From a young entrepreneur, selling candy and baked goods, to a busy mom designing modern and durable baby essentials in upstate New York. Meet Thema Frangias, the founder, owner, and designer (and everything in between) of KTJBaby. Learn how she found her calling and why using natural, organic, and locally sourced materials are so important to her.
NATURAWL: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me, Thema. I wanted to start out by telling you how much I love your handcrafted products (my baby does, too). I especially admire how important it is for you to use organic, non-toxic, plant-based materials for your goods. KTJBaby definitely aligns perfectly with our vision at NATURAWL. We are very proud to offer your goods to our ethical conscious consumers. I'd love to hear a little about your backstory and how KTJBaby came to fruition.
Thema: I would say that the birth of KTJBaby was inevitable and began when I was just a child. I have always been quite opportunistic and entrepreneurial. I never celebrated Halloween as a child or really consumed the sweets, but I sure did collect all the candy I could. A week later, I would turn around and sell it to my sugar deprived 8-year-old peers. Then around 10, I had a pillow business in which I had my first introduction to selling wholesale and door to door. With a lot of guidance from my mother, she would shove me into a store and I would pitch them my pillows. It was terrifying but very valuable. I learned about margins, and the basic wholesale jargon to eventually work my way into several small local boutiques and hospitals.
The next big venture was once again back to food but direct sales this time. I made about $2000 off of brownies in a couple of months in high school. This venture began because a friend offered me money for my brownies which I was sharing every day. My wheels began to turn. I would like to say this was my first introduction to branding. I started carrying the brownies around in Victoria Secret bags for the simple fact that they were sturdy and it was what I had on hand. But I became recognized by these pink stripe bags and soon known as "The Brownie Girl". People I did not know would rush up to me asking to buy my brownies! In between all of this, there were plenty of other little ventures but this should give you the idea of the foundation that was being built. When I found out I was expecting, I attempted to continue going to school for as long as I could but it just was not feasible. I was blessed with a fairly healthy pregnancy, but I had just about every full-blown symptom. Exhaustion, back pains, puking three times a day, even passing out. It just was not physically possible to continue. Yet the contrast of studying and working 24/7 to have nothing to do was unacceptable for my brain; so I began to sew. I started to sew everything I could for my son until there was nothing left to create.
I then made a few bibs for an expecting friend and she LOVED them. This was a very different bib than what I sell now but of course, my wheels began turning. I had a pretty dead Etsy shop that I put zero effort into. Why not list some of my bibs there? And that's just what I did. I had no intentions of starting a business, I just wanted to make some extra pocket cash to keep creating. Well, customers decided otherwise. I would eventually have a few sales a week. Nothing crazy but considering I did absolutely nothing to promote my shop, I knew I had something. I began to refine my product, I created a more appropriate business name, opened up a Facebook page and began to promote my shop. Things really began to take off. Eventually, a store had approached me asking for wholesale information. I was shocked but ready! Fortunately, I knew exactly what to do and my margins were right. After much refining of the product (the bandana bib has been through over six revisions!) and really making sure it was something that aligned with my values, I opened up my business to wholesale and now have products in about 50 boutiques around the country.
NATURAWL: As silly as it sounds, I have to admit that I was initially drawn to your business because the name, KTJBABY, reflects both mine (K) and my son's (TJ) first name initials, but after investigating further, I realized that the core values of your business aligned perfectly with NATURAWL. I guess some things are just meant to be! Is there a story behind your business name?
Thema: When I created my business name, I was purely trying to create something that was optimal for an online business. Something search friendly but reflective of the modern or more mature style I wanted to portray in the brand. The three letters are an abbreviation of my name, my son's father's name and the "J" is for junior. If I had more children, I didn't want the rest to feel left out.
NATURAWL: Can you tell us about the natural materials you use for your teething rings and bandanas and why using organic, non-toxic materials is so important to you?
Thema: Selecting the materials I use today was a LONG process. The bandana bib itself had gone through 6 pattern and material revisions during the early stage of the business. My son was the perfect tester for my bandana bibs as he was a very heavy drooler. He soaked through almost every bib I used including my own. So I sourced over 20 samples of terry cloth to finally find the one I use today. I had finally created a bib that would keep him dry all day! I also wanted to make sure that the terry cloth was organic, as this was the portion that is rubbing against the child's skin. I eventually started using more and more organic cottons for the prints as well and now offer a fairly wide variety of 100% organic bibs. The terry cloth is sustainably grown and made in the USA. Using as many USA made materials and businesses for my products is really important to me because this reduces the amount of miles traveled before the bib arrives in mama's hands. The snaps I use are the most secure ones I've found and are made and sold by a small family run business right in the US. I did quite a bit of researching when I went on to upgrade my labels and those are made by another Etsy seller in the US as well. The wooden rings are made only a few states away and are CPSIA compliant. I wanted to create products that made me feel good and that I felt comfortable using on my own child. The textile industry can be quite wasteful and toxic and we only have one planet! Even in my own practices, I am quite weary on reducing waste. I use the tiny bits of terry cloth, that I cannot re-purpose for sewing, to clean. I donate all other scraps to a local quilter. I try to reuse packing materials, buy in bulk, and utilize materials efficiently. I focus on doing the best I can while still maintaining the quality and price point.
NATURAWL: How do you select which patterns to use for your fabrics?
Thema: I like to keep several factors in mind while choosing fabrics. Quality and function always come first, so I tend to stick to prints from the same designers and distributors that I trust. My personal style really is definitely reflected in KTJBaby as well. I love to find prints that are timeless yet trendy. Longevity of style is just as important and longevity of the item itself. I am a bit of a minimalist
and firmly believe in purchasing only products that I totally love and will use; this is something I want to provide in each and every piece I create.
NATURAWL: So tell us, what's next for KTJBaby? What can we expect to see from your business in the near future?
Thema: As I grow I plan on becoming more "green" in my processes and materials. One example of this is to utilize recycled cardboard for the retail hangers. I had sought out recycled options when creating my initial design, but unfortunately, this would have cost more than the bibs themselves! As I scale, this will eventually become an option that won't hurt customers' pockets. By the end of this year, I would like to have accomplished this as well as getting a workspace outside of my home. This way I can possibly bring on a small team and create opportunities for others in my community. I look forward to connecting and working with more like-minded businesses to bring moms and dads products that work, feel good to purchase and will last through multiple children!
Thema resides with her family in Buffalo, New York.