Before launching The Elephant Organics clothing line, Elizabeth Kakar worked full-time in the fashion industry. Her career path evolved after becoming pregnant with her first child, and Kakar began shopping for baby clothes. She was dismayed at the lack of choices regarding sustainable, organic items, so, together with her father-in-law, she decided to do something about it. Kakar corresponded with Girls That Create via email about her journey as an entrepreneur.
Q&A With Elizabeth Kakar
When pregnant with your daughter Ahnika, you ran into a wall trying to find options for organic baby clothing. Was the idea for The Elephant Organics a slow-burn idea, or did you experience an A-Ha moment?
I really struggled to find sustainable, organic choices for baby clothing. It seemed that the available options were quite basic and didn’t have cute silhouettes that I was excited to dress my new baby girl in. At that point, I had worked in the fashion industry for about four years. My father-in-law and mentor (who has been in the fashion industry for decades) was also looking for adorable new baby clothing to welcome his first grandchild.
We started to discuss how we were both frustrated with the current market offerings. We’re passionate about trendy, cute fashion and wanted something healthy for our newest family member and good for the environment. I think the original idea can be described as an “A-Ha!” moment followed by a slow burn. We realized that we wanted to do something special and bring a unique and sustainable clothing line to the market, but it took a few years to piece everything together before the official launch.
As a child, were you drawn to drawing, coloring, and patterns? Was there a specific artwork, piece of clothing, or movie that you recall making an impact during your younger years?
I LOVED all things art. I sketched, drew, colored, worked with clay, anything I could get my hands on creatively. I grew up in a small town in the Western part of New York State, and I loved reading fashion magazines and dreamed about moving to New York City one day. My career path did not lead me straight to the world of fashion and design, but the industry always inspired me in general.
While I am not sure that one specific piece ultimately drew me in, it was certainly a culmination of many smaller things. Art museums, watching my grandmother and my mother sew and craft, my particularly inspirational high school art teacher Mr. Johnson, pouring over the pages of Vogue, Glamour, and InStyle – even the popular television show Project Runway – all definitely inspired me.
I did not always know exactly what I wanted to do as a profession. I considered theater, education, and writing as career paths before finally majoring in biology and biochemistry in college and working in a laboratory before joining the fashion world. My creative side always knew that I would end up somewhere in the artistic sphere and I am so happy to be doing something that I truly love.
Where did the name The Elephant Organics come from?
The Elephant Organics was originally launched in 2017 as Pink Elephant Organics. Pink is my daughter Ahnika’s favorite color, and the Elephant symbolizes strength and good fortune. Elephants are also hailed as having wonderful maternal instincts and going to great lengths to protect their young (move over, Mama Bear, you have some competition in the animal kingdom). Our logo features an elephant with a trunk that is raised, which symbolizes good luck and happiness.
At the company’s inception, we only had girls’ clothing sizes newborn through size six. We grew along with my children, who are my biggest inspiration in this endeavor, to carry a wider range of sizes for girls and boys. We also received customer feedback asking why we didn’t have boy’s clothing. For our boy and gender-neutral styles, we added a new label – Gray Elephant Organics. Together, the two labels became The Elephant Organics. I love how the brand has grown and evolved since our launch, and I can’t wait to see what comes next!
What was the first piece of clothing you chose to sell? Who were your first customers, and what happened next for the business to grow?
We didn’t start with one particular piece of clothing but rather with a collection. The first collection featured various shades of pink, ultra-feminine ruffles and bows, delicate prints, and frilly dresses. We also wanted to make sure to include easy-to-wear pajamas, bodysuits, and accessories that would be perfect for gifting and that any mom would be happy to receive for their new little one.
One thing that hasn’t changed throughout the evolution of our brand is a dedication to comfort and quality, so I personally tried all of the items on my daughter to ensure that we were putting forth products that I could be proud of. Our very first customers included friends and family members of our team but quickly grew to include parents and grandparents who heard about us in the press or online. I am happy that a number of our original customers continue to shop with us.
What are three things you’ve learned over the past several years that you wish you could go back in time to tell yourself when you first started the business?
Whew! It’s hard to narrow it down to just three! This has been quite the learning process. Let’s see; I would tell myself to stay true to my vision of the brand and the product that I really want to bring to market while not being afraid to evolve and try new things. This is something that I think we have mostly achieved throughout, but sometimes it can be difficult to find your voice and niche as a brand. It has definitely grown, changed, and evolved, but that is all a wonderful part of the process!
I recently heard a catch-phrase that I love “analysis paralysis.” Those words spoke to me. Essentially, this refers to being so paralyzed by fear of not being 100 percent perfect that you fail to do anything at all. In two years, you might look back and laugh at your original version of something, but if you fail to take action, you won’t have anything to look back on!
Another valuable lesson learned was not being afraid to dive in and get involved in all aspects of the business. For me, that meant brushing up on my tech skills, collaborating closely with my team of talented designers, and exploring all aspects of running an e-commerce business. Overall, it has been such a wonderful learning experience, and I genuinely enjoy working on it each day.
I think the third and most valuable thing that I would tell myself is not to give up. It might seem like a very corny thing to say, but the truth is that when you decide to build something new, it is not easy! Not all days are rainbows and lollipops (Ooh! New print idea there, let me jot that one down!). You have to learn to take criticism and learn from it, solve problems, and keep working to make sure that the product you are putting out is something that you are proud of.
Why do you choose to work with independent artists and have them be behind The Elephant Organics’s designs?
We choose to work with independent artists for our prints from time to time for a few reasons. Each artist brings a unique perspective and design to their work, and I love that special diversity. Many of the artists we have worked with are mothers themselves and work from home to balance caring for children with doing something they love. I love hearing their stories and being able to support them in their careers.
What are the first steps for how independent artists collaborate with your company? Regarding how patterns are chosen: are there brainstorming sessions on seasonal themes, does it come from customer feedback, or is artwork submitted and more designs are made from initial patterns?
If anyone is interested in becoming a collaborating artist, they can always reach out to us. Usually, we give ideas and inspiration to the artist and ask them to put their own special spin on it. If we work with an independent artist, it means that we like their style and value their unique voice, so we want them to create something that is a reflection of them as much as it is a reflection of us.
Every print that we create has some special meaning behind it. For example, we will soon be launching a celestial “Star Swirls” print that was inspired by my son, Vinayak, whose reply when I tell him that I love him to the moon and back is always “Mommy, I love YOU to the stars!” We then ask the artist to submit their design and decide if any revisions are necessary. Any customer feedback is greatly valued. Most of the time, when a customer asks for a print to be re-released, we listen! In fact, we recently re-launched two of our most popular prints because of customer demand.
Why should parents look into purchasing organic clothing, and what should families consider when selecting items? How can they make smart and informed choices?
I think that purchasing organic and sustainable clothing is one of the most important things we can effectively do as consumers to help reduce global warming and ensure the health of our planet. There are many reasons why it is a good idea to support sustainability, including reduced emissions, healthier farmland, and reduced water usage.
When purchasing clothing for my own family, I ask many questions. I try to support companies whose mission is to be sustainable, reduce their carbon footprint. A little bit of research goes a long way – does the company have a traceable supply chain? Are they committed to making sure that they follow sustainable business practices?
I realize that most families can’t dress in only organic, sustainable clothing 100 percent of the time. That is why our company motto is “Where Organic Meets Real Life.” I believe that by trying to incorporate sustainable practices and purchases in our real busy, hectic lives, we can make a real difference to our planet. We strive to be an easy option to fit into our customers’ “real lives” by producing fun, comfortable, easy-to-wear, durable styles in a responsible way.
Your company also carries items for adults; what inspired adding those offerings to the line?
The adult items were definitely inspired by my passion for Mommy & Me matching. When my daughter was born, I would often dress us in coordinating colors because I thought it was fun!
Now that Ahnika is eight and my son, Vinayak is four; they get excited when our pajamas match. Family matching (or friend matching!) is a fun way to celebrate being together and fosters a playful feeling of community and belonging. Plus, the pictures are just adorable! Soon after adding our Mommy & Me styles, my husband wanted to know where HIS matching pajamas were, so we now offer styles and prints for the entire family.
What three pieces of advice do you have for girls who dream of starting their own clothing company?
Learn as much as you can; however you can! Starting a clothing company is not just about designing the actual clothing (although that IS a super fun part). Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can to learn about business in addition to learning about garment construction and fashion. Ask people you know who started their own business, what they did, and how they became successful – even if it is in an unrelated field. You can learn a lot from other entrepreneurs!
Don’t be too static in your vision. Every new business begins as a fantastic, crazy exciting, shout it from the rooftops idea! That initial feeling of knowing what you want to do and planning how to achieve it is exhilarating. However, be prepared for your amazing idea to change and grow. Think of your business concept as a malleable, growing being – just like you. Don’t be afraid when your vision starts to evolve and change a bit. Learn from constructive criticism and roadblocks. That is not to say that you shouldn’t be true to yourself and your unique vision, but make sure that you don’t stunt your company’s growth by ignoring feedback and being scared to venture from your original idea.
Plan to be in it for the long haul. It can be daunting to think about when you are at the bottom of the mountain looking up at your destination, but the truth is that most companies are not an overnight success. When you do hear that someone really “made it,” the chances are that countless hours went into the behind-the-scenes work and preparation before you heard their name. Don’t be afraid of the long haul, either! If you are genuinely passionate about your idea, the journey can be a (mostly) enjoyable one. It takes persistence and endurance to make an idea work. And, if your business is an overnight success, you will be pleasantly surprised! I think this is much better than being crushed if it is not one.
The Elephant Organics
Written by Erin Prather Stafford
Images provided by Kakar