THERE’S a recent upsurge in awareness of how damaging so-called ‘fast fashion’ can be.
But while it’s increasingly recognised as a worrying reality in the world of women’s wear, Clonakilty mum-of-two Katalin O’Donovan says fast fashion in the world of kids’ clothing is also a huge, but often overlooked, problem.
“People tell me they can buy a Babygro in a big retailer’s for €3,” Katalin says.
“When they say that, I start a conversation about how that Babygro can cost so little. Who made it, and where? Was it made by a seven-year-old?”
Katalin founded her handmade baby clothes company, Handmade by Kata, in 2016. A trained dental technician from Hungary, she moved to Ireland in 2006, and worked full-time, meeting her husband, process engineer Jerry O’Donovan. In 2014, when she had their first baby, Darragh, he had eczema: concerned about the dyes, fire retardants and other chemicals used to make clothes, Katalin began making clothes for her son from organic cotton.
“I got fed up with the poor quality and poor choice of baby clothes in high street shops,” she says.
“I wanted my kids to have something comfortable and stylish. Organic clothes are made with low-impact dyes that are safe for babies, so there’s no harsh dyes or chemicals used in the printing process.
“You notice the difference yourself: go into a shop and smell the baby clothes and you’ll notice a strong chemical smell.”
Now a mum to Oisín, aged four, as well as Darragh, Katalin says that the speed with which babies grow might be a factor that causes parents to opt for cheap clothes, but she says there are ways around it, including clothes designed to expand as the baby grows, and the time-honoured trade-in hand-me-downs for new-borns.
“I make ‘grow with me’ clothes, with a wider waistband and longer legs that you roll up when the baby is born, and as the baby grows, you unroll them to make them longer,” she says.
“I make hats to a similar design too, where you knot the hat and gradually move the knot: my son had one of these hats and he wore it for 18 months.
“My customers reuse or pass on the clothes I make; on my Facebook page I encourage people to reuse, sell or pass things on. I’m really hoping that people do, because these things are so precious and so well made and they can be used forever.”
Alongside Katalin’s interest in sustainable clothing and organic fabrics, she says being a full-time mum inspired her to pay more attention to ecological concerns in general, including her family’s waste streams and issues like single-use plastic, even making her own reusable sanitary pads and breast pads, designs which she also creates to sell in her business.
“After I left work and was at home more, I was very aware of how much waste we produced,” she says.
“I started reusing fabric to make things like make-up removers and sanitary pads. I started to save money by using what I had at home.
“Instead of throwing away clothes, I’d cut them up to make cloths for cleaning and I was a breastfeeding mum and I was using a lot of breast pads and throwing them in the bin so I said I’d start making them. Then I started making cloth sanitary pads too.”
By the clever use of designs, Katalin is able to optimise her fabric use and throws very little away, either at home or for her business, she says.
“I even reuse packaging material when I send parcels out, things like tissue paper and boxes. If I have bits of fabric that are too small to use any more, I even make draught excluders to put at the bottom of the door and give them as gifts to friends. I end up with almost no waste, maybe a few pieces of thread or very tiny scraps.”
Katalin’s talents as a seamstress come from her mother and grandmother, she says:
“My mother was a dressmaker and my grandmother was a seamstress, so I grew up in this environment and was always playing with fabrics when I was a child.
“It comes naturally to me, and I learned a lot from them.”
As her children get older, Katalin’s ambition is to grow her business, a dream that she knows comes with challenges.
“I’ve been chosen as one of the Cork businesses to participate in the Local Enterprise Office showcase in the RDS in January, 2020, which is very exciting,” she says.
“I hope to get into big retail shops after that. I’m trying to expand but it can be hard: I think if people look on my Etsy or my website, it’s not clear enough at the moment that this is a one-woman business and that all of these things are handmade in Ireland, so I think I have some more work to do to let people know that.”
Katalin O’Donovan is amongst the upcyclers, reuse initiatives and eco businesses exhibiting at the ReUse Republic exhibition at Cork County Hall from 2pm to 7pm on Thursday, October 24.
Admission is free but you need to register at: www.reuserepublic.eventbrite.ie