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The sustainable children’s clothing company Frugi was founded 15 years ago by Lucy Jewson and her husband Kurt. Luna Journal spoke with Lucy Jewson, co-founder of Frugi and Hugo Adams, CEO, about the most important channels for the company and the majority stake in True’s organic children’s apparel manufacturers.
Congratulation on the 15th anniversary. What has changed in children’s fashion from 2004 to 2019?
Lucy Jewson, co-founder of Frugi: Thank you! It has been an incredible journey for us. My husband Kurt and I started Frugi because we couldn’t find any baby clothes big enough to fit over our first son’s cloth nappies. Even then we wanted our business to have ethical and environmental values, which is why we chose to only use organic cotton.
At the time organic cotton clothing was quite boring and we wanted it to be bright and colourful! From that point we grew our brand as our children grew so when they became toddlers, we created toddler clothes.
There’s no doubt that children’s fashion has changed enormously. There is so much more to choose from compared to 15 years ago and it is no longer exclusive to childrenswear shops.
Sustainability has also become a very important factor with the use of organic cotton and the need to be honest and transparent in how you make your clothes. People want to see certificates and accreditations from official organisations like GOTS and Oeko-Tex.
I would also suggest that increasingly children’s fashion is driven by lifestyles. People are looking for children’s clothing to be fit for purpose, helping kids to be kids. We are very influenced at Frugi by the Scandinavian trends for technical wear, bold prints and brave designs to influence
What distinguishes you from other sustainable children’s fashion brands?
Lucy Jewson: I think ensuring that we are always the brand that our customers want us to be. We are really unusual I think in our level of customer engagement. Our customers challenge us all the time to improve, not only through our efforts to be sustainable, our charitable work etc, but essentially through design. We are so lucky that our Frugi family are incredibly intelligent and well informed. They want us to be a brand they feel proud to dress their children in, that encapsulates the values that they hold dear for their future generation. I think with the world going so bonkers at the moment, we can be a little respite, and a way to reflect that their choices make a difference, in a very real way.
There is a difference between genetically modified cotton, sustainable cotton and organic cotton. Which variant do you use for the production of Frugi children’s clothing?
Lucy Jewson: When we started we chose to use organic cotton because we wanted our ethical and environmetnal values to be at the heart of everything we do. We have been working with the same supplier in India since we started, 15 years ago. In this time they have pioneered many sustainable practices including the use of solar panels and reusing water from the manufacturing process for irrigation. We are always encouraging our factories to be more sustainable and share our ethical business practices.
What are your goals in terms of sustainability for the future?
Hugo Adams, CEO of Frugi: Our motivation going forward is a continuing desire to seek, and be the catalyst for, change within the clothing industry and the wider business community.
Sustainability and ethical values will always be at the core of our business. We are committed to using GOTS accredited organic cotton and we have just launched a range of lifestyle products including backpacks, lunch bags and pencil cases made from recycled plastic bottles. This is in addition to our already successful collection of outerwear including Puddle Busters, Explorer coats and all-in-one waterproof suits.
Your sustainable children’s fashion Frugi is sold online as well as through over 500 retail partners in 34 countries worldwide. Which markets do you plan to open up in the future?
Hugo Adams: Brand awareness is at the heart of everything we are doing right now so we’ll be supporting expansion into new markets in terms of wholesale presence, e-commerce presence and international expansion.
Germany is our biggest export market but there are lots of markets we are not in, including America, the Middle East and Asia.
Last year private equity firm True has acquired a majority stake in organic kids’ clothing makers, including Frugi. What does this mean for the development of the business? To what extent does this support your growth plans?
Hugo Adams: True has a strong background in e-commerce – Alex and Alexa was one of their original investments. They’re really helpful because they have this great combination of retail and consumer sector expertise. They have a variety of businesses that they are involved in running, and then they also have a division which focusses on next generation companies across emerging technlogies, marketing solutions, new products – essetially start-up businesses who they are heling to shape and to grow and to cultivate.
In addition, they have existing relationships with leading industry retail partners, for example, Marks & Spencers, Waitrose and TK Maxx, who have signed up to their scheme. So they combine the knowledge that sits within the companies that they own, the companies that they partner with and then the emerging and start-up business that they are also working with. It’s a triangle of three different things. The benefit to us is that we get access to an understanding of the new technologies and new start-up businesses, as well as being able to tap into the relationship with some of the larger retail businesses. It’s a great way of using their consumer sector expertise. It’s a really nice combination and is quite unique.
How is Frugi positioned in sales? Which channels are the most important for you?
Hugo Adams: We have three major channels and all are very important to us. These include e-commerce, wholesale and international markets.
We fully support all of our retailers and stockists with their own website filled with resource. There is also a dedicated sales team providing support as an when it is required during sales periods and beyond.
More recently we have launched Global-E, which allows payment in local currencies and payment types. We are also listening to our customers and investing in new platforms to help promote brand advocacy.
Are you planning your own retail stores in the future?
Hugo Adams, CEO: We have one Frugi shop in the UK, which sits alongside our head office and warehouse. There is no plan at the moment to open any more of our own retail stores.
What plans are you pursuing in the development of your product ranges? Are there any new trends in children’s clothing that you plan to include in your collections?
Hugo Adams: In terms of general trends, the ethical and organic trend will definitely continue, so we’ll stay on top of that and we’ll always be about that. We have also identified three main trends. Firstly, designing with the children in mind, which has always been the main ethos of the company. We are trying to create products that a child wants to wear and that are fun and engaging for them, which is why we have very bright colours and lots of fun characters. We’re not trying to create a grown-up mini-me look, it’s about building an emotional connection with kids though their clothes.
Secondly, the environmental side and the question: how can you extend a product’s life and its use, or increase its purpose?
We are and never will be in disposable fashion, and of course, the general trend is slowly moving away from that anyway, but certainly for us the focus is longevity and sustainability. As consumers are looking less for throwaway fashion and more for a longer life product, we will continue to design products so that they can get as much life out of them as possible. Of course the make-up of the product, and the organic cotton it’s produced in means that the durability is already significant. It sounds counter intuitive, if you’re trying to sell less, but I would rather sell less but to more people. In other words, I would rather have a product that has longevity, because I believe that more people will be interested in that product.
Finally, unisex – designing without any gender stereotypes in mind, and blending more across the ranges to respond to customer preferences.
What are your short-term goals for Frugi?
Hugo Adams: We are going to keep doing what we have always done, remaining true to our roots with strong, vibrant designs made sustainably and ethically. We are going to continue selling products that surprise and delight our customers. Most improtantly we are focused on raising brand awareness and expanding into new markets.
You produce sustainably and ethically in India, Turkey, Portugal and China. How can Frugi guarantee the working standards for employees there?
Hugo Adams:Frugi is committed to organic and sustainable practices and that is why we are ceritified to GOTS, the Global Organic Textile Standards. GOTS provides us with a seal of approval so that we can say to our customers we have been thoroughly inspected from the organic cotton farm where our raw cotton is produced, all the way through the clothing manufacture and transportation. It allows us to prove that everything has been done right and to the highest environmental and social standards.
We also have a dedicated India team who are in and out of our factories continually. Our buying and design teams regularly visit all of our other factories. We use the services of an indepenent auditor to support the standard certification our factories already comply with, such as SEDEX and SA800.
Most importantly we select each of our supply partners personally to ensure that their values match our own and that we can generate a long term mutually beneficial relationship.
What can you advise small brands when it comes to the manufacture and distribution of children’s clothing?
Hugo Adams: Lucy and Kurt were a husband and wife team who started Frugi in a back bedroom of a small cottage. They proved that you can run a successful business whilst upholding strong ethical and environmental values.
They started with a vision to make baby clothes to fit over cloth nappies, made from organic cotton. When it came to manufacture, they searched for a like-minded partner in India. Strong relationships with your manufacturer from the start are key. Also listen to your customers and act on their feedback, afterall they are the ones buying your product.When looking at your distribution channels, make sure they share and support your values.
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