down’ at the end of March 2022.
Back in 2020, founder Sally Dear left behind a successful career in automotive and rail marketing to launch her exciting new venture, with the passion project tackling one of her biggest frustrations with the children’s clothing market, the clear gender differences in what clothes available represent, and how these continue to perpetuate gender stereotypes.
Ducky Zebra aims to challenge the clothing characteristics that offer such damaging reinforcement to limiting and long-outdated stereotypes surrounding gender – particularly problematic when the impact is on the minds of the next generation. Creating a unisex range of colourful, fun and sustainable clothes for children aged 0-6 years, Ducky Zebra offers a sunny solution to the problem, combining the characteristics so commonly only found on either ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ garments.
Purpose-driven to the core, Ducky Zebra clothes are made by a highly-skilled manufacturing team in South India, Shine Organic Clothing Company, a GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified factory that meets a strict social and environmental criteria (currently 50% of the factory's power comes from solar energy and soon this will be 85%). The factory actively promotes low minimum order quantities, producing low quantities of high quality products and reducing waste to a minimum.
The socially-conscious brand also proudly runs a pre-loved scheme, encouraging recycling at the benefit of the Oxford Baby Bank, whilst also donating £1 from every sale to children’s charity Chance UK.
Despite facing numerous challenges along the way and finally launching both online and in pop-up form in the midst of changing COVID-19 restrictions, Ducky Zebra has gone on to receive numerous accolades – being selected by Holly Tucker as one of her 250 shop independent marketeers, being awarded Theo Paphitis’ Small Business Sunday Award, and winning the Oxford Pitch for the Future Competition.
The Pitch for the Future Competition – organised by OSEP CIC on behalf of OxLEP Business as part of the European-funded eScalate programme, which supports social enterprises, charities and purposeful businesses – was created with the ambition of finding Oxfordshire’s best new businesses committed to creating a positive social or environmental impact.
The Pitch for the Future competition ran as part of Power of Purpose week (POP2021) last year and saw more than 50 businesses apply to take part, with ten taken through to a pitching practise session in front of a panel of business experts and green investors. Five businesses were then selected for the final, which saw them present a 10-minute pitch in person in front of a live audience, with Sally – and Ducky Zebra – crowned the overall winners.
With July having seen Ducky Zebra hold its second pop-up shop in the Westgate Shopping Centre’s flagship John Lewis store and founder Sally describing 2022 as Ducky Zebra’s self-proclaimed ‘year of testing and learning’, who knows where we’ll see the purpose-driven brand ‘pop-up’ next?
Video shared with permission of Oxford City Council.