Super Mum: Joanna Lee from Grokinder
We are excited to introduce Joanna Lee, the founder of baby clothing rental business, Grokinder, to our Super Mum blog series.
We first met Joanna when she was in the process of setting up Grokinder and approached us about becoming a stockist of Hunter+Boo.
We are inspired by the company's ethos, to source "quality, organic clothes from sustainable brands, and increase their lifespan by rotating them to multiple families for as long as the clothes remain in a good enough condition" and were keen to know more about Joanna's background, sources of inspiration and green living tips.
Read on to hear Joanna's story of how the business came to be when, triggered by the desire to have a more flexible work-life balance, she took the leap from the corporate world to pursue her own passion for a unique offering with a circular economy approach.
How do mornings look in your household?
Not too bad actually. My husband leaves for work early, so it’s up to me to get my toddler out of bed and to school.
I leave my baby with my trusty helper while I do so – she feeds her breakfast and helps look after her when I’m away.
My day starts proper after I get home from the school run – I try to squeeze in snippets of work time when my baby is playing on her own (which rarely happens!), or when she’s napping.
What's your daily uniform?
T-shirt and shorts!! Comfort has always been most important to me – so it has to be shorts in this weather of ours! For meetings, or trips to town, I might make a bit more effort and put on a nicer blouse, jeans, or a simple dress.
Who are some of your favorite eco brands?
Well.. I really like Hunter + Boo for kids’ clothes 😉 - it’s true because I find it really hard to find truly sustainable brands locally that are not green washing.
I also like Peco Bags for their nice prints and lightweight material.
I’ll have to be honest here – I only started my sustainable journey not too long ago, especially after researching in depth into the wastage of fast fashion. It’s an ongoing journey, and I’m sure I’ll learn and discover more great brands along the way.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I am born and bred in Singapore, and went through the public schooling system here like any average Singaporean.
After graduation, I landed myself a sales job in a bank, and that remained as my employer for the next 12 years even though I’ve moved across multiple roles through the bank. I don’t regret my corporate experiences as I believe the skillsets I’ve gained have and will help me in whichever career path I choose to take.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to own a café for as long as I remember. I probably envisioned it to be a slow lifestyle, offering people delicious things at my own pace. I now know this is as far from the truth as it can be!
What inspired you to launch Grokinder?
Definitely my two precious kids.
I chose to quit my corporate job so as to gain flexibility of time with them. I was away from my firstborn 12 hours a day during his first two years of life, and I constantly struggled with that. With the birth of my second child I decided to take the plunge to leave my job (and my steady income).
It was also more than just having flexibility of time though. Since having kids, I wanted to make a difference in a more tangible way. I chanced upon the concept of baby clothes rental subscription three years ago (it was launched in Denmark then) – immediately it made so much sense and I’ve thought of bringing it to Singapore since then. However, I was worried that the market here was not ready for that.
After I left my corporate job, I contemplated between taking up a job in the government or the social services sector, and this. I decided that there will never be the “perfect time” to pursue a dream, so here we are!
Can you tell us about how Grokinder works?
Grokinder provides a rental subscription service for baby clothes. For a monthly fee, subscribers get a bag of quality clothes for their child to enjoy while they fit. Whenever their baby outgrows the clothes, they can then swap them for another bag in the next size up.
We operate on the premise that babies outgrow their clothes faster than they can fully utilize or appreciate them. So we source for quality, organic clothes from sustainable brands, and increase their lifespan by rotating them to multiple families for as long as the clothes remain in a good enough condition.
So what are your top tips for parents looking to shop a more sustainable wardrobe for their kids?
- Buy less, buy better, make it last
I think where Singaporeans are – it’s not practical to say don’t buy anything at all. But I think it is important to choose quality, and be a bit more mindful of who and how the clothes were made. It’s a win-win – your clothes last longer (you can always hand them down), and you won’t be consuming at the expense of others or the planet.
- You really don’t need THAT many clothes. Your closet (and spouse) will thank you. This is a lesson I’ve learnt myself.
- Every small bit matters. This applies to anyone in pursuit of a more sustainable lifestyle, not just parents. Every time you use a reusable bag is a plastic bag saved.
What have been the biggest challenges you have faced with setting up and launching your business so far?
Hmm.. every step of the way presents different challenges, and I really can’t say which is more difficult than the other.
I’ve found creating a social media presence difficult at first, as I’ve always been a rather private person. Making friends online and building networks were certainly out of my comfort zone, but I’ve overcome it and don’t find it too difficult now.
Setting up the website and the subscription platform was also a hair-pulling affair – even though I’ve had experience working with tech in my previous job, trying to make the entire thing work by myself was a different matter altogether.
Overall, I’ve found being a sole business owner quite a lonely affair – there are certainly times I wish I have a partner to bounce ideas off, and to make decisions together. Fortunately, my husband has been very supportive – he always listens to my problems and gives great suggestions. In fact, he was the one who egged me to first approach H+B for a collaboration!
What advice would you give to a potential mumpreneur who is looking to start her own business?
I might not be qualified to give advice – as I’ve no idea if this will really take off! Haha. But, from my experience, I would say – calibrate what is truly important to you, and work out your finances with your spouse. Following these, if the circumstances allow, and if you have a passion or a dream, then just do it. There really wouldn’t be a perfect moment.
At this stage, I can confidently say that even if Grokinder doesn’t take off, I won’t have any regrets.
What is your vision for Grokinder?
My vision for Grokinder is to provide the full wardrobe for children, from newborns to six years old, from basic essentials, weekend wear, to occasional party or travel wear.
What's your favourite baby gadget which you could not live without?
Without a doubt, my baby carrier from Tula. I’ve used them for both kids – I feel like it empowered me as it enabled me to go anywhere and everywhere with my babies.
And finally, what's been your proudest moment as a parent to date?
I thought very hard about this – but I think there really isn’t one, because parenthood is a series of proud moments, every single day. From their first flip, first steps, first day surviving pre-school without tears, first time learning to share – all are moments that I’m incredibly proud of. And I am sure there will be many more to come as they continue to navigate through their lives!