Ashley: I am very excited to have Tracy Costa joining us today. Tracy is the award-winning founder and CEO of PK beans. It is a sustainable clothing company for kids that has been operational since 2006. They have added a monthly subscription box as well that has been designed to educate and entertain kids. So thank you so much for joining us today.
Traci: Thank you for having me.
A: Where did the idea and I’m sorry, is it PK Beans or still Peekaboo Beans.
T: It’s PK Beans now we rebranded in 2020.
THE BEGINNING OF A SUSTAINABLE CLOTHING COMPANY FOR KIDS
A: Where did the idea of starting a kids, clothing brand come from?
T: Well, like you said, it started in 2006 and it was born out of becoming a new mom is like an awakening of all sorts. And pre-kids, I loved fashion and really felt that clothing played a part in our, in our personalities and our expressing ourselves. And so I just transferred that to my daughter when she was born but the thing is, what I found was that even though I would shop in boutiques and find like really high quality pieces they would fall apart or they would shrink, or they will pill or the zippers with buckle and I found it, this must be very taxing on our climate and on our planet and on the resources to make all of these clothes that just didn’t really last. So it was kind of born out of that idea in that kids their work is play and most of the clothing that I bought for her, weren’t sort of conducive to playful living. It was kind of at the rise when Lululemon was like huge in Vancouver and they were creating this whole mindset of like yoga, mindfulness, health and wellbeing and spirituality. So I really wanted to create a lifestyle brand for kids that focused on developmental needs to be able to look at like sustainability and create quality clothing that lasted, then that would end up in a landfill that could be passed down or that could be resold and really have value within it. And it’s grown and evolved so much since then. So the, the reason it started is still a hundred percent there. Living and breeding and thriving. But it has evolved a lot since then.
A: Good for you for having that environmental mindset. I think a lot of people don’t really understand or fully take in how much pollution and toxic waste comes from fast fashion.
T: Oh, it’s an epidemic. The overarching climate issue and textile waste in landfills is number two pollutant next to oil. We’re small and comparison, but it only takes somebody to be bringing attention to it and making changes and being an advocate for it. It’s interesting cause it was 15 years that we started this, but it just, again, when becoming a mom, it just opens your eyes to so many things. Cause you’re like, well you know, and at that time, like recycling was even just starting to come out.
A: For sure. You were definitely ahead of the curve. Even thinking about kids’ clothing in a play aspect, because I think too, we forget that that really is kids main role is to able to sort of just have fun and play. I know, especially like my daughter is 14 and when she was little, a pair of runners, I was lucky if it lasted three months because they really just don’t make kids products for the most part in the market to actually last for kids. So there was this more so than adults clothes there wasn’t turnaround that was increasing waste
T: What I think what happens is the mindset. The mindset is still a huge, it’s like, I’m not going to investment cause they’re going to grow out of it. But it’s a very consumption-based mentality rather than if I buy quality and I can pass it down to all of my kids, rather than buying a new pair or a new set of leggings or a new pair of pants or pajamas. Rather than getting rid of it, I can either pass it down or resell it. The resell market is growing like five times faster than traditional retail now because the new millennial parent or the younger generation parents now is a lot more mindful of it, as maybe my generation wasn’t as mindful of it, but I think it is a mindset that has to be overcome. It’s having a toll and we can see that toll right right in front of our eyes.
HAVING TO PIVOT IN BUSINESS
A: Yeah. Unfortunately, now being a business owner for 15 years, I can just imagine the ebb and flow that you’ve had to go through. I know when I previously heard you speak, you had talked about a little bit with even the market changing back in 2007 and 2008, what kind of pivots, have you had to deal with in your business and how have you kind of overcome those?
T: Oh my goodness. I’ve had to make two big pivots. The first pivot, like you mentioned was in 2008/2009. That was when there was a financial crisis and we were like, we were just starting to make inroads from a sales perspective. I think we’re in over 400 boutiques across North America at that point. So we were like in the states, we were like really growing and, then the economic crisis happened. What happened with that was there was this trickle-down effect of like boutiques going out of business because most of those smaller boutiques in communities were built mom and pop type businesses, and weren’t able to sustain themselves through this crisis financial crisis. Like what happened was I was, I remember it vividly. I was actually in labor with my second daughter. And I had a Blackberry at the time, which shows what time, what time in timestamp it was. But I got an order that was canceled and it was a $10,000 order, which was a big order for a wholesale.
T: From a boutique. Yeah. And they canceled the order saying that they couldn’t take the order and then because it took took 36 hours to have her. I was lying there for awhile, but anyways, I, I think in that period of time, I had three orders canceled and it was like a death, just a landslide from there.
A: How devastating while you’re trying to focus on bringing an actual human to the world.
T: I think about it now. I mean, like the last 15 years doing what I’ve done has been, it’s been a gift and it’s also a challenge. Like it’s been a gift cause I haven’t missed many moments in my kids’ lives, but you know, you’re always split yourself into two. So I mean, that’s the resilience we have as, as humans and as mothers, you know? But it was at that time, I had Colby and then I was navigating this financial downturn I had a call from a girl who had bought from a boutique and Calgary and the boutique had closed down and she said, I used to love buying from you and at that point we didn’t have an online store. So she said, where could I buy it? And it was, it was like, kind of this epiphany moment where I was like, you know, this person is seeking out our product. We didn’t have online at the time, boutiques were suffering and closing down and so I looked to sort of a home party platform where women who may have lost their jobs or husbands who had lost their jobs or were looking for extra income, could kind of take that Pampered Chef model or that Mary Kay model and create like a rolling retail boutique. They could sell the product, they could get the product at a discount because they sold it and then they could earn a commission off of it. They could supplement their income or they could make an income. This one girl sort of sparked that idea in me, and then I built out that whole direct sales platform for years, and
A: It was such an amazing pivot. And that is really fantastic because I think you were the only business model that did that with children’s clothing.
T: It was a crazy, crazy ride. We had thousands of women selling it and we had this incredible community of women and it was really fun and exciting. It’s a part of my business that I truly cherish because it was an inspiring community of women that really got behind that whole message of importance of play in children’s lives. They were really advocates for this higher quality product that could be passed down and kept out of landfills. And so you basically had all of these advocates of women that were telling your story and building out that community. But then that predicated another pivot in the business as well. That was the next pivot was in was 2018. What was happening was we were holding these parties and having these great events. But what happened was like the rise of like Facebook lives and Instagram lives. People were wanting to do their businesses more from home and not leave their home because it is a lot of work to like pack up samples and go to people’s houses and fill orders. And they were doing that. We were successful at it. But with this rise of like Facebook, predominantly Facebook lives, Where people are like, well, we’re just gonna have a party. You guys can all be in your pajamas. We can all be at home. I can have a glass of wine and then we can have these parties. But that, that whole direct sales model is, it is a formula. And one of the formulas is that people can touch it and feel it in person.
A: A little bit harder to do online setting, I would think.
T: Yeah, it’s possible. It’s definitely possible, but it really took away from the formula in which it works. Like you have in that direct sales model, you’re having a party so that people will buy product, but they’ll also book parties, but they’ll also decide if they want to sell the product. So it’s kind of a formula and if you’re not following that formula, there’s like stunted growth. So it just causes like a whole bunch of problems and challenges. I think we probably could have prevailed through it possibly, but it would have, it would have been huge. And so it was also the rise of Instagram, where in influencers, where people were predominantly like shopping through like an affiliate code. So for example, if I was an influencer and I had a big following, and then I promoted a product and I clicked on a link, then I would get that influencer would get like,
A: You can commission off of it
T: And commission off of it. Yeah. So it was kind of like a lot easier to earn money rather than doing these big parties. So in 2018, we had to make, well, there was lead up to it, but we, we pivoted to an omni-channel and the omni-channel. Selling from multiple different places. So for example, we had a bricks and mortar store then we pivoted to an affiliate model so that any of our stylists that sold at that home party platform, they could move into an affiliate role. But what they would do is they would mainly just post a link so if they still wanted to sell on Instagram, they could be like, oh, you can buy this and just click through the link and they would get a commission. Basically, what it was doing was to get back brand control bring back like the core values of the company, bring back the mission to reach our customers directly, as opposed to through another filter with another person. But it’s, that’s been a shift and I’m very glad that we did it. Only because of the way that the world has evolved from social media presence. In fact, you don’t see as many direct sales companies as you used to. They popped up like crazy for a period of probably like eight years. But now it’s more like influencer based.
A: We think most people would prefer, like, I know even say door to door sales. Like I almost get annoyed if people ask me if I want to buy something, because it’s like an age of the internet. It’s like, everything that you want is really at your fingertips. So it’s like if you’re seeking out something, you have the ability to find it yourself. So I think. It just does make more sense that more people are given to sort of those avenues.
T: Yeah. And to your point, it’s really about like value based things. Like if someone just shows up in your door, they don’t know who you are, what you value, you know, what your stance is on anything. And that’s where, where we have so much more control as consumers now, as we can align with the company’s. that means something to us and our values aligned with us. And I had to, you know, we’re still rebuilding from that. And then right when the pivot happened, basically two years after that Covid hit so you know, we’ve had to navigate, we’ve had to pivot, but what I’ll tell you is the core of what we do is being a voice for kids and creating a quality product that allows kids to feel. Good to feel comfortable, to feel connected to themselves, to feel independent and to be a voice for play, because play is the backbone to any healthy growth and development in children. So I look at play into two timeframes play now is like a source of de-stressing for kids because we’re living through a global pandemic, but outside of a global pandemic play is about who we become, you know, who we’re meant to become. We learn that through play and we learn social skills and we learned to communicate and we learn to assess risks. So. At the heart of what we do, that’s the most important thing. And so that’s been the guiding force through all of these pivots that have, you know, could break you like these things aren’t easy.
A: No, not at all. I think it’s fantastic that your company and that you had the foresight to say, hey I could allow this situation to knock me down and it could be the end, but instead you were like, nope let’s go left and let’s figure out this challenge and let’s keep going to create the path sort of, of allowing this company to thrive, which I think unfortunately, due to circumstances or due to not having the ability to pivot so many other companies just didn’t.
IMPORTANCE OF PLAY
T: Yeah. What I’ve learned is that if you are strongly attached to what you do that gives you the opportunity to sort of bow out. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s not, you know, but when you have a distinct mission and purpose, then it’s like, okay, I just have to fight through it. You know, like this is my calling for whatever reason. I was just talking to my marketing manager about this. I’m like the, probably the last generation that didn’t have any type of technology growing up. And I’m not saying technology is a bad thing cause it’s not, it’s a fantastic thing. But I think that it’s for me I feel like I’m the last generation of those who need to remind. The importance of play and that, you know, I aligned myself with experts and doctors and resources and associations. So I’m not the expert in it, but I surround myself with the experts on this, the doctors that the science. You know, is sharing all of this and I’m the advocate for it. I have the platform to be able to be the advocate for it so I’m grateful for that because that has been the guidepost for me, but it actually goes a little bit back farther and I won’t go into too much detail, but my husband and I struggled with 10 years of infertility. I think the reason why I became so passionate about it is because both my girls were born through in-vitro and I didn’t think that I would have the opportunity to be a mother. And motherhood is like, it’s my most favorite job. It’s like, it’s the best job in the world. And I think that every. All of the years that I struggled with infertility have made me appreciate every pain point of being a parent. So in a way that was a gift for me, even though it didn’t feel like a gift, it was a really dark place but now I feel like it, it really is. It was part of my journey, I guess.
A: Sometimes our worst curse do end up becoming our biggest blessing.
T: It’s usually like that, which is very unfortunate
A: So grateful and in a way that you did end up having to go through that journey to sort of be able to find yourself and your love of children even more with this brand, because I know even in today’s society where we’re sort of veering away from pink is for girls and blue is for boys. That’s one thing that I noticed on your website is really fantastic that I think that your company does you make clothes for kids. It isn’t, you know, this boy can’t wear this dress or this girl can’t wear this neutral color and it really is just clothing for children.
T: No, that’s so interesting. that you pointed that out because that’s something that we’re even more so moving into, even though we’ve been like that, like clothes are clothes and you should pick what you want to pick. And that’s what I love about being a voice for kids is that if you like pink, wear pink, you like, you know, if you like blue or blue, and if you want to wear a dress, wear a dress. Like I don’t, I our natural born DNA is embedded in us and we can help kids bring that out and we can guide them along that way, but foster them to become their best self. And so much of that stems from mental health, obviously. So if we have strong mental health, then we can be resilient and we can get through so many things. And, you know, those, the, the stage that you’re in right now with your kids and my kids, it’s a hard stage. So we need to like build them up with their resilience to be able to get through that because it’s really tricky.
A: The teenage years are so hard. Before you have kids, people are like, oh, the terrible twos, oh, teenage years have nothing on the terrible twos. It’s like, I wish I could go back to the terrible twos.
T: Oh my God. Yeah.
A: I think pretty much like anything above 10, I just, I wouldn’t pay money to go back and relive those years. It is really hard. Especially both having girls, like girls are tough and girls are so mean to each other. And it really is just a really unique, challenging time. And I know when I was in high school, social media, wasn’t a thing, all of that kind of stuff. Like I was sort of lucky my high school. You know, early twenties are really, when it came into play that my high school years were hidden and everything wasn’t, you know, on Snapchat for everybody to see.
T: Yeah. So yeah, you’ll see on our site, there’s like this little boy who, and he refers to himself as a boy. He and him. I met him and he was wearing a dress when I met him and his mom was lovely. And so I was like, you know, would he want to come to a photo shoot? And he can put out whatever he wants to wear. He picked out this pixie dress that we have, and it’s pink with like pena colored flowers all over it. You’ll see it on our website I think. He looked so happy in that dress. And that just to me filled my bucket because I was like, you know what? We just want kids to be able to express themselves and not hide who they are so I love that. I really, I love that part of the business as well. There’s so many things that we get to be advocates for kids. Advocates for there for, you know, what they’re meant to do and and just be an advocate for their voice. So, yeah, it’s really cool. I love that part.
A: I am really happy to see you that, and I think that more businesses should take note and sort of go into that direction because this blue is for boys and pink is for girls is such a silly concept and it should have sort of ended once the eighties ended.
T: It’s true. It’s still lives and breathes and in so many people, like it’s really, really difficult for many to overcome. And we see that particularly because we have a bricks and mortar store, so people will say, where are the boys? Where are the girls? And I understand that. But we’re trying to educate on like, you know, well, these are just our pants, so whatever pants you like, whatever color you like, these are our pants, these are our tops, you know?
EXPERIENTIAL SHOPPING EXPERIENCE
A: Where do you see the company going in another, like five years from now? What do you hope for PK beans?
T: The way that we’re moving is to, become part of kids like entertainment and experiences. So for example, we just launched interactive PJ’s, which is meant to be like a helper in the home. If you go to our website and a picture of our jammies and there’s a moon screen on the pocket and if you scan the moon screen with the app that we have, it will launch a nighttime routine. So we call it the journey to sleepy town. And what it does is just this really calm app that walks kids through like stages of going to bed. So did you brush your teeth? These are the reasons why we brush your teeth and it’s all our characters in our world, the PK Beans world. So they’re engaging and they’re singing songs and they’re like winding kids down for sleep. They go through the sleep stations. Have you been to the bathroom? And then it’s about reflecting on your day. What was the good part of your day? What was the bad part of your day? And you kind of click on it once you’ve answered it. What kind of mood you’re in? It gives parents opportunity to connect with their kids and ask those questions and then it has storybooks that it will read to you and lullabies and songs and things like that. So we’re moving to, I think, become experiences and helpers in homes and creating experiences with our clothing and seeing our clothing as more interactive. And like, what’s the first thing that you do when you come home from work is put on your comfy as pants and your comfiest shirt and your warmest socks and you put your hair in a bun and you feel good for sure. For us, it’s about creating these experiences for kids that engage them, but also become a helper, but also utilizing those experiences to spark active play too. So we have like our subscription box, as you mentioned that beginning that has a storybook adventure, but throughout it there’s active play components where you would go on nature hunts, or you would go on explorations or adventures or you would, you know, be set into action with some active play Elma so its about taking your clothing and infusing experiences that will spark your imagination and elevate to have them play. So using the technology actually to get them playing and sparking their imagination. So I see an evolution of that and becoming like the first mover of interactive kind of experiences with clothing and transforming the way people think about their clothes.
A: Such a great idea such a fantastic options for families to have, especially with the younger children. There aren’t well, an older children too, but like, especially with younger kids, there’s not, necessarily like a website or something where you as a family can kind of go and have that safe space. Thinking about that my daughter was on a safe Youtube thing and her being like did you know that there’s boobs on the internet and being unfortunately, yes. And now where are you?
T: I know. And you know what? We work with child, a child psychologist Sebastian Almark, who’s also also an Emmy-winning screenwriter to produce this content. So it’s built around the psychology of children and supporting them and then also he’s an Emmy winning screenwriter. So he’s also got the background on psychology for kids, but also like the entertainment side. So we’re able to infuse the two. Like it was a really unique experience was really educational.
A: No offense to anybody who makes educational content, but it can be kind of boring.
T: Yeah. It can be kind of boring and this is not boring. Like it’s, you’re singing the songs in your head and it’s a very much. Kind of like a baby Einstein or a little Einstein experience where you have characters and you know, and it’s engaging. And I think of like our stores is becoming experiential boutiques, where it’s not just about shopping. It’s really about like engaging the kids and entertaining and challenging them and inspiring them. So I think that that’s, you know, where we’re going and then from like a sustainability standpoint our whole preloved platform on our website. So you can resell your clothes on our website and you get 40% of the profits. So we are continuing to build that that’s growing like crazy and then we also have a repurposed portion. So we’re about creating circularity in our business, meaning that we don’t draw from the resources. Again, we try to minimize the taxation on the earth by repurposing products so if you have products that you’ve bought from us and that’s got a hole under a stain, which of course happens, we actually used local sowers and we create new product like doll clothes, or dog toys, which is our art kits. Yeah. So that’s, that’s so the whole circularity and sustainability is important to us. So we’ll also see that like grow and thrive within our business model to over the next few years. So, yeah, it’s going to be exciting. Who knows? I don’t know. It’s just been a journey. It’s definitely been a journey.
A: Well, I look forward to seeing where it goes from there and I think PK Beans has proven for the longest time. You know, you guys are really innovative and have all of these great ideas I really do feel confident that five years from now that there will be different adventures and experiences.
T: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. And yeah, it’s worth it and I don’t know sometimes. Yeah, you, I think to myself, what am I doing? But You know, I have a mentor who has said to me many, many times, if not you who, so, you know, we, if we want to see change, we have to be the ones that, you know, will advocate for it.
A: There’s this really great quote, by Reese Weatherspoon, where she was talking about whenever we see in movies is women are always kind of turning to the men and being like, what are we going to do now? I don’t know about you, but I’ve never turned to the man in my life. What are we going to do next?
T: No, it’s still true. Well, yeah. Good for you.
CAN WOMEN “HAVE IT ALL?”
A: And there is sort of this notion in thinking about women that they never seem to ask men, but it’s that we can have it all. And we have to kind of come up with this balance. Now you’ve mentioned that you’re a wife and a mom and obviously a business owner. Do you think that women can, you know, quote unquote have it all?
T: I think so. Yes, but I think it’s a mindset. So it depends what you define as have it all in your own personal experience. I feel like, you know, there’s people who have like, I’m going to work or I’m going to stay at home or I’m going to make this sacrifice and, maybe they feel divided or split but to me in my life, my work is such a creative outlet, a business outlet and mind set outlet for me and like the parenting side and the mother side is just another outlet and so for me, I feel like your mindset is if you, you want it all, you can have it all. It just is how you think about it. Like we were talking about it earlier, like the challenges we go through. Sometimes, you know, we’ve begrudge those challenges, but when you’re in it and you’re thinking like this is happening to me for a reason what, what am I learning from this? What is the opportunity that’s coming from this? And it’s not always easy, but I a hundred percent about even like, pandemic. I mean, it’s been terrible. My stepfather passed away from Covid. It’s been very traumatic, but there’s good that comes with it too and that’s like slowing down and being present and, you know, seeing what’s important and, and all of those things so if you can have that mindset and know that all of the good and the bad are part of the opportunity of having it all, then, you know, I think that we all can.
A: I think it’s, depending on, you know, what you do want to balance and surrounding yourself with people that can help you balance, like you said, having a mentor, having all of these people in place so that you don’t really feel like everything is on you, a hundred percent of the time.
T: You really do need mentors. You really need people that you can surround yourself with because It can be lonely and it can be, you know, challenging. And so it’s good to have people that you can kind of lean on for that.
A: Now, what is something that you think that you do like, so at the end of the day, when you sort of take off the business hat and the mom hat and the wife hat, and it’s just you, what are things that you like to do to kind of unwind for just yourself?
T: Well, I’ve learned through the pandemic that I really love crafting, and I really love sewing and I really love painting. And I never really channeled those outlets before. Cause I’ve always been busy. I feel like I realized that I’m much more of a creative soul than I, not that I didn’t think I was cause I think that I have a creative mind and a creative outlet. I really enjoy, I mean, I made over a thousand products myself during the pandemic from our repurpose fabric. So like product development was like solely on me developing all of these products, sewing all of these products. In fact, like during the pandemic, when masks weren’t even a thing at the beginning, I had people asking me like, oh, do you think you could sell a mask? So I started selling masks I sold like. At that point I was sewing, a whole bunch of masks myself so we ended up making them on a larger scale through the company. But I really enjoyed that and I found it like, just de-stressing, like painting. I got into watercolors during the pandemic and-
A: I could see that would be a great stress reliever.
HOW DID WE ALL SURVIVE PRE- YOUTUBE?
T: Yeah. And like knitting and I made like hats and toques. I don’t know, they’re not like fantastic, but they were okay. But then learning from a YouTube video. And,
A: Honestly, what did we do before YouTube, like 10 years ago? Could you imagine , I’m very thankful that like, if we did have to have a pandemic that it really was in the day in age where, you know, Instacart existed and we do have a thousand streaming options.
T: You are definitely right about that. I remember one time. He ran out of gas with my car and I had like, I went and bought like gas from the gas station. And then I couldn’t get the gas can into my gas tank. So I’m on the side of the road. I’m like you-tubing my vehicle model and like gas can, and it said, oh, in the glove box, there’s this adapter that you put on your, on the gas can, and you can put it, then you can fill up your car. And I was like, what did people do before?
A: Honestly, though. Right? I would have never figured out the gas can thing.
T: Trying to jam it in, like, why isn’t this work?
A: Exactly. I feel like we would all die. Like we would not have survived the pandemic.
T: Yeah. You know, we definitely have access to everything at our disposal.
EXPLORING THE WORLD POST-PANDEMIC
A: It is very handy. I know the only thing that really, for me personally, with being stuck at home and again, being a Canadian, we live in a very beautiful province. I love BC. But I honestly cannot wait to just go explore any other countries. If Covid wasn’t a thing, where do you think that you would go to next?
T: Well, before Covid hit I had planned in June of 2020 had planned a personal development retreat in Greece.
A: That sounds amazing.
T: Yeah. With a, with a girl who has a mentoring coaching platform called Robin Gooding. She’s incredible. So she put together this group of women, I think there was eight of us that were going to go to Greece. So I’m hoping that once this is over, that we’ll come back because it was so looking forward to that, it was like a, like a week boot camp of taking care of yourself and mindfulness, and like just reinventing yourself and developing. And so that, and then I did have a trip planned to Maui. We usually go every year, but we haven’t gone in a couple of years. So hopefully we’ll be able to go there again soon. Those would be my two places.
A: Both of those would be fantastic. I don’t know about you. I’m not a winter person. I’m anywhere sort of summery
T: Me too but I like fall like September. September’s a beautiful month.
A: Yeah, I don’t mind that I’m at the point pretty much, I guess summer now is like, we just feel like we’re on fire constantly. And now we’re like in a blizzard, so I know I’m going to be, I guess, the summer and fall girl.
T: Just so we can live in June and September.
A: Well, Tracy, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.
T: Well, thanks for having me. It has been really nice talking to you
A: Can you tell everyone where they can find you on social media and what your website is?
A: Which she has a really great, funny videos.
T: Thank you. Yeah, me and my daughter were kind of silly that way.
A: I know my daughter, I literally couldn’t pay her to do Tik Toks with me fantastic that yours will still do it with you.
T: thank you it might be short-lived but anyways, take advantage of it now.
A: Well, thank you Traci so much.
T: Thank you, Ashley. It was lovely speaking to you.