We love many things here at UncommonGoods. As you may have learned from our interview with artist Meghan Cochran, do(ugh)nuts rank pretty high on the list. A close second? Babysuits. Lucky for us, Brooklyn-based designer Maggie Kleinfeld combined the two with a garment that tells it like it is—because sometimes, you simply donut care. But if you’re feeling more affectionate than sassy, don’t worry: she’s got a babysuit for you and yours, too.
We adored Maggie’s designs as soon as we saw them, and it certainly didn’t hurt to learn that she crafts her appliqués from eco-friendly felt. (It’s made of recycled bottles, which we think is pretty cool.) So we asked her a handful of questions about her inspiration, sustainability, and the ever-elusive “typical day” in an entrepreneurial maker’s life. Read on for more.
How’d you first get your start making clothes, and what led you to focus on designs for kids?
My son was about six months old when I started playing around with selling baby clothing on Etsy. The entire thing really started out of necessity. My son’s father and I didn’t have much money, especially to put an infant in daycare, and we didn’t really want our infant son in daycare. This is a very common problem for many young parents. We needed some kind of way to come up with extra income while not putting our infant in daycare; we wanted to be there with him and watch him grow.
My school background was in textile design so I have always been interested in fashion and design. When I was in school it was a disaster. I went to an art school in San Francisco with a focus in fashion. This was a disaster because everything the teachers and students created or wanted to see was groundbreaking silhouettes with minimal color, very “high fashion.” I never went into the fashion program with the intention of becoming something “groundbreaking.” You could say I had no goals or direction; I didn’t. The point is, I wanted to make things I loved, that were fun, colorful, playful, loud, borderline obnoxious. During school it became more and more difficult for me to figure out how I fit in, so ultimately I didn’t do anything with it.
After having my son I was introduced to a whole world of design where my aesthetic felt at home: baby stuff! Bright colors, bold prints, simple designs on classic clothing, kitsch, silly, playful. I took exactly $20 to a local big box store and bought some felt, iron-on adhesive, and generic babysuits. Took those supplies home, cut out some designs, tossed them up on Etsy and waited to see what happened. After making a few sales I was able to buy a sewing machine at a yard sale for $40. I still have that machine and use it every day. I finally found a market where my bright and loud designs are appreciated, so I stuck with it.
What was the most exciting thing about launching your business? The toughest thing?
The most exciting thing about having my own business was being able to make what I loved! There was no teacher or boss telling me to edit my designs down to boring. … I love that I can make things and get direct feedback from the customers. Those are the people who matter. They are doing the buying, they are the ones I am trying to please, not some higher up with a neutral-tone vision. The most difficult thing starting up was patience. I had no initial start-up money, aside from my $20. I had to be patient, let the money come in, and use it as it did and grow slowly in that way. To this day that is the hardest part for me.
Is there a trinket or other inspirational object you keep near you while you work?
I honestly do not have any trinkets or objects that inspire me on a daily basis. My inspiration comes from my son, Jack. He is so alive, wild, funny, fashionable (without my help). He keeps me moving and growing and changing all the time.
Describe a typical day at work, assuming such a thing exists.
I wish I had a typical work day or schedule! My most consistent work days would be Saturday and Sunday when you can find me selling at Artists and Fleas in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, from 10am-7pm. Weekdays are all over the place, for the most part depending on the amount of restock I need to complete along with orders.
We love that you use eco-friendly felt in your designs. Is sustainability important to you?
Sustainable materials, producing locally, paying a living wage to my seamstresses—these are always my number one priorities.
If you showed your work to a kindergartner, what do you think they would say?
I am incredibly lucky to have a venue like Artists and Fleas to sell at every weekend. This allows me to meet and get feedback from actual children! If you know any actual children then you know how brutally honest they are. They either love something or they think it’s “poop.” This makes determining what kids want pretty cut and dry. That’s my market; the kids are the ones wearing the clothes and creating the memories for the parents. I often have parents come back to buy gifts because their own child loved a certain item so much. Kiddos are simple, fun, colorful, bold, and silly, like many of my designs. I think that’s why we are able to communicate through clothing so well.
Finally, what quote or mantra keeps you motivated?
I have never had a specific quote or mantra that I have used for motivation. I am lucky to have failed so many times that I have little trouble getting up and trying again. Being comfortable with failure can be difficult, but failure and I are kind of best friends. This relationship with failure has helped me because I am not afraid of it at all. I expect it. The more an idea failed the easier it got to just “keep moving forward” or “try again” and eventually you work with that failed concept until it succeeds. When you are someone who creates, you will always find yourself failing in one way or another. Not giving up is the important part and the way in which you and your work are able to grow. I guess what keeps me motivated is not being afraid to fail and just patiently moving forward and trying new things until I get where I need to be.