Waiting for the Right One: Our Essentia Organic Mattress

essentia organic vegan sustainable natural memory foam mattress hippie in disguise flower rose sculpture

essentia organic natural memory foam mattress hippie in disguise

We recently got a new bed mattress and to honour this special item (simple things are special to us) we bought some flowers, a rare indulgence. I had planned on letting the children cover the bed in petals and bounce around, since we’ve never owned a mattress that has bounce I figured they would enjoy that. But, my little boy, Sen, had other plans. The photos that follow depict the making of his “flower sculpture”, which turned out to be the most perfect, organic way to appreciate our new mattress (which happens to be made from plants and infused with essential oils). The dried flower sculpture now sits on the shelf above our bed.

Please enjoy the photos and I hope you’ll read my post about how and why this mattress came into our life and why I feel so strongly about it as a product. But first, let’s start with the back story.

essentia organic vegan sustainable natural memory foam mattress hippie in disguise flower rose sculpture

About 8 years ago an Essentia mattress store opened in Ottawa, the city we live in here in Canada. At the time we were sleeping on a 5-year old terribly uncomfortable futon mattress (I cannot overstate this enough). Being environmentally-minded consumers, we sourced and had custom made a futon made entirely from recycled cotton t-shirts and wool, we were assured it would be comfortable and last 10 years. But from day one it was uncomfortable. It was lumpy and slanted — I always felt like I was going to roll off the bed — a bit of an unnerving feeling when you’re trying to fall asleep. We figured it would take some time to settle and, besides, we weren’t about to waste all the materials, effort and money that went into the mattress. Months went by and the mattress never improved…it really only got worse, much worse. Being students and young parents we had no money to replace the mattress so we made do, which we are pretty good at doing. (Did you read my post about how we’ve been eating our meals at a desk for over 15 years, because we can’t afford to upgrade to a bigger, sustainable option? Ya, we make do.)

The point of the story is that after 5 years with the lumpy futon we were more than ready for a new mattress, but wanted to make sure we bought one that was ethically and sustainably made, and much more comfortable. After years of bad sleeps (I’m talking waking up every hour of every night from discomfort), we were ready for a good night’s sleep (and to reap all the health benefits that come from good rest).

essentia organic vegan sustainable natural memory foam mattress hippie in disguise flower rose sculpture

Essentia mattresses are certified organic, plant-based (vegan-friendly!), biodegradable (!!), and ridiculously comfortable. After we walked into the store, laid on a few mattresses, we were sold on them. We decided that when we had the money these would be the mattresses we would invest in.

Years passed and our finances never really improved, so we kept sleeping on the lumpy futon. The slant in the mattress got worse. The lumps became more accentuated. It got to the point where we would take turns sleeping on our love seat because it was more comfortable (despite the obvious fact that we couldn’t stretch out on it).

My sweet sister (who is generous beyond words) caught wind of our sleeping woes and gave us a synthetic memory foam mattress topper for our futon. Many people I know use these memory foam mattress toppers for extra comfort, as they add a nice layer of supportive cushion to a mattress. But, being the health nut that I am I didn’t want to get one as I’ve read terrible things about the off-gassing, since the foam is synthetically made with chemicals and treated with fire retardants. Basically a toxic cocktail you sleep on 8 hours a night — not something I was itching to do (no pun intended).

I didn’t want to say no to my sister’s generosity (and she had let the mattress topper “breathe” for a while at her home) so we accepted the kind offer and looked forward to a good sleep. The topper was quite comfortable, but when we woke up in the morning my daughter was covered head to toe in hives, she was visibly swollen and in a lot of discomfort. She is not the allergic sort of child, she has no known allergies and is generally in good health and has a strong immune system, though she does have very sensitive skin. I quickly googled “foam mattress allergy” and found a tonne of photos of people covered in the same rash. I researched further and found that many people have terrible reactions to memory foam. So, we took the mattress out of the bedroom, disposed of it, and that was the end of foam mattresses for us.

Then, a few weeks later I happened to get an email from Essentia asking if I would be interested in reviewing one of their products. I couldn’t believe our luck! As a rule, I always so ‘no’ to any product sponsorships unless I already use the product (or want to use it but can’t afford it), so this was perfect: I received something I had wanted for 8 years in exchange for an honest review.

essentia organic vegan sustainable natural memory foam mattress hippie in disguise flower rose sculpture

essentia organic vegan sustainable natural memory foam mattress hippie in disguise flower rose sculpture

We got ourselves a Stratami Queen mattress and our sleeps have been truly blissful ever since! I can’t say enough good things about the mattresses and pillows that Essentia makes. There is nothing green-washed about their products, they are fully  organic, plant-based, sustainably made and (amazingly) biodegradable — so even after the mattress is out of use it can fully decompose, rather than hanging out in landfill indefinitely!The mattress comes in fully recyclable packaging too. I have not come across anything near as environmentally-friendly and comfortable in my research. Click here to read their certifications and eco-standards, it’s a long, impressive list.

essentia organic vegan sustainable natural memory foam mattress hippie in disguise flower rose sculpture

essentia organic vegan sustainable natural memory foam mattress hippie in disguise flower rose sculpture

essentia organic vegan sustainable natural memory foam mattress hippie in disguise flower rose sculpture

Essentially the mattress is made from rubber plants (hevea milk) and is the world’s only all natural memory “foam” mattress. It has that crazy comfort of synthetic mattresses, without the off-gassing that makes you sick over night or over the long-term. As well, the mattresses are guaranteed for 20 years, which is hard to come by with mattresses these days. The mattress is covered in an ultra-soft organic cotton cover (I didn’t believe it was cotton, it was so soft!), which you can remove and wash, if required.

When we laid down to sleep that first night on our new mattress, our little boy, Senny, got into bed first and smiled, but a curious smile. He said: “Mama, I can’t believe I’m saying this but, I don’t think I’ll need a snuggle to fall asleep tonight. The bed is snuggling me!” Senny is such a snuggly child, he needs snuggles more than anyone I know, but he felt on this mattress like he was being snuggled just right. He drifted off to sleep and woke up in the morning super happy and ready to bounce on the bed!

essentia organic vegan sustainable natural memory foam mattress hippie in disguise flower rose sculpture

essentia organic vegan sustainable natural memory foam mattress hippie in disguise flower rose sculpture

essentia organic vegan sustainable natural memory foam mattress hippie in disguise flower rose sculpture

If you happen to live in a city with an Essentia store I recommend you make a visit, the staff are very helpful and not at all pushy (Big thank you to Alana at the Ottawa store who let me ask every question under the sun and happily answered them all). Normally, I dislike shopping with my children because I can tell they are bored being stuck inside a store, but when we visited the Ottawa store, I had to force them to leave after over an hour in the store! They had such a good time lying on the beds and relaxing, they said “Mama, seriously, you can stay at the store as long as you want! We want to lie on these beds forever.” I don’t know if there’s any science behind it, but the mattresses seem to calm my children down. (Essentia also sells direct online if you aren’t in a position to visit a store).

Although I would have liked to have a comfortable mattress sooner, I’m glad we waited to get an Essentia mattress because it is ethically and sustainably made and I know I won’t have to replace it for a very long time, if ever. When Matt and I first got together we made a pact that we would always buy things that last, even if it meant waiting longer to be able to buy something of quality. Long-lasting things are more sustainable for the planet and ultimately cheaper in the long run. Waiting to buy things also teaches you a lot about what you can live without, and while we lived a long time without good sleep, it’s not something I would advise. A good sleep is something that gives back in terms of health and quality of life, and is worth investing in.

essentia organic vegan sustainable natural memory foam mattress hippie in disguise flower rose sculpture

essentia organic natural memory foam mattress hippie in disguise

Matt has a whole list of reasons why he loves the Essentia mattress that are different from mine. He’s high-performing athlete competing in elite and pro cycling races almost year-round, so for him the mattress is about good recovery from training, getting deep sleep so he can perform again the next day. In addition, as someone who has long suffered from insomnia, his mind was blown by the fact that the mattresses have a signature smell (from the essential oils and plant ingredients), so that people can develop a strong olfactory association with their sleep space and fall into a sleep that much more quickly. He thinks its pure genius, and I have to agree with him.

All in all, we are thoroughly impressed with the mattress and will surely be investing our money in another one for our kids — so we can get them out of our bed! But for the time being, it hardly seems fair to not let them sleep on an Essentia.

You can follow Essentia on Instagram @essentiagram

You can visit their website and online shop www.myessentia.com

Our Cycling Lifestyle: Bikes and Bonding { with Brooklyn Bicycle Company }

Danielle Chassin Matt Surch Hippie in Disguise Zara XOVELO Brooklyn Bicycle Co

All photos in this post were taken by Zara XOVELO

 

When I was pregnant for the first time and sharing the news with friends and family a common refrain emerged: “Congratulations! So, I guess this means you guys will have to get a car?” Matt and I have been riding bikes for a long time. We are bike people. We didn’t want to get a car – for a long list of reasons: health, low environmental impact, low cost, simplicity – and we hoped that we could continue our happy bicycle lifestyle with a child in tow. We lived in an urban setting and planned to do our best to remain car free. We got a bicycle trailer outfitted with an infant sling, later we upsized to a long bike for our growing girl, and later to a trail-a-bike. Then Ro got her own bike and was pedalling around with us wherever we needed to go: groceries, ballet rehearsal, birthday parties, family reunions.

When I was pregnant for the second time and sharing the surprise with friends and family a common refrain emerged: “That’s great news! Well, now you will really need to get a car!” If managing to work outside the home and do all of life’s tasks without a car and with a child seemed unduly difficult (did I mention 5 months of snowy Canadian winter?), doing this with two children appeared to be downright impossible to most, and at the very least borderline extreme. We decided to carry on with our bicycle lifestyle and see how we could get on.

Danielle Chassin with Sen Brooklyn Bicycle Company Zara XOVELO

As it turned out we managed just fine. In fact, we realized we much preferred not having a car. When Sen, our second, was around 2 and a half our good friends decided to move to Bali (lucky them!) and so they offered us their car at a very good price. While we hadn’t wished for a car, we figured this was a really generous offer and that maybe having a car would be useful. We knew ourselves well enough that we wouldn’t just start driving everywhere we used to walk or bike simply for the fact that we could drive. Indeed, I didn’t have a driving license and did not plan on getting one. So, essentially the car was there for us to do camping trips, where, in the past, we would have rented a car, and for Matt to offer rides to friends and family on special occasions. We also used it a few times in the city to pick up materials from the home store (lumber, etc) or large grocery trips in the winter months.

Danielle Chassin Hippie in Disguise Zara XOVELO Brooklyn Bicycle Co

The thing is riding in a car just wasn’t fun. It was often faster, sometimes more convenient, but just never felt right. When we drove places we didn’t have the same sorts of experiences, the same conversations, the same interactions with our surroundings, the same connection with nature. The same quality, that is. We were starting to feel disenchanted with the car. It was an ongoing expense from gas, to repairs, to insurance. It seemed to take more than it gave. Whereas our bikes, which we’d been riding for over a decade were a pleasure, they gave back in terms of health and fitness, enjoyment of our time and movement through space, and it bonded us as a family. I can’t say that car rides, perhaps with the exception of road trips, often bond people. Travelling by bike as a family whether for pleasure or purpose always seemed to energize us, whether physically from the exercise or mentally from the time spent in nature, even while on city streets and paths, with the wind hitting our faces, snow flakes landing on our cheeks, puddles splashing us, sun warming our backs, there was something invigorating about this daily family experience with the elements. As it turned out, our car bit the dust soon after our disenchantment began, and so we happily returned to our biking ways (which, full disclosure: involves the occasional use of a car from the car share co-op).

Danielle Chassin Hippie in Disguise Zara XOVELO Brooklyn Bicycle Co

Around this same time, I heard in a podcast (I wish I could remember which one) that researchers had found that the average time spent in conversation between children and their parents (who work outside the home) is 5 minutes a day. 5 MINUTES. I was shocked! It seemed that for a variety of reasons parents mostly just gave instructions to their children (“wake up” “finish your breakfast” “don’t forget your lunch”) and didn’t engage in conversation – there was no time left in the busy days for quality talk. I wondered whether this was true for us, it felt very far from our reality, but at the same time I wondered how close we were to this statistic — sometimes we are not the most objective observers when it comes to self-observation. So, I paid attention to our talk for the next few days. I quickly realized that our time on bikes – commuting to school and work, riding to ballet class, picking up food at the market – provided over an hour a day of quality conversation at a minimum. This seemingly small realization – even after knowing that cycling is great for our health and the health of the planet – solidified my commitment to live a bicycle lifestyle. The health of our family, our connection and bond, was being strengthened as a beautiful side effect of pedalling instead of driving. When it takes you longer to get somewhere and when you can choose a scenic or safe pathway, you are given the time and opportunity to connect more with the world you are passing through and with the people you are travelling with. Simply put, moving at a slower pace makes it easier to notice things as you move through space, it provides opportunity to talk about life, and to make memories together through the mundane.

Before we had children riding bikes was important to us, it felt like a gentle political statement, a commitment to our values: health, environment, adventure and community. We are happy that as parents we were able to stand by these values and raise our children in a way that did not require compromise. Indeed, when we did compromise life just wasn’t as fun or as healthy for any of us.

One evening this past spring Sen decided he wanted to ride a two-wheel bike. We hadn’t pushed this on him at all, in fact, we hadn’t offered him the opportunity to try. We were quite happy towing him along on our family trips around the city. The two-wheel bike we had for him hadn’t been ridden in about 5 years, the tires were deflated and the saddle was loose. Matt wasn’t home and I’m a little hopeless with tools so our kind neighbour pumped up the tires and we took the bike down to the pond at the end of our street so he could pedal on grass. I had bargained for an hour or so of falls and tears, but to my surprise after a few false starts he pedalled off and around the park. Ro and I could not believe our eyes! Since then he’s been keen to ride his bike everyday, including waking up early to ride his bike before school and to try to join Matt for his 6:30 am fitness ride.

A few days later as we all biked over to the grocery store, each on our own bike for the first time ever, Sen said: “Guys, now I’m really part of the family. I can bike all on my own!” Matt, Ro and I looked at him and at each other and felt our hearts swell. We were a family, and our bonds were tight, thanks in no small part to our bicycle lifestyle.

Danielle Chassin Matt Surch Hippie in Disguise Zara XOVELO Brooklyn Bicycle Co

Ro and Sen wear organic linen wear from Four'emki and my kimono is from Amae.Co

Ro and Sen wear organic linens from Four’eMki and my kimono is from Amae.Co

 

Since Sen is mostly independent biking now (at least for short trips) I finally had the opportunity to get myself a bike that suited just me. For the last decade I’ve pedalled utilitarian bikes that attach to a bike trailer or some other gadget. I’d been eyeing the Dutch-inspired city bikes and found the Brooklyn Bicycle Company. I settled on the Willow 3 model, a three-speed, which is adequate for most city riding. I was excited to see that they offered vegan-friendly saddles and grips, and that the aesthetic was classic. I especially loved the angled top tube so that I could ride it with a dress. On top of this, they offer a monthly payment plan so you don’t have to have all the money up front.

I’ve now had the bike for a month and I love it. It’s so comfortable to ride and it’s stylish too. The only problem is that Ro wants it for herself and with her being almost as tall as me I can see some lively family bonding over who gets to ride it in our future!

Danielle Chassin Sen Hippie in Disguise Zara XOVELO Brooklyn Bicycle Co

***

My delightful friend Zara took all the photos in this post. Zara is a photographer and cycling fashion writer, she maintains the superb online magazine XOVELO. Please go take a look and find her on Instagram too @xoveloxo.

If a Brooklyn Bicycle sounds like something you’d love to know more about visit them online here and on Instagram @brooklynbikeco.

Please leave a comment or question below if you’d like to know more specifics about my Brooklyn Bike or how to incorporate biking into your life more, I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years so I’ve got lots of tips.

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Wooln: Socially Responsible Knits

It’s that time of year again when I look forward to wearing a cozy knit hat and sweater around the house, sipping tea with a blanket over my legs. Somehow this is much more comforting than cranking the heat in the house and pretending the cold season is not upon us.

Hippie in Disguise Danielle Chassin Ace & Jig dress Wooln snood

Brunch Addict snood from WOOLN and Arbor dress from Ace & Jig

 

As a vegan I am apprehensive about wool products, but also believe that humans can have symbiotic relationships with animals and that ethical wool is not an oxymoron, but a reality for a small portion of wool produced. I’ve been thinking more and more about the overall impact of goods (the entire lifespan) from production to waste, and how those goods which may be less harmful to animals in the production phase, like micro-fleece clothing, are harmful at the ecosystem level and also negatively impact the lives of many animals, mostly insects (which I count as no less valuable than other animals). At the end of their useful life these products live on forever as landfill. So I’ve had to seriously reconsider opting for animals fibres more often for the greater sustainability of these fibres (wool is biodegradable). Luckily there are more and more companies sourcing ethical wool and making beautiful things with it. Enter Margaux and Faustine…

From France to New York (and many places in between), Faustine and Margaux are two mothers who share a passion for knitting and social responsibility. They recently launched a small knits shop, WOOLN, with an innovative twist. I absolutely love what they are doing and hope their model, that is, doing business with the aim of benefitting society at large, will be adopted by other businesses.

Margaux, Faustine, please, tell me a little bit about yourself. What is your background? How has it influenced your creative pursuits?

Margaux: I was raised in the French countryside and have always wanted to move around the world…which I did many times in my adulthood: I studied in the UK and France, then lived in Italy, New Zealand, Australia and back to Paris. I now live in Brooklyn and I’m thrilled! I believe that starting from zero again so many times makes oneself creative, even not intentionally.

I quit my serious job 5 years ago to dedicate myself to my passion: knitting. My life is all about yarn, needles, wool, patterns and softness since then! (And I confess, sometimes I dream of going back to the countryside!)

Wooln NYC Faustine and Margaux sustainable knits knitwear

Faustine: Sometimes, I feel I have had many lives already, and that I will probably keep going on having “circles of life.” When I finished my Business School in Paris, I went into working in finance in London. And felt so “creatively” frustrated that I gave up after only a few years and settled myself as a full time artist in New York (mostly painting until I started sculpting a year or two ago). This also correlates with when I had my first child. After being a full-time-artist-and-mum for almost 4 years, I met Margaux and we launched WOOLN, and since then, it has been providing me with the perfect balance between creativity (we do everything ourselves, the patterns, our website design and I am the one who makes all the illustrations, the packaging bags, etc…), and business (strategy, sourcing, IT, etc…).

What part of the world do you live in?

M: Brooklyn, NY. Did I already tell you I love it here ?

F: Manhattan, NY. I have lived in 10 different places, and it is by far my favourite place to live in the entire world! Having said that, now that I have a family of my own, I feel I could pretty much live anywhere and be happy, as long as I have my children and my husband with me.

How many children do you have and how would you describe them?

M: I have 2 beautiful girls Cosima and Sidonie aged 3 and 1 and a half. They are both very cheeky!

Wooln NYC sustainable knits knitwear

F: I have one girl who is 4 and one boy who is 2. They are obviously both equally cute but I can’t decide who gives me more work! And I also have 2 stepchildren from my husband’s first marriage; they are 15 and 9, they are very cute too and don’t give me any work! (They do not live with us). When we travel, we use an entire row of the plane! They all get along so well, it’s the cutest thing to see.

Wooln NYC Faustine Badrichani and family

What is your favourite thing to do as a family?

M: A picnic or an exhibit in a big museum where we can run. Also we love spending long holidays in our family home in the south of France.

F: We love travelling, and now that Joseph is over 18 months, it is getting more fun every time. We are just back from a trip on the US West Coast, which was amazing!

What are you passionate about?

M: Knitting (and cheese too!)

F: Knitting (and cheese too!)

What inspires you?

M: French indie movies, my husband and many of my NZ friends. Kiwis have something special.

F: Reading, travelling, going to museums, watching documentaries, and… Pinterest!

Can you tell me a bit about Wooln? What do you design and how do you source your materials? 

WOOLN is a line of hand-knit accessories, knit by grandmothers and retirees in New York with socially responsible yarn.

Wooln NYC BabyKit wool hat and mittens

M: It took us a very long time to find the perfect yarn; we wanted something local, 100% natural, soft and socially conscious. We finally sourced two types of yarn:

  • One is a 100% American wool – spun and dyed in a family owned spinning mill in Nebraska, with sheep grown up here in the USA
  • The other one is an extremely soft Royal Alpaca yarn. The company works responsibly with artisans in Bolivia and Peru.

I love your term ‘wool agency,’ can you explain what this means to you? 

F: Wool Agency was actually the first name we had found for the company. We changed it to Wooln, because we felt Agency was not really what we were doing, like a nanny agency or web agency was not necessarily what we wanted to be associated too. We picked WOOLN because we liked the vowel drop, which reminded us of other “sharing businesses” like tumblr and flickr, and it felt more 2.0, which is the DNA of our company: we only sell online, we communicate with our knitters via emails, we found a few of them via Craigslist, we raise money via crowdfunding on Kickstarter, our PR is only through bloggers, etc…

By creating WOOLN, we try to match 2 things that matter equally to both of us: having an amazing product, be fashionable, and cool and great looking, as well as doing something good for society, which for us means working in a socially responsible manner, and promoting a new way of buying. We hope we will be able to fulfill those two goals, and not just be this socially responsible company, or this fashionable brand, but a cool mix of both.

Wooln NYC sustainable knits knitwear

You have an innovative and socially responsible business model, can you tell me more about it?

F: Our model is very innovative as it has not been widely done in the fashion industry; however, it is anchored in the sharing economy trend. We are using talents that are otherwise barely taken advantage of to create a cool product and give consumers a new way of buying. With WOOLN, the act of buying is very personal: buyers know who made their hat, they can know more about them and really have this connection, which is something completely different from what they get by going to one of those big fast fashion brands. Our mission is to create connections between people, and to make buying a question of people, not just of material things. [Danielle: every WOOLN item comes with the name and information about the knitter and you can read more about each knitter on the WOOLN website.]

I love that you share mini biographies of your knitters and the illustrations are such a special touch. Who does your illustration work?

M: Faustine! She is the best illustrator! When I saw her illustrations, drawings and paintings in her studio for the first time I was very impressed. It came naturally that she would draw WOOLN faces for our packaging and branding we didn’t know yet that she would also sketch our knitters.

Wooln NY sustainable knits

F: I have always loved drawing, and drawing for WOOLN allows me to really feel complete and fulfilled with this whole experience! Business with an artistic twist.

One of our Kickstarter rewards is a sketch from me, and so far it has been the most bought reward! It is going to take me a month worth of drawing, but I won’t complain, I just love it!

What has made you the most proud of yourself and your business?

M: Finally getting this project that I’ve had in my head for so long REAL! Being able to forget about fear and judgment, and more practically, visiting a huge number of senior centres in New York to find our great knitters! And of course raising these 2 adorable little girls.

F: Even though we are only in the first year of WOOLN, it is the biggest achievement for me. I feel like I have been waiting for so long to have this fulfilling experience, and everything now comes together, providing me with everything I need to be balanced: doing something for the benefit of society, doing business (I am definitely business minded), being creative and artistic! What else could I ask for? (maybe more time for my family but I do not want to push it…)

What are your dreams for your business and motherhood?

F: Our strategy is really to take one collection at a time, and keep making headway. We have already learnt so much and the season has barely started! On a longer term basis, we hope to add a cotton collection for the warmer months (even though we both enjoy spending our summers in France with our parents and children rather than working in sweaty New York…) And probably extend our locations, maybe start having senior knitters on the West Coast would make sense!

As a mother, I do not have any dreams or goals: I am just trying to do my best and enjoy every little moment with them. Before having kids, I did not really understand why people would say “enjoy every minute of it, it goes by so fast.” Now I do. It does go by way too fast! And I want to make the best of every minute.

Merci Margaux et Faustine // Thank you Margaux and Faustine!

Readers: you can find WOOLN’s online shop here and on Instagram @wooln_ny.

Let’s be friends! Please come find me in other places:

Have you subscribed to the Global Guardian Project yet? They are monthly learning capsules for children and families to learn about global stewardship. Each month features a different country’s wild life, landscape and challenges, and includes art projects, activities, meditation, recipes and more! Use my discount code: HIPPIEINDISGUISE for 10% off , you can read more about it here

Meet Creative Mother: Peta of Sapling

Each creative mother I interview for the blog inspires me in some way, whether it’s how they’ve pursued a dream, crafted a creative life for their family, are living close to nature or are a role model in some other way. Peta Stinson is a lovely business woman I met through Instagram a few years ago, she was always very kind, sincere and open. Who wouldn’t like that?! Despite the fact that my children didn’t fit into any of her clothing I decided to follow her shop on Instagram because I loved how open and honest she was about herself and her business, and she seemed like a good person. I also loved how fearlessly creative and experimental she was.

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Recently, Peta collaborated with actress Jaime King on a collection, including this Be Brave shirt

About a year ago, while her number of followers grew past 20,000 or more (I wasn’t keeping track, so I’m not sure of the number) she decided to unfollow everyone she had in her feed, and just see what would happen. Who would she miss seeing pop up in her feed? Who would stop following her because she had let them go? Who was a fair weather friend and who would stick around? I’m someone who doesn’t bother tracking who follows me or not, it’s information I don’t care to know, so I didn’t notice that Peta had stopped following me. When she mentioned on her Instagram account that she had conducted an Instagram experiment I was intrigued and impressed, I wrote her to say so and that little gesture turned into a dialogue and ongoing rapport. It seems that aside from figuring out who was really interested in her and her line, it actually strengthened some bonds.

Peta continues to intrigue and inspire me, so a few weeks ago I asked if she’d agree to an interview for the blog. Despite her busy days, she gladly agreed. Yay! If you are looking for adorable baby clothing or a businesswoman role model, or just a plain old-fashioned nice person, Peta is someone you’ll want to connect with. Her line, Sapling Child, goes above and beyond in terms of organics, and is pioneering into new areas of sustainable products. She’s one to watch and for very good reason. Without further ado, I present to you: Peta Stinson.

Dear, Peta, please tell me a little bit about yourself. 

I’m a mother of 3, a wife, a designer and an entrepreneur. I’m highly strung, I do too much, I don’t know how to relax, and I love what I do.

image

What part of the world do you live in?

At the moment we are super blessed to be able to travel and wander. We are taking the opportunity over the next few years to travel around the world with the kids, at the moment we are in Canada, and enjoying every moment.  

How many children do you have and how would you describe them?

We have 3 kids, all boys, and I swear they are all insane! It’s also AMAZING how different all 3 of them are (like three points on a triangle), although they are all FULL ON – jumping off the beds, climbing up the walls, crashing and banging through life kind of kids – they are all so, SO different.

What are your core family values?

Showing kindness, using manners, helping others, and treading gently. Although, mind you, those values are kind of a rough plan….our babes certainly have a very long way to go. It amazes me that although every day of their lives they are asked: “What do you say…” (when they ask for something), they still don’t always say it! When they do remember these things, I definitely do a happy dance in my head (and say to myself “yeah we got this parenting thing NAILED”).

How do you spend most of your days?

The mornings are pretty much always the same, now that all the boys are at school. I get woken up by my 5 year old, way too early, who still climbs into my bed and covers my face with kisses (I’m trying to enjoy these moments as I know they won’t last forever, but 4 am? Seriously?). We get up, get breakfast organised, wake up the big boys and get them off to school.  

Then it’s a day of work, emails, design, more emails, a bit of pretending that I know what I’m doing, a bit of doing stuff that I have no idea how to do (PR, advertising, at the moment designing packaging, measuring samples), and then before I know it it’s school pick up time.  

We’re lucky enough that we live only a short walk from school, and it’s so lovely all walking home together.  

What is your favourite thing to do as a family?

Sunday morning pancake breakfasts have got to be my fave. We sleep in, make pancakes and sit around the table together eating, giggling (mostly), and planning out our lazy Sunday.

What are you passionate about?

Chocolate? Can I say chocolate?  Hmmmm….

What are some words you live by?

“Breathe it all in. Love it all out.”

Can you tell me a bit about Sapling Child?

Sapling is an organic baby wear company. We use organic cotton, and GOTS certified water based and vegetable based dyes. More than that though, we are a company trying to do what we can to improve the manufacturing industry as a whole, to provide the environmentally conscious alternatives that our community wants, and to show that having corporate ethics doesn’t mean that design has to take a back seat.

We are also fair trade, we pay our workers well above industry standard, we think carefully about our impact on the environment at every step of the manufacturing process. We have an orphanage in India that we also support, and our community contributes to the running, upkeep and items that the orphanage needs when they purchase our clothing.

How would you describe the ethos of Sapling Child in a few words?

Ethically Made.  Exclusively Designed.

Why did you decide to start a business?

We were living in Fiji at the time for my partner’s work. My spouse visa was quite restrictive and it meant I was unable to work. I was at home with the kids, I was restless, bored and I wanted to do something. It wasn’t until I had my third child, Oliver, that I knew what it was I wanted to do.

Oliver had meningitis as a newborn. We almost lost him and he spent many weeks in NICU after we were medivaced back to Australia. At the time, there were limited organic baby clothing choices. The organic clothes that I could find had been dyed with toxic bleaches and dyes. When babies are so sick their skin is so thin and their lungs are so delicate, it was important to me to find something that was truly ALL organic. When I was unable to find anything, that led me to start Sapling.

Do have any projects or collaborations coming up?

YES! We have some super exciting collaborations coming up, but I can’t tell you what they are or who they’re with!!! It’s KILLING me!

Did you life goals and career aspirations change once you had a child?

Definitely. Flexibility wasn’t important to me before kids. Now it’s the most important factor for me in career choice.  Having the flexibility to walk the kids to school, and to pick them up. Having the flexibility to stay at home if one of them is sick. Having the flexibility to take time off when I need it is the most incredible thing.

What are your dreams for your professional work?

I have so many. I’d like to expand beyond babies….we are also researching ways to make diapers and wipes more environmentally friendly.  

What are your dreams for your family?

Unrealistically, for my littles to stay little forever. Realistically, it’s all about happiness.

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Thank you Peta! Friends and readers you can find Peta’s line Sapling Child online here, and on Instagram @saplingchild and Peta’s personal account @petastinson.

This interview is part of my Creative Mother series, find the rest here.

You might also like my post:

image   Creative Mother Alana of Tafari Designs

image   Interview with a Minimalist: Brian of Less Means More

image   Punjammies: Made from Hope, Worn for Comfort

Want to find me in other places?

 

An Homage to the T-Shirt: KLTworks

Yesterday, I shared the first of three interviews with t-shirt lines that I love. And, today, I’m sharing my interview with Kristin, the owner, artist and designer behind KLTworks. KLTworks is actually more than a t-shirt line, Kristin also makes beautiful textiles, mobiles, homewares, decor items, and journals.

I first found Kristin on Instagram a few years ago. I instantly loved her colourful gallery showcasing the beauty of her part of the world and snapshots of her family’s many creative endeavours. After a while I realized Kristin made and sold really cool t-shirts, so the next time Sen needed a few things I ordered from her. Over time, I learned more about Kristin’s unique drawing technique. I knew that if ever I had a blog that I wanted to share her work and her artful, humble, creative way of living with my readers.

Whether or not you are looking for tips to running a business, ideas for small shops to support, or just inspiration in general I think you will love what Kristin shared with me.

Kristin, please tell me a little bit about yourself. What is your background?

When I was a little kid, my favorite thing to do in school was to work at a ‘weasel’ or, as we know it, an easel. I loved it when I could do what I wanted and have free access to all of the art supplies – to do with as I pleased. From 1st grade to my junior year in high school, I was very involved with dance classes. I took tap, jazz, ballet and pointe. I loved to choreograph dances (and still do in my head). I was also in band (played the clarinet) and enjoyed creative writing and English classes a great deal too. So, my creativity has had many outlets over the years.

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Additionally, my mother sewed a lot of my clothes when I was a kid and I used to love going to the fabric store with her. I learned to sew early on – but really just made things up as I went along (which I still do). So my love of textiles started when I was small. I majored in fine art (painting & drawing emphasis) in college with a minor in art history and writing. I got my MFA in fine art from the School of Visual Arts in NYC and later got a job teaching painting part time at a small college in my hometown in Washington State (while always working various full time jobs at the same time). I’ve taught there off and on since 1996. I had an opportunity arise when the non-profit that I was working for, changed leadership and direction in 2005- that’s when KLTworks was born. This month, KLTworks will be 10 years old!

What part of the world do you live in?

We live in a small farming town in the Pacific Northwest. It’s an hour north of Seattle, WA and an hour south of Vancouver, BC.

How many children do you have and what are they like?

We have one child named Sayer. He’s almost 8 years old, going on 40- he’s an old soul. Sayer’s extremely creative and loves information.

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What are your core family values?

I live by the same moral code as I always have and married a person that believes in very similar values. We believe in living authentically, true to who we are as people – not getting wrapped up in what is trendy or popular. We believe in being kind, creative, appreciative, loyal, and true. We believe in working hard and not taking things for granted. We always want to be learning something new and making things by hand. Family and the people that we care about, are the most important thing to us. Our goal is to pass all of these things to Sayer.

How do you spend most of your days?

If it’s a school day, walk Sayer to school and then I have time to work. The big trick is narrowing down my ideas. I have to float between creating, making, marketing & managing. Some days I’m better at certain things so that usually dictates what I work on if there isn’t a specific deadline that I’m trying to meet. My life revolves around setting timers so that I don’t slack anything that needs to get done- when I work, I tend to get into the creative bubble and lose track of time. When the timer goes off at the end of the day, I walk down to Sayer’s school to pick him up. Most of our days are spent making things– all of us. Seriously, our house is a working studio. Chris is a ceramic artist who teaches at two local colleges. He’s always working on something. Sayer is usually making maps of some sort or playing his electric guitar. I’m usually trying to figure out which idea to work on next.

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What is your favourite thing to do as a family?

It’s hard to narrow it down. We spend a lot of time together. I like exploring and enjoying the valley together. We live in a beautiful area and like to take breaks outside either in our backyard, biking, going to the beach, going on the boat with my parents, or (particularly in my case) taking photos. Sayer loves maps and is a human GPS. It’s fun to have him map out places that we haven’t gone before and follow his directions. Probably my favorite thing is when we are all in the studio together, making things and listening to music. Chris & I have studio spaces that are connected– which includes a space for Sayer. We all love music and also really enjoy going to live concerts together where there is room to dance.

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What are you passionate about?

I would have to say that I’m a passionate person – so I’m passionate about many things. I’m passionate about human rights, equality, creativity, making, all forms of art (dance, music, fine art, writing, photography), and learning.

What inspires you?

My inspiration comes from my family, nostalgia, childhood, books, movies, and mid-century design. I live by waterways, near farmland in the Pacific Northwest. My imagery and colors are influenced by my surroundings.

What is KLTworks? What do you design and sell?

KLTworks is a working studio in addition to the name of my brand. When I first started out, I made a lot of home décor items, mostly for baby and kids (pillows, prints, mobiles and plush) – very family oriented. I’ve maintained making and selling all of these things over the years but added clothing to the mix in 2007 (when we were expecting a baby). When the market crashed, there was a bigger demand for a smaller price point. So I started putting more emphasis on apparel, namely for baby and kids and had many requests for adult apparel as well. Ever since, my inventory has been a larger percentage of clothing. In 2014, I consciously started making a slow switch back to making and designing a larger percentage of décor.

What does the name mean?

The “KLT” in KLTworks stands for my initials – Kristin Loffer Theiss. KLT works means all that I make or work on. When I named the business, I wanted something that encompassed all that I did and had longevity.

What is compelling about working with t-shirts that keeps you interested?

I think I’ve maintained interest primarily through having Sayer & Chris in my life. They wear everything that I make. It’s fun to have them wear things that I create. Sayer has worn a KLT owl tee his whole life! It’s also really fun to see how people relate to things that I draw. I love that so many kids in particular, connect with my drawings/images. I still love going out and about and noticing someone wearing something that I’ve made. I’ve been doing this long enough now, that I have a lot of really loyal customers that come back for the same image/design in different sizes. I also enjoy the stories about people and their connections to their tees.

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Sen loves his KLT owl cardigan too

How did KLTworks get started? How long have you been in the business? How has your business evolved?

It came about quite organically. It was during a transition in my employment and I was looking for a full time job. I had met some women who had their own businesses making things and I kept those connections during my job search. This was all before Etsy had started. During that time, I just started working in my studio at home as a way of processing and relaxing. I had the opportunity to be a part of a few shows with the work I was making. I started drawing with thread and making mobiles really early on. I started KLTworks in 2005 not really exactly sure what was going to happen, but willing to take the jump to see. While listening to feedback, I started narrowing down my line. The business then sort of gained enough momentum that my search for employment stopped. (Although, I’ve maintained my part time teaching gig teaching painting and drawing at the local college). For me, it’s always been more about creating and designing rather than the business element. Meaning, my process is about making things that I like, I then figuring out whether they are something that I should try to sell – rather than making things based on whether they would sell. You will never see me make things based on current events or what is trendy. I have a thread of continuity in my work that I like to maintain. My designs come from a place that is true to me and based on my experiences or surroundings. Currently, my business has evolved by me figuring out how to design and make more, rather than to spend all of my time filling orders and responding to demand.

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KLTworks is a family business, how does that work for you? What is each person’s role?

It’s a family business in the sense that my studio is in our house and family is my first priority. I have never hired anyone (although I have plans to contract with a sewer soon). Everyone in the family has their part, from inspiration and modelling, to helping problem solve a technique or equipment issue. Chris is extremely helpful in the business – he helps me in so many ways. He’s more about supporting me in my needs, be it technical or emotional, rather than about KLTworks as a business. He has a lot on his own plate – teaching and his own art. He did help me design one of the first KLT mobiles, the Crawling Critters Mobile. Sayer is a great product tester and model. I have used drawings from both of them this year in a few KLTworks designs.

Tell me about your graphics, you have a very unique design process.

I love the line quality that I can achieve with thread. I create images by drawing with the sewing machine using free-motion sewing onto canvas. { editorial note: readers you have to watch this video and this video of Kristin drawing with thread } I also enjoy making designs by cutting paper. When I’m happy with a drawing or design, I’ll make a screen using those images. I then screen print in my small, northwest studio using water-based and hand mixed inks onto paper or fabric. I make all my serigraphs and hand-printed textiles, in very small, limited editions.

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Recently you decided to bring your printing process in-house. What motivated this decision?

A number of things motivated this decision. First of all, I was really limited in how things were printed. I was working with people that knew how to print, but didn’t have an artistic vision. I couldn’t really try new things. They also knew nothing about working with water-based inks – which I like the feel of better and they require less chemicals during the process. I also paid a lot for printing services (because I kept things local rather than have things printed in factories). I dealt with continuous errors in my printing orders that drove me nuts. Quality control was my number one thing at times. I also had to order a lot of merchandise at one time to have printed so I couldn’t do custom orders or test the waters with what images people liked better. It took a lot more up front money.

In college, I took a screen-printing class called serigraphy. I printed only on paper  then, and had used my oil paint (lots of toxic stuff) but I understood the concept. It was hard to sit back and watch printers do something that I felt I could do. I did a lot of research and decided to slowly transition the printing process to be just in-house. I actually really love printing and have worked really hard to make this transition. There was a really large learning curve – printing with oil-based ink on paper is different than printing with water based ink on textiles. I’ve been diligently learning new techniques and setting up my studio in a way that I can efficiently print textiles in my studio by myself – particularly continuous yardage. Another factor is that I wanted to slow the business down a bit. I know that sounds odd, but I wanted to be more thoughtful in the process and make more one of a kind products.

What has made you the most proud of yourself and your business?

Firstly, that the business is still around! About 85% of the stores that carried my work have now closed. This field and market can be brutal. I started at a time when things were really different- when Etsy and social marketing weren’t around. I find that it’s a business in itself to keep on top of things. So much of KLTworks is about learning things that I don’t know how to do. While that causes tears and frustration sometimes, I’m really proud of myself for sticking with my vision and learning what I need to learn to make things the way that I want. I’m proud of the fact that Sayer sees me passionate about what I do and knows that a person (with hard work) can make something out of nothing. I am proud of the fact that I’m continuously growing everyday in my skill set and in my creativity. I love that I’m able to make and create things every day. I don’t do things the easy way and KLTworks is truly something that comes from my heart. I pride myself in my work being unique and not something that you see everyday.

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Sen, last summer, wearing the KLT blue footed booby bird tank

What are your dreams for your business?

My dreams are big and many for the business. Namely, I want to keep things interesting and fun, while spending more time creating rather than production work. I’ve been really interested in making patterns and textile printing – particularly yardage and have lots of plans for how to utilize that interest. I’ve been slowly creating a cohesive décor line that is coming together nicely. I’m learning new avenues and ways to see my ideas realized. I hope to continue pushing myself creatively. I love working with people and collaboration. I hope to nurture more partnerships in the future.

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Sen wearing the KLT rabbit tee that Sayer outgrew and sent our way

Thank you Kristin!

Readers: You can find KLTworks in a few places: KLTworks, on Big Cartel, on Etsy, on Amazon Handmade, on Pinterest, on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, and on her blog “KLT Sketchbook”.

Discount code for KLT on Etsy: KLTIS10 – for 40% off anything in the shop Expires November 18th, 2015.

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Let’s be friends! Please come find me in other places:

An Homage to the T-Shirt: Pop Kids USA

This week I’ve got a fun mini-series I’m calling “An homage to the t-shirt,” where I feature some of my favourite t-shirt lines. Each line is unique in terms of its aesthetics and production process. However, each uses the t-shirt as a canvas for art. These lines are not about putting a trendy slogan on a shirt. Rather, the creative process is important. Each designs with great integrity and craftsmanship.

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I enjoy children’s wear for the way designers creatively combine function and beauty into a wearable piece of art. But art comes in many forms. In fashion there is a lot of emphasis on designed garments (“constructions”), more so than on textile, print and graphic design. I want to put a spotlight on graphics and the (almost) universal garment: the t-shirt. I like to think of t-shirts as a democratic garment; they are affordable, widely available, come in every possible size and aren’t exclusive to a particular age, gender or body type.

Today, I share an interview with my friend, Ellen, from Pop Kids USA, along with photos of Ro and Sen, over the years, enjoying themselves in her shirts. I met Ellen through social media, and was instantly drawn to her t-shirt line simply because it was explicitly not trendy. I really liked and appreciated that she was doing her own thing…and I hope you will too.

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Ellen, tell me a little bit about yourself. What is your background?

I grew up in New York City in an artistic household (my father was a fashion illustrator for a major department store) and I can’t remember a time when I, myself, wasn’t immersed in drawing. In college, I studied fine art but later on, through various evening classes (one with the legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser), I discovered that my true love was graphic design (art that has to do with ideas).  I worked as a freelance graphic designer for several years (and at many boring, dead-end jobs as well), I also published some of my own illustrated writings in various magazines. And I self-published a graphic novel (it is called Ice-olation and it’s the allegorical story of an ice cube that doesn’t fit in) that was distributed at bookshops around New York. Finally, I had an adult line of “conceptual” tee shirts that sold at various gallery and museum shops, including the Whitney Museum of American Art. Oh, and I’m an obsessive writer of Letters to the Editor — I’ve had many published in the New York Times, New York Magazine, and other well known periodicals.

Do you have a hobby?

I have never really imagegrasped the concept of a “hobby”.  Instead, I believe in interests and pursuits that consume one’s entire being – I guess you would call them “passions”. Hobbies are things that you do in your spare time – passions, on the other hand, permeate your life and define you. For me, these passions include photography, reading, walking, designing, listening to music, film-going, and thinking. The other thing that occupies me in a rather obsessive way is the Past – I am haunted, not only by a time that is no longer, but by the vestiges of that time that are to be found in the present day – for instance, urban ruins (and particularly old and weathered signage) completely have my heart. Like this beautiful old clock below– I found it in a NYC junk pile and photographed it.

What are you passionate about?

In terms of life in general, I am most passionate about cities, nature, animals, and ideas. I love to walk – I’m what you call a “city hiker” and, whether in my own city, or a new one, there is always so much to discover.  I also feel passionately about “community” – by that I mean, not the geographic community in which I live and not any professional community either.  I mean simply a group of people (most of whom I’ve never met and never will meet) who are bound to each other by their clear-sighted and down-to-earth values, their compassion, and, perhaps most important, their freedom of thought. This is not an easy community to find.  But you never know where you will find it (for instance, I met you [Danielle] and your family on Instagram). And I “meet” a lot of “my people” simply by reading the Letters to the Editor of The New York Times.

In terms of my passion for art and design, here too ideas play a central role – I love graphics that incorporate strong and original concepts.  I love, in addition, typography, color, black and white, and a certain vintage style of illustration. But as much as I embrace the world of design, nothing compares to my love of photography, film, books (including children’s books), music, and history. They are the passions that have shaped me the most.

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What part of the world do you live in?

I reside in Chicago, though I was born, raised, and lived until 14 years ago in New York City (and was your typical die-hard New Yorker).  I also spent a lot of time in San Francisco and Los Angeles – all these places have my heart.  It’s probably worth noting that all the places I’ve come to love had figured to a large degree in the books I read and the films I had seen.  So I had “nostalgia” for these places before I even visited them.  I even had nostalgia for my own hometown of New York because the literary and film versions of the city had a good deal more intensity than the real place (and people would burst out in song (i.e. West Side Story), which they never do in real life :).  And though I no longer live in New York, I think it’s the latter version that I hold in my heart.

There is a part two in terms of answering this question as to where I live (I actually love this question).  The other answer is that I also live in a place that is not geographical at all.  The thing is, as mentioned above, I have an obsession with time.  And, for better or worse, I feel the place I inhabit most strongly is not the here and now, but somewhere in the Past.  Which is to say, not the Past as it actually was, but more as I have recreated it in my mind through the mining of books and films and music.

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How do you spend most of your days?

I spend my days either in front of my computer, at our printers, or sitting at a local café (I’m at home in any café anywhere). I work on new designs, supervise the printing of them, or less excitingly, tend to the administrative parts of running a tee shirt company. Sales is a big part of what I do, though that is my least favorite part of all (understatement).

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What is Pop Kids USA all about? And what does the name mean?

The name Pop Kids just came to me one day – I suppose it is a reflection of my love of Pop Art and, in particular, the art of Andy Warhol, one of my personal heroes. I adore him not just for his art, but for his unique way of embracing the world around him – he was truly one of a kind. Pop Art is fun and it is cool and it is rooted in American popular culture (which, in my mind, is quite different from here today/gone tomorrow “trends”). The pop culture of Pop Art is classic, not trendy. If you look at Andy’s work, you’ll see that the things he painted (like Marilyn, and Elvis, and products like soup cans, and dollar bills) were deeply embedded in the popular culture — they were not popular in a fleeting way. That’s how I see our line.  Our graphics celebrate the Beatles, and Hendrix, and baseball, and Batman, and motorcycles, and peace signs, and the iconic idea of the American Rebel — American culture of the timeless variety.  So we are very Pop in our vision – thus our name and what we are all about.

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How did Pop Kids USA get started? How long have you been in the business? How has your business evolved?

I got the idea to do a tee shirt line for kids the first day I moved to Chicago from New York 14 years ago. As mentioned above, I had had a line of “conceptual” tee shirts for adults that sold to gallery and museum shops in New York, so the idea to do kids tees evolved out of that. At that time there were not, as now, 5,000 lines of kids tees. Hard to believe, but there were not even five.  So I got the idea to do what seemed unique at the time – to put conceptual graphics on tee shirts for kids just as we had for adults. Our first season we got an order from Bloomingdales and some major catalogs as well, so that was quite encouraging. That first line was called Pluto tees – Pop Kids came about 2 years ago when we decided to focus on a slightly different type of graphic.

It is hard to say how our business has evolved as there have been many ups and downs.  I can say, for sure, though, that our designs have gotten better and better.

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What is compelling about working with t-shirts that keeps you interested?

Tee shirts are, for me, the perfect artist’s canvas — it is the most satisfying medium I have ever worked in. Of course, as canvases go, they’ll never hang in a museum, be put up for auction, or placed inside a frame. Yet tee shirts are ART that does not take itself too seriously – art that is fun, and can be worn by kids the world over. On a personal level, we love tee shirts because they allow us to play…to have fun with words and ideas and images, and the challenge of visual thinking.   

But I can also look beyond the personal pleasure I get in designing. Because looking at it from a humanist point of view, I see tee shirts as a democratized form of art.  Unlike the paintings that hang in galleries and museums and that often fetch millions at auction, a tee shirt is something that is relatively inexpensive – something that most everyone can afford. I should also add, that while I am drawn to the couture-like clothing I see these days for children (which I definitely view as “art”), I don’t believe that children need couture – I feel that that is geared to the parents and, unfortunately, very much about status. Kids don’t need much to be happy – mostly they want to have fun. And what can be more fun than a colorful, whimsical, tee shirt?

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Tell me about your graphics, who designs them and what are they inspired by?

The line is designed by my husband Luke (a painter) and me.  We both work on the concepts, the color palette, and the typography. I, however, am the one that does all the illustration work on the computer. Our design style is clean and bold, though I do wish I had more of a talent for a looser and more linear type of illustration (as that is something I have always been very drawn to). For this reason, I would love to collaborate with other illustrator/designers. One who I’ve met and befriended on Instagram is Emma of Pax and Hart – I think her illustrations are amazing.

What has made you the most proud of yourself and your business?

I’m most proud of designing a line that I love, that I can honestly say I have put 1000% of my heart into, and that fully incorporates my love of design, color, typography, and ideas.  I’m proud of designing a line that I see as both fun and cool. I’m also proud that we are original – this is not always easy in an arena, where trends rule and conforming to them seems to be the norm. I’m also proud of the fact that we have persevered – this can be a tough business, and the retail world has seen hard times, especially of late.

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What are your dreams for your business?

My dream is pretty modest – it is simply for more people to know about us and to buy our shirts.  For that to happen, however, stores (and their customers) would have to care less about what is the new “it” line or the line that has won the popularity contest on Instagram.  Our talent and expertise happens to be in the area of design — it is simply not in the area of branding, marketing, and promotion.

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Thank you, Ellen, for sharing what inspires you and your graphic designs. Readers: you can find Pop Kids USA online shop here. Find the second interview in this series, with KLTworks, here.

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Punjammies: Made from Hope, Worn for Comfort

Pyjamas are something I’ve not made a particularly special item in my wardrobe as an adult. Growing up, my parents gave me and my two siblings a new pair of pyjamas for Christmas each year. It was a lovely tradition. But once I stopped growing around age 12, the new pyjamas did not replace the old, over my last few years living at home, I accumulated an entire drawer of pyjamas. I often joked that I would never need to buy pyjamas again, I was set for life. Not surprisingly, I’m sure, I keep the children’s pyjamas down to a minimum with two pairs each, mostly for simplicity sake.

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However, when Cher, the owner of Underables (a Canadian organics retailer) wrote to me about an amazing line called Punjammies, I knew this was the right time to bring new pyjamas into our lives.

Punjammies are made in India by women who have been rescued from or escaped sexual slavery. Through the non-profit charity, Sudara, the women are given the opportunity to sew garments as a way to help them start over and build a new life for themselves and their children, within a supportive community of women and children. Not only are they paid above fair trade wages, they are also offered housing and medical care, and education for their children. Buying Punjammies directly supports these women and their efforts to restore their freedom and dignity. This is why they say the garments are “made from hope, worn for comfort”.

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We took our new pyjamas on a recent camping trip to Gloucester, Massachusetts, and on our last day I let Ro wear hers to the beach. Like most pyjamas they are very comfortable, the fabric is soft and the fit is just right. Ordinarily, I don’t let my children out of the house (or the tent!) in pyjamas (I’m laid back about most things, but pyjamas in public is not one of them), but on this occasion I said yes, because the pyjamas are so beautiful and don’t look so much like pyjamas that they call attention to themselves. And besides, sometimes we just need to say ‘yes’.

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Punjammies are available in children’s and women’s sizing, and I have to say I love mine. They are really comfortable and if someone pops in at my house and I’m still wearing mine I don’t feel underdressed. If you are interested in buying some and seeing the other fabrics they are available in, visit Underables. They ship worldwide and I have been nothing but pleased with the service and products from this store. (They also carry other great brands like Sapling Child, Goat Milk NYC, Mini Rodini, MOI Kids and Alpine Baby).

Visit Underables online shop here or find them on Instagram here.

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Shop Love: Little Heirloom

Creative Mother: Sophia of studio-escargot

Label Love: Luv Mother

Let’s be friends! Please come find me in other places…

Shop Love: Little Heirloom

Last season I had the honour of working with a small Canadian shop, Little Heirloom, to help spread the word about their lovely shop. Little Heirloom is an online store specializing in small ethically produced children’s wear brands. The shop is a little dream come true for Taralyn, a lifelong dreamer and entrepreneur, who took inspiration from her new motherhood to leap into the unknown and follow her interests in a way that would allow her to be more present with her young toddler. The shop is still very small and working to establish itself, so I wanted to help get the word out about this excellent shop, with a most excellent woman and family behind it.

Honestly, I’m not someone who cares much about fashion trends and season releases, but when I started to see sneak peeks of the Nico Nico Clothing fall line I got really excited. Something about the colours and textures spoke to me. I was immediately inspired to capture beautiful moments of my children in the clothing. I’m telling you, this has never happened before! So I picked up a few of my favourite pieces from Little Heirloom and let our adventure-seeking ways take their course, what resulted were some beautiful moments.

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I’m really in awe with how the Nico Nico line seems to form a dialogue with the landscape, whether we’re in the city or the forest or on the beach, the clothing seems at home, making you feel like you are exactly where you should be. I’m so happy to have invested in this line of organics. And, now I understand a little why some people get excited about fashion.

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I love to learn from mothers who have started their own business while raising children. So I asked Taralyn if she could share her story here. Read on to hear from Taralyn, herself, and to see more photos of the children enjoying themselves in clothing from her store.

Tell me a little bit about yourself, the person behind Little Heirloom. What is your background? What are you passionate about?

My name is Taralyn Fodor, and I am the founder/owner/operator of the online children’s apparel website Little Heirloom. I was born and raised in Vancouver, BC, but recently moved back to the city with my family after living in Montreal and Toronto for almost 8 years. I have a background in Art History and Design, but I also work as a buyer for a local apparel brand here in the city. I do a lot of juggling as a mother, business owner and buyer, but I wouldn’t have it any other way! I am passionate about my family, first and foremost, but I also have a soft spot for design, travel, and art.

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same denim poncho fits both kids, winning!

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How many children do you have and how would you describe them?

I have one son, Levi, who is 2 and a half. He is the wildest, most engaged, energetic, fearless, hilarious and social little person I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. He is truly chock-full of personality, and he never stops talking. Any moment spent awake for Levi is full of dialogue – be it with us (his parents), a friend, or someone imaginary. I love hearing him chatter away while playing with his toys, listening to him re-enact scenarios from earlier in the day, or talking about something I had no idea he even knew existed. It gives me fantastic insight into his little mind.

What is your favourite thing to do as a family?

As Levi gets older, our choice activity changes. It used to be a visit to the Vancouver Aquarium or Science World, but now going to the beach is our favourite. We really love getting outside and taking advantage of the beautiful city we live in.

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What did you want to be when you were a child?

This one makes me laugh, because I have always wanted to own my own business. I used to set up these roadside stands where I could sell things. I’d sell drawings, flowers (well, they were probably more like weeds, but who’s keeping track…), and anything else I could come up with. I just loved interacting with people and selling them something that made them happy. I guess nothing has changed!

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Did your career aspirations change once you had a child?

Interestingly, I became more focused on making my aspirations a reality. I knew that if I didn’t try it would never happen. In the beginning, running my own business also offered me the flexibility I needed to spend more time with Levi.

What is Little Heirloom and why did you decide to start your own business?

Little Heirloom is a website dedicated to selling high-quality, stylish and ethically produced children’s fashion. We like to focus on smaller, independent brands that are a bit harder to find. I originally wanted to create an online store to offer brands I love to the Canadian market, as no one was selling them here, but the demand for our designers has us shipping all over the world now!

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I love the name Little Heirloom. What does that name mean to you? Why did you choose it?

When I was thinking of a name for the shop, I kept circling back to the core concept of the store: to offer timeless, high-quality clothes that can be passed down from sibling to sibling, and even generationally. The idea of a sweater, romper or pair of shoes becoming an heirloom, a special memento of childhood, meant a lot to me. The name Little Heirloom sprung from that.

How do you choose the brands you carry?

They have to be beautiful, un-fussy, ethically manufactured, and above all else: well made. I also put them through the “Levi Test” as I like to call it. If I don’t like how the clothes wear and wash with my little guy, I won’t carry them in the shop.

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What are your dreams for Little Heirloom?

I would love to add more labels to our roster, and build out the collection we carry to represent even more exceptional international brands. Maybe there will even be an in-house line someday!

When you are all caught up on work what do you love to do?

I’ve been trying to allow myself “alone” time. It’s harder than you’d think! But when I manage it, just getting to a yoga class or riding my bike is wonderful.

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Readers: Little Heirloom carries premium brands, such as Nico Nico (the clothing pictured in this post), Red Creek Handmade, boy+girl, Misha & Puff, Soor Ploom, Goat Milk NYC, at excellent prices and ships internationally. She also carries the most charming line of toys, Des Enfantillages, made here in Canada (adjustable skipping rope and felt pompom slingshot pictured in this post).

The Canadian dollar is low now, which makes it especially economical for international shoppers to buy from Canadian shops. You can find Little Heirloom online at www.littleheirloom.com and on Instagram @littleheirloom.

Sen’s salt water sandals and Hunter rain boots are from Mini Mioche. Ro’s moccasins are from Canadian Aboriginal-owned brand Manitobah, offering a complete year-round line of moccasins and mukluks.

A special thank you, as well, to the kind women at Nico Nico Clothing, who helped me source sizes 8 and 10, to fit Ro.

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Creative Mother: Sophia Smeekens

Growing up my mother was always sewing up one project or another. She spent many years working in the evenings, after her day job, and after taking care of us three kids, hand sewing dolls, first for friends and family, and then later trying her hand at making a business of it. Because of this experience I feel very nostalgic when it comes to handmade dolls. I love most handmade things, heirloom quality products, that can be passed through generations: a hand knit sweater, a hand sewn quilt, a hand carved wooden spoon — they are time travellers of sorts, since their aging is not in step with the human passing of time.

When it comes to handmade toys and dolls, these are extra special. Unlike clothing, home goods or tools, which can be very useful, handmade dolls often become objects of love. Children adopt dolls into the family, taking them on family trips, carrying them from place to place, dressing them, feeding them, sleeping with them. Over time they become deeply invested with emotions. There is something very special about being a dollmaker, knowing and wanting to make something that will become an integral part of the child’s life story.

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Sophia Smeekens is the owner, designer and one-woman-show behind studio-escargot, and I also happen to think she is a very special woman. In her signature style, she handcrafts whimsical dolls of all sorts that are not only beautiful but ignite the imagination. While Sophia makes beautiful dolls, it is her energy and story, that make her a person who inspires. Sophia has taken her life experience and channelled it to craft an intentional, slow, creative life, and through this shows us one way to find purpose, overcome obstacles, and live a fuller life. Because of this, I think there is a little something extra special in her dolls. I can’t wait to add one to our story.

Please read on to hear from Sophia, herself.

Tell me a little bit about yourself. What is your background?

Coming from a normal Dutch family with two brothers and parents who both worked as teachers in primary school I had a simple and carefree youth until my mother was diagnosed with cancer and died 1.5 years later. I was 14, a critical age for a girl to lose her mother. Looking back it felt like an earthquake had taken everything away from me. I was rootless, lost. It took me 20 years to get back to who I really am: a mother and creative, but above all a human being, trying to let go of fear and all rules society has taught us. I feel very connected to nature (even though I am not living in a deserted reservate) and living in simplicity and am slowly peeling off all extra baggage I have, to eventually live with only what I essentially need.

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What part of the world do you live in?

I live in the Netherlands in a suburb attached to Amsterdam.

How many children do you have and how would you describe them?

I have two children, age 12 and 3. Mike and Isa. Mike is a sensitive loving soul, Isa is a little rebel, takes over and knows shes gets away with a lot of her behaviour because she is the youngest…

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Isa wears a charming corduroy jacket by another creative mother, Katie, the woman behind Red Creek Handmade, and her skirt is from Yellow Pelota

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What are your core family values?

Live conscious with an open mind and a warm heart.

How do you spend most of your days?

My days are spent creating (dolls) and making (mostly raw) food. Isa is not going to school yet so we still spend a lot of time together. We love wandering outside, picking flowers, gathering nature’s treasures, picnicking and visiting playgrounds. On rainy days we snuggle up to read or watch a movie.

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What is your favourite thing to do as a family?

Really just being together, talking, laughing and cuddling.

What are you passionate about?

Creating

What inspires you?

Nature, simplicity, wholehearted living.

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What is studio-escargot? And what does the name mean? 

Studio-escargot is the name of the label I set up 3 years ago. Escargot is french for snail. As I feel related to snails: I move forward slowly 🙂  Also the work I make takes time, I put love and attention into it. I hope my dolls are there to last a lifetime.

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Can you tell me a bit about your work as an artist and doll maker? How did you get started making dolls?

I have been creating things all my life and can not imagine my life without.  I studied artisan classic upholstery and interior styling. After my studies I worked as a visual merchandiser for 10 years. When figures and profit started to pass the creative goal I resigned from work and went back to school where I enhanced my styling skills. But the urge to create never stopped.  When pregnant with Isa I started to make things like blankets and pillows as well as a doll… A friend of mine liked it, as did others and I started to make some for friends. A friend of mine told me to try and attend a Christmas fair, there a doll was bought for Reva, Madelon’s daughter (the famous @madebylon) who posted it on Instagram…the rest is history, as they say.

Did your life goals or career aspirations change once you had a child?

Yes, Isa inspires me so much. Her stories and her imagination, her books get me to make new stuff! But she also made me realise that working at home with a child takes good planning, patience and discipline!

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What are your dreams for your work as an artist and as a mother?

I am working on some ceramic doll heads and would love to complete them with a body, maybe make some more sculpture like dolls… I would love to make dolls for theatre as well and write that children’s book….if only I had more time! As a mother I hope I will be able to see the profound needs they have and that I will be able to assist them to get healthy, conscious, open minded and loving adults.

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You can find Sophia on Instagram @studioescargot or on her website www.studio-escargot.com. Follow her! I promise you will be inspired by the intentional life she leads and your eyes will thank you for all the beauty she shares.

 

Let’s be friends! Please come find me in other places…

Apple Picking in mini mioche

I love capturing our seasonal traditions though photography. Last weekend we went apple picking for the first time this year. It was lots of fun and hard work, which for a child are usually the same thing. Sen’s favourite part was using the ladder, which he moved and readjusted about a hundred times for pure enjoyment, meanwhile, Ro kept moving from tree to tree searching for the perfect apple with the perfect leaf. We completed our visit to the farm with some good old fashioned hay jumping and a game of tetherball. Sen figured he was pretty much a Junior Farmer by the end of the day.

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I decided to outfit Ro and Sen in their mini mioche basics, so that I could capture their hard work in the closest thing I had to farmer’s attire: overalls and a shirt (the overalls sadly are getting small…so if you are wondering about sizing they are each wearing overalls two sizes too small). I don’t remember how I came across mini mioche, but it has been a few years now that Ro and Sen have been wearing their lovely line of organic basics, designed and made every step of the way here in Canada.

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imageThere can be a temptation, when budgets are tight, to spend our dollars on stand out pieces in our wardrobes, a special dress or a unique item, something that has impact. Basics typically don’t stand out in a wardrobe, and so it may be the place where we are tempted to cut costs and buy from discount stores, like Old Navy or Joe Fresh. And yet, basics are the backbone of any wardrobe, they are the ‘go tos’ to complete a look, they typically get the most wear, and are the heart of a reliable capsule wardrobe.

We love special pieces of clothing, but know that investing in quality basics is important. Supporting local shops and local production, and buying organic is important no matter whether the item stands out or not.

As many of you know, I love to learn from mothers who are also entrepreneurs and artists, hear about how they balance life and how they started their business. I think you’ll enjoy hearing from Alyssa, the woman behind mini mioche.

imageHow would you describe Mini Mioche in 5 words?

Simple, cool, comfortable, sustainable and practical.

Tell me a little bit about yourself, the person behind Mini Mioche. What is your background?

I previously worked in wholesale fashion and owned a fashion sales agency in Toronto selling adult clothing brands to retailers for about 12 years (I sold it in December 2014). After I had my daughter 7 years ago, I took a little bit of time off (like a month or so) and during that time I came to the conclusion that as much as I loved fashion and my wholesale business, I wanted to do something that was a little more creative and that I could have more control over and so drawing upon my experience and contacts in the fashion industry, I set about designing and launching the first mini mioche infant basics collection.

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imageYou call yourself a serial entrepreneur, what do you think draws you to start something new?

I have always said that I have an addiction to newness.  Part of it is that I definitely get bored easily and love to be challenged constantly. I have a lot of ideas and also have ‘focus issues’, that combined with the fact that I am really not risk-averse, means that I like to embark on new ideas and projects often. Part of the reason I sold my other business is that I recognized how important focus is when it comes to anything really – but especially growing a business.  So that is my new goal – to try not to get distracted by other ideas and to just focus solely on growing this business and making it really amazing.

Why did you decide to get into designing children’s clothing?  

I’ve always loved baby and kids clothing – even before I had children of my own.  There is something about mini versions of adult clothing that just kills me. I am a total jeans and tees kind of girl and I wanted to dress my daughter in a similar aesthetic. After she was born, I was surprised at how hard it was to find nice, well-made, decently priced, soft infant and kids basics – especially in neutral colours like grey, white, black etc. I couldn’t stand all the stuff on the market at that time with cheesy sayings or graphic prints. As I mentioned before, I was also looking for something new and more creative to do at that time and so mini mioche was born.

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What did you want to be when you were a child?

I always wanted to do something involving fashion – I think I wanted to be a personal shopper, although I’m not sure that even existed back when I was a kid.

What does Mini Mioche mean? Why did you choose this name for your brand?

When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I referred to her as ‘mini’ the entire time she was in utero.  She was born full term and healthy but she was mini – weighing only 5 lbs 4 oz so the name stuck for a little while. She is 7 years old now and so not mini!  My mom always shared my love of beautiful, well-made children’s clothing and when I was little she used to shop for me once in a while at a store in the Yorkville area of Toronto called Les Mioches. I really wanted to include the word ‘mini’ in the brand name since it was meaningful to me and I just liked how it sounded with the word ‘mioche’, which is sort of a slang word meaning tot or brat in Parisian french.

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imageOrganics, sustainability and local production are important to you. How do you translate these into your designs and your business model?

These things are all intrinsic to the mini mioche brand. From the beginning I wanted all of our clothing to be made locally and ethically by people who are paid a fair living wage and are treated well.  We still do basically everything here in Toronto from knitting the fabric to dying it, to the cutting and sewing.  We design our own graphics and have them printed locally. We partner with other local designers and companies on various collaborations and capsule collections (such as bookhou and Heart & Habit).  All of our fabrics are knit from organic cotton yarns and we try not to use any plastic at all – we don’t receive product in plastic bags and we don’t ship it in plastic.  We try to be as sustainable and environmentally conscious in every part of our process and we also believe strongly in supporting local business, including local manufacturing.

I have loved your collaborations with Toronto design-duo bookhou and blogger Brandy Mercredi. How did those collaborations come about?

Brandy, who is the blogger and designer behind Heart & Habit, and I met a while back now – to be honest I can’t remember exactly how – I think she wrote about mini mioche on her blog and we just started chatting from there.  A little while ago she reached out to me because she had some ideas for a line of graphic tees that she thought would be right up our alley and as it turns out, it was!  Our first collaboration launched in spring 2014 and we just launched our third collection together. For fall 2015 we have something really amazing lined up.

I have always loved and admired bookhou’s beautiful products and prints and one day a thought just popped into my head: ‘How amazing would those prints look on our clothes’?  So I sent the owner, Arounna an email and the rest is history – we just launched our third bookhou for mini mioche collection for fall 2015.

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Everywhere I go with my kids when they are wearing your clothing, I hear adults tell me they want them in their size. Do you plan to expand the line? What about Mama Mioche? 

So this goes back to your second question – the one about being a serial entrepreneur.  I do hear requests for adult versions of our clothing often and I never say never, but for now I am all about ‘focus’ and that means just sticking to baby and kids apparel – at least for now.

Do you have any new projects in the works?

We always have new projects in the works but our primary focus right now is on our online business and growing that, so most of what we are doing is geared towards making that a more functional aspect of our business and an amazing experience for our online customer.

What has made you the most proud of what you’re doing?

The reality is that starting a business and growing a business is really, really hard.  I don’t have anyone telling me what to do or how to do it. I have had to figure it out on my own for the most part and along the way I have made some (very big) mistakes.  There were many days where I questioned what I was doing and why I was doing it and if it was worth it.  So I guess I would have to say the thing I am most proud of is just that I am still here, doing it and that it is growing and actually working pretty well.

When you are all caught up on work, what do you love to do?

I love to hang out with my hubs and two kids.  I love to spend weekends skiing up north or relaxing at the cottage with good family and friends.  I love to shop. I love binge watching really good tv.  I also never turn down a good glass of wine.

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You can find mini mioche online at www.minimioche.com, where they sell their in-house line of organic basics, but also all sorts of premium brands, shoes, and accessories. Think Herschel, Salt Water Sandals and Hunter Boots. You can also find them on Instagram @minimioche.

**With the Canadian dollar weak these days, it is a great time for American and international shoppers to take advantage of Canadian prices.imageimage