Athletes are used to setbacks. Successful athletes embrace setbacks as welcome feedback, get back up and keep going. Giving up is not an option. I'm practicing this mindset right now with the messy little elephant. To make the training a little more authentic, we also go cross-country skiing together. Sometimes we have a little more trouble with keeping the balance, sometimes the trail is covered with snow, and sometimes we have to talk to our inner Sch...hund (German expression that cannot be translated, have a look here) very nicely to get him out in the snow
For what feels like an eternity, I've been treading water with the messy little elephant in place. My own designed fabric has been sitting in Turkey for over half a year, waiting to travel to Romania where it will be sewn into bibs at the Atelier Diversis. But the transport turns out to be an extremely big hurdle. I often reached the point where I no longer believed in a solution. But giving up was never an option, although I did get a little frustrated from time to time. True to the quote, I looked for another way, and another, and another. And at the moment I have great hope that my last path will lead to success. In two or three weeks I will know more. And if not, I'll just have to keep searching.
It is not quite true, of course, that I've stayed put with the messy little elephant for half a year. To import the fabric from Turkey to the EU, I need various numbers. To get them, I had to register the messy little elephant officially as a business in Austria. But I have not received the one customs number yet. And there it becomes at least a little interesting.
First, the Brexit is getting into my way as suddenly many EU companies also need this customs number, and second, a contract from 1891 slows me down. Since 1891, the Kleinwalsertal has been a customs union area with Germany and thus a German economic area. For the customs number I need I have to apply in Germany. And of course the common German official has never heard of this treaty and cannot believe that he should give me such a number as an Austrian company... never give up! So I kept calling the German customs office until I had an official on the phone to whom this was not Chinese. I'm on the right track, but thanks to Brexit everything takes a little longer.
Of course, athletes know that they have to make good use of breaks to recharge the batteries and reflect. And so I used this break to get myself a little bit acquainted in online marketing, to take photos with the new collection and to think about the future of the messy little elephant. In the future the messy little elephant will be accompanied by the granny elephant: Recently, the beautiful self-made cards of granny will be added to the range.
During breaks, support is very important. On the one hand, I can always count on the support of Johannes. And on the other hand I am happy that Naim's godmother will initiate a virtual version of the Failure Club - the Golden WUP Club - with me.
Officially, the messy little elephant was born on March 31, 2017 in Berkeley. But of course, such an elephant pregnancy takes longer. For the messy little elephant it took about 3 years. It all started with a bib made of laminated cotton, which I got as a gift for Naim's birth. At that time we still lived in our Zurich apartment, where we had to share the washing machine in the house. I didn't find the cloth bibs very practical, as they were disgusting after every meal. But the bib made of laminated cotton was great, just wipe it off and it was ready to use again. So I started looking for more bibs like this, but I didn't really find anything. So I bought nice fabric and sew such a bib myself.
I first sewed bibs for Alija and Naim, and then I sewed bibs as a gift for the babies of my friends. At one point, Johannes sister offered to sell the bibs in her store. However, the search for nice fabrics turned out to be more difficult than expected. There are not so many nice laminated fabrics with children's motifs that are also suitable for children's skin. I was particularly taken with a fabric with owls. But it was suddenly sold out!
Johannes kept advising me that I should make the fabrics myself. I already looked into it in Berkeley and also consulted with my Hackermom friends at the time. However, they all strongly advised against it because it was way too expensive and complicated. So I concentrated again on available fabrics. But I never quite let go of this idea of making my own fabrics. Our time in Berkeley was slowly coming to an end. Back in Switzerland, I didn't have much time besides my 80 percent job. But Johannes did not let go! And so I again bombarded the same designer with whom I had already worked out the logo for the messy little elephant with drawings of Alija and asked her to come up with three designs. In the end there were five designs. Now I had the designs, but still no idea where I could print them on laminated cotton. A few calls to Swiss fabric producers left me very much in doubt about my plan.
But Johannes did not give up. After all, his mom comes from an embroiderer family! So he contacted his uncle and asked him for advice. He recommended a visit to a trade fair in Paris. Johannes then sent me to Paris without further ado. As I sat on the TGV to Paris on a Monday morning, I had some serious doubts about this idea. But I was already on the train and the AirBnB room was already reserved. And Paris is not bad either. When I arrived in Paris, I went straight to the exhibition center. It was impressive, so many fabric dealers in so many halls. Where should I start? I did some research beforehand and found dealers who offer small amounts of fabric as a minimum quantity (which is then only 50 meters, and not 5000 as usual). So first I checked them out. But nobody had a clue about laminated cotton. Somehow I stayed longer in the corner with the Turkish producers. The one producer, who had already told me that he could not help me, spoke to me again and referred me to a colleague. This colleague told me that he could do this and that he would also sell a smaller quantity. On Tuesday noon I had everything organized, my train back to Zurich was on Wednesday evening and so I still had 1.5 days to enjoy the city. I found it so nice to just stroll through the streets, have a coffee somewhere, eat fine food. With three children, alone time is very rare.
Six weeks later I held the first fabric samples in my hands. I was thrilled and immediately sewed the first bibs. Unfortunately, he first contact with the washing machine was very disappointing. I had little hope that this can be fixed. But the fabric producer in Turkey kept on working. A few weeks later, more fabric samples arrived, and they survived the washing machine without any problems. Poah, I was happy! In Paris, the fabric producer offered to sew the bibs as well. So I sent him the patterns and everything he needed. But the result was not what I expected. And so it went back and forth, after the fourth attempt I decided that I have to find another solution for sewing the bibs.
At that time, I was working in the same team at SECO as the former head of the Swiss office for the enlargement contribution in Romania. Over coffee, I asked him if he knew of any sewing studios in Romania. At first he didn't think so, but a day later he approached me again and told me about an orphanage in Romania that, as far as he could remember, had also integrated a sewing studio. A short internet search later, I knew that the orphanage mentioned does indeed run a sewing atelier, which provides sheltered training and jobs for young people. The atelier is supported by a Swiss association, which I contacted after the failed attempts with the Turkish producer. The answer was very pleasant, because the Atelier is always looking for orders. And lo and behold, the first attempt was great! The bibs were very nicely sewed. So now the fabric has to be transported from Turkey to Romania for further processing. No problem, one would think. But I have been working since September to find a solution to this purely logistical problem.
At first, I was very surprised by the cost of shipping. Then I found a shipping company in Turkey that transports the fabric at a reasonable price. But in order to export the fabric to Romania, the company needs a Value Added Tax Registration Number. Okay, so I'll get one of those numbers. It can't be that difficult. Oh yes it can! First I had to register the messy little elephant as a company. So now, the messy little elephant is registered in Austria and has its own VAT number. But then, the shipping company also needed the VAT number of the Romanian studio. But they don't have such a number, because they are officially registered as NGO. Well, and there I am facing the next problem, which I hope to solve soon. Someday the fabric will find its way to Romania. And then, the journey of the elephant will just begin. The bibs will have to find their way to little messy kids. And there I still have a lot to learn and discover! Lately, the messy little elephant is active on Instagram. The success is very manageable. So many Instagrammers do not yet want to follow the little elephant on his forays in Kleinwalsertal 😂.
I have three children, but somehow I never manage to take photos of the bibs with my own children. When I am finally ready to take photos, the perfect bib age is already over. So I had to find another model for the new collection and I was very lucky with the fraternal twins Luisa and Jakob. Due to the weather, we had to take the pictures indoors. Thanks to Photoshop, they traveled to our former garden in Berkeley and to the Oakland Redwoods ;-).
The new collection with own fabric designs is coming soon. Here already a glimpse of the new collection.
For quite some time I have been toying with the idea of producing fabrics with my own design. Thanks to the painting skills of my daughter I have no shortage of possible motifs. And my son has also discovered painting and already supplies motifs for the next collection. But one after the other. After I had developed five designs, I started looking for a fabric manufacturer. It soon became clear that this search was not easy. For one thing, I didn‘t want to produce miles of fabric, and for another, only a few manufacturers know about coated fabrics that are approved for children. But I found what I was looking for.
After months of milk, our son is looking forward to eating babyfood.
Encouraged by my husband, I decided to participate in the Arts and Crafts Fair at Albany Middle School. Pregnant at 38 weeks, it was quite a challenge. I had no idea how many bibs I would be able to sell. To be on the safe side, I was busy sewing bibs. My hackermom friend Tawny who successfully run her own jewelry business gave me useful tips to prepare for the fair. Although I did not sell all my stock, it was a very good experience.
Ahead of time, I asked my daughter if she would feed her doll wearing the little bib so that I can take some pictures. One Sunday afternoon, I was ready to take the pictures. But she refused to be my model. So I asked my son. Luckily, he was willing to be my model. We had a lot of fun feeding the doll, kissing the doll and several times, she fell from the table.
When my sister-in-law offered to sell my bibs in her shop, I knew I needed a brand name and logo. One day, my daughter came home from preschool with a really nice drawing of an elephant. Since a journey to Thailand when I was 12 years old, elephants are among my favorite animals. Although they are so heavy and strong, their steps are so soft and smooth. After hours of brainstorming, I came up with messy little elephant. On the basis of my daughter's drawing, the logo of messy little elephant was created.
"From Muesli to the chocolate bread"
Inspired by a song of an Austrian band, my husband rewrote the lyrics to our son's eating manners on a Friday morning.
Here is the English translation for all those who don't understand the original version:
Friday morning, xxx (Austrian swear word that even I don't understand)!
Again, you are very very dirty
It must have been the delicious, sticky Nutella
Nono, it is not your fault
On top, you are only a little bit stubborn
Eating only when you don't wear a bib
It was clear, and we already have seen it coming
Dirty from head to toe
so that clothes need to be changed
After every meal, you need to be redressed again
You are a "Saubär"
After each and every meal, the floor needs to be cleaned with a damp cloth
You are a "Saubär"
Saubär, Saubär, Saubär
You are a Saubär
Saubär, Saubär, Saubär,
You are a "Saubär"
As you can see, my son is not very impressed.
He rather thinks, what, me, not having good eating manners? No way! Luckily, he is wearing a bib!