By Tammy Woeppel
Bea and I have discussed blogging, and we are both in agreement that it's a total must-do for a small online business such as ourselves. Only problem is, neither of us have really felt psyched enough about it to just bust out our laptop and start writing. Something we are psyched on, however, is honesty and transparency in businesses, so with that, we were inspired to follow through. We'd like to start by walking you through our process. Go-forward, we hope to use this platform as a destination for all things fashionable mommy: fabulous maternity and post-partum fashion, nursery ideas, birthday party inspo (is anyone else completely intimidated by the circus that kid's bday parties have recently become?!), baby registry must-haves, etc.
First things first though! A little explanation on what we mean when we say that we are an "Eco-Conscious" Brand. When we conceived the idea for NONA, we nonchalantly decided that the bags should be "Eco-Friendly". Super easy, right? We would just use all organic materials, and we would be super socially responsible: using a domestic factory which would be subject to USA labor laws and would have fair working conditions, not to mention we wouldn't have to worry about the child labor factor. When I look back on how 'easy' we thought the plan was, it is just comical. For starters, it literally lengthened the process of getting the bags on the market by at least 3 years, if not more. Had we just used all conventional materials, it would have made our lives significantly easier. Going green is something that the fashion industry has dabbled in. I remember my time as a DKNY Jeans merchandiser when we started a collection of bamboo-based materials 10+ years ago. But fashion itself is not a hi-tech, pioneering industry and is in fact, pretty wasteful. The entire industry exists to get you to buy more, and in turn produces more to support this demand which in turn uses more raw materials, creating more waste/pollution, etc. There are other damaging side-effects as well (an eye-opening watch if you're so inclined, is The True Cost, which touches on the 2012 Bangladeshi Tazreen Fashions fire that killed 100+ employees). So, while there are certainly more brands building sustainable practices into their business models, like The Reformation and Amour Vert, we have a long way to go (looking at you Forever 21!). At our tiny start-up level, the factories that we approached to help us source these magical organic materials looked at us like we had 3 heads. We were on our own to find everything separately and come back when we were ready to make a bag as they couldn't be bothered or just didn't know where to source the materials. And it would cost an insane amount once we were ready, btw. Nevertheless, we forged ahead and began to search for the needles in the haystack with a moderate amount of success.
Fast forward to 2014 and I had put the bag development on hold temporarily while I was pregnant with my first baby, selling our house, learning Spanish from scratch, and preparing for an international move to Bogota, Colombia. And yes, I realized the irony of expecting my first child but not having a diaper bag of my own to use! But, I digress. After getting my bearings in my new city, I decided it was time to pick up where I had left off and get back to work. After having too many disappointments trying to work with US manufacturers (too pricey or too disinterested), we found a Colombian-based factory that was willing to take us on and the task of finding everything we still needed. Halle-freaking-lujah! Still clinging to our GOTS-certified dreams, we spent some time searching for these unicorns and then one day we had a come-to-jesus moment. Either lower our expectations and get the bag done already or spend the rest of our lives working on a perfectly eco-friendly version. It wasn't our idyllic original concept, but we knew there was only 1 way to go. Put out our product or don't. Simple as that. We also changed our perspective. Was it better to use an organic fabric that had been woven in 1 facility, shipped to another to get dyed, then transported to a final warehouse before it was purchased and shipped yet again or find an ethical supplier locally that did everything in house and could eliminate uneccesary transportation, even if the fabric wasn't organic?
We also knew that we were creating something more sustainable just from putting out a bag that truly doesn't look like a diaper bag. It's an investment bag that happens to function great for packing up the baby gear but is also an all-around amazing carryall that can be used for the gym, running errands, a carry-on for plane trips, a weekender bag, etc. It has life way beyond a baby bag. I have friends with multiple children and each child brought along a new diaper bag (not cheap!) and then they stop carrying it as soon as humanly possible because their bags scream "BABY!". We need to stop buying quantity over quality. Pick the 1 amazing thing you love and will wear forever and spend a little more on it, instead of grabbing something just because it's on final markdown and who cares if you only wear it once. Marie is totally right (Kondo, that is)- I need to see the sparks of joy!
Back to bags...what we did decide to stick to our guns on though, was to make sure that we knew where every single component came from and that we could stand behind the supplier and their processes. For example, our textile mill has an entire sustainability initiative built into their corporate culture. They have invested in special machinery to reduce their consumption of water as well as recycling it when possible. They plant trees every year and impose limits on their output of air/noise pollution. They created a foundation that builds homes for those less fortunate. In a nutshell, they do a bunch of stuff to positively impact the earth, the surrounding communities, as well as their own employees. Also, it is possible that we will be able to work with the supplier on developing a fabric to our own specifications in the future (ie, using recycled materials, etc). I visit our factory on a regular basis. It is large and light-filled, all the employees work business hours and take their lunch breaks and some of their kids swing by after school while they wait for their parents to finish up. It feels like a family at this point. I could go on and on but the point is that we really made an effort to pick the best possible partners, and we are super proud of that. And of course, we will always strive to continuously improve and do better.