Big Bobble Hats is a brand that sells… you guessed it. Bobble hats. Big ones. And they also have some very big plans for the future.

We caught up with Mackenzie Stewart, who is head of communications for Big Bobble Hats – to talk about how this family-run business grew out of a one-person knitting hobby, to become a booming fashion icon that's already working with 10 professional football clubs.

Mackenzie Stewart of Big Bobble Hats.

A Conversation with Mackenzie Stewart

So Mackenzie, can you tell us how it all started?

We have now been running for about 13 years, and it all started with my mum and my stepdad. My stepdad used to work on the oil rigs a lot, so he was away for long periods of time and my mum got quite bored. One of her friends was in a knitting class, so she joined up, and got quite handy with it – she started to knit hats. And it just snowballed from there.

She made one bobble hat for my stepdad, with this massive bobble on it… she was just about to cut the bobble off, make it smaller, but he said, “No, I really love the bobble!”

Then that was that, really. We went skiing, and my mum made a few more bobble hats, and we got some really good compliments on them. So we thought, Why not make a wee business of it, and see where it goes?! We were still thinking small then, of course. For example, if it could pay for one holiday for us, we’d have been happy with that.

So that was 13 years ago, and it just kind of took off from there. Although I have been present from the beginning, I came on properly, full-time, about a year ago.

We're a family-run Scottish business. We operate mostly in the UK, but we've now expanded to have warehouses and some staff in the EU and America. We've got two or three part-time staff in America, but they work only in what is the peak season for us – roughly September to February.

In the UK, we have seven full-time members of staff. And around 20 part-time staff, who come on for busy seasons or for when we attend events. And that’s something we’re doing more all the time, by the way – we do a lot of cycling events, and running events, and all sorts really.

Big Bobble Hats have been a hit in recent years at cycling and running events.

I bet you stand out at events! The bobbles seem to have become really iconic.

Yeah, well, our business is called Big Bobble Hats. And it does exactly what it says on the tin! They do work well as a statement, it’s quite bold, and as a result I think people tend to either love or hate our hats. But it definitely grows on a lot of people. And we’ve built a fantastic customer base… there are some people who collect our hats, there are people who’ve got like 30 of them!

It probably helps that they have such witty names too. You let your customers name the designs for your hats… where did that idea come from?

So that’s something we started doing years and years ago, on social media. It was just a fun thing – ”Help us name this hat!” It wasn’t something we planned on doing with every hat.

But that naming competition got really good engagement and the idea sort of took off from there, and we kept doing it. Some of the names have been really quite funny. And it’s been a great way to get the customers involved.

Big Bobble Hats offer a lot of fun and imaginative product names.

So to jump to the present day, it seems that Big Bobble Hats is pivoting now – to not just sell direct-to-consumer, but actually partnering with some specific sports teams, getting seen on different heads… Has that been a natural evolution for you?

It has, yeah. So… the first sport we focused on, and this is just based on our own interests really as a team, was cycling. And maybe professional cycling isn’t the widest-watched sport for the average person, but we’re all big fans, and nowadays our hats have become sort of synonymous with cycling, and cycling fans.

So that was the first major sport we got into. To put it into context, we now sponsor the UCI [the Union Cycliste Internationale], who are a governing body for the sport – something like the FIFA of cycling.

And then from there it has just kind of trickled down. We've attended so many cycling events over the years – in our home country, Scotland, as well as England, America, all over Europe, and around the world.

So we were already quite big in cycling, around the time I came onboard. Before that though, we’d never really focussed much on the business-to-business side – it had always been quite a strong B2C sort of model, with a loyal customer base, but without much investment into B2B relationships.

I decided that was a direction I wanted to explore more when I came onboard. The first deal we secured then, was landing the biggest cycling team in the world: Jumbo-Visma [now known as Team Visma | Lease a Bike]. They’re huge, they’re basically like the Real Madrid of cycling. And we now produce hats for them.

So that was the first big team we landed – but now we’re looking at football.

I personally have quite an interest in football. I'm a Rangers fan. I go to Rangers and Celtic games, and we have a stockist of ours that sells Rangers and Celtic coloured hats. When I went to these games maybe five or so years ago, you would have felt like an alien wearing one of our bobble hats there! But now it's just kind of part of going to the games… you see them all the time, on so many different people. It ranges from people my age – younger people – all the way up to these older guys you see now, enjoying the games with their bobble hats on.

And seeing that got me thinking – if we can manage to do that, then really we could be targeting any football club. So this has been a major focus for us in the last few months, and even more so going into this next year. We’re working with around 10 professional football clubs already, and that’s only going to grow from here.

Big Bobble Hats made a great impression in the cycling world, and now they're moving into football partnerships.

So this seems like quite a natural point to ask – how do you see Alvio playing a role in your B2B connections, going forwards? You have already partnered with the Saint Piran cycling team through the Alvio platform. Where do you see this going next?

I definitely think that platforms like Alvio are going to be the way forward in the coming years. And I think this collaborative commerce idea is only going to grow, so it was a bit of a no-brainer for us to join Alvio.

We are very motivated right now to sell our products in different markets, different regions, and through different partnerships, so I think any model that gets us more eyes onto our products, is going to be the right direction for us.

It also allows us to work with companies, like Saint Piran, who are very high value in their own sectors. So it’s done nothing but good for our business already. I am really happy with how it has started, and I can’t wait to kick on with it.

And finally, can you perhaps give us an idea of what comes next for Big Bobble Hats? What's the target for the next few years?

So, obviously, the business has its formal long-term and short-term targets. But for myself… I’m really just looking to kick these partnerships into gear now. I have had my first year in this business, and I would say it's been quite successful. So moving into my second year, I just want to build on that. I want to get as many eyes on our products – and work with as many different partners – as we can.

Because ultimately, our target market is anyone, really! Everyone has a head. Everyone gets cold at some point. So far we’ve been looking at sports, and that’s going great, we work with over 40 stockists within the UK and Europe now. But there are so many more directions that our business could grow into, and we’re excited to see how far we can go.

The future looks exciting for Big Bobble Hats.

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