Indie of the Month – Katie Sharpe – Thrifty Stork
“You’re never that many steps away from all the people involved in the process of making your clothes… There you are, nursing your child, and there’s a mother five steps away from you, really, who’s doing the same and if you have provided her with a fair wage, it doesn’t just impact on her and her family, but her whole community.” – Katie Sharpe
I’m fascinated with interesting names; names that take my imagination and run off wildly with it. In fact, if I’m not ‘satisfied’ with the original, I’ll often change the conventional name of something to a more memorable version.
My cats, for example, named ‘Zee and Charlie’ gradually became known as ‘ZizzieLiz, and Sharlamaine’; so much more interesting – and they grew accustomed to the ‘grander’ versions of themselves, even responding (actually they continued to ignore my calls but their ears twitched, so I know they were listening).
Imagine my delight on entering the land of the Thrifty Stork, an online haven of organic brand names like Coddi & Womple and Frugi, and in meeting the founder, Katie Sharpe, who is equally as enchanting.
Katie’s journey into organic clothing started with motherhood as it provided her with the time and opportunity to reassess. Prior to having children, she was the sales director of a large IT company which involved copious amounts of travel and 70 to 80-hour weeks. Looking back, she admits that as much as she enjoyed her job, the role defined her rather than her bringing herself to the role.
She used to think
“If only I could apply this work ethic and enthusiasm to something that I really care about.”
Katie had twins and when they were just five months old, fell pregnant again. She quickly realised that it was pretty clear that having three boys within 16 months meant that a return to IT wasn’t feasible.
She found herself thinking,
“If I could just write my own best life, how would it look?”
And that’s exactly what she set out to do.
Katie set up the Thrifty Stork, a shop and online site where she sold preloved maternity clothes and in doing so, became a lot more involved with other mothers and women. She enjoyed a feeling of solidarity with them, and says,
“I know it’s a cliché but there was a real sisterhood.”
Circumstances changed which led to Katie relocating to Exeter from Oxfordshire and sadly, she had to leave that ‘sisterhood’ behind. But she did still have the Thrifty Stork and after being granted a pop-up shop by the Exeter City Council, was able to reopen the shop on South Street. She says it was the most wonderful way to put down roots and she experienced a real sense of community.
Selling pre-loved maternity clothes in Exeter didn’t work as well as it had in Oxfordshire. The feedback that she received, however, was very useful, and she realised that she needed to start providing ethically sourced children’s clothes, too. But not just any clothes; clothing that would spark young imaginations.
Katie had had personal experience with a company called Frugi, based in Helston, Cornwall. Her children had suffered from eczema and the organic cotton that Frugi uses is much kinder to sensitive skin. She was delighted to be able to take on their clothing as one of her lines, especially as Frugi has spearheaded the way in organic sustainable cut-for-cloth clothing.
Katie now carries over fourteen different brands of organic, sustainable and ethical clothing for children. She loves that she can follow her brands back to their source. One of the family-run brands based in London, owns their own organic cotton fields, so she has access to every step of the manufacturing process, all the way through to them bringing her the clothes personally. They were the very first of her suppliers to provide her a collection with no plastic packaging. The clothes were in reused and ‘to be recycled’ cardboard boxes. Katie says there was not one bit of plastic, not in the tag, nor in the garment bag and she says,
“That’s industry Leading.”
Aside from her online site, Katie now has a permanent shop set up in Marsh Barton at the Exeter Business Centre and says that she has really felt the support of Exeter City Council. The shop is open two days a week for local people and the rest of the time she spends working on the online business.
She thinks it’s important that mums have the option to order online, rather than go into a shop, as it gives them a choice. Whilst it is lovely to get out and do a bit of shopping, there are some days when taking up the ‘changing room challenge’ with a little one who is just not in the mood, may be too much, and
“just leaves everyone feeling miserable.”
Wise words, spoken from an experienced mum!
Each parcel ordered is sent wrapped in tissue paper with a handwritten note, so that mums (or dads) feel valued,
“like they are receiving a gift”
says Katie. It’s clear why Katie was the recent recipient of a ‘Muddy Stilettos Award’!
Realising that online purchasing can be quite faceless and transactional, she has set out to build an online community too. Her social media channels enable people to feel that they belong, a space they can tap into for advice, support and solidarity.
Families love posting their photos to the online community that Katie has created. Children playing in their clothes that provide a real sense of adventure, sparking little imaginations; from dinosaur T-shirts to twirling skater dresses and so much more in between. Regarding the bright and vibrant brands that she stocks, Katie says,
“Children are children for such a short time, let’s dress them like children, let’s engage their imaginations and have them involved and excited, expressing themselves through their clothes.”
With fashion being the second largest polluter of our planet, Katie has made sure that all her products are GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified, which is the world’s leading processing standard for organic textiles. She says,
“It means that the whole process from the growing, the farming, to the manufacturing, all of those steps along the way are fair, sustainable and ethical.”
In fact, many of the companies that she works with will pop off to see their manufacturing facilities in various parts of the world, and they will blog their journey, so Katie gets to see who made the clothes that she stocks.
I asked Katie what she does to relax, with three active little boys and her own business. She replied that, for now, they are enough; she loves her business and her boys are totally engaging and for that she feels very blessed. She also loves engaging with people, those she works with, her suppliers; and feels that in every area of her life she is receiving emotional sustenance: everything she needs. There is a time for everything, after all.
If you would like to catch up with Katie and join the online community, pop on to her website: thethriftystork.co.uk
Written by Stella Nicholls