11 June 2012

A Portrait of The Artist: Growing Up Wild

I am proud to present to you today in A Portrait of The Artist series Kelly Engel, a fellow EcoEtsian and the working force, marketing manager and crafter behind Growing Up Wild, the brand that is devoted to creating quality items that are good to your baby and good to our planet. Kelly admits that it is the little things she does as she creates to ensure that she is environmentally friendly in her practices. She tries to utilize every last fabric scrap so that there is very little waste, to walk to ship items whenever possible and to run her home (since that is where she hand-makes each item) in a sustainable way.
"I'm one of those people that just can't sit still. If I'm not stitching, throwing clay, painting, knitting, reading or crafting I am out in the woods with my beautiful baby boy and fabulous husband."

How did you come up with the idea of making organic clothes and shoes for babies?

Actually making baby clothes and shoes was not something I ever thought of doing. I was extremely happy and satisfied in my role as a second grade public school teacher, until the birth of my son. From the time I was very young I knew that once I had children I wanted to be home with them for the first few years. My husband is a school counselor so money for us is tight. To make this work we needed to really watch our budget. 

I started making all of my son’s clothes and began getting many requests from friends and strangers alike when we were out. When my son was around 9 months old I couldn’t keep up with requests (I was sewing for everyone for free at that time) and realized that opening a shop would allow us to save enough money to be able to afford having a second child. I knew right away that I wanted to focus on eco-friendly and sustainable business choices as this is how we live our daily lives.

Growing up wild
Octopus organic body suit
How do you make sure you are sustainable in your work?

I do a lot of research before buying any supplies into the business practices of companies. I know that organic and fair trade certified fabrics cost quite a bit more but I have the power to make an impact every day with my purchases. Despite the number of garments I am making per month my business trash can (a small cardboard box) usually only needs to be emptied every 2-3 months. I recycle what I can and use fabric scraps to fill toys and things that I make for my son.

I also pay close attention to detail to ensure I am making clothing that will last. To me being sustainable is also being able to use things over and over again. I want my clothes and shoes to be able to be worn by many children, not just one.

Growing up wild
Happy camper organic gift set

Why is organic important to you?

I’ve always been a big believer in the famous Native American quote "Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

By using organic fabrics I can make an impact by reducing the number of chemicals used in harsh farming practices. In general organic farms are also smaller and more humane to their workers. Organic fabrics also give me peace of mind as my little one wears them that he is breathing in the safest possible air from his clothing free of toxic chemicals.

Growing up wild
Fair trade certified short sleeve shirt That's How I Roll
When did you feel the need to be eco-friendly and caring to the planet?

My mom says that I sprang from the womb this way. My family spent a great deal of time in nature but I wouldn’t necessarily say they were eco-friendly. I connected with animals at an early age and felt it my mission to do what I could to help. By fifth grade I had started an environmental club at our middle school and was organizing projects to help the planet.

How does your family support you in your eco endeavors?

My husband is as committed to environmental protection as I am. We have built eco-friendly endeavors into our daily life.

What is the most time consuming part of your work?

Definitely making the shoes. Each pair can take 2-3 hours with a great deal of attention to detail. I want to be sure that each family gets a pair that will last.

Growing up wild
Coral weed organic baby shoes
What is one project you would love to make regardless of costs?

I am due with our second child in July. I have so many things that I would love to make for this baby, however time is in short supply. If I have a girl I have a number of organic dress ideas floating in my head. I would love to try them on my own baby first and then begin to make more for my shop. Organic dresses use more fabric than my shoes though so I am playing with ways to keep the costs affordable for families.

Where do you see yourself creatively in 5 years time?

I honestly have no idea. My shop is growing with my son so I imagine I will have included more child designs in my shop in 5 years.

What is your current favorite item from another etsy seller?

It would have to be this wooden pull toy dog that I am saving up to buy for my son.

Make sure you stay in touch with Kelly and Growing up wild:


  1. Another fabulous interview Sonya! What a wonderful person Kelly is and her son is just gorgeous! At the risk of sounding old,:) it's heartwarming to see young people follow their dreams and,on top of that, be socially and environmenally conscious.

    Congratulations on the new baby, Kelly! I hope it's a girl! ;)

  2. I will definitely have to check out her shop as I have a new granddaughter on the way in a few weeks :)

  3. Such a sweet baby, and your clothes are so cute! I have many babies in my life at the moment, I'm an "auntie" to several all born in the past few months, so I will definitely check out your shop. :)

  4. I love this post. Kelly's views and practices are awesome. The mindset that things should be made to last is priceless.

  5. Great interview! I loved her story and her clothing is so cute. Thanks for sharing.
    Everyday inspired

  6. The photos just melt my heart ....such love filled pieces for the little ones !! Here is to many more years of happy times for you and your family Kelly!

  7. I can feel the love poured into every little stitch! :)

    This makes me think of the expression "they grow so fast". It occurred to me that, personally making what your kids wear helps create a pause, slow down their fleeting babyhood. Literally measuring how much they've grown and noticing when a longer sleeve, a change in proportions is needed, creates some very intimate benchmarks. Their growth becomes more visible and memorable.

    1. You are right. Also, the action of creating for your babies brings you closer to them!