The feel-good music inspired brand is on the move, growing, recruiting, thriving and giving back. We caught up with plucky founder Helen Dukes
We’re always blown away by the city’s rich mix of inventive businesses that make Birmingham sing that bit louder and not content with simply thriving in their own bubble, there’s a supportive, collaborative and generous vibe which benefits us all. Firmly in that camp is music inspired clothing brand, Disko Kids.
Launched by music lover and former DJ, Helen Dukes, the business has reached that pivotal moment of needing bigger premises and more people. About to move into a unit in Stirchley, Helen has taken on five people. At the last count there were 83 boxes piled high in Helen’s house, so it really is time to move!
A converted powder factory in Stirchley will be Disko Kids new home very soon hopefully. Helen says: “We should’ve been in by now, but the factory is being split into units and isn’t ready, so we’ve no address and can’t move until we do.” Five new part-time staff will be a change for Helen. Having built up Disko Kids on her own, the interaction with a team is both exciting and a shift in mindset.
Helen is acutely aware of how part-time work is viewed by many and is keen to get away from that. Part of her career pre-Disko Kids was in retail and while working part-time at Apple, Helen remembers how she felt as a mother of small children. “I had to leave work at 2.30pm and the younger members of the team would say, ‘ooh are you leaving already?’ They probably didn’t mean anything by it, but the attitude toward part-time or flexible working that somehow it’s just not as valuable needs to change and is changing I think thankfully. I’m really pleased to be able to give people the opportunity I didn’t have in an environment that’s free from that stigma.”
Helen has always been into music in a big way and it was that love that brought her to Brum initially. A weekly DJ gig at night club Wobble saw her travelling up and down the M1 every weekend until 20 years ago she thought she might as well make the move to the city. Retail jobs including managing a Next store alongside DJing were the norm until she gave up the day job and focused entirely on music, travelling all over the country and beyond gigging.
When Helen’s partner and father of her child was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she put her career on hold for a few years to care for him and their daughter. He sadly died in 2010. Helen supports bereavement charity, Winstons Wish through Disko Kids and fund-raises for Cancer Research through charitable runs. She says: “It’s really important to me to give back particularly now. Due to Covid charities are really struggling as events and runs just aren’t happening.”
Helen met her partner in 2012 and they ran a business together producing dance music inspired men’s t-shirts called No Way Back. She says: “It’s quite niche. There have been collaborations with record labels and DJs and I just thought it would be cool to come up with some designs for kids.” Cue Disko Kids.
While Helen’s partner still runs No Way Back, Disko Kids is her baby. She learned Photoshop and came up with the distinctive font print, roller skate illustrated and cassette designs and has just sourced a designer to come on board. As well as tees there are retro-style prints too, one of which has been a hit during the pandemic – the Kitchen Disco print.
In fact, sales generally have grown through the pandemic. Helen says: “The product seemed to fit the mood, so the Kitchen Disco print and date sweaters as presents have sold well. The fact that shops were closed and online ordering was the only method helped us too.” Not that Covid was a doddle – Helen still had the familiar juggle of having kids at home while running a business.
Social media, particularly Instagram, has been crucial in the growth of Disko Kids. “It’s a great place – really supportive. We’ve raised our profile through collaborations with other businesses on the platform or through influencers sharing photos of them wearing our product. I’ve also met some really great people.”
Disko Kids has been nominated for a prestigious Junior Design Award in the Best Unisex Fashion Collection category which is a big deal and Helen’s beginning to feel like she ‘has her career back and feels fulfilled’. The next step is key – as well as freeing up space at home, the new premises will mean more wholesale and the ability to stock more product. “For example, I’ll be able to stock more of the date sweaters. Up until now I’ve had to do pre-sale on them as I didn’t have space to stock every year.”