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Jackalo is a brand of ethical and sustainable children’s clothes implementing a circular program to care, repair, reuse and resell where families will benefit the most. The materials are certified organic cotton grown in Kyrgyzstan and Uganda under sustainable agriculture principles, processed in Germany, and sewn in Portugal. Made from fair trade fabrics, with the use of hypoallergenic dyes and produced with alternative energy sources in the manufacturing. You never will be disappointed again in the quality of your kid’s clothes!
We interview the super Marianna, a one-woman business of this brand of sustainable children’s clothes. With a health & social work background, she one day decided to never again throw away another new pair of pants! She shares with us interesting resources and tips that will inspire many other social entrepreneurs. From the Netherlands to anywhere in the world, we hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did!
Marianna, what is your professional background and why did you decide to start the brand Jackalo?
I started my career in public health and social work -doing everything, from direct service to grant-making to communications. With almost two decades of work in this area, I’m deeply invested in contributing to the public good. From a young age, I spent my leisure time making things: sewing or knitting clothes for friends and family, cooking, gardening, and more. When I had my own child, I was really disappointed in the quality of his clothes, and in particular the lack of sustainable, ethical options that actually held up. No matter how much or how little I spent on his pants, he’d have ripped knees in a matter of weeks. I decided to start Jackalo to find a better, more sustainable way to make clothes for active kids.
What is the mission behind your brand?
At Jackalo we aim to produce sustainable and ethical children’s clothes that stand the test of time, promote a culture of repair, and make it easier to get quality second-hand clothes for your young ones.
What materials do you use for the clothing?
Our first collection is made entirely of independently-certified organic cotton. We are committed to using fabrics that are as environmentally friendly as possible, for example, we stay away from synthetics. Even though those materials are quite durable, they shed microfibres into waterways, and we want to avoid that as much as we can.We are committed to using fabrics that are as environmentally friendly as possible, for example, we stay away from synthetics. Even though those materials are quite durable, they shed microfibres into waterways. Click To Tweet
Seems the garments are made with loads of love, how does the production process look like?
For products like mine, the biggest impact is in the fabric production. So sourcing the right fabrics was very important to me. The cotton in our fabrics is mostly grown in Kyrgyzstan, with some additional cotton grown in Uganda. Both growing communities have had extensive training in sustainable agriculture. The cotton is then milled, woven, and processed by Elmer & Zweifel, a German company with a strong focus on the environment and quality working conditions. The dyes they use are so gentle that they are considered hypoallergenic! Plus, they use alternative energy sources to support their manufacturing. All of the fabric is independently certified organic and fair trade. The products are then sewn in a small family factory in Portugal.
You have a large range of garments for children, could you detail what folks can find in your store? What would you say is your top garment or best seller?
Right now our collection is focused on pants and coveralls -all reinforced at the knee for extra durability. Right now our top seller is definitely the Ash. I like to think of them as chinos for kids who only want to wear sweatpants. They are cut like a sweat but made with organic cotton twill. So they transition seamlessly from the playground to the dinner table (even if you can wrangle your kids for a meal out.)
As you mention on your website, the fashion industry is one of the largest polluters. Could you provide some data worth sharing on the impact the brand has made?
At Jackalo, we have a big focus on educating consumers and helping them extend the life of their garments. From care, to repair, to reuse, we want to make it easier for families to make kids clothes last longer. A big impact we are making is that we are one of the first kids’ brands to have a Trade Up program. We offer families a 20% discount on future purchases when they send back their used Jackalo items. We then wash, repair, and resell them (and upcycle or responsibly recycle what can’t be resold.) We are just starting this program, so we don’t yet have items up for resale, but will offer these items for sale up on our site, just like new items.
What have been your challenges as a fashion entrepreneur on your mission to source ethically?
Most companies -from mills to factories- tend to only want to play with big names or established brands. So being a startup, one of the hardest pieces is to find companies that will work with you. Then when you add to that ethical and environmental criteria, the list becomes even smaller. So for me, one of the hardest parts was finding folks who didn’t mind a new face in the field and low minimum order sizes. Most mills & factories tend to only want to play with big brands. Being a #startup, one of the hardest pieces is to find companies that will work with you. Then when you add to that #ethical & environmental criteria, the list… Click To Tweet
You are based in the Netherlands. How does a social entrepreneurial venture look like there? Do you see the opportunities and other social entrepreneurs raising locally, or even an increase in people appreciating slow living and choosing brands with an impact such as yours?
The Netherlands is very progressive, so you see a lot of emerging brands that are doing things differently. It is amazing to see and be inspired by companies large and small alike that are taking real strides to make the clothing industry more sustainable.
Is there any failure you have had during the process or even in your life that has set you up for later success?
I try not to categorise things as failures but as learning opportunities. I entered into this space with a certain amount of naïveté but as a willing learner. This perspective helps me keep moving forward. If I categorised things as failures, I’d get bogged down in self-critique. But if I focus on the lessons learned from mistakes, I become a better entrepreneur as I move forward.The Netherlands is very progressive, so you see a lot of emerging brands that are doing things differently. It's amazing to see & be inspired by companies alike that are taking real strides to make the clothing industry more… Click To Tweet
What has been the greatest success of the brand so far?
Frankly, just getting to where we are! Jackalo is essentially a one-woman operation, so the fact that (coming from outside the fashion industry) I’ve developed a line of clothes, sourced, the fabric, completed a successful crowdfunding campaign, and completed production -all of that is a huge success for me and the company!
Any future plans for Jackalo?
Jackalo is out to change the way children’s play clothes are made and consumed. I hold up Patagonia and Eileen Fisher’s Renew program as the best examples of companies that embrace a more sustainable future for the fashion industry. As Jackalo grows, I want us to be considered on-par with these leaders.
In the short term, I’m really excited to move beyond pants. I mean, pants are great and were the first challenge I wanted to tackle. But now I’m ready to move beyond this to different products. I’m also really excited to put our Trade Up program to the test!
Is there any advice you’d like to give to other small businesses trying to make a difference?
Surround yourself with talented people and keep learning. No one person can do or know everything, so seeking guidance and support from others is critical. I know that sounds like a contradiction since I said I’m essentially a one-woman business, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get fabulous guidance, as I talk to peers and leaders whenever I can. Having an “accountability partner” can be so helpful, this means someone you talk to regularly to help move your business forward. Rather than a mentor or coach, this is a peer (perhaps another entrepreneur) who is tackling similar challenges.
In terms of learning, I love listening to podcasts about entrepreneurs. Conscious Chatter and How I Built This are two of my favourites. Conscious Chatter is great for ethical brands and will help you see all sorts of different ways leaders are making a difference. How I Built This is not focused on ethical brands, but the stories are great and highlight many of the challenges entrepreneurs face.
If you could write a message on a big wall that the entire world could read, what would it say?
It’s beyond time to change our ways. The world depends on it.
And any message for the children?
Finally, where can we find you? Shop, online, worldwide…?
Is there any other similar brand you know or are curious about? Comment below, and we will make it happen!