Archive | sustainable business

RSS feed for this section

Ten Reflections on Crowdfunding

The squirrel is resting (or perhaps comatose)

The squirrel is resting (or perhaps comatose)

So a week into muka kids crowdfunding campaign here are ten reflections on the experience.

  1. Newborn induced sleep deprivation is hard. Putting together a crowdfunding campaign in 10 days may be on a par with this, and certainly involves less oxytocin.
  2. Camera people/ filmmakers/ documentarians you are artists. I am not.
  3. Sound people you must hate Wellington & our wind.
  4. Editors you must curse unprofessional camera people and the Wellington wind (see above).
  5. It feels a bit weird to ask people so seed fund your social enterprise even when you absolutely want to change the world and other people are on board with that kaupapa too. But possibly no more strange and no less worthy than asking people to support you to cross four polar ice-caps or do an apprenticeship with the NZ dance company. Though certainly less weird than crowdfunding to make a potato salad.
  6. It is hard at times to just be cool with the support others joyfully give (I suspect this may be a woman thing… see my post on start-ups and women).
  7. I cry at the drop of a hat when people write & say super supportive things (something to do perhaps with point 1)
  8. My mum, my partner and my sister are my number one fans in very different ways. My kids though,  they are kind of ho hum about me right now.
  9. Being called ‘a mum who makes organic clothes’ feels like a gross misrepresentation of both me & muka kids, but is probably something I am just going to have to live with at times, reductionist as it is.
  10. Lots of people I do not know (and lots I do) really get this thing and want to see it fly. And that is cool indeed.

Filming Muka Kids: Part 2

Yesterday we shot the second part of our film about muka kids (for our super exciting secret crowdfunding project). This was the hard one. Thanks, however, to some amazingly supportive friends & family and their very obliging children, it was a relatively smooth process. I think the kids even had some fun!

We filmed in a super space, with beautiful art by Ngatai Taepa taking pride of place. Ngatai’s work is so fantastically aligned to the ethos of muka kids it was just perfect.  If you are in Wellington you should check out his exhibition in fact.

Now we have been selected as one of the nine projects for the secret launch, the pressure is really on to do a great job of this video, here is a peak…


entertainment provided

entertainment provided


lovely space


entertainment required


the real director


a few tips


so this one?


no I think you will find it is this one..


could you just ..?

balloon fun

balloon fun


yep there is at least THREE jelly beans in here


still smiling


fun times

kiddy wrangler a must

kiddy wrangler a must


Secret Project Progress

As some of you will know, I decided to take the great leap and throw muka kids into the running for a national project. The project is based around crowdfunding, but more than this, really I don’t even know! Hopefully by this Friday things will be clearer on how muka kids has fared.

In the meantime I have been jumping through a lot of hoops. Most of which I was pretty prepared for. Background on the project, where muka kids came from, what we want to achieve in the short & long term. It has been a great way for me to really focus on what muka is all about, and confirm how important muka kids is to me as a beacon for sustainable business development.

What I was less sorted for was the media stuff I need to prepare. Oh and the video (on to that in a minute). So publicity shots, not my happy place I must say. I realized that we are bombarded with so many pictures of perfection, beauty, stylised perfection (people and the world around us), that seeing ourselves in hard copy, with all our “original and intact’ features can be confronting. I have challenged myself to just let that go and hope a twinkle in the eye and a woman on a mission is all that matters to others too.

the enorm croc

DO NOT eat the children

Now the video. Well this is 2 minute film all about muka kids, where it came from, where it is going. I decided that making a film about a kids clothing company without kids in it would be a little odd. First practice with my own was a total disaster. The oldest threw a huge tantrum because the sign she was holding was only written in black pen and not rainbow colours (!!!!), the small one just wanted to stand on a chair and draw on the camera lens. It all ended in tears (mainly mine) WHAT WAS I THINKING?  Anyway the show MUST go on, so the real filming will take place Sunday morning. I do need a few more slightly older kids who can follow basic instructions and hold up a sign to camera (frankly I think the small ones will create total carnage!). So if you are Wellington based and have a spare 30mins on Sunday morning, do let me know (, I would love to have your help and just say hi.

well now back to to the prep….

The 3am Question. Can I Make Sustainable Business Happen?

One of things I continue to struggle with is this idea of how to best ‘fix’ the problems as I see them.

So here is the problem for me – a totally unsustainable system of production (notably in clothing), where both the environment and people are exploited for the purposes of business development, economic gain and so-called ‘individual consumer choice’.

It all sounds pretty radical when I put it like that, but basically for me it is about business and systems and politicians acting like dicks.

So, muka kids is my small (currently one woman, but I am always looking for others!) approach to addressing the problem. Make organic fair trade kids clothes, make them well, take them back & reward people for returning them (thereby both incentivizing supporting ‘good production’ and keeping clothing in use longer so reducing their footprint), use the resale of those second hand clothes to support women in poverty through microloans (therefore addressing one of the fundamental problems that allows business to exploit women garment workers – lack of choice).

is the solution to this?

is the solution to this…….

140708 Jess.svg



BUT, here is the rub, the question that gets me at 3am in the dark. If the problem is a systems level one is the solution going to be an individual level one? The answer to this is probably a bit of yes & no.

Having spent most of my career in public health, I am trained to focus first on the high level solutions to problems. With helping to address the ‘obesity epidemic for example’ I think first about changing the physical environment, increasing public transport availability, reducing junk food outlets etc, as these are the things that the research tells us has much greater chance at success than expecting a whole lot of individuals to overcome massive personal barrier to behaviour change and eat differently.

So when it comes to sustainability and ethics in clothing, is expecting individuals to change their behaviour before any of the systems have changed the most effective approach? What I mean is, does creating a kids clothing business that does the ‘right thing’ have the impact required to change a system, through providing a single option for consumers to make the ‘good’ choice when buying kids clothes?

Well what population health approaches also note is that grass-root movements can have a lot of impact when combined with those larger systems changes. A noisy and engaged group of individuals can have an impact. A good public health example is when communities come together to fight the licensing of more alcohol outlets within their local area to reduce the harm from alcohol.

Also a small and successful project can have wider reaching implications for change. They can serve as an example of leadership and provide a talking point in the space where change is required. For me, Kowtow provided that model by showing that fairtrade organic clothes that were focussed on design could work. But it takes hard work and a lot of engagement, and it can depend on hard to replicate factors like personality, drive and just plain ‘good luck’.

So back to me at 3am. Well really being an analytical kind of person I don’t think the answer will ever be clear. All any of us as individuals can do is put our personal resources (be it skills, energy, passion) into where it seems to make sense at the time. The idea that the ‘right thing’ will be evident to you (or me!) is probably about as true as the idea that there is a single effective way to address the problems rife in the production of many items we buy and consume. The best we can do is try it out (accept the risks inherent in that) measure our impact, take stock and assess whether we are achieving what we set out to do, and then be flexible. Being flexible is a much more accurate term than failing I think. Flexibility tells us that a level of analysis has been applied to something we tried and we assessed a better way to achieve our goals.

So, is muka kids the solution? Well it may well be one solution for me and for you hopefully. There are others too (which I will talk about in another post). In the meantime I will turn off the light and hope that within 10 minutes of going back to sleep the children DO NOT attempt a swat team mission to get into our bed.

Manufacturing fair trade organic clothing overseas & over email. Imagine it if you will…

this is not a photo about how I do business

this is not a photo about how I do business


There are a number of serious benefits to local manufacturing of clothing. Benefits that include supporting local industry, businesses and people, greater control over the finished product and communication that flows like a babbling brook in the sunshine. However, at muka kids one of our central missions is to support women (and men) in the cotton growing and garment making industry in developing countries and give them the opportunity to do work that does not trap them into a cycle of working poverty. So local manufacturing was never really part of the story we want to tell about kids clothing production, though we love others that do, and hope they too see that overseas manufacture in developing countries can be a positive thing if it is done with improving people’s lives at the heart of it.

Most large scale clothing manufacturers in NZ have their garments made overseas, but for a totally different reason: low cost. It is A LOT cheaper, and while this blog is not about of the ethics of that, it is pretty clear why that is, cost of production and wages are seriously lower over there. If a business model & brand is built around a certain margin, return to investors and that can no longer be achieved by manufacture in higher wage economies then for most companies they head off shore. Certified sustainable (I am talking fair trade and organic cotton) garments are actually still cheaper when made in developing countries, but are more expensive that non certified clothing by anywhere from a factor of 4 to 10 (depending on the number of garments you are having made – the more you order the cheaper things get generally). However, what remains the same is some of the challenges of communicating technical requirements…

So the thing about me is I am an amateur sewer and I have in my time whipped up a few skirts and dresses and pants for the kids (which always get the total kiss of death from the recipients). I can read a pattern, know some technical terms, know about different seams and fabrics etc etc. Where this has been helpful in this manufacturing process I have found is um not at all. It is a whole world of jargon, assumptions and technical details. Learning a whole new set of new terms and how things work while having no face to face interaction with the people on the ground has proved, well lets just say challenging (and requiring of a few more vodka based cocktails than I would normally partake in).

Some of the challenges I have run into include:

▪         Dealing with one production manager for a few months then getting total radio silence for 6 weeks and after sending a series of increasingly more desperate and less polite (to be honest a little rude) emails find out said person has left the company. This has happened twice in fact and probably reflects both cultural differences and the transient and seasonal nature of the clothing production industry.

▪         Having to have a back and forth email conversation across time zones which lasted not less than a week , to figure out the meaning of one manufacturing abbreviation (and to be honest I am still not entirely sure what it means so I just fake it now). Thought to be honest this is not that different from academia when I think about it.

▪         Having my emails bounce back or simply go unanswered because everyone uses gmail (even large scale manufacturing operations) as their work based email, which can seem unprofessional and a little odd to us here. India, I found when I was there, has a really kind of survivalist attitude to everyday technology – you use what you can, where you can, for as long as it works and then you adapt.

So nothing really major, as I have heard of some serious production malfunctions happening with overseas suppliers, but as it is only at costing and sampling stage, I anticipate that communication may in fact get more not less complicated. Many clothing companies have production managers that spend a significant amount of time at the production facilities during each production run to ensure that communication is at its optimum best (for me right now though it is not an option).

But if anything, what this says to me is that learning perseverance, learning how different cultures approach work and industry, and how to stay calm in the face of difficult miscommunications and always building in a LARGE buffer, is just part of the fun and games of working with overseas suppliers. Reminding myself that there are real people at the end of this chain who will benefit from more businesses like mine engaging with certified fair trade and organic cotton production facilities also helps ease the pain. Next steps will be for me to visit and get a real handle on what everyday work life actually looks like and see first hand the stories of the people involved.

So I cross my fingers, hope for the best, expect a series of monty python type communications and events (and perhaps even do a few seriously silly walks myself when it all gets too much) and try not to move the vodka bottle any closer to the home desk….

The Tortoise NOT the Hare


animal dreams

This is a story that has animal references. To be truthful I am not entirely sure why, but perhaps in life there is not many a situation that cannot be understood through an animal analogy. Also it may be because at present in our house there seems to be a fixation on the animal world (namely those we eat).



Is this chicken?

Indeed it is.

How did the chicken die? Did someone shoot it in the head with a bow and arrow?’

Que hysterical laughter as I picture a chicken farmer trying desperately to cull free range chickens (yep that is how we roll in our house free range cluckers) via a feathered arrow to its teeny weeny chicken head. Perhaps it was not so much funny  (it was 5.30pm on a midweek night after a day struggling with ‘the balance’ -you know the work/life/money/ home/new business one), as it was just that I had gone a bit loopy.

But hey ho this is not a story about a Gary Larson cartoon, rather it is about pacing myself in the world of start-ups.

Continue Reading →

Sustainable Business and the Ladies

Chatting recently with another parent, who is also in the social enterprise line, we were reflecting on the difficulties that women with kids have in finding a place in the whole ‘start-up’[1] business culture. I say women with kids because the reality is that women remain the primary caregivers of children in our society even when they work (working part-time more than men etc).

It gave me pause to reflect about our global need to move to economies based on sustainable businesses (business that works with and for the environment and people), and whether we are failing to address a rather large impediment to getting there: the ladies, or rather the lack of the ladies.

So my thinking goes like this. There is a huge market out there providing resources and support for start-ups, but the support that is offered, is in the main structured towards the lifestyle of the young, childless bloke. So all weekend workshops run till 1 am, 6 month incubator programmes, fulltime and more, the full total immersion approach… you get the idea, not a scenario many women with kids can fully embrace, but one which the young and childless can. It will be no surprise to most of you when I say that generally, business (including the new models of start-ups) is structured in a way that does not take into account how a lot of women currently work and live in our society. While there are plenty of young women out there without kids that can do the start-up thing equally with men the reality is that a start-up is often not a single enterprise. Rather multiple business and entrepreneurial adventures are entered into across a lifetime; meaning that eventually most women involved in the start-up life are going to experience the sharp end of this particular stick.

Where the picture looks slightly different is in social enterprise – essentially a social enterprise is a start-up with a social, ethical, environmental mission at its core. In the UK twice as many women run social enterprise than lead small business. Which makes me wonder if there is something about the social enterprise culture in particular that presents fewer barriers and more levers to women when compared to traditional business models, or just that it is easier to push through the existing barriers to business as a woman if you have the extra motivation of a social or environmental mission you want to achieve?

So where am I going with this? Well here is the crux of it: if starting up in business is more difficult for women because of the way the current model of support and incubation is constructed, and if more women are involved and interested in starting up sustainable and social business, then to be really successful at turning our economy into one built on social and sustainable business we need to better understand (and do something about) what impedes or assists women in starting up in any enterprise.

Interested in this issue? here are some more resources…..

Start-up funding success and gender

Why women offer something a bit different to business

Some cool social enterprises for women and girls


and here is some of my many different types of work..

and here are just a few of my many different types of work…..

[1] “a company, a partnership or temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. These companies, generally newly created, are in a phase of development and research for markets. …” (thanks Wikipedia).