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Georgia and Jacob Faull are naturalists
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Georgia and Jacob Faull are naturalists
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I'm reading
Georgia and Jacob Faull are naturalists
Pass it on
Pass it on
"Sometimes you have to go, 'What is the overall good here?'"
Conversations
1 January 2011

Georgia and Jacob Faull are naturalists

Interview by Kate Bezar
Photography by Natasha Hopkins

Kate Bezar on Georgia and Jacob Faull

Before you read this chat with Georgia Faull, you really should visit www.naturebaby.co.nz to get a feel for the wonderful company she and her husband Jacob created 12 years ago when they discovered… oops… they were pregnant. Back then, ‘organic’ had barely been ‘invented’ and, while they might have been short on cash, they certainly had no shortage of vision.

In New Zealand, where they’re based, Nature Baby has become synonymous with the ultimate in goodness for children. Their products and stores are beautifully designed, easy on the environment, gentle on children and made with love. We think they’re superstars, yet they make it sound like they’re just humbly bumbling along!

This story originally ran in issue #26 of Dumbo Feather

Discussed in this Story

KATE BEZAR: You must recognise that what you’ve created is something pretty special?

GEORGIA FAULL: Yes, and some days it seems quite normal too and that’s when you think, what can we do different now. You get used to it because you live with it and we’ve been doing it for 12 years now.

It is often hard to stand back and look objectively at what you’ve managed to achieve, I know I’m guilty of it. Do you try though?

GEORGIA: Yes, but we’re always moving onto the next thing. That’s the thing with a business, you can never really stand still.

What were some of the biggest successes you’ve celebrated so far?

GEORGIA: I think just basically being able to grow as we have done, but even in the beginning – just being able to find a market because it was quite different back when we started – and developing a loyal customer following that’s stayed with us all these years. That’s one of the things we’re most proud of, that we’ve managed to achieve.

This story originally ran in issue #26 of Dumbo Feather

This story originally ran in issue #26 of Dumbo Feather

You mentioned the beginning, so we might as well go back there. Did you guys meet here, were you a couple before you went to London?

GEORGIA: Yes, we’ve been together for quite a long time, since we were 20. We met at university. I was a Bachelor of Arts student and Jacob was a Bachelor of Fine Arts student. We finished our degrees, pottered around doing odd jobs, nothing too specific, and then set off on our great big OE (Overseas Experience). We were about 23 or 24 by that stage. We spent about two and a half months backpacking through India. Our grand plan was to go through India and then through Turkey, Hungary and all these places but then towards the end of our time in India I started to feel a bit nauseous [laughs] and was wondering what was going on. So we went to London, because you can’t buy pregnancy tests or anything in India, and found out I was pregnant.

Oh my goodness. Were you worried about what you’d been ingesting in India?

GEORGIA: Oh slightly. I guess if it was now, in my slightly more mature thirties, I would have been more concerned, but being a youngun I was a little more casual. So we stayed in the UK until just before the baby was born and sold cushions and things like that made from material we’d bought in India.

At Portobello markets (in London)?

GEORGIA: Spitalfields.

Were you worried about coming back, having a baby, being relatively young and no jobs?

GEORGIA: I think I was incredibly naive about the whole thing in a way. Luckily we’d been a couple for five years or so, so it wasn’t like I’d just met Jacob. I was reasonably calm about it.

Did you have any kind of plan?

GEORGIA: While I was pregnant this whole new world opened up to me and I found myself reading books on everything from home birthing to homeopathics. In the UK at that stage modern, fitted, reusable nappies were just coming out and I knew there was nothing like them in New Zealand so I bought some of those. They just seemed like the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. I was really quite taken with the whole world of babies and educating myself about it and the issues. So when we came back to New Zealand, the idea was that we’d start this mail-order business and sell these nappies.

Had you always had a kind of leftish bent?

GEORGIA: A greenie? I guess so. My parents are a bit that way so it’s been passed down to me.

One of my dreams was to run an eco business, but I hadn’t really sat down and thought that hard about it.

So you thought you’d start a mail-order business.

GEORGIA: Because the web wasn’t around at that stage.

Way back then!

GEORGIA: The idea was that it would be something to kind of occupy me while I was looking after the baby, because [with an ironic tone] babies are so easy! So that’s how it started. Then we thought it wasn’t very exciting just selling nappies, so we decided to build more of a concept around that and we did a catalogue.

Did you have a brand?

GEORGIA: Yes, it was Nature Baby.

Were the catalogues beautifully designed even back then?

GEORGIA: Yes, we were on a shoestring budget so we were putting it together largely ourselves, we took our own photos in the early days, so some of them aren’t the greatest; but I think the same design aspects that are there now were there in the beginning.

Did you do any market research or did you just have an inkling that people would be into those kinds of products?

GEORGIA: No market research, no. We did look around to see who was selling what and that kind of thing, but in terms of demographics, we didn’t do anything like that. I think that sometimes if you look too hard at those things you’d never do it.

True, and I guess there wasn’t a huge investment required on your behalf, just some stock, so if it hadn’t taken off.

GEORGIA: No, but it did strike me as being particularly obvious that of course you’re going to want nice, organic products for your precious newborn baby and I couldn’t believe that there was nothing like that.

Did the term organic even really exist then?

GEORGIA: It was just starting. We just got in at about the right time. If we’d been a year or two earlier, people wouldn’t have responded at all.

And you found your hunch was correct.

GEORGIA: Yeah, there were the people who were into it, then there were the people who were not so sure and then there was a large group of people who thought we were just crazy. We had to educate; there was a lot of that in the first five years. We did a lot of eco fares and festivals and the parent and child shows. We’d have a stall and do lots of demonstrations and talking.

With your own young baby no doubt!

GEORGIA: She wasn’t always there, but sometimes.

You said you’d thought that having a baby was going to be a piece of cake, was it not quite what you imagined?

GEORGIA: I enjoyed it, but it was hard to do both things, which was why Jacob’s always been involved in the business. I’m not supermum, I can’t do all of it. He’s always been the Creative Director and overseen things like the catalogues, website design, photo shoots and that sort of thing. He does all the graphics and the shop decorations, layouts, shelving. I do all the product sourcing so everything that’s there I’ve chosen.

You’re lucky you had his skills ‘in house’.

GEORGIA: It’s saved us a lot of money!

I don’t imagine you were able to live off selling nappies in those early days.

GEORGIA: No, we were on a family support benefit for about two years and Jacob painted houses, stuff like that. We were so full of idealism and optimism that we had a lot of energy, so nothing; We just kept charging along.

The hard part was more educating people and having some people look at you as if you were nuts.

“Organic cotton? You don’t eat it.” They’d just heard of organic food and we were trying to sell them organic cotton. But once mothers had their babies wearing the organic cotton and they could feel how nice it was, everything changed.

What products did you do first, other than the nappies?

GEORGIA: We did organic cotton basic bodysuits, onesies, in pink and blue, and basic pyjamas and beanies. We’ve always sourced the products directly from where the cotton was grown. In those days it was Egypt and now it’s India.

How did you find a supplier in Egypt?

GEORGIA: Through the global Biodynamic Association. Some of our products still come from there, but most now comes from India and we’ve been to see them there. It’s not very good selling a product you’re saying is certified organic and Fairtrade if you haven’t even been to see where it’s actually being made.

There’s something nice about the fact that it’s taken you back to India where all this really started.

GEORGIA: I know! We sometimes think about that.

And how did it grow from there?

GEORGIA: After we’d been running the mail order business and done our first catalogue – and had been sitting around by the telephone in our front room a lot, not being able to leave the house in case someone rang – we decided that it wasn’t very good that people couldn’t actually see the product so we’d better open a store. We opened a store just up in Grey Lynn next door to the organic butcher.

Was he doing quite well? Did you think people might pop next door for some organic nappies with their chops?

GEORGIA: [Laughs] Well there’s a big wholefoods store there too so we thought that it’d be quite a good little enclave. We’d looked around, but always in this inner city, suburban area. I think that opening in Grey Lynn was the best thing we ever did. After about nine months we moved over the road to a much bigger store because that first store was only about the size of this room. The business was going well enough, it was still a bit shaky, but we had enough support behind us. I guess you’d say it was growing organically. That would have been about ten years ago now.

Sure, yet I imagine it was still a big step to start forking out that kind of rent. Did you worry that it might all go completely pear-shaped?

GEORGIA: I always worry that it’s all going to go pear-shaped all the time! That worry never goes away.

Even as you’re thinking about the next step?

GEORGIA: Yeah.

I’m sure, as long as you don’t do anything crazy, you should be absolutely fine. It is funny how that anxiety never goes away. On the outside everyone looks and says how beautifully successful it is, and on the inside you’re like, oh gosh we could all lose it all. Now you’ve got how many stores?

GEORGIA: Just the two stores in Auckland, but we do have quite a big distribution in New Zealand and Australia and in the last four or five years, our wholesaling has quadrupled. We ‘re doing a lot of selling through other stores. We have about 20 staff. We had 30 at one stage but we just downsized. We had this big warehouse in Mt Eden that we were running our internet, mail-order business and wholesale businesses out of and keeping all our stock in. We had packing staff and everything, but we couldn’t see that as being sustainable in terms of getting bigger so we have outsourced it all so now someone else takes care of all of that.

So, apart from being right-place, right-time, what do you think it is about you guys that has made it work?

GEORGIA: I guess there’s probably lots of different parts to it that have made it successful. [Jacob enters and exchange greetings]

[To Jacob] I’ve just been asking Georgia why you think, apart from having the right idea at the right time, being right on the cusp of the whole reinvigoration of the green movement, what it is that you think you have done that has made Nature Baby a success?

JACOB: We always looked it at a practical angle as well, how it could work in everyday life. We come from backgrounds that are about looking at ideas, and art and the ways things look, and we think that’s really important, although that’s only on the surface. So from the beginning, although we love tie-dye ourselves (laughs), we never did any tie-dye.

GEORGIA: We did do some tie-dye socks.

JACOB: That just instantly would have put it into that area where people go… We’ve always tried to take a step back and ask, how’s it going to relate to people other than ourselves?

I think making it accessible made it successful. We didn’t ostracise anyone.

Particularly I guess as you would have been targeting that inner-city, urban-dwelling market.

JACOB: We were lucky. Being in Grey Lynn meant we had people that were green-focused, but also had travelled a lot, so they were looking at it from a different perspective as well.

GEORGIA: In saying that though, people always seem to stereotype who our market actually is, and who we’re selling to, but I think if you actually spend sometime in our Grey Lynn store it’s not one particular type of person. That’s just one of the things I always hoped for – that there’d be something there for everybody.

Not just the young couple, cashed-up back from the UK, who’ve been buying organics from Waitrose or whatever, but much broader than that?

GEORGIA: Yeah, much broader than that. It’s not just people with money and people who are hippies, there’s quite a lot of people who are in between.

Do you sense that the ‘green’ movement is burning itself out or is it still going full steam ahead?

GEORGIA: The thing I find most frustrating is the large amount of ‘greenwash’ that’s happening – people selling organic cotton baby bodysuits that are made in China for $8. You think, that’s not true. Customers have to be able to distinguish.

JACOB: I know what you’re saying and it’s an interesting time: you’ve got grassroots people that started off a movement, then you have a mainstream that takes it on, and then it’s spun back to a greater audience at a higher rate with more sound bytes. Then I think people start to switch off and they go ‘price’, instead of ‘authenticity’ or ‘ethics’.

I think everyone falls into it, it’s not an individual’s fault, it’s just how fast business takes on ideas and spits them back at you. We were talking about it the other day. We try and get back to the point where there is a relationship between buyer and product on a real level. The great emergence of brands over the last 20 years means it’s all about the brand you build up. That is really important, but what it does is it puts a membrane between the buyer and the product and so the buyer doesn’t get to experience it in an authentic way. They get manipulated in the way that the brand wants them to experience it. It’s attractive but it’s a fairly plastic version of the experience. That’s where I think the green thing is at the moment and I guess we fall into that a little bit.

You do have a beautiful brand. If someone gives you a Nature Baby gift, that in itself says something, but you’re right, the product actually has to speak to someone, as much as the brand, otherwise they won’t be a customer for long. I’ve got a lot of Nature Baby hand-me-downs, some of which have already been through a family of three boys, and now I’ve got them. It’s great.

GEORGIA: It’s nice to hear. Out of all brands, people say Nature Baby is the one that lasts the longest.

Perhaps the one that stains wash out of easiest, more than anything!

JACOB: I don’t know how that’s possible.

GEORGIA: Sun-bleaching.

Did you consciously try to create a special brand? Was that part of it?

GEORGIA: Yes!

JACOB: We did, but it was from an authentic level.

GEORGIA: That was how we saw we’d gain customers, if we had a brand to be behind the product.

You were saying that some of the early catalogues do look like distant cousins of what you do now. Has it gradually evolved over time?

GEORGIA: Yeah definitely.

JACOB: I’d say it’s stayed pretty close to what it was, it’s just been refined. The original idea; We looked at ideas like 1950s illustrations, times when you made your own things, or when there was this relationship to storytelling and we brought all those ideas into it. We’d always have illustrations with our products and then try to choose fonts which related to a typewriter or times when, looking at the print media, times when, if there ever was one, an honest message has been put out there, or there was a story to be told.

[To Jacob] Is it enough of a creative outlet for you or do you still make your own art?

JACOB: It’s consuming. I don’t have time to make my own art. With three children, two stores, a warehouse…

GEORGIA: It’ll come back.

JACOB: I have friends that are still making art and they complain that it’s now become a job for them, whereas I’m like I’ve got a job… I can’t make art. I’m still optimistic about making art. I still look at things and what the idea is and where it could go, but to be honest, I’d like to work on that more within the business. In running a business, you get so tied up in how it runs, but you do have to keep working on the ideas, what things are looking like. That is the most interesting part of it.

I don’t know how you’ve done it Georgia. In those early years did you withdraw from the business at all to look after your kids?

GEORGIA: With our first child we sort of split it. I’d do three days and Jacob would do three days so we’d alternate. Then, when our second child arrived, Jacob went full time and I was at home sourcing the products, researching and that part of it. Now I’m back two or three days at the office and the rest of the time I do work from home.

Does it come to the dinner table with you?

GEORGIA: We constantly try  find things to talk about other than work and kids [laughs].

JACOB: Dinnertime, bedtime, breakfast.

It must be all-consuming.

GEORGIA: Yes, but as we’ve been doing it for 12 years it’s sort of become quite normal, even as a couple.

What are the hardest things these days? Is it managing staff? What do you kind of grapple with?

GEORGIA: I think it’s wanting to grow the business and how you evolve it, and where the spirit of the times is? Like you were saying, has the movement run dry? How do we move forward? How do we keep ourselves always current?

Do the kids get sick of you talking about it? Do they resent the business?

GEORGIA: No, I wouldn’t say they resent it.

Well it puts food on the table.

GEORGIA: I think they are quite interested in it actually.

 

They like to see that process of things being created and sold.

JACOB: They wanted to do t-shirt prints and have got lots of ideas and drawings.

Did they ever get through?

JACOB: Not yet!

Not quite the illustrative aesthetic you were going for?

JACOB: Well they wanted a pet rabbit, so I said they can get a rabbit if they can publish a book about rabbits and they can sell it in the store. So if they get that off the ground.

It must be great to have created something that has the same values as you guys do that you’d like to share with the kids. I know that might sound obvious but you could have created a completely different kind of business that just made money and didn’t really stand for much. What do you think are your core values?

GEORGIA: Authenticity and obviously things like sustainability and ethical trading are really important.

JACOB: I think about it as a situation, so whatever situation you’re in, it’s about bringing yourself to that in the most honest way. When we started the business, we’d go traveling and have a look other brands like Muji and Lush, when Lush first started in England… Brands that were founded on products that were not local but spoke of the situation they were in.

I guess Nature Baby was very much was born out of the situation you were in, wasn’t it?

JACOB: It was born out of all the products that were around when we didn’t have a child. In the ’80s it was very homogenised and all the products around were licensed. There was this huge plethora of Disney stuff which had come from China, went to China and then came back. It wasn’t even original stuff, it was an interpreted version.

GEORGIA: We were trying to make a space outside of all that crap. Like with the toys for instance. We like the toys to have open possibilities so they’re not telling children how they should play with them. We’d also never put words and stuff on clothing. We’re just trying to create a space outside all of that heavy, subscribed… What am I trying to say?

I know exactly what you’re trying to say. So much of the stuff out there makes the wearer into a walking advert.

JACOB: Which some parents just love to put on their children, for some reason.

GEORGIA: Do they still?

It’s still hard to find stuff that doesn’t have a logo on it somewhere or something embroidered on it with that machine-stitched stuff that you can’t unpick… So how does authenticity translate into the way you have created Nature Baby?

JACOB: Different things for different products. So with skincare for example, it’s making sure there’s no chemicals in there and that the ingredients are in there for a reason, rather than an aesthetic purpose. For clothes, it’s making sure they’re made in the right way, that they conform to all the standards, and even trying to go above the standards so that the families who are making them are looked after and the area that they’re making it is looked after. We work with manufacturers that are genuinely set up to improve the areas that they are in. Then in getting it to store, there’s making sure the packaging is all correct, that it’s on recycled paper, that it’s chlorine free, it’s using soy-based inks. It’s just making sure that all those pieces are correct, that no one is being done over in the process, and that everyone who has taken part in it is there because they have wanted to be there and they’ve benefited from the process. The only tricky one is transport. We haven’t figured out how to make that work better.

If you think back over the 12 years, is there any area where you’ve had to compromise?

JACOB: [Long pause] No.

GEORGIA: It is becoming increasingly difficult to source local product because nothing’s made here anymore. So that’s really difficult.

JACOB: But we still do. It’s only toys that are difficult, and with toys it’s always 50-50. 50% made in New Zealand and 50% internationally. New Zealand is very good at producing a particular type of toy whereas in other countries, through the history of producing toys, they’ve produced types of toys. Like in Czechoslovakia it’s tin toys and in Germany it’s wooden toys and it goes on.

GEORGIA:

Sometimes you have to go, “What is the overall good here?”

You have to say, “Ok we’re getting toys from Germany, but we can’t buy them from New Zealand and they’re providing a type of stimulation that you can’t find.”

JACOB: I don’t think that’s a compromise at all. A compromise would be getting a plastic version from China. In terms of the ideas we’ve put into the business we’ve looked at ideas from around the world and what we think has worked. Northern Europe is a great one, we love the stuff that comes out of there because it’s got such a connection between design and family. I think it’s an important part of our business, the ideas we can bring in. I think if we were solely a NZ company based on Kiwi design that would be limiting. I think even designers here, New Zealand designers, reference international design anyway, and that’s part of the strength. Compromise… I think maybe we should have compromised a little bit! I think sometimes we’ve been so hard on ourselves! On how it has to be.

GEORGIA: But it is our story, it’s what sets us apart from all the rest.

The most important thing is to be able to communicate that because otherwise people will look at your products and go, oh that’s just more expensive. Did you try to do that in-store, that communication process, that education process?

GEORGIA: Yeah we try and do that all the time; through our catalogues and all the information we produce. We always try and push the stories behind the products and why they are good.

Without too much scare-mongering I imagine, because you can really go to that negative side, can’t you?

GEORGIA: Yeah totally. We really try and stay away from that.

JACOB: We do talk about pesticides and farming because as a consumer you never see that end, and I think it’s important to understand how things are made, but we definitely don’t want to make parents feel guilty, because I think every parent tries to do their best.

There’s enough guilt around being a parent.

GEORGIA: Guilt is not a thing that makes people shop. You want them to feel good about things, you don’t want them to feel bad about things.

And what are the plans from here?

GEORGIA: Well we hope that it keeps growing (laughs). We’ve always done a wide range of things for babies, clothes, toys, bits of equipment and stuff like that, and in the past we’ve carried other people’s ranges as well, but now we are really solidly focusing on what we design and manufacture ourselves. So increasing our capabilities in terms of what we can produce ourselves, so we don’t have to rely on other people. It also means we are unique, we won’t have another store selling exactly the same product. It’s all ours.

And what’s the motivation for growing?

GEORGIA: I guess it’s just the vision. It’s to create a vision. It’s definitely not about money, although money of course comes into it. It’s about satisfaction.

JACOB: I don’t think there’s anyone else who is doing it as well as we are doing it – in terms of taking a store and making everything organic, and natural, and good for your baby and producing your own clothes. There’s bits and pieces out there, but no one’s doing the whole concept. We’re more about how can we make a simple idea where parents can come to a place where they can find everything for their baby and not have to buy into ‘What’s this season’s colour of green?’ or ‘What’s the new orange?’, it’s ‘My baby’s beautiful and I can get everything on a basic level I need to get’.

So it’s more about giving more people an opportunity to access the goodness?

GEORGIA: Yeah something like that. It probably sounds quite egotistical.

JACOB: I mean, we are not looking to create a world empire.

GEORGIA: If it never came to fruition, we’d be quite happy doing what we’re doing here you know.

Kate Bezar

Kate Bezar started Dumbo Feather—and is a living legend, simple as that. Read all about her and the kernel of an idea that became a magazine.

Photography by Natasha Hopkins

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