In Conversation With: Verena Barthel, Owner of Elves In The Wardrobe

Tell us a bit about yourself, and how the EITW story began?

I was always drawn to organic shops and products, even without having any background knowledge. I just loved it, and it somehow felt good using, eating and wearing organic products. Once my children were born, I started to take the time to investigate and I decided on a more organic lifestyle for my family.

With the growing awareness of becoming a new mother, it felt it was essential to choose the right environment for our boys. I looked at how we were parenting our children and also what we would feed them, clothe them in and surround them with. Having spent some years back in Germany with a toddler and a baby, I found some beautiful organic unisex baby and kids’ clothes brands that I just loved dressing my boys in.

Once we arrived back in Australia, I found myself in a place where people would ask daily about the clothes my children were wearing and where they could get them from. In 2015, after a year of listening to people’s daily inquiries about my children’s clothes and not having much luck in sourcing ‘local Australian organic clothes brands’ for my children, I took a leap of faith and Elves in the Wardrobe was born.

Can you summarise your products and how they are made, what makes them “organic”?

Elves in the Wardrobe’s range has grown substantially over the last five years by listening to our customers’ needs. There is a significant demand for organic cotton basics, from everyday wearing tees to singlets, underpants, socks and shorts for children ranging from 2 to 10 years. There has also been a surge in demand for organic cotton essentials for babies and toddlers, as well organic merino wool clothes and reusable nappies.

Besides being organic and toxin-free, why else do parents love your clothes?

Now more than ever, it is so important to know that the clothes you choose for your children are kind to the environment and the planet. Every worker that was part of the production should be paid and treated fairly, and by purchasing companies that share in this vision, you will ultimately be kinder to your child. By choosing an ethically produced organic piece of clothing, you will find that the quality of the clothes is exceptional and will stand the test of time. Another aspect of organic clothing is the unrivalled softness and breathability of organic cotton and merino wool and, therefore, will also appeal to parents who have children with eczema conditions as well as children with sensory difficulties.

What are your most popular products?

Over the last year, the popularity of reusable nappies has skyrocketed as people are starting to become more aware of the environmental issues they are facing. Organic everyday basics for children and adults like socks, singlets, underpants, shirts and tees are trendy throughout all seasons. Our elves also have been doing lots of gift wrapping for baby gifts this year, including organic baby onesies, merino wool blankets, sleeping bags and comforters.

When running a successful shop online, what gives you the most pleasure?

We’re blessed to have many happy returning customers and such lovely feedback from parents — sharing their experiences and photos. Looking back to the Elves in the Wardrobe beginnings, I feel that people are becoming more conscious about the environmental impacts of fast fashion and are choosing to go organic and plastic-free, telling me how happy they are that there are shops like mine that focus on organic, ethical products. But above all, the greatest reward for me is to finally see a shift in peoples’ shopping behaviour towards slow, organic, ethical fashion instead of being laughed at for the concept.

Do you have any advice for people looking to create an online shop?

I have to admit this is a tough question. When I started my business five years ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into and I thought I had created a little bit of a side project that I could do from home while looking after my family. This was not the case, and the learning curve and growing pains have been genuinely intense.  If I had known what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have done this, but I guess it is also a big part of my personality and determination to ‘learn by doing’.

The online market for baby and children’s clothes is overly saturated, and I learned that very quickly. Combine that with the fact that I never even heard of the term SEO, had never been big on social media and essentially had no idea of what I was doing; it was not exactly a recipe for success when planning to build a successful online business. Besides the many failures and slow growth, the aspect that helped me most in the last five years was my love and passion for these labels and the determination and support from my husband who somehow helped me grow this online shop.

So I guess my advice for people who are thinking about creating an ecommerce store would be (if you are like me and are just in it for love) to team up with somebody who knows a lot about ecommerce platforms, SEO and digital marketing. In turn, this will create an excellent starting base for your new business. And above all persevere and enjoy the ride along the way. Because if you love what you are doing, you will get there and it will be worth it!

Elves in the Wardrobe love organic cotton!
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