If you are a regular reader here, then you will know I am a HUGE supporter of Kickstarter and helping people realise their dreams. I get emails almost weekly from FAB upstarts and wish I had the time to blog about all of them, as ALL of them have done such a brilliant job in getting themselves a campaign going and fingers crossed success!
It was with serious excitement the other week that I find out via email that “The Smallest Tribe”, an inspiring Australian kids fashion label which I discovered at Finders Keepers last year in Sydney, had a Kickstarter campaign starting.
I was so enamoured with their designs and quality of the t-shirts after the Finders Keepers that I contacted Kathryn a week or so later, desperate to order some of their tees as I hadn’t had time to do so at the markets. I have been a supporter of “The Smallest Tribe” ever since.
The Smallest Tribe was started by Kathryn, a former Early Childhood teacher with no background in fashion or textiles but with an utmost desire and passion to produce ethical and organic clothing that her kids could run, jump and play and basically, be kids in. Not mini adults, but proper tree climbing, sand castle making, lego building and cubby making kids.
In needing to find clothes for her almost 1 year old son before she went back to work, Kathryn was unable to find what she was looking for, instead she made her own shorts pattern from numerous designs she liked and sewed together 6 pairs of shorts for daycare. As she puts it:
“They were loose and cool, short enough that his little legs were free to explore and an elasticised waist that made dressing and nappy changes quick and easy. Before long friends were asking me to make them for their kids too. When I decided to sell them it was a very deliberate decision from the beginning to use only organic cotton to make them. I taught myself Illustrator and took a short pattern making course so I could gain an understanding of the basics.”
As a result of this passion, one thing she has been resolute on, is that all her clothing is GOTS certified organic cotton which she sources from India. She has grown her label over the past few years, producing limited edition pieces twice a year.
By using Kickstarter she wants to make kids clothing with a conscience on a larger scale, by moving production out of her home studio and into an “Ethical Clothing Australia” factory. She wants to make kids clothing comfier and allow kids to engage with their environment through freedom of movement, which is vital for growth and development.
I had the pleasure of asking Kathryn a few questions this past week about her Kickstarter campaign which is over 50% funded with 12 days to go.
Q&A with Kathyrn Green of “The Smallest Tribe”:
Q: Part of your business approach to “The Smallest Tribe” has also been an ethical one, in which you want to produce kids’ clothing that is enduring, timeless, and one that leaves a small footprint on our earth in relation to the environment. Your successful Kickstarter campaign will then see you move the company into larger scale production of eco friendly, GOTs certified organic clothing for kids. Not many Australian kids fashion labels can make this claim, will you produce clothing for other companies in becoming an “Ethical Clothing Australia” manufacturer? Or solely focus on “The Smallest Tribe”?
The focus will always be on The Smallest Tribe, purely because I think that is where my skill set is strongest. I think I have a unique point of view in that when I am designing the clothes or the surface art and designs that will go on them, my primary focus isn’t so much “How will this look?” or “Does this fit with current trends”, it’s more, “How will kids move when they wear this?”, and “What would this print look like to a little person? What would it inspire them to try or make or build or draw or imagine?”
I think it’s important to stick to your strengths and work with others on theirs which is why I have found a manufacturer that not only has the same values in running a business as I do, but they are very good at what they do.
Q: Currently you produce a limited edition range of clothing, how will this change with the Kickstarter funding? How many ranges will you produce on a yearly basis?
Initially there won’t be a very noticeable change in the range available. The Kickstarter campaign will help me place the minimum order needed to move The Smallest Tribe into production. Manufacturing runs like these need quite large minimum orders to make it viable for everyone involved, including the manufacturer themselves. Because it will require placing larger orders of the same piece, I had to put a lot of effort into what styles, prints, colours, cuts, etc made the grade. There were lots of amazing prints and ideas that had to be dropped for now, purely because I’m moving from doing a little bit of everything into focusing on one or two styles.
Running with Kickstarter was not only a way of raising funds but also a way of proving that there is a demand for The Smallest Tribe at that scale. It is very important to me to grow The Smallest Tribe in a way that is ethical and sustainable, both financially and environmentally. As for how many ranges each year, for the foreseeable future I’ll be focusing on releasing two collections each year. Even though this range isn’t yet into production, I’m already working on what will come next for Autumn and Winter next year, and even looking as far ahead as Spring/Summer 16. And I still feel behind!
Q: I know that cotton production in general is extremely damaging to the environment in particular with the massive inputs of water and pesticides required just to produce 1kg of cotton; organic cotton is obviously the choice we should all be picking for our clothes, it has only been in the last 10 years that Australia now produces its own organic cotton (Certton), where do you source your GOTS cotton from? Given Australia is such a dry continent and subject to quite extreme weather conditions, do you see growing Organic Cotton as something that has a sustainable future here?
Cotton farming has always been a big industry in Australia and I think it’ll probably always exist in some form. I think it’s possible that just like in other industries where there has been a switch from conventional farming methods to organic and sustainable ones, it’s very possible cotton will follow. At the moment all GOTS certified organic cotton that The Smallest Tribe uses is sourced from India which is one of the largest suppliers of all forms of cotton (organic or otherwise) in the world. I think it is vital to provide safe, clean and fair working conditions in these developing economies and I’m really proud that even on the smallest scale, The Smallest Tribe is a company that helps to provide that.
Cotton fields are still tended and picked by hand in these economies. The thought of a father working in the fields all day covered in pesticides and herbicides and then going home to his children, washing in the same water as them, feeding them, hugging them, caring for them, still covered in known toxins makes my blood run cold. People before profit, always.
Q: With so much fast fashion these days in particular due to the cheapness of large scale clothing manufacturing coming out of China and India and the globalisation of the internet giving us immediate insight to the latest trends, where do you see the Australian kids fashion industry headed? I would love to think that all small Australian kids fashion labels are like you, but I know many are not. Is it all about education? Fashion has always been fickle, with one trend outgrowing another by the month if not week, does the Fashion industry also need to change their “ready to wear” approach?
Yes, education is absolutely key. I think there are so many small Australian brands doing amazing work in this area, from their production methods to the materials they use in their products, and more people would choose to shop with these brands if they were aware of some of the ecological and social issues currently facing the fashion and textile industries. As for Fast Fashion, again, I think education is key. Personally, while I am aware of the trends, it’s a deliberate choice to try and avoid referencing them too much. Trends can come and go quite quickly and I want people to continue wearing their clothes from The Smallest Tribe for as long as possible. I want them to be handed down to siblings or cousins or friends and not feel dated or old.
Q: What support have you had from other Australian kids labels in relation to your Kickstarter campaign thus far? Would you love to work with the likes of Kapow Kids or Hubble and Duke for example or any other leading independent Australian kids fashion labels?
I’ve always felt like I’ve had really great support from other Australian brands – I think we are a really supportive bunch on the whole – and I’ve been really grateful for all the amazing support and positivity I’ve received since I announced the launch of the Kickstarter campaign.
I’m definitely open to collaborating with others and have had conversations with other brands about exactly that in the past. A lack of time or differing schedules and trying to keep up with our own businesses is why they don’t get past the, “That’d be awesome!” stage. Hopefully a successful Kickstarter campaign will free up a bit of time in my days to pursue those collaborations because there are some really fun ones being kicked around.
Q: If you had a crystal ball, where would you like to see “The Smallest Tribe” in 5 years’ time?
In five years time, I look forward to The Smallest Tribe being in stores around the world, and of course, still being produced ethically and sustainably. I have big plans for The Smallest Tribe, but I don’t want to give too much away just yet. I really think it’s an adventure that people will enjoy being a part of though and encourage people to join the tribe and follow along. The Smallest Tribe can be found on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest and of course they can always come visit us at smallesttribe.com and even join the newsletter there.
I adore Kathryn’s ethical stance on fashion and her dedication to wanting to manufacture organic clothing within Australia for kids. Clothing that is not only fun, stylish but practical and comfortable. Pieces you will want to pass down to the next generation and let them run, play and jump in them for years to come.
NB: – I received no payment or clothing for this feature.
Stay tuned for an upcoming feature on 100% organic kids clothing from around the globe!