Jane Shepherd of Organics for Kids in Oxford
"Given some of the serious environmental and human problems associated with conventional cotton growing, organic cotton seemed like a really good place to start."
Jane Shepherd runs Organics for Kids, an organic textile babywear brand, based in Oxford. The company’s entire supply chain is certified to GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards) and all their range is manufactured by a small factory in the UK certified by Soil Association Certification. It became a limited company in 2004 and since then has grown steadily (by 40% in the years 2008-10). Organics for Kids now sells its ranges to several hundred small independent retailers across the UK and Europe (and a small number elsewhere). The company has been selling to John Lewis since 2007, and won Best Organic Textile Product in the 2011 Natural and Organic Products Europe Awards.
Can you give a short history of how you got to where you are now, including why and when you 'went organic'?
The brand came into being as a result of a long-held passion for textiles, combined with a keen interest in environmental solutions. Given some of the serious environmental and human problems associated with conventional cotton growing, organic cotton seemed like a really good place to start.
I believe passionately in what we do and take comfort from working with a whole network of like-minded people - our partners. We work with local people wherever we can, most importantly the wonderful family-run factory in Nottingham that manufacture our range; the pattern cutter in Leicester; the designers who work on our textile prints, the photographers, designers and printers who work on our catalogue - most of them a stone’s throw away from us. We would be nothing without all of these partnerships.
On the other side of the equation, we try to maintain close, flexible and good relationships with the large number of independent shops who stock our range - almost all of them are small independent businesses like us.
In short, the business is built on relationships with a host of small suppliers and stockists.
Organic principles - why do they matter?
I think organic principles matter within a wider context of ethical consumption. There’s no doubt that a growing awareness of issues around ethical purchasing in the UK has been important to our growth. It’s clear that consumers won’t buy clothing unless they like the style, but there are many wonderful brands out there and for those consumers who also want to be able to make positive (ethical) purchasing decisions, we help them to do that. So we think it’s really important to give them that choice - to buy organic and ethically sourced products.
We hope that by offering a really good quality, well designed range, we are helping to expand the organic textiles sector by encouraging customers who might not have thought of buying organic before.
What does the Soil Association mean to you?
The Soil Association licence provides our customers with a guarantee about the environmental and social credentials of our range. And it’s very important that the Soil Association has signed up to GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards). While our UK customers are aware of Soil Association certification, our overseas customers are more likely to be aware of GOTS. So being a Soil Association licensee really helps in both markets.
Can you describe a typical day at work?
We work from a small warehouse in Oxford. Our day starts with a review of incoming orders, a review of incoming stock and a decision about which orders will go out when. Because of the Nottingham based manufacturing, we receive deliveries of stock most days and this has to be unpacked as well. We take constant calls from customers (mainly shops), some of whom might need particular items urgently for a customer. We will always bend over backwards to get them what they need.
What do you love most about what you do?
What I love most is the degree of control we have over what we do. We source our fabric from two suppliers, we work extremely closely with the one manufacturer and we know a very large number of our customers very well. We are connected in so many ways to the people involved in our supply chain and it feels very good indeed. Of course, who knows how things will develop and whether we can maintain such close relationships as we grow, but we certainly plan to.
What's the main benefit of being organic for you?
The main benefit of being organic is that while we are a commercial business and need to be profitable, as far as we are able to know, we are not contributing to the huge social and environmental costs that are associated with non-organic cotton. We are really pleased to be part of the growing organic textiles sector.
Supermarkets - good or bad?
This is a real tough one. Supermarket shopping is obviously hugely convenient for many very busy people. However, there has been a massive cost in terms of the loss of a whole tier of small independent shops (grocers, butchers, fishmongers, etc.) and everything that went with that. This has meant a drain on locally generated income going back into the local economy; it has dismantled those relationships that existed between the local traders and their local customers; it has influenced the sort of products we are buying (convenience food, etc.) and I feel there has been a terrible cost to our society. I would love to think that we could find a way forward that could somehow keep some of the convenience without destroying the rest. I think that is really the challenge for all sectors of society and the economy at the moment.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Honesty is best. Always make the most of life - you never know what will happen tomorrow.
When were you happiest?
I’ve always been lucky enough to love my jobs. But the current combination of running my own small business, while having a lot of time to spend with my kids is a fairly unbeatable combination.
What is your greatest fear?
That in our apparent obsession with globalisation, we forget the important local economic and social relationships. They are difficult to quantify, but once they are lost we won’t be able to bring them back.
What would be your 'Desert Island' luxury?
To find out more about Organics for Kids visit www.organicsforkids.com