Ethical and Sustainable Kidswear Start-Up Muka Kids
Today I am delighted to bring your an interview with Jess Berentson-Shaw who is in the process of launching a unisex sustainable babies and children’s wear label Muka Kids. I am sure you will be interested in hearing about her approach to sustainable clothing, and if you have any kiddies in your life, you may well be interested to get involved to assist to bring this lovely sustainable kids clothing out on the market.
Can you tell me a little about yourself, and the journey of your business- sustainable children’s clothing label Muka Kids?
Muka kids started with a slightly hysterical moment in a well-known kids clothing chain store. With a newborn asleep in the car (bad parent!), bright lights, terrible music and armfuls of cheap clothing for my older child, I suddenly just thought ”this is all wrong” and I made a dash for freedom (the sleep deprivation may have had a lot to do with the hysteria) thinking there has to be a better way. Over a series of months I researched and researched to see if my seed of an idea was viable (I am a scientist by training and still do that along with muka kids). I had spent a bit of time in India a few years back and a lot of my work has been focussed on women’s development, so I spent a lot of time thinking about how to improve the lives of women who work in the garment industry (who are 70% of workforce). Because of the environmental impact of clothing more generally I also wanted to find a way to address the huge footprint of clothing. On top of all of this I really wanted to find an incentive for people to engage with the ethics and sustainability of kids clothing in a way that made them feel positive and empowered and gave them options. So I decided on a social enterprise.
What do you think is unique about Muka Kids?
For me what is unique is that we have turned the traditional model of a clothing business totally on its head to make investing in ethical and sustainable clothing the best option there is. After talking to loads of parents, and knowing from my own experience, I understood that it can be really hard to do sustainability when life as a parent is so full on and has so many competing financial needs. So as a first step we make robust unisex organic fairtrade kid clothes, but it is what happens after that that is cool. We take clothes back when kids grow out of them and offer a discount on further purchases when people return them. We do this because we wanted to keep the clothes in the cycle of use and reuse to reduce their environmental footprint, and we figured that incentivizing that through a discount would also make buying the clothes a lot easier in the first place. Selling the returned clothes and using the profits from the resale to assist women in poverty in India then just seemed the perfect way to close the loop. We have tried to think cradle to cradle in the business model, because everything that is made has to go somewhere in the end and being responsible for that seemed the right thing to do, while assisting parents to disengaged from the current unsustainable system.
Can you tell me a bit about your motivations? Why is sustainable children’s wear important to you?
As a scientist I just know we need to do things differently. For me this goes totally outside of politics or belief systems and just cuts to the fundamental issues of our time and the world that my kids are going to have to make their lives in. It just is a no brainer to address the way we use people and planet resources. The garment industry has the second biggest environmental footprint after the oil and gas industry, and has an appalling record of exploitation , especially of women, so I figured it needed some serious rethinking, and kids clothes were a natural place to start because they in particular are treated as such a throw away commodity. What I also feel really passionate about is the somewhat unrealistic view that people will just suddenly change their behaviour after hearing the facts. That is just not how people operate, fundamental psychology needs to be accounted for and what this means for me is finding incentives at lots of levels in the system for people and organisations to change it. So offering a different model that didn’t blame people but tried to find solutions for them to engage in easily was really important.
What do you think is the biggest challenge businesses that seek to produce ethically and sustainably?
The reality is that is does cost a lot more to produce this way because the systems to do so are new and not used by many yet. It is especially true when you are just starting out with small production runs. Ironically though we are operating in a market where people do weigh us up against the options already out there, and it is difficult to adjust expectations about what clothing should cost. This is something that the industry has sucked us all into; they have created a system where clothing is a cheap throw away commodity. So again it comes down to making sure that ethical and sustainably produced clothes make total sense for people, that the extra cost is offset somehow through BOTH good feelings and personal incentives.
How can my readers get involved with your mission?
The two bests ways to get involved right now are 1) Spread the word about our unique approach on social media (facebook and Twitter) about us and 2) Sign up to our newsletter on mukakids.com so we can let people know when the clothes are on pre-sale (being a start-up we need to raise the funds for the first production run by pre-selling the clothes and we will be doing this through a crowdfunding campaign). It is champions in sustainably like your readers that can help us revolutionize the way kids clothes are made and used.
Thanks to Jess for taking the time to answer my questions. A Kickstarter campaign will be launching soon, so do keep your eye out for it if you have any kiddies in need of some good quality sustainable clothing!
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