As part of our European Voices series, We took the opportunity to speak with Anna Balez, founder of Tale Me, an exciting business that supplies maternity wear and children’s clothes on a rental basis. Tale Me was established with the support of the European Union.

I came across the Tale Me concept while browsing the European Commission Facebook page and was intrigued by the idea. As a father of one daughter, I was already familiar with this concept as we often exchanged our daughter’s clothes with fellow parents in our local area. But Tale Me takes this idea and gives it a nice twist.

Tale Me uses the exciting business concept of circular economy which enables items to be used many times over. The idea is quite simple. There are a number of different subscription boxes you can sign up to which are based on the amount of items you want to receive in your ‘box’. Once you have chosen what type of box you subscribe to, you will receive a selection of items every month. You then return the items once your baby has outgrown them and this is where the clever part happens. Once returned to the store, a team of staff work on repairing and cleaning of each item so it can be sent out again to another customer and so the cycle continues. It’s a wonderful idea that has seen the small company become successful in the Brussels area. Now Tale Me are considering expansion across Europe. I got the chance to chat with Anna and ask her about the background behind Tale Me.

Tell me a little about yourself

I am originally from France, near Toulouse, and I studied in Grenoble as a chemical engineer.  I am not from the textiles background, but there is a link between baby skin and clothes they wear, so I made a study about the clothes and what chemicals are involved in their manufacturing.  This is a huge problem that many are not aware of and it’s a subject I really care about because I understand it so well and I wanted to do something about it. I used to work with huge companies, but the many reports I did for them were not acted on, so I managed to merge the chemistry background with the concept of circular economy and came up with Tale Me. We have to convince people every day that clothes can be used as a rental item and you can save on pesticides and CO2 being used in manufacture.

What are you goals for the business?

We are hoping to expand, we have a shop which is a small showroom concept store and we use it for online and offline business. We employ 5 people who help us to up cycle our goods, which is very important to us.  We are opening a new store in January in Paris, adapted to the Parisian market which is really high expectation and high fashion. You cannot rent basic clothing. Once we open in January, we will be employing 15 people.

So what is the idea behind the name?

Tale is like short for ‘fairytale’. I know it doesn’t work too well in English, but it works well here!

Some of Tale Me collection

Is being based in Brussels advantageous in any way?

Yes, definitely. I moved to Brussels because it’s a great city and it’s easier to start up a business here, because you have more awareness and people listen to you more. It’s also easier to succeed if you are a woman compared to other regions.

You received a grant from the European Commission. How did that come about?

I sent it three years ago and we started it one year ago. It’s very strange, because I sent the application when I was working on my own and usually projects that win these grants are not in my industry. They are usually in construction or research and with many people involved. I told them we had this project that wants to make, reuse and rent these clothes and they said ok!

Maybe the person who gave you the grant had children?

Yes, possibly, I don’t know!

Do you have review periods regarding the grant and how often do you need to report to the grant officer?

I see her every six months or so and report every month. There are three pay-outs.

Once you reach a certain point do you receive the second part and then a final part?

Yes exactly, but the grant is really just a start up, because we now have investors who are interested, so there is no need for any other grant scheme for us.

Do you think that Brexit is bad for business in Europe?

Yes. We had planned to open in London, but now we are re-considering it, because there now are potential barriers that have made it too costly. London would have been a very nice market for us, but it is not as easy anymore.

As a business person, what do you think are the steps that EU should take to encourage growth and development in Europe?

I went to a number of investor meetings in Estonia which was organised by the EU, so I think they are already trying to encourage growth and development. Through the EU, we have options for investors in Finland, for example. I think they promote us a lot and they do help to encourage growth.

Do you think that Europe should adopt fiscal union?

Yes, for sure, as it would be so much easier for us with regards to VAT, exchange rates, and it’s easy and getting better, so yes, I would be in favour. I think the EU’s biggest problem is that many business people do not understand how simple it can be. When you know how to do it, it is very easy. For the small companies, I think the EU should have some kind of information bureau. The tools are already there, but people do know where to look.

Is the retail formula moving more towards an online shopping experience, or do you think that stores will always be in fashion?

It will move, but not now. With the next generation, it will on application. That next stop is almost there. For now, it’s people over 30 who prefer to shop in store, but for people in their 20s, it’s just normal to order online. When you think long term, people will move to online naturally.

But you would still be in favour of having a personal retail experience.

Yes, this is something that’s more for real and we think that there would still be a place for the shop.

How do you see Tale Me in the next ten years?

We would like to be bigger, but not in a corporate way. It will be a more co-operative way. I would like to see the employees own the company.

Having spoken to Anna, I think she will be well on course to developing this idea that will go from strength to strength and I also think it’s a great example of how the European Union is helping start-up businesses like Tale Me to get over the hurdles that new business faces. Europa United wishes Anna and her team the very best of luck in this exciting enterprise. You can find all the information on Anna and Tale Me at their official website at www.taleme.be. Tale Me also have a Facebook page.

Ken Sweeney
Committed to idea of supporting aspiring writers and journalists. Serial podcaster.

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