Making the Maker, an Interview with Sarah and JP
Happy Monday! I am so excited to share this interview with you today. Sometimes you approach someone you've been admiring from afar, hoping they say yes, and when they do you're like "whaaaat!" I have loved following Chasing Windmills Kids on Instagram for a long time. Their children's clothing made from merino wool is adorable and has such a great message of exploration behind it. When JP and Sarah, a husband and wife team, said yes to an interview (and a new blog post to look out for featuring their products!!) I was ecstatic.
Sarah and JP hail from Denver, Colorado along with their 3.5-year-old twins. Combined, they have backgrounds in law, actuarial science, math, Spanish, sociology, and photography. Striving to live deliberately and consciously, they love having family meals together, playing outside, and exploring this beautiful world together!
Kayla: How did your business begin?
Sarah + JP: We launched Chasing Windmills with a simple goal: to capture the adventurous spirit of childhood through the natural goodness of merino wool. We didn’t really have a straight-line path to Chasing Windmills. After spending almost a decade in the corporate world, we both received a wake-up call with the birth of our twins. We longed to create a life for ourselves and our family that was consistent with our values and passions. Springing from a deep appreciation of the outdoors, we wanted to create a bridge for parents to share the goodness of nature with their little ones -- to be able to soak in the adventurous spirit of childhood everyday. And so, in June 2015, we started the journey of Chasing Windmills.
Kayla: How has your business grown and changed since you began?
Sarah + JP: When we launched, we just focused mainly on nursery items — swaddles, blankets, crib sheets, rompers, gowns, and beanies. It was our way of bringing nature indoors to our own kids and other little ones. As our kids have grown, so have we. This spring we released an at-play collection (tees, shorts, and hoodies) to bridge the nursery years into the early toddler years when kids begin exploring the great outdoors. Our merino wool is lightweight, breathable, dries quickly, and is super comfortable — perfect for little ones playing outside. And, just around the corner, we’ll be releasing long john jammies for babies and kids up to age 8. They’re soft and cozy enough to be worn as pajamas and, thanks to merino’s natural insulating properties, are warm and technical enough to be worn as long johns underneath snow pants and jacket.
Before the release of our at-play collection, we also made a significant change to our business model: we decided to make Chasing Windmills available exclusively online. By focusing on direct online sales (instead of marketing ourselves to brick-and-mortar retailers), we were able to strip away a good chunk of retail markups that elevate prices for customers. The end result is we settled upon a new lower pricing structure that is sustainable for us and, hopefully, our customers too.
Kayla: What inspires your products/business/designs?
Sarah + JP: That’s a great question. We’ll start with our business… Our company’s name — Chasing Windmills — is a nod to Don Quixote’s chase of a grander reality and pursuit of impossible dreams. In many ways, it’s a pursuit that children understand innately and that we, as adults, sometimes forget as our responsibilities mount. For us, Chasing Windmills reminds us to chase ideals bigger than ourselves and to strive to live up to heroic visions of what we can be, what our children can be, and our world can be.
Our designs are inspired by beautiful simplicity. We want to remove the noise and focus on what is beautiful and functional. We also believe in slow fashion, meaning that we hope to inspire conscious consumption, emphasize quality over quantity, and encourage care for where our products come from.
Kayla: What is your design process?
Sarah + JP: We’re a family business. Our design starts with a simple question: what would we want for our own children? Working from that point, we start to piece together an idea. Take our hoodies, for example. We included small touches like thumb holes to keep our kids’ hands warm but their little fingers free to pick up sticks, chalk, etc.
Once we’ve designed a prototype, we have our kids “test” it out — really just play! We see what works well, what tweaks need to be made, and then we can finalize our designs. In terms of our graphic designs, those usually start out as chalk art on our sidewalks while we play with our kids. We then work with a local graphic designer in Denver, transforming our chalk scribblings into art for our tees.
Kayla: The chalk drawing process sounds so unique! Do either of you consider yourselves artists, or is this process of designing clothing and graphics a new experience for you?
Sarah + JP: We’d say we’re both creative-minded people. Sarah is also a family and wedding photographer (sarahboxphotography.com) and JP has always had a passion for writing. So while we may not be designers, we do consider ourselves creators, makers, and idea-generators ;). Fortunately, we have been able to rely on a talented team that can help carry our ideas through.
Kayla: Where do you source your materials from?
Sarah + JP: Everything we make is 100% merino wool sourced from New Zealand. We chose merino wool as the soulful base of our apparel because it is super soft, naturally antimicrobial (so it won’t hold odor), helps regulate body temperature, and wicks away moisture. We also love merino wool for its adventurous spirit — planting the seeds of respect and appreciation for Mother Nature from an early age.
Our merino wool comes from accredited ZQ Merino ranches, meaning that it comes from free-range sheep roaming mountainous New Zealand and Australian meadows. ZQ Merino ensures that its ranches treat the sheep humanely (never allowing mulesing, for example) and follow sustainable ranching practices. We then work with a worker-owned factory in North Carolina to cut and sew the garments, transforming our rolls of merino fabric into our [products].
Kayla: How does the factory process work for you? What are the conditions like? How often do you oversee the items that are being made?
Sarah + JP: This question actually gets to another change we made to our business. Our original nursery collection was manufactured in Fiji at a factory affiliated with our New Zealand-based design team and fabric supplier. For our initial run, it was comforting to have our New Zealand-based design team oversee the production of our swaddles, crib sheets, etc. at their affiliated factory in Fiji. However, after that initial production, we felt more confident in ourselves to coordinate and oversee more of the process ourselves. And so, we made two big changes.
First, we found a good partner in Opportunity Threads, a worker-owned factory in North Carolina, to manufacture our apparel. Opportunity Threads is part of a concerted effort to revitalize the once-booming textiles industry in the Carolinas. They believe in their workers, so much so that after a vetting process, their workers have the opportunity to become owners in Opportunity Threads — quite literally spreading opportunity through needle and thread. Sarah has been out to North Carolina to work with them on our tees, hoodies, and shorts, and make sure that everything is coming out just right. And when we can't be right there with them, we are texting back and forth and calling each other as needed every step along the way. They do an amazing job for us, and we’re so happy to be working with them.
Second, through Opportunity Threads’ network of talented apparel industry professionals in the Carolinas, we’re now working with a South Carolina-based designer / pattern-maker. So, our supply chain is now: merino wool from New Zealand —> design and pattern-making in South Carolina —> manufacturing in North Carolina. Together, these three groups help translate our vision into the apparel.
Kayla: What is your typical day-to-day life like?
Sarah + JP: A little hectic but fun! Working from home is a blessing but can also be a bit challenging at times since we never really step “away” from the office. That being said, we love the freedom of having a home office. We usually eat all three meals together as a family. In general, JP is working for long stretches during the day, and Sarah is the night owl — working for several hours after the kids go to sleep.
Kayla: What do each of you do for the business? Do you have separate jobs?
Sarah + JP: A lot of our responsibilities with Chasing Windmills overlap. We both do a lot of everything — from the exciting (working together on the creative vision of Chasing Windmills) to the less-than-exciting (accounting for example). When you’re in a two-person company, you’re doing everything — from creative directing to packaging and mailing out orders.
JP has always been a writer in a way, so he is usually the one to do the initial draft of our blog posts and website copy. He also manages a lot of the business aspects that you don't ever really see -- usually, the more boring sides ;).
With Sarah's photography eye, she is mainly the one responsible for our photo shoots - formal and informal. At first, Sarah did all of the photography for our site. With our second and third collections, we branched out to rely on some great photographer friends to help with the lookbook shoots. Sarah also handles most of the social media for our brand - a full time job in itself!
Kayla: What opportunities has owning a small business opened for you?
Sarah + JP: It’s really allowed us to live consciously and deliberately, deciding for ourselves the example that we want to show our children and the legacy we’d like to create. We’ve also been able to meet and work with some talented and inspiring people — from merino ranchers to designers to the people who make our clothes. We’re also humbled and grateful to be a small part of our customers’ big journeys with their kids.
Kayla: Do you have any regrets or have you made any mistakes when it comes to running a small business?
Sarah + JP: Of course! Starting a new business takes a leap of faith and a healthy dose of trial-and-error. It’s a steep learning curve, and we’ve definitely made our fair share of mistakes…but no regrets. We’re so happy to be on this journey together, to be able to create something we believe in, and to share that with the world.
Kayla: What is the hardest part about running a small business?
Sarah + JP: Being patient and trusting yourself. We’ve all read about the seemingly overnight success stories of brands like TOMS. We’d all love to connect immediately with a broad audience that appreciates the heart and soul of what we’ve created. But we also understand that creating a connection and building a relationship with a customer base takes some time.
Kayla: Do you have any advice for someone looking to start their own business?
Sarah + JP: Once you’ve done your research and feel confident that you can fulfill a niche in a market, trust yourself! It’s a bit daunting to go out on your own, to stand before the world and declare who you are and what you believe in, but it’s also liberating. After you’ve committed yourself to your idea, start small. See what works and what doesn’t, and pivot in the direction of your customers. And remember — this is supposed to be fun!
Wow! Thanks so much JP and Sarah for that awesome interview. I learned so many wonderful things about your company! Small businesses are the best. I am always so inspired by these interviews and take away something different from each of them. You can shop Chasing Windmills here and follow along with Sarah + JP's adventures on Instagram (@chasingwindmillskids).
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