Lisa is the founder of LittleLeaf Organic which she has run as a family business since 2017. LittleLeaf’s commitment to only working with ethically responsible factories and having a transparent supply chain led to them being certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and the Soil Association. LittleLeaf’s beautiful range includes premium unisex baby clothes, pyjamas and bedding all made from the very best organic cotton. We talked to Lisa to find out how this small, slow fashion brand is making a difference. LittleLeaf’s gorgeous organic baby clothes will be available to rent from Qookeee at the end of April.
What was behind the decision to launch LittleLeaf Organic?
It was really sparked by learning more about the way ordinary, non-organic cotton is produced, which is devastating for the earth, and the people who grow the cotton and make it into garments. Cotton is the second most polluting industry in the world, using 16% of the world’s insecticides to grow it. These pesticides and toxic dyes pollute waterways, ruin the soil where it’s grown so that other things, like food, cannot be grown alongside it, use ridiculous amounts of water in countries where water is scarce and affects the health of workers, who breathe in these toxic chemicals and develop respiratory diseases as a result.
Most people know about organic food these days, but not enough know about why organic cotton is the best choice to make, for all these reasons and more – the quality of our cotton is second to none and lasts much longer than non-organic cotton, so it really is a win-win! Unfortunately, there’s a lot of greenwashing going on now, which makes it very confusing for shoppers to navigate all the claims and different certifications, etc. That’s why we felt it was so important to be properly certified by the best authority there is, in terms of organic production, and that’s the Soil Association.
What is your background?
I spent far too long in academia, and have a doctorate in English. My last full-time employment was at the BBC, many moons ago, where I was a subtitler for the deaf and hard of hearing. I have four children, now late teens and early twenties, and looked after them full-time before starting LittleLeaf Organic. I’m also a part-time potter 🙂
Why is using GOTS organic cotton in your products so important to you?
Only using GOTS organic cotton and being certified ourselves by GOTS and the Soil Association, is so important and is at the heart of LittleLeaf because it’s a bit like the Wild West in the marketplace at the moment, with so many companies using words like ‘organic’, ‘ethical’, ‘eco’, ‘sustainable’, jumping on the bandwagon as more shoppers seek out better options planet-wise.
But unless you are properly certified, there is nothing behind those words. We only use GOTS certified cotton and took the extra step of getting certified ourselves by the Soil Association, so we have a number that customers can look up on the database and know that we’re legitimately organic.
LittleLeaf Organic, and every stage of our production chain, is regularly monitored by independent auditors to make sure that our organic and ethical claims are absolutely true. The Soil Association is part of GOTS, the Global Organic Textile Standard, so customers should always look for the GOTS symbol on products if they want to be sure that the garment has been made to the highest environmental and ethical standards.
The other really relevant point to make here is the quality. Apart from the sterling eco credentials, properly certified organic cotton lasts longer and feels wonderful. We started with bedding and baby wear because you spend a third of your life in bed, and your baby is your most precious thing, with delicate (and more absorbent) skin. So making sure you’re keeping toxic chemicals away from skin and out of our homes as much as possible is of paramount importance.
How easy was it to achieve a fully certified GOTS supply chain and brand?
It’s obviously a lot more effort, and costs more too, but we think it’s important to pay into the system which encourages more to switch to properly organic production. The dream is that one day it actually becomes the norm to grow and make cotton in this way. We have to pay more for our cotton because it’s GOTS and properly certified, and we pay an annual fee to be part of the system too, which helps pay for the production monitoring costs and promoting the organic way of doing things. At our annual inspection, everything is looked into, from our sourcing to our energy use and packaging. But we think this is a good thing.
How do you find working with the factories?
We actually only work with one factory now. We visited in 2019, toured the factory and stayed in the owner’s home. He’s a fellow eco-warrior, goes the extra mile when it comes to reusing and recycling, and has become a friend. He has covered the factory roof in solar panels so it’s completely solar powered. We wrote a blog about our visit, which you can find here: https://www.littleleaforganic.com/who-made-my-cotton/
Where do you get your print design inspiration for your baby clothes?
From the very beginning, we wanted our baby clothes to be unisex, but still colourful.
This has always been the guiding principle behind our baby designs, because our organic cotton lasts so much longer, it makes sense to have prints suitable for both girls and boys, so that they can be passed on from brother to sister, cousins, friends, regardless of gender.
Our prints are also heavily influenced by nature, which goes hand in hand with being organic, and because we live in the beautiful Hampshire countryside and so we draw on what’s around us. We’re very lucky that one of our daughters is an artist, so she has helped us with some of our most popular prints.
What’s your favourite business moment?
Hmm, that’s difficult to pin down to just one thing… Firstly, I’d say designing. It’s something we’ve never done before but we absolutely love coming up with new designs for our prints. That moment when we unpack a new sleepsuit from the box and see a new print for the first time is magic! Something you’ve worked on for ages and waited for months to arrive, and then finally holding it in your hands is a great feeling. Secondly, I’d say customer feedback – we get such lovely comments from our customers on a regular basis, appreciating the quality of what we produce and commenting on our customer service, which is really heartwarming to receive and makes my day! And thirdly, as a still very small business, we still get a thrill with every single order that pops up on the dashboard.
Looking back to before you started LittleLeaf Organic what bit of advice would you give yourself?
Maybe to know that taking things slowly is fine, and perhaps not to be so emotionally involved in everything LittleLeaf – it’s hard though, because it really is my baby! It takes a while to build up a brand and a reputation, but it does gradually build up over time. We’re lucky enough to have a huge number of repeat customers and they recommend us by word of mouth to their friends and families. Don’t worry too much about the slow days, as hopefully they’re balanced out by the good days.
What do you find most challenging about running LittleLeaf Organic?
The thing I find most challenging is the greenwashing. It makes me very cross. We work so hard to inform the public who want to buy sustainably about what to look for and how to go about this, but it’s so hard to counter all the brands just using the buzz words without going to the trouble we go to, to actually do things properly. This muddies the waters and confuses the public… and drives me mad! The other thing of course, which must resonate with all small business owners, is that there’s always so much to do, what with designing, liaising with the factory, packing orders and taking them to the post office, marketing, social media posting, sorting out website issues, answering customer queries and finding more wholesale business – there just aren’t enough hours in the day and it’s very difficult to switch off.
Do you see sustainability in clothing becoming mainstream?
I really, really hope so. The signs are there that more people are shopping more sustainably and looking for these options, we just hope they find us before the greenwashers! If this happens, it will gradually bring down the cost of organic. But there’s still a long way to go and it will take a long time.
How do you see LittleLeaf Organic evolving?
Well, it’s always been our ambitious aim to eventually replace everything that’s made of cotton in your home with properly certified organic cotton. LittleLeaf Organic now produces bedding, towels, pyjamas for men, women and children (including matching!), robes, storage pots, handkerchiefs, makeup remover pads and of course a range of baby clothes: sleep suits, bibs, blankets, muslins, bodysuits, T-shirts, leggings, swaddles, hooded towels and cotbed sheets. We will continue to grow our range gradually, and we’re thinking about opening a bricks and mortar shop, as well as being online. I just hope retail rents come down a bit, so we can eventually realise this aim!