Colorful Clothes For Kids Whose Sales Help India's Orphans
After having her first child, Amanda Barthelemy came across an infant’s bodysuit in a boutique that was much softer than the ones she’d been buying. She checked the label, discovering it was made of organic cotton. Despite its softness, Barthelemy didn’t like the bodysuit’s oatmeal color and didn’t buy it. “I’d just had a baby girl and wanted to dress her in purples and yellows and other pretty colors,” she says.
But she did want to learn more about organic fabrics. Barthelemy began researching; finding that most organic clothing available wasn’t dyed, though more natural dyes were becoming available. Demand for organics was also rising. Barthelemy’s background might have been marketing, not fashion, but she saw an opportunity. In late 2014, she founded Colored Organics, a line of eco-friendly, organic and colorful styles for babies and kids.
From the start, Colored Organics has been sweatshop-free, ensuring that the workers involved with production of the clothing are paid fair wages and are given access to healthcare and education. Now, with the launch of its summer line, the company will donate up to 50% of profits from each sale to building an orphanage in India, where the clothing is made.
“I’ve gone to the country numerous times to oversee production and it is really devastating to see children on the side of the road, begging for change or drinking water out of muddy puddles,” says Barthelemy. “Here I am making children’s clothes and there are so many children living in horrible conditions. I wanted to do something for them."
Finding ethical manufacturers was one of her first hurdles when starting the brand. Barthelemy focused on India because of the number of organic cotton fields in that country. Making sure factories didn’t employ children was crucial. “It was really important for me to be dressing my daughter and every other child in clothing I was proud of,” she says. “We want to make clothes children play in, not make.” Barthelemy worked with several ethical factories before she found one she felt she could fully trust.
Her first designs were basics for babies--plain bodysuits, tanks and T-shirts in various colors. Customers started customizing them with their own screen prints, and because Colored Organics didn’t have a minimum order, some women sold their custom versions in their own shops on Etsy and the like. “I loved that, because it gave other women the opportunity to have a side business,” she says.
Barthelemy ran the business from her Minnesota home. “I was hiding in the closet talking on the phone to customers so my kids wouldn’t interrupt,” she says. Her husband began to help, and Colored Organics continued to add to the line it sells to wholesale customers and direct to customers online. In addition to getting buzz for its colors, one of the brand’s design signatures is what Barthelemy calls “conversation pieces.” Not slogan t-shirts, but little touches that inspire comment, such as a little sunglasses print on a pocket, or the inside of a pocket lined with strawberry-printed fabric.
Colored Organics now has 20 employees—Barthelemy’s husband is on-board full-time—and has been selling dresses, pants, hoodies and the like up to a children’s size 6. This summer, in addition to expanding its social mission, the brand is adding sizes up to 12 as well as some new woven and textured fabrics. “We have a fabric specialist on our team who has been working to ensure any new fabrics are up to our standards,” she says.
For Barthelemy, finding the balance between her work and home life has been one of the biggest things she’s been learning during this journey. “Of all the things I’ve had to learn, the most difficult has been how to be a great mom and a great leader at the same time. I really had to learn how to give my attention to both my company and my children,” she says. “Things don’t have to be perfect.”
Letting the small things roll off her back, being sure to communicate clearly with family and staff and show that she cares have been essential to making it all run smoothly. In the end, having her family involved with the business—her children love to talk about the designs and model some of the clothing on the site--is gratifying. “It’s a team effort for the family,” she says. “It actually brings us all joy.”