Gender-neutral, reversible, ethically handmade from sustainable materials — it’s mouthful and they’re made right here in Toronto by a local design goddess. Meet Kukuliin, one of the breakout baby clothing brands in its category this year.
Kukuliin was started by Jina Olberg, founder, designer, and sewist of Kukuliin. Growing up in Czech Republic , Jina dreamed of one day becoming a fashion designer. Watching her mother disappear for a few hours and returning with brand news clothes she had made with her own two hands, as a child she thought it was “magic.” At 8 years old, her mother taught her to sew and she’s been hitched to the stitch ever since.
Jina explains that like many of us, “life happened” and instead of studying to become a fashion designer, she became a high school teacher, a career she also loved. But for many years she put the dream of dressing the masses on the back burner. Last year, she became inspired once again with the birth of her first son and began sewing clothes for him.
“I’ve always like colour and clothing and being different. It’s always been a form of self-expression for me. I’ve always wanted to be unique and I hope he will too. I don’t want him to be like everyone else,” said Jina.
Influenced by her European heritage and childhood, her designs are a perfect marriage of beauty and integrity. She quickly began getting so many compliments and requests from family and friends that she decided to give her dream a second chance.
“I said let me go and try to make a business, if it works I’ll be over the moon because it’s my little girl dream come true and if it doesn’t work I’ll go back to work,” she said with candor.
That fall, she decided not to return to her 9-5 job, sewed up a storm and racked a few pieces in Baby on the Hip the designNoook on the Danforth.
“Then my clothes started selling and I was like “Wow! Okay…” said Jina, seemingly still in shock.
Jina is one of the most humble entrepreneurs I’ve ever met, and she has the kind of genuineness that is hard to come by in any industry. She initially gave herself four months to make traction in the business, within six months she could be found in two local boutiques and has a thriving Etsy store — far exceeding the goals she had set for herself.
Her success is no coincidence, not only has Jina created outstanding clothes but she’s tapped into a market that modern socially conscious parents are aching for and happy to invest in. She’s also pushed the bar even further than many competitors by making her clothes gender neutral. An element she did not incorporate for socio-political reasons but was inspired by experiences she had as a child.
“Well, my entire childhood was about hand me downs. Coming from and living in a post-Soviet Union country, making your own things was very normal. The reason I made my clothes gender neutral is that when I was younger I would wear the clothes from my boy cousins and when I was finished with them they would go to my younger sisters. What I really want to see is that my clothes are worn down by generations of kids,” said Jina.
If your little one is a bit of fashionista and drools at the thought of any siblings climbing into their Kukuliin onesies, it’s made from them too. Every item is completely reversible, so you’re getting two outfits in one; a great way to not ruin those perfect pair of pants because of delicious tomato sauce.
While there are many other baby brands out there, it’s great to support those that are not just jumping on the bandwagon of being able to slap current buzz words on their labels. Jina’s approach comes from a place of honesty and she ultimately wants to give parents the best product possible for their kids. A large part of her time is spent in researching fabrics ensuring that they meet the criteria she has become known for.
“The clothes that we put on our children have the potential to impact their own aesthetic and how they view themselves. Kukuliin is playful and fun, colourful and innocent without being stereotypically boy/girl clothing. And it’s a beautiful thing,” said Jina.
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• This is NOT a sponsored feature.