“You will work way harder for yourself than you would anyone else. I promise, it won’t feel like work if you love it.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Peta Stinson, Creative Director of Sapling Child, a baby-wear brand with a conscience. Peta has a Ph.D. in International Development and was previously a University Professor before launching Sapling Child in 2011.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
A two-week long scare spent in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit ended up being the catalyst for the birth of the Sapling brand. My son contracted meningitis when he was only a few days old, a terrifying infection that causes life-threatening swelling of the brain. The ensuing weeks spent in NICU opened my eyes to just how fragile these sick little babies are. We were advised to purchase organic outfits for him, as the pesticides, insecticides and dyes used in regular cotton could have had a negative impact on his developing body, entering through his thin skin and his already struggling lungs.
Subsequently (and after we brought home our now healthy son), I was shocked to learn that conventional cotton production uses a whopping 10% of the world’s pesticides and 25% of the world’s insecticides. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists insecticide as one of the most dangerous chemicals available, and it also rates 7 of the top 15 pesticides used on conventional cotton as potential or known carcinogens.
Once we started dressing our son in organic cotton, we never looked back. After he left NICU and came home, I started noticing that there was a severe lack of cute patterns and designs in the organic baby clothing market. The pieces I found were mostly plain cream, brown or green. It presented a wonderful opportunity to enter the market with a more fashion-forward organic baby-wear line.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company
Well, it wasn’t funny at the time. But, in hindsight, I still get a bit of a laugh out of how green I was at the beginning of the Sapling journey. When Sapling was just starting, well before our first season, I designed our very first three patterns. I thought they were the most brilliant designs ever, and I went ahead and paid for samples to be made, so I could really see for the first time what this product would look like.
When the samples arrived I was SO excited I ripped the bag open and started crying. They were just so awful. I can’t even tell you how awful they were. The colours were wrong, the dye had bled everywhere. It was just all so bad. I said to my husband “That’s it. I quit.”
In short, our company very nearly did not get off the ground. My husband was the one to say “Just keep going, fix the issues and keep going. This is your dream, don’t give up on it yet.” So I kept plugging away, and 12 months later, we launched our first collection. Five years later, we now have a full team filled by an amazing staff, we have three international warehouses and offices in three different countries, hundreds of stockists all over the world and a dedicated and extremely loyal fan base.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our company initially stood out as we were doing organics in an interesting and new way. We featured whimsical designs in an attempt to bring organic baby-wear into the mainstream.
Today, we continue to stand out because of our dedication to quality. We are the first baby-wear company to really start designing things with the baby first in mind. Every stitch and every fold has a purpose. For example, we use the same kind of flat stitching on our seams that you would find in high-end activewear. These seams are designed to prevent chafing and irritation from rubbing (if you imagine how much wiggling, crawling and moving a baby does, this is quite important).
As a company with a desire to decrease the consumption of the fast clothes industry, we have really dedicated ourselves to creating quality pieces that are designed to be handed down or passed along. This means that every stitch hem and opening is double stitched to last many years. Every zip is the highest quality YKK brand. The cotton used is buttery soft, highly durable and hasn’t been weakened by chemicals and dyes.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There’s probably not one particular person, more a collection of people who have helped us get to where we are.
Our Chief Designer is incredible. The way she tells stories through the prints and brings every collection to life is an amazing process to watch.
Our agents, stockists and customers really have helped us get to where we are; we literally have the best in the business. I’m always bugging them, stores and customers, for constructive criticism. We take every piece of that feedback into consideration and implement them into our designs to make our pieces stronger.
I’m always asking questions like: What would you change about this product? What do you love about this product? What don’t you love about this product? It really has helped build a product that we know is the best in the market.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We have always done our best to ensure that we have a really strong giveback program. My background in International Development means that I am acutely aware of global poverty issues including impacts on health and the environment. Obviously, a large component of what we do naturally centres on best practice for the environment and best practice for our workers.
We like to highlight the importance of organic practices, not just for the environment, but also for the workers who grow and harvest the cotton, who in developing countries are often using these toxic chemicals without adequate protection.Some of the environmental impacts I’m referring too would be chemicals leaching into soils or waterways, such as insecticides and pesticides, which stay in the food chain. For example, if a bird eats a bug that has been killed by the insecticide, that will affect the bird.
In addition, we actively support an orphanage in India, and the bigger we grow, the more support we’re able to give. We have been lucky enough to be able to provide things like generators, new floors, books, clothes, and access to health care and education.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
I was deeply, deeply affected by the novel “A Fine Balance”, by Rohinton Mistry.
It was the first novel I read that really opened my eyes to the complex issues of poverty and globalization in the developing world.
The novel really explores the economic disenfranchised, the discourse behind poverty, and the impact of globalization on the marginalized in a way that is profoundly moving. Rohinton Mistry really outlines the ways in which some companies have moved into developing nations to take advantage of the poor and the lax economic, environmental and worker protection laws that are often designed to attract global companies.
For example, one of the families in the novel owns a General Store and they brew a local version of Cola called “Kohlah’s Cola.” As a particular transnational corporation moves into this area to take advantage of WB loans and grants, the Kohlah families business is threatened.
As Mistry writes:
“Smuggled amid the goods that the loathsome lorries transported up the mountains was a deadly foe: soft drinks, to stock the new shops and hotels. … the giant corporations had targeted the hills; they had [Kohlah’s Cola] in their sights. They infiltrated Mr. Kohlah’s territory with their boardroom arrogance and advertising campaigns and cut-throat techniques.”(Mistry, 254)
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. You will work way harder for yourself than you would anyone else. I promise, it won’t feel like work if you love it.
2. Every “no” is an opportunity for growth. Don’t be upset by the “no’s”, listen to them, learn from them, adapt and grow. BE ADAPTABLE AND WILLING TO CHANGE.
3. Your customers are ALWAYS the most important part of your brand, focus on them instead of the big accounts. The big accounts will follow.
4. Pursue design collaborations with people who inspire you. You will learn a lot from them, and they will challenge you both creatively and intellectually.
5. Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy. Focus on your own brand; make sure it is consistent, fun and creatively honest.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Oh, now that’s hard! There are so many people who I am constantly inspired by, who I have a lot to learn from and whose brains I would love to pick.
Rebecca Minkoff, who I’ve already had the opportunity to chat to briefly, is one of a kind. Every word out of her mouth is like liquid gold, educational, inspiring, motivating. She has had such an inspiring journey with her business and I feel like Rebecca and I have a similar origin story. We both started so teeny and invested all of our savings (10 grand) into our businesses but haven’t looked back since. Obviously, Rebecca has reached such dizzying heights, and I’d love to sit with her and chat about how, HOW she has achieved so much, and to give me all the secrets of her success.
Tyler Haney, the founder of Outdoor Voices, has achieved such incredible things in such a short period of time. I’d love to sit with her and talk about her journey, interrupt her with lot’s of questions, and take A LOT of notes.
Tyler, Rebecca…if you’re reading this…CALL ME!!!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
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If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.