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what are muka kids like?

I think this best describes what muka kids is all about, a poetry storyboard of muka kids.

muka kids like dirty mucking about

muka kids like their stuff to be cheerful & bright

witch in the cherry tree

witch in the cherry tree

muka kids like quirky funny things

and muka kids are often given to sing (or whistle tunelessly) Continue Reading →

Fitting the Clothes. The Fun & Chaos

Recently, we fitted the mock ups of our first designs. For those in the know such mock-ups are called ‘the toile’, because why not use a lovely French word for what is kind of a ho hum stage in clothing making? A toile is not usually made in the fabric you intend on making them in, have no finishing details and often require a fair bit of adjustment , so all and all more excitement has been had during design phases.

Anyway, my fantastic and long suffering pattern maker Angela was exposed to the terror that is working with children. Though given she has recently had a baby I figure I am simply doing her a favour and providing her with some valuable psychological preparation for the ‘joy’ that is yet to come…

The fitting was best described as:

Total chaos.

A lot of coaching to cope with an extreme fear of ‘the pokey pins’ and excessive food and lego related bribery was required.

We got through in the end, and a satisfying outcome for all (except the child who was in fact poked again with the pins. oh dear). It is a tough old world when you mother does clothing making…

My lovely nephew was a very enthusiastic model and did a great job in our boys & girls leggings. Yes that is right we believe boys should not have to miss out on the happiness that is a good pair of leggings.

deep consideration of crotch fitting by myself and the small one

deep consideration of crotch fitting by myself and the small one

Continue Reading →

What IS a social enterprise exactly?

Today I was awarded a precious 3 hours to go to a workshop on developing business models for social enterprise run by these guys.   Hikurangi is a foundation set up to accelerate people looking to start unique businesses in the social and environmental good line of things. It has government funding even (well a tiny little bit), to help push the idea that businesses based on social and environmental good may just be a clever and useful thing to support as a society (woo-hoo).

So we started talking about what is a social enterprise. I was kind of delighted to hear that Hikurangi themselves had not actually settled on a definition (as most of the time it bamboozles me), but what they did have goes something like this (not word for word)

‘a business with a social or environmental mission that supports itself through trade’

So, by my way of thinking it is all about developing a profit making business to work with or for the environment or with and for social improvement (or even both). Continue Reading →

Sunshine of the Mind

I love colour. I especially love colour in unexpected pairings and surprising tones. I think clothing, especially kids clothing could be so much more exciting colourwise.  So you would think that choosing colour for clothing designs would not be too onerous a task for me. HA!

Welcome to the confusing world of textile & design colours ala Pantone colour tones LTD (just think the Nestle of the colour processing world – though I am note sure they have links with big tobacco, so maybe not such a good analogy).

Anyway, imagine choosing a new wall colour but 1000 times worse. As Pantone textile charts are so VERY expensive, I of course got the cheapest chart I could (come on I am a start-up!) .This people is a book of thousands of tiny little jewels of colour the size of a small woman’s thumbnail.  Beautiful, but hmmmm not so good for trying to visualize how colour will look on a length of fabric.

Unlike choosing your wall colour, you cannot pop down to the paint shop, buy all the different shades you are considering, and create a huge patchwork wall to ponder in all different lights the nuances of half and quarter versions of varying shades of pantyhose. Actually when put like this I am not sure choosing the pantone colour is actually worse than paint selecting. But it is at least on par in terms of difficulty, with frankly a lot more riding on a poor decision than a ‘do over’ on the feature wall.

Yellow, how I do love you and believe you to be a much maligned colour, but really you have some fair ugly sides. Lets hope I can choose the right one from those teeny tiny jewels of colour!

Beautiful but potentially deadly. Pantone Cotton Colour Chart.

Beautiful but potentially deadly. Pantone Cotton Colour Chart.

The Rich Tapestry of Fear

One of the things about starting a new business, especially in the ‘rag-trade’,  is there are a lot of people who love your idea, and a few people who look sceptical and then put the fear of death into you. I figure that some of the former and a little bit of the latter is a good thing.

Today I met with a woman with a ton of experience in the industry, she talked of the small margins in clothing, the overcrowded space that clothing is, the tough market where people ultimately, despite what they say,  buy based on the look of clothes and the perception that they are getting a good deal (so price really). She talked of the many (mainly women) who had tried and failed in this business, and she put the FEAR into me.

But here is the thing, the fear is good, the fear makes it real, and it makes me think long and hard about what I am prepared to risk and what I value. In a funny way it gives me confidence that win or lose I am at least clear on why I am doing this. What the fear also and most importantly does is  remind me that above all I need to be a really good businesswoman if I want muka kids to be a leader in sustainable business. As fundamentally, muka kids is about trying to show leadership in ethical, social and sustainable business, and to do that I need to have the FEAR along with the fun.

The story behind the name muka kids

Muka is the thick thread or twine created by hand processing the cut leaves of the flax or harakeke plant that grows in abundance throughout New Zealand. It is used (among other things) to weave and create the base of traditional kākahu (cloaks), worn by Maori.  Muka is more than just a thread however, it is a powerful connecting material, with great spiritual significance.

‘Muka creates … connections – through the stories that cloaks carry. .. muka links the ancestors who made or owned them with their descendants today, drawing together the past, present, and future’ (http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/theme.aspx?irn=3626)

maori woman preparing muka 2000.018.0063a

Maori woman preparing flax fibre for weaving. Horowhenua Historical Society Inc. http://horowhenua.kete.net.nz/site/images/show/5020-maori-woman-preparing-flax-fibre-for-weaving

Continue Reading →

Where it all started

So you know the moment you are in a shop, in some hideous shopping complex, which seems designed to bring on a state of panic through extreme lighting and bubblegum pop music? All you can think is “buy the stuff, any stuff, all the stuff and LEAVE! RUN!” Well that was me. One moment I was staggering under a mountain of gender-stereotyped, bright, cheap kids clothing and the next I had dumped it all and RUN madly towards freedom and blue sky. The 19-year-old shop assistant looked bewildered (and I noted with no small amount of envy utterly bereft of any understanding of what sleep deprivation and the resulting crazy can lead to). So there I was free, but somehow I was also considering my place in the universe. This I knew could not be good. Really. Seriously. Not Good. Here I was a professional thinker and scientist, years of experience juggling high pressure situations, brought to the edge of crazy by the experience of buying childrenswear; rubbish, cheaply made, kidswear.

So let me dial it back and explain…..

I like clothes and believe clothing is an important part of our identity, and self confidence. The same is true for kids clothes. A way for kids to dress up and down, to experiment with who they are, and really to just have fun. But outside that shop I was not having a lot of fun, rather I was thinking some heavy stuff . I was thinking ‘many kids clothes businesses leverage our selective blindness to the exploitation of women and families, their well-being and the environment, to give us a cheap and cheerful choice and healthy profit for them, and hold on a minute how did I end up supporting this?’ It made me pretty feel rubbish to be honest.

and there it was the flashpoint for starting muka kids.

In truth a big part of this thinking travelled with me all the way back from India. In 2008, while backpacking, I was sitting on the platform of a Delhi Railway station. In front of me was a pretty common sight – a seriously grubby little girl with bells tied on her ankles, dancing for a few rupee, she was probably 6 or 7 , but looked 4. Later on I watched a woman in a flame sari, blurred through a bus window, carrying a pan of road fill upon her head. Her kids played on the roadside while the chaotic traffic of India roared by and covered them all in filth. It started me down the road of some pretty challenging thinking about the way I live and I guess you could say it culminated outside that shop. It was a pretty pragmatic kind of thinking, not based on any particular belief system apart from just being a woman in New Zealand confronted with what being a woman in other (in fact most ) countries was like, and how my choices meant I played a part in many of these women’s lives.

140411_Women in Orchha_blog 1

In India I also saw that the local environment and ecosystems were used and utilized in whatever way was necessary to make sure the people living off it did just that – live. I saw that given limited or no choice people just did what they need to survive and taking care of their local physical environment came a pretty far last. I also knew that it was probably not the small scale farmers and manufacturers that created the most damage, larger scale stuff was happening all over the place to drive profit and growth.

So back to that crazy woman outside the shop. The businesses that produce those clothes I knew, fed the very situations which made me as a parent, an enthusiast for biodiversity and a humanist, feel deeply uncomfortable, yet there I was supporting those businesses through the power of my purchasing. BUT in a fit of unusual optimism I saw no really logical, sensible reason for it not to be different. It was not rocket science, it was not the dominion of the soapbox loving environmental or humanitarian crusader. It was totally within my power as a parent, a consumer, a thinking person to make a small step change that might hopefully one day have a positive impact on that girl in Delhi (or one like her), and in fact all our kids.

And so began my adventures in sustainable business with muka kids, and helping buyers of kids clothing feel positive about their purchasing decisions.

I am edging very gingerly (frankly I am not much of a leaper) into building an ethical enterprise which I hope will address some of the problems I encounter in trying to live and consume more consciously. Fearful and anxious about what will be in the deep end, I have stuck my head under. My hope is, that in sharing some of my experiences in building and growing muka kids, others find it just that little bit easier to take account of the environment and people when they buy stuff. What I also hope is that muka kids becomes one of the cogs in the gears that help us grind our way to understanding that business can be part of the solution.

Thanks for reading and following my adventures

Jess