Big Market: keep your brain toasty with Zaini headwear


Starting with just a crochet hook, a couple of balls of brightly coloured yarn and her own fair hands, Miranda Harper (BA Media, Communication & Cultural Studies 2009) has turned her idea of comfortable, casually-styled, colourful hats and headbands into a global brand. Zaini hats are loved by Hollywood stars, elite athletes and, of course, Newcastle students.

The Big Market is Newcastle University’s all-new benefits and services scheme. Gone are the ubiquitous hotel and car-rental discounts, replaced by unique offers from fellow Newcastle graduates with a useful product or service to share. These are early days, and we’re hoping to add more offers in the coming months. Please take a look at the Big Market article in January's AlumNews if you’d like to be part of the project.

Maria Douglas chats to Miranda about appearing in Vogue, peddling ice-creams around Jesmond, and her efforts to get Kate Middleton into a Zaini... 

You graduated in 2009 with a degree in Media, Communication & Cultural Studies. You now spend your days making and selling bobble hats. The first questions have to be why, and how?

You couldn’t get much different really! After graduating from Newcastle I went on a ski season to instruct in Switzerland and started making these bright, baggy beanie hats for myself. Soon friends, colleagues and clients all wanted one so I started charging and created a ‘mini’ business for some extra cash. Then on returning to the UK I noticed a gap in the market for these fashionable, comfy, baggy beanies so I launched the Zaini brand to fill that gap and bring people something new and different. After six months of thorough research and many sleepless nights the brand was launched.

Do you think coming to Newcastle helped you in your career?

It definitely made me mature as a person and allowed me to become independent. It also gave me great research skills, which helped me develop my business idea and plan. Even at Newcastle I was always out to make some extra money. I remember those boiling hot days in the summer where I used to head to Tesco Metro in Jesmond and buy a load of ice creams then go around selling them for double the price. Having the right product at the right time is all it takes for a business to work. 

How exciting is it to have your face in Vogue and celebrities wearing something you’ve designed?         

It feels very surreal – and I never thought it would be successful so quickly. Seeing everyday people, never mind celebrities, wearing Zaini hats around makes me obviously very proud but mainly it’s nice to see 16 months of hard work, long hours and no weekends eventually paying off!

Who would you most like to see in one of your hats?

So far having JLS, One Direction, Sadie Frost and Brix Smart, to name a few, has been amazing but lately we have been trying to get Kate Middleton behind the brand – anything she seems to wear seems to sell out within hours so it would be great to see her around town in a Zaini! We also have many other celebrities in the pipeline to get behind the brand for 2012.

What are you best memories from your time at Newcastle?

Meeting new people, learning new things, being independent and of course the famous ‘Tuxedo Princess’ nights and days spent on Osborne Road. Also making a quid or two selling ice cream!

You name your hats after places in Scotland. If you were to make a special edition Newcastle hat, which I really think you should, what would it look like?

It would have to include red, blue and white – the University's colours – so would be a design based around those. We are in the middle of designing a hat for the 2012 Olympics using those colours so there could be a cross over!

Who are your business heroes?

I don’t really have business heroes or anyone I massively look up to but I do watch a lot of Dragons' Den and The Apprentice on the BBC and have since learnt from those programmes.

What is your advice to any graduates thinking of going into business?

Thoroughly research your market, know your audience inside out, get some capital and take risks. If someone has a business idea it is worth more trying and failing than not at all. When I started Zaini hats I had no idea where it was going to go, no business plan. I just took every day as it came and with the correct research and basic business knowledge anything is possible. Before I launched my friends thought I was crazy doing this saying: ‘it's never going to work’ and ‘you’re not the only person who is making hats’, but if you’re headstrong, work hard, find your niche and market your product correctly you can make anything work. Selling hats isn’t rocket science but it's how you go about it which is crucial to creating a successful brand.

Miranda is offering Newcastle alumni 10% off all Zaini hats. Just enter the code ‘newcastle’ at the checkout. See Miranda's offer on the Big Market Tumblr page.

published on: 28th February 2012

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