We have another Q&A with the founder of Cheengoo, Liz Paik. Get to know how the company began, why she supports women in China, and designing the pet and baby toys.
Q: What made you want to start Cheengoo?
Liz Paik: Cheengoo began as a hobby back in 2005. I was a graphic designer by trade and my two passions in my life were my pets and good design. There weren’t, in my opinion, too many well-designed commerce websites especially geared to discerning pet owners. Most were overly frilly or packed to the seams with glitter and glam. I set out to create Cheengoo.com to provide a hand picked selection of high quality, upscale, and stylish pet accessories. Two years later, the hobby became a serious business and the decision was made to open a brick and mortar store. Around the same time, Cheengoo launched its own line of hand made collars, leashes and toys. It was an instant hit amongst other similar high-end boutiques.
When I became a mom, my son, Oliver, became both my inspiration and muse. Spending time with my son brought a desire to dramatically expand Cheengoo's offerings to include baby products. In 2013, Cheengoo acquired Yellow Label Kids, a small company producing children's handcrafted, eco-friendly toys and accessories who had a similar style and aesthetic vision.
Q: What made you want to support the women in China who make the products?
LP: Buyers nowadays are smarter and more informed. They want to know how and where the products are made, under what conditions, and most importantly whether they are safe. They want to know the story behind the product.
I wanted our buyers to feel good about what they purchase and it was important to me that we use sustainable, organic, natural materials where ever possible. With that in mind, it made sense to seek our partners who share the same philosophy. Our crochet toys are ethically and environmentally made by a team of artisan women. Most are mothers and farmers in rural China. We provide free training, flexible working hours and monthly compensation in the hand craft industry where workers are usually only paid bi-annually and feel that we are improving working conditions in China by example. The result is a friendly working environment that also doubles as a support network allowing these women to earn a fair wage while satisfying their obligations at home.
Q: What is your current favorite item that you sell? Or maybe... which is/was your son's favorite to play with? ;)
LP: Unfortunately, my son is now too old to be playing with rattles! It’s too bad they don’t stay as babies for too long. It’s so fleeting.
I seriously love designing all my toys and I can't really say which is my favorite. When a prototype is made from a 2D drawing, I get a jolt of energy when it turns out exactly how I imagine it. Of course, it doesn’t always turn out like this at the first attempt, or even second or third. It can be a painful process at times -- but at the end of the day, if I am not absolutely satisfied with the final result, the product will never get to market.
Q: What's been the biggest blessing or reward giving back? Any cool stories?
LP: I love the idea that our products are hand crafted and eco-friendly. What's even better is that we are making a difference (albeit small) to the lives of women in China. These women, mostly mothers, would not have had any other work opportunities as most factory workers are required to work full time and mostly far away from their homes. One of the key perks for working with us is that anybody can come in and get themselves trained for free. If they decide that they want to take the work home to be with their family, they have the flexibility to do so. They can literally earn a living at home while watching their kids do their homework. You can't say there are many jobs like that in China right now.
We also recently started working with two great partners in Nepal and Latvia with similar stories - they care both about their environment and their welfare of their employees.