The Universe always brings us back to what we are supposed to do. Mother and daughter were always connected to spinning, weaving, sewing, wool and fashion. But the way they would get into business could only be if it was aligned with their personal values. Luca Broccolini is a recently founded sustainable kids’ clothing, using natural fabrics that are responsibly sourced and already in circulation. This gives an opportunity to create unique pieces, that are unisex and, most importantly, durable. They want to help us to change the way we conceive kid’s clothing.
We interview mother Jenni and daughter Jodi, the founders of this brand of sustainable kids’ clothing. The whole process of creation takes place in their loft right in New Zealand, and they explain us everything: where they come from, their philosophy, how they make the garments, their challenges and their failures as social entrepreneurs… Grab a cup of tea and enjoy the reading!
What is your background?
Jodi – Mum taught me to sew when I was young, I vividly remember the first time she let me sit at her sewing machine, I would have been 6.
She was always spinning and weaving. And would take her spinning wheel out into the garden while my brothers and I played. I still really love the sound of the wheel.
Through high school, I had an after-school job working in a fabric shop which specialised in knit fabrics, and that was where I got my knowledge and experience with knits.
I studied fashion and design after high school. But felt quite disillusioned by the industry. So, I went travelling for almost 15 years, coming home in the middle of that for a few years to study floristry.
After having my son overseas, I longed for New Zealand and my family. So, we moved home, which was when mum and I started to get the business rolling in 2016.
Jenni – I come from a farming family. We grew our own vegetables, had house cows provide milk from which we made butter, everything was cooked from scratch – initially with no electricity.
Our clothing was robust and functional. And I remember my mother’s wonderful old treadle sewing machine being upgraded when we got electricity.
My father’s hobby was woodturning, and he had access to native wood from the farm. So, we are very lucky to benefit from his skills in the way of the hand-turned wooden buttons we use on our jackets and bonnets.
I was encouraged to take up a career in nursing, but I have always continued to sew.
I owned my own land with a flock of sheep. And as we are a plant-based family there was no chance the pet sheep would end up on the dinner table. They had names and led wonderful stress-free lives. And it is their slaughter-free wool we use in our knitted and woven items. I still have a good supply, but we also have access to more wool from pet sheep when needed.
What was the tipping point for you ladies to start the brand Luca Broccolini?
Jenni – We are an environmentally aware family, and are obviously concerned about the need for a much more sustainable future. We combined our commitment to helping look after the planet with our love of sewing and craft. Luca broccolini is built upon the foundation of our personal values.
Jodi – I moved back to New Zealand after being overseas for many years. I was unhappy I wasn’t following my dream of running my own business. Mum agreed to go into business with me and that was when the business took off.
The name is so cool, it definitely pictures a cute child with a personality and wanting to have fun. How did you come up with this name and what does it represent for you?
Jodi – Our family was in the kitchen one day, making up songs and nicknames about kids that we know. And my dad, who loves music, made up a cute song about Luca Broccolini and that name stuck.
Luca is a unisex name, so we don’t have a character we think of as Luca Broccolini, it’s more a set of values and feelings.
What is the mission of your brand?
We make unisex children’s clothes out of responsibly sourced fabrics. We source fabrics which are already in circulation, reducing the demand for the production of new fabrics. We want to empower kids with the knowledge of what sustainable clothing represents and that there is a much bigger picture. Kids need to know they can make a difference in the world, simply by choosing sustainably made garments.We source fabrics which are already in circulation, reducing the demand for the production of new fabrics. We only use deadstock, end of the line, salvaged and found fabrics. Luca Broccolini #ethicalfashion #ecofashion #zerowaste Click To Tweet
What materials do you use for the sustainable kids’ clothing?
As we have already said, all our fabrics are responsibly sourced, and we only use deadstock, end of the line, salvaged, and found fabrics.
This limits us greatly, but the flip side is there can be an advantage in only having access to a limited selection. These restrictive parameters cut out a huge portion of what we could have, so we can just focus on a small offering of what we can have.
We use all-natural fabrics with the exception of a couple of our merinos which have 10% nylon in them. Cotton, wool and merino are the main fabrics we use.
Our wooden buttons are turned by local woodturners from local wood. A large portion of our threads were salvaged from a local factory which closed down. And the elastic and tape we use is made in a factory a few hours away.
You have a large range of garments for children, could you detail what folks can find in your store?
Everything we make is unisex, and we run our sizes large.
We make a wool jacket which has a large wooden button closure at the front, is completely lined and has a cropped boxy fit. It’s great for layering longer pieces underneath.
Our tee has 7/8th length sleeves because soggy cuffs are uncomfortable, and we encourage kids to roll the sleeves up to make it into a short sleeve tee, minimising their wardrobe. It also has all the bells and whistles in the way of elbow patches, taped shoulders, top-stitching, neck facing, long scooped hem, and box-stitched joins. Did we mention we’re big on durability?
We also make bow ties from vintage florals, hand-woven wool bags, merino scarfs and beanies, wool bonnets, and knitted vests, also in our own hand-spun wool. Plus we are testing some exciting new garments at the moment.
What would you say is your top garment or best seller of the range of sustainable kids’ clothing?
We are such a young business and only launched a few months ago, so it’s too early for us to say what our best seller is. We have had positive feedback about all of our range. But particularly our woven bags have been popular with kids.
Seems the garments are made with loads of love, what does the production process look like?
Our studio is a large wood-lined loft, and it has a great vibe. It also has lovely views over the rooftops to the hills.
We purchased 4 new energy efficient industrial machines when we started the business. We have a straight stitch, overlocker, binder, and cover stitch machines. We also have a large floor loom, a table-top loom and a couple of spinning wheels.
The majority of our fabric has come from a fabric mill a few hours away. They knit all their own fabrics, and the manager takes us out the back and lets us loose in the area where they store all their seconds, end of the line, deadstock and unwanted fabrics. Sadly they are moving their production offshore which means we will no longer be buying from them.
Our other main supplier is a lovely gentleman with a wealth of knowledge, who has been in the industry for many years and has his own business. He sells us his unwanted deadstock and end of line fabrics.
Also, it’s simply being in the right place at the right time. Just the other day we were driving somewhere and saw a sign that a curtain factory was having a remnant sale and we purchased some fabrics at a great price. We will happily pass this saving onto our customer when we make the items up.
We don’t have a lot of fabric waste because the wool offcuts from our jackets get used to making our bonnets, the offcuts from our merino tees go into scarfs and beanies, and the jacket lining offcuts are used for the neck facings in our tees.
Scraps we do have to go to a local school to be used for craft projects.
So much love, care and attention to detail goes into our garments. We take a lot of pride in what we do and if something isn’t lined up perfectly or not sitting right after being sewn, we will always re-do it.
We work to our strengths. We both have different parts of the production process which we don’t particularly enjoy, so the other one takes over that part. This system has worked really well for us so far. It’s all about communication and being kind to each other. We use recycled paper mailer bags for shipping and recycled craft paper for gift wrapping.
What sort of clients do you have and how do they appreciate your products?
As we have said, we are a very young brand and don’t have a huge customer base with an obvious emerging profile.
So far what we have learnt about some of them is that they appreciate and understand slow fashion, and they also value and champion a sustainable lifestyle.
A common thread of feedback has been how durable our clothes are, which is one of our main selling points.
We have never seen a brand showing with such detail the pricing system. Why did you decide to do this? Is there anything else you’d like to show people, aside of the breakdown itself?
Quite simply we have nothing to hide. We also value and respect our customers enough to inform them exactly where their hard earned dollars are going. The breakdown of everything is so customers can see the whole picture.
We stand behind of products 100%, and our transparent pricing is an integral part of our business so we’re very happy to share this information.We also value and respect our customers enough to inform them exactly where their hard earned dollars are going. The breakdown of everything is so customers can see the whole picture. Click To Tweet
What have been your challenges as a social entrepreneur?
Jenni – We are both introverts, so getting our faces out there, and our voices heard has been a difficult task for us. I also still work part-time as a nurse, so with two jobs, there are never enough hours in the day for me.
Jodi – My main challenge is juggling family life and work demands.
One of the key distinction most of the social entrepreneurs have in common is that they tend to collaborate. How do you perceive collaboration and how has it helped to your business?
We have a couple of collaborations with other creatives in the pipeline for this year which we are looking forward to. But we’re finding everyone is so busy, it’s hard to line things up at a time that suits us all.
We love supporting other small businesses. And are huge believers in a community over the competition!
You are based in New Zealand. What does a social entrepreneurial venture look like there? Do you see the opportunities and other social entrepreneurs raising locally, or even an increase of people appreciating slow living and choosing locally handmade brands with an impact such as yours?
There is no easy answer here as there are so many factors at play. The general public do have some awareness of environmentalism, and what it means to live sustainably.
Socioeconomic factors play a big part. There is no denying that organic food, zero waste living, slow fashion and adopting a slow lifestyle takes a financial commitment that the majority of New Zealanders cannot, or choose not to embrace.
Slow food and local farmers markets are definitely well established and loved here in NZ. But slow fashion, not so much. Most people still expect to pay next to nothing for their kids‘ clothes. The general mentality is that kids grow so fast, so you buy cheap clothes that they thrash for a season and then you get rid of them.
There is a lot of greenwashing which goes on, and it’s up to consumers to do a bit of detective work. This is one reason, we are so upfront about every aspect of our business – we have nothing to hide and are very confident in calling ourselves a true sustainable slow fashion brand.
Our business is growing a loyal little tribe here which is very encouraging. We are optimistic about the future, and we are taking as much positive action as we can. Every individual needs to get out there and do their bit, and that is simply how we will change the world.
Is there any failure you have had during the process or even in your life that has set you up for later success?
Jodi – Well for me it was the actual fear of failure which was stopping me. So finally getting the business off the ground was one of the biggest successes of my life. And failure doesn’t scare me anymore.
Jenni – In the business so far I don’t think we have had any failures. However, we have made incorrect decisions, based on lack of research. We have had to learn new skills such as photography, bookkeeping, social media, and website maintenance.
What has been the greatest success of the sustainable kids’ clothing brand so far?
Every day is a win. Doing what we love, and doing it together is a dream come true!
Is there any advice you’d like to give to other small businesses trying to make a difference?
Hold onto to your core business values. You need to keep checking back in with them because when running a small ethical business you need to be prepared to be in it for the long haul. Staying positive and true can sometimes be difficult.
Through Instagram, we have found a beautiful supportive network of other women running small ethical businesses. We’re great believers in a community over competition.We source fabrics which are already in circulation, reducing the demand for the production of new fabrics. We only use deadstock, end of the line, salvaged and found fabrics. Luca Broccolini #ethicalfashion #ecofashion #zerowaste Click To Tweet
If you could write a message on a big wall that the entire world could read, what would it say?
It would have to be our tagline: “Kids! Wear your greens”
Because we want to help educate children about sustainability. If they can be switched on from a very young age to the concept it will simply be a way of life for them. It’s our responsibility, and we all need to be doing more.
And any message for the children?
We have a few:
Never lose your curiosity.
Ask questions, always ask questions!
Hold kindness in that little heart of yours.
And eat your veggies.
Finally, where can we find you? Shop, online, worldwide…?
Our website is www.lucabroccolini.com
We ship worldwide and only sell from our website at this stage. We enjoy having a direct relationship with our customers. This winter we are looking at doing some local markets too.
Our social media platform of choice is Instagram, so come and say hi over there.
Thank you so much for this interview, you asked so many though-provoking questions. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable exercise for us.
Jenni and Jodi. xx
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