The Wooly Owl was created by owner and operator, Alissa Tarita-Havenaar from Muskoka Ontario because she believes that babies, moms and the earth deserve the best. Her company uses sustainable materials, like organic cotton and reclaimed wool fibers to create truly unique items for earth-conscientious families.
Alissa Tarita-Havenaar’s company was created from her own personal desire to live from the land and to offer reusable, biodegradable alternatives to many of the items used by moms, such as nursing pads. Her goals include keeping materials as local as possible. In her quest to be sustainable, Alissa uses 100% wool materials and organic cotton knits, organic flax seed, and biodegradable materials. She also uses recycled (aka upcycled materials) like vintage buttons. Materials, like vintage buttons add to the uniqueness of her pieces.
Alissa’s business is a one-woman enterprise and out of her creativity is born one-of-a-kind items, made by her, for moms and babies. Her business represents her commitment to the planet and helping others to live a chemical-free life. We just had to talk to Alissa about her business, her values and her future goals.
NaturalMommy: Alissa, what are some of the reasons why you use local materials in the products you create?
Alissa: There are a few reasons. First, it keeps the cost of materials low. I purchase all of my wools from local second-hand stores. Convenient since at present I can walk to the store, (saving gas money from my pocket and from added carbon emissions into the air,) and second, all donations to the stores will usually be made by the local people in the community. Thus, the materials in their own way are from the community made back into items for the community. I was purchasing organic cotton form the United States, but have since decided to go strictly with recycled materials over organic. Although there is a huge market right now for things strictly certified organic, I feel that buying used over newly organic is genuinely a greener choice. The material is already there and does not require raw materials to be processed weather organically or not.
NM: How do you create your wool longies and in what way are they a good choice for babies?
Alissa: I take the materials that I have collected from local second-hand stores, from people who send me their scraps of wool in the mail (Thank you Janet from Victoria BC), and locals who have old sweaters and blankets, then fit them to desired patterns that are beautiful. I serge the majority of the lines and use my sewing machine for the others. My mother-in-law, Astrid, taught me how to needle point this year so I try adding some of that practice when it seems right.
As for the choice: wool is ideal for night time diapering.
I come from a one-use diaper family. My mom had five kids under six and I am pretty sure I was bottle fed too. In saying that, I never realized the inconvenient truth about diapers until I worked at a diapering boutique in Victoria, BC. It was such a mind blow to realize that chemicals are responsible for the soakage of urine in plastic diapers (and usually the cause of most diaper rashes). This chemical, which is not found in reusable diapers (a big wOOt to that!), removes urine from the baby’s skin so the baby doesn’t notice they have peed themselves. (Also a reason that babies who cloth diaper potty train faster since they are aware of their wetness). At night time however, you want them not to notice, and be able to sleep!! In saying that, wool maintains the temperature of urine to the baby’s body temperature and thus allows baby to sleep through the night longer than with a regular insert.
Lastly and most convincing, when urine (acid) mixes with the natural oil in wool called lanolin (base) the formula creates a soap that self-cleans the diaper….so just dry completely between use, and you can usually go a week without washing! Really? YES!
NM: How was your business, The Wooly Owl created and why?
Alissa: I have never had a hobby. Ever! I always would be inspired by my husband as he has always had a pastime that gave him pleasure, from WW2 History to painting Warhammer Figures, John has an artistic output.
I started sewing just two years ago back in Victoria BC. I applied at a studio that made handmade skirts and clothing, one that favoured that real 1920’s city/farm girl look that stirs my fashion sense. I was rejected since I could not even tell you how to attach the needle to the machine. Janet, my neighbour, insisted I buy a pattern, she gave me some lessons and from there it just took off.
After the diapering workshops, I truly found wool and realized its potential as a super fibre. As my life changed to be more conscientious, community based, and self reliant, The wOOly Owl was born as the stepping stone to a home based, farm-life way of being. From my machine, I can create something artistically inspired which can provide to my community a locally made item that is available to local people, and a great addition to a trade and barter economy.
NM: Since you make all of your pieces yourself, how do you balance your work life with your family/personal life?
Alissa: Honestly, I am finding the overlapping of my sincere life to my actual job very difficult to separate and move towards my ultimate goal of doing the wOOly Owl full time. There are so many people out there who are itching to make huge changes in their lifestyles yet feel somewhat unable to make that leap of faith. For me, when I read the ETSY pieces on Shop owners who “quit their day jobs” and who solely sell online, I feel frustrated that I am yet to be in any financial position to go full WOOlY Owl, that I still depend on my full time retail job, yet inspired that the more time I put into this craft, the sooner I can “quit my day job” and follow through with my own dreams. My Husband John is always behind me and supports me through and through. For me, sewing is like a good book, so if I am not diligently studying about how I am going to plant my veggie garden this year, John will find me at the sewing machine.
NM: The Wooly Owl is also an expression of your environmentally-conscious approach to business. Can you tell us what having a green business means to you and why you think it is important?
Alissa: I always feel good when I am preparing an item, say a pair of nursing pads. I wrap them up with these bright naturally dyed wool threads that I discovered (a glorious box stuffed full of 100% hand died needlepoint wool threads that are just beautiful) then I attach a button from Astrid’s collection and wrap them up in brown paper…
When I am out, I look around at all of the products that are made of plastic or have harsh chemicals in them, leaching toxins and pesticides –
…I think of the brown paper filled with naturally decomposable materials and how, when they are not needed, they will simply breakdown into the very thing from which they came…the earth. Simple. I am very proud that I could eventually grow vegetables from the things I make instead of being left with a tower of permanent plastic.
NM: How can moms benefit from using your re-usable nursing pads and why have you chosen wool as the main material for them?
Alissa: Dayna, a very good friend of mine is kinda my go to mom! As most people do not know, I do not have babies of my own. I have a gaggle of nieces and nephews on which to test my items (lucky them!) but I have none to my own name. I have been inspired by Dayna and learned that mothers are to be highly respected. To bear a child and to raise them with the utmost nurturing and love is truly something that is beautiful and that I deeply respect. I have learned so many alternative parenting strategies from her that were so foreign to me. I thought every child had a pacifier and yet I have now learned that babies cry for a reason and maybe their crying is a form of communication, that pacifiers should not be a tool to quiet your child. Alternatives…
Alternatives are good. I liked the bamboo nursing pads out there, but Dayna illuminated how awesome wool is as an alternative. Wool is naturally odour resistant which makes it an ideal breast pad. WOOly milk pads are backed with cotton and are fast drying and easy to clean. They are also capable of absorbing up to 30% of their own weight in liquid! Temperature regulating, these breast pads will also aid in keeping your nipples toasty warm or comfortably cool and won’t stick like other materials do! I also make exclusive wool pads for those adventurous ladies….
NM: Your products are one-of-a-kind pieces, made with care and respect for the planet and the moms/babies who use them. What are some of your thoughts on mass-produced goods and their impact on the environment?
Alissa: I think it unsettling how detached we are from our highest potentials. It is hard looking around at my community to see families that are so poor and stuck in financial crises. I look at the factories that have closed down and all of the individuals that had based their entire retirement on those factory jobs. Then I see others who have so much money that they are updating their summer cottage with $100,000.00 fireplaces. Children do not understand where their food comes from and we run to huge box corporations for material satisfaction. We have lost a plethora of skills and yet it is hard to find others interested in exploring ways to depend less on the grid and more on each other.
Mass production is a disease on all of us. Not only do items made overseas and sold from huge corporations sabotage local and community based businesses and local economy, somewhere along the line either the environment, the employee, or the quality of an item losses out. I am hoping to inspire others to always be learning. Learn how to can peaches, how to bake bread, and to discover the truths about factory chickens. Take a look around at your community and realize that your neighbour went to the food bank yesterday.
I know we are just talking about a reusable pad, but through its creation, I have gained a skill to cloth a community, and the journey of the wOOly Owl teaches me to walk my talk.
NM: What are your future goals for your business?
Alissa: What we do is who we are. The wOOly Owl inspires me as a person to really; truly and honestly take a second to think about how things are and to question why they are how they are. Bryan Kest said, “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do what you do.” I really take that seriously. It is easy to get caught up in the green movement of today. I think there is a market out there that is specifically geared toward the upper class that buys into the eco lifestyle based on an ego to appear vogue. I have been advised that I should make items for little dogs or I should sell my items in this or that particular community and take advantage of that clientele. I cringe at the thought of enabling a market that would rather buy something new and “organic” than to search for a simpler and less materialistic approach. I would rather offer affordable, local, and handmade items to those who truly need it most.
I hope that through the wOOly Owl, I can become a home based business that is interwoven in a life that is sustainable and self reliant. My husband and I just purchased an old farmhouse and some land. My garden seeds are on their way and I am even excited to say that I am going to try and grow my own wheat this year! I believe that we as human beings should never be forced to work our life around our job; I feel that our job should make time for our life. That we do what fulfills us and makes for us a simple life that is simple to live. And at the end of the day, when all is said and done, we live with good intentions, we inspire others to grow, and that we walk our talk.
To view the Wooly Owl web site, click [here].