Doodlebug is a gorgeous children's clothing brand that makes luxuriously soft bamboo clothing right here in Australia. We spoke with Tani Klein, Doodlebug's creator, about how the brand almost accidentally came about, what it means to be certified Fair Trade, and why bamboo is one of the best fabrics your little ones can wear.
One Kiwi, one Canadian, and two identity confused children living in sunny Qld Australia! We have one cat, five chickens and I am pushing for a puppy ;) We are lucky enough to be living in an old farm house on an acreage on the Sunshine Coast. Which means a lot of work and maintenance, but I think secretly we like that.
I have a background in film and television, arts and costume design. When I was pregnant with my second child I had trouble finding work as we had just moved to the coast. I turned to drawing, as I often do in times of stress and ended up producing a series of line drawings for my three-year old. I thought one might look cute on one of her tops, so I figured out how to make a transfer and I made her one.
Once I had the fabric underway, I designed a line of clothing that would fit better than anything I had currently for my kids. I'm talking longer lengths, cuffs for growth, no elastic for baby tummies and room for cloth nappies. I didn't think to follow it up with another collection, I had no idea the first one would do so well! And so it began, a series of being astounded every season when it sold, and sold again and again!
The growth happened very quickly in retrospect, and I was learning as I went. Plus coping with a pre-schooler and a newborn. It was crazy 50 hour weeks and hustling every weekend doing photoshoots and markets. Doodlebug was stocked in over 60 shops over seven countries. Sounds great? It wasn't sustainable. It was a mental breakdown waiting to happen!
I had two options, take on staff, expand, go bigger (and not see a wage for several years), or downsize, go local and turn a small sustainable profit. I took the second option. It was right for me and my family at the time. Now Doodlebug is made 100% in Australia, available online and stocked with a handful of trusted retailers.
What is your design process?
The name Doodlebug came from the original way the business started... with my doodles! I almost followed the trend of naming my business after my children, thank god I didn't do that! Its funny, as now my 'doodles' are such a core part of what I do, and my line of work has followed this path, as I take on custom design work for other companies and individuals.
Its been quite the journey; there have been some great highs and some very low lows, but I cannot begin to tell you how much I have learnt from it all. All of that time, experience and learnt skill I am now utilising in the next step of my business. I haven't officially launched yet, but I can confirm the domain 'doodlebugcreativestudio' has been purchased ;) ... watch this space...
Why did you decide to use bamboo over another sustainable fabric, such as organic cotton? And has this limited or enhanced your designs in any way?
When I was starting the line I wanted to find THE fabric that was the best possible thing to put against baby's skin. It was obvious that bamboo with its anti-bacterial, anti fungal, thermal regulating properties (just to name a few) was a winner. And above all it is deliciously buttery soft and non irritating.
I have absolutely been limited by sticking with this fabric, printing for one is still something we are tweaking as it doesn't react like other fabrics. Choosing to manufacture in Australia also limits my design options greatly as I am unable to do things like an all over print for example as it is not a service available here. It forces me to be creative, and work with what I have got.
How important was it for you to ensure that Doodlebug is not only made in Australia, but is also certified Fair Trade?
I'm going to be controversial here. While I absolutely love that we are supporting Australian industry and it is imperative to be working with ethical factories, I have learnt sometimes certifications just mean a bunch of money spent. We manufactured in India for several years, and I really felt like we were doing a great thing, supporting the workers there that really relied upon our dollar a lot more than here. The factory was ethical, but not certified fair trade, but I spent a lot of time there, inspecting it myself, and visiting every step in the design process.
Since launching Doodlebug, have you learnt anything about the fashion industry that’s surprised you?
Holy Moly so much! Probably the first thing that comes to mind is that the fashion industry is in the top three for environmental waste (along with the automotive and coffee industries interestingly enough). In the past ten years I have seen an enormous shift in the industry as brands and designers are starting to take personal responsibility.
There is such an awareness now it is amazing. It might be the bubble I live in, or my generation, but I very much think that environmental and sustainability concerns are now on the consumers radar, not just style and price. There is however still very much a culture of buy cheap, and buy lots. Cheap fast fashion.
Are there any other measures Doodlebug takes to be sustainable in the day to day running of the business?
Items are not individually packaged in plastic as many clothing brands are. We may not look as fancy, but we wrap as many garments as we can in our compostable tissue paper and stay plastic free. We do not print out individual sales receipts with our online orders, opting for electronic everything where we can. I try to use up every last metre of fabric so that there is no wastage. This means being creative, making little nappy pants out of remnants etc, but its very important to me we are not throwing anything away.
A lot of your styles are unisex – was it important for you to create pieces that could be worn by both boys and girls?
I love to make unisex things! I have one boy and one girl, so I know what is going to appeal to both, but I personally loved dressing my babes in neutrals! The onesies in particular I always try to make sure there are some neutrals in there, as often people are shopping before they know what they are having. Good style and fun clothing doesn't have to be pink or blue! Kids are kids no matter what.
What’s the most important life lesson you would like to impart on your children?
OMG I could write a book. Literally. My kids are 8 and 12 this year, and I am forever giving them life lessons/ lectures when they are trapped in the car with me between the soccer/ballet/swimming/school runs! Haha. I think one thing I am big on right now is collaboration not competition. This goes for everything in life, but is particularly pertinent for girls. My daughter is going to high school next year, and it seems like the time to be instilling this one.