Friday, 11 November 2016

Motherly Love, Naturally (II)

As a parent, do you think about the nature of manufacturing practice that goes behind the products you buy for your child, or the environmental impact the products could cause, leaving indelible carbon footprints in the future that you hope your child will thrive? Victoria Chuard does, and she reckons many parents are in the same mind too. Her advice on starting a more sustainable lifestyle and parenting practice? ‘Shop locally when you can, choose handmade when you can, choose reusable when you can.’ Because changes in our consumption pattern can go a long way. 

Tell us the interesting stories of the brands you source from? 
So many of the brands we work with were borne of the everyday problems that parents face. NumNum and EZPZ mats were invented in the kitchen by baby-led weaning parents who came up with these innovative products to allow their little ones to enjoy food with less mess and more fun. Wrapsody's wraps are hand-batiked by women in Indonesia who are paid fair wages and they have such great wraps for HK's hot, humid climate. BlaBla Kids' dolls have such life in them - I don't know what it is about them, but it's the only doll that my son ever attached to and I've heard similar things from many other parents as well. They are hand-woven by village folk in Peru with the finest Peruvian cotton. All Things Jill's products are the epitome of handmade, wholesome skincare products that are both gentle and smell so wonderful. I use her cloth diaper-safe bum balm for nappy changes, but it also moisturises so well that I used it to heal my son's cradle cap, baby acne and irritated skin too. This one balm was useful for so many skin ailments - less really is often more!

Which is your favourite product? 
Oh that's hard. But if I had to pick one, I would probably say I've had the most fun with NumNum Dips. We wanted to try baby-led weaning, which means you try to avoid spoon-feeding when introducing solids, and instead give them foods of different flavours and textures for them to explore themselves and try as and when they are ready. When you start solids at five or six months old, you have to steam or bake or mash foods until they are mushy so that they can easily swallow (if it makes its way into their mouths!), but at that age they're not coordinated enough to perform the scooping motion needed for a spoon nor use their lips to empty the spoon in their mouths. You're more likely to get food flung across the room and plastered onto your wall than in their tummies! 

Our very first experiment with solids was a baked sweet potato that we then mashed, and we gave him the NumNum Dip to try it with. To my utter surprise, he stabbed at the sweet potato in his bowl, the sweet potato stuck to the NumNum and then all of that went straight into his mouth! Not going to lie, there was a bit of fumbling and some of it did end up in his hair when he missed his mouth, but he was using a utensil without any help or direction! It was amazing! I have been raving to other parents who want to practise baby-led weaning ever since, and we are so glad every day that we chose BLW over spoon-feeding. 

What is your definition of sustainable living and a sustainable future? 
Firstly, I think it's important to say that you should strive to do better, but don't beat yourself up if you don't or can't. Sure, there are people who can live and produce zero garbage, but you don't have to go to those extremes to make a difference in your life, in other people's lives or for the Earth. I've come across cloth diapering mums a few times who sought reassurance when they wanted to use disposables overnight because they have a heavy wetter who happens to sleep solidly for several hours (and if your baby does that, hallelujah, let the kid sleep!), and I say to them, you're already doing a great thing for the environment and your baby's health by using cloth diapers at all, don't beat yourself up because you can't use it 100% of the time. 

So, I think what I'm trying to say is, the small changes you make to your lifestyle has a bigger impact than you probably give yourself credit for, and you just need to keep pushing to make those small changes in a few different aspects of your life. My latest fascination is with essential oils and I've started replacing store-bought hand soap and the like with homemade hand soap in glass jars that I can reuse over and over again! 

Your advice on the first easy step towards sustainable, organic living? 
We have an increasing amount and variety of healthier, more sustainable options available to us today than we did half a decade ago, so it's really up to us now to choose better. We buy organic food for our babies, why shouldn't we care just as much about what goes on their skin, the quality of the materials of their clothes, what their food is stored in? Shop locally when you can, choose handmade when you can, choose reusable when you can. These are all things you can do in Hong Kong without compromising on convenience or safety or value. People often associate organic with 'expensive' or 'inconvenient', but it doesn't have to be the case, and that's something that we strive to help with at Petit Tippi! 

What’s the best thing about being the founder of Petit Tippi? 
I've met so many great parents, some really inspirational and talented mums and dads on my adventure with Petit Tippi, and that's probably the biggest take-away for me. So far, we've only ever gotten positive feedback from our fans and customers, and it really means so much to me to be able to connect, and in some cases help them. Starting this business has pushed me to test my personal and professional limits, and has also pushed me to meet people who have given me a lot of great support in my journey as a new mother and entrepreneur. I am an active member of the breastfeeding, cloth diapering, baby wearing, baby led weaning, baby sign language groups in Hong Kong, so if any of those areas interest you, I would love to give back and share my experiences, my door/inbox is wide open :)

Motherly Love, Naturally

Call it love or maternal instinct, as a mum, you'd naturally want the best for your baby, from the food she eats, the diaper she uses, the balm her delicate little bum is moisturised with, to the sustainable future she will walk into as a proud and responsible adult one day. Victoria Chuard is no different, except that she goes that extra mile to ensure that mums in Hong Kong are able to care for their little ones in a natural and environmentally responsible way, while contributing to a more sustainable future. And so Petit Tippi was born, on the same day Chuard’s son was born.

In a two-week series, we chat with Chuard on being an eco-conscious mum, which eventually led her to found the one-stop online shop for natural, organic and eco-friendly baby products. Read on if you’re a parent who celebrates cloth diapers, breastfeeding, and baby-led weaning, but find the availability of desirable products in this city rather dismal. 

When and why did you found Petit Tippi? Have you always been eco-conscious?
Not at all! I think that as a kid growing up in Canada, you're taught to "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" a lot in school, which is great, but I don't think I was any more or less eco-conscious than the next gal. When I was pregnant with my son in 2014, I did a lot of baby products research and I was frustrated with the very limited options in Hong Kong. The Millennial parents of today in Europe and North America are way ahead of the curve in terms of going back to basics in childrearing and what some refer to as "attachment parenting" - natural remedies, breastfeeding, babywearing, cloth diapering, baby-led weaning and the like (and we do practise all of the above in our household). 

I wound up in a lot of Facebook groups where mums would get together and group-buy products from North America or Europe, and I thought, if I'm doing all this research for the best products for my own baby, I'm sure there are parents here who are looking for the same things as me, and this group-buying that I was participating in was really my proof of concept. So, I started contacting all the brands that I had started buying stuff from for my own baby and that's how the ball got rolling. Our first brand to join the Petit Tippi family was AppleCheeks Cloth Diapers and we actually got our first order the day my son was born! It felt like I gave birth to two babies that day, but I also immediately started freaking out about how I was actually going to fulfil the order :D That's life!

Why did it occur to you to set up a one-stop shop for natural, organic and eco-friendly baby products? 
All the major retailers carry some natural, organic and/or eco-friendly products, but you really have to dig through what they've got to find the good stuff. There just isn't the same focus on those offerings in Hong Kong and I'm sure parents don't have time or want to trek across town for a bit of chemical-free bum cream, especially if you don't live on the island, and that's why we've put such focus on building a beautiful, usable and robust online retail space. I've done all the research already, so why not make it easy and readily available at the click of a button for other parents to make better choices? When I started buying products for my son in Hong Kong, I found myself feeling more often than not, that retailers here were only concerned about carrying the biggest, best-selling brands and even then only their flagship products that they knew would sell fast. That wasn't good enough for me, and it shouldn't be good enough for other parents.

How does Petit Tippi help mums and babies create a more sustainable future? 
At face value, using a lot of the products that we provide will allow each and every one of us to do a small part in saving the environment. Cloth diapers are a great example. Disposables take up to 500 years to decompose in a landfill, not to mention the poop that you're supposed to throw in the toilet but everyone throws in the trash that doesn't get treated properly. In two years a child creates up to two tonnes worth of dirty nappies! Those are crazy numbers! We don't cloth diaper 100% of the time, but just in comparing with my friends how much faster they went through their disposable diapers than in our household, I do get a warm fuzzy feeling about doing my bit, however small, in saving the environment. Not to mention saving my wallet, too! For new parents, we also make baby hampers, big and small, to set you on your way to a healthier, more sustainable path from the get-go! 

Who do you source from, and why? 

As much as we can, we source from the brands that we represent directly. In dealing with the company directly, I have built a relationship with the companies we retail for, and a lot of them are also start-ups by mums and dads like us, in search of what's better for our children. Some of them have also created really awesome communities amongst their customers and retailers (AppleCheeks's group called Peace, Love, AppleCheeks is one of my personal favourites on FB, so much love and support in that group!) which I think is really great. It does mean that I have to take care of shipping and transportation and storage and marketing and everything else on my own instead of with a distributor, but to me it's so much more than just buying and selling product, it's also about mutual trust and respect for what we are trying to achieve, and if I can get a better price at the end of the day for my customers, that's a great result for everyone!

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Savouring Hong Kong’s Secret Kitchens

As an expat in Hong Kong, chances are you experience constant cravings for that authentic taste and texture of your mum’s cooking back home. The truth is, despite being an international cosmopolitan offering a plethora of cuisines from the world over, Hong Kong is still just not ‘home’. What if we tell you that you could dine in the home of your fellow countrymen and eat off their dining table the comfort food that you’ve grown up with?

PlateCulture is designed with precisely the answer to nostalgia in mind. To start with, PlateCulture is a social network where self-proclaimed home chefs and culinary enthusiasts gather to offer a delicious menu at their home – anything from Korean to Italian, French, Mexican, Indian, Iranian and Cantonese – for interested individuals to sign up for the experience. With the numerous weekly offerings, available in all nooks and crannies of Hong Kong, you’re literally spoilt for choice. 

Alternatively, if you confess to be savvy at the stove, you may sign up as a chef and dish up home dishes that you reckon needs wider recognition, or for the sheer joy of sharing a hearty meal with like-minded individuals. Remember also to create a fancy name for your account, because with Spanish homecooking in Wanchai, Indian flavours in the Mid-levels, and Middle-Eastern vegan feast on Lamma Island, competition among proud home chefs is fierce!

The meals on offer range from HKD100 to HKD500-plus per guest, which is fab to start with, considering there’s no queuing and crammed elbow-to-elbow space involved. 

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Maternal Instinct of Trees

Not so long ago, when you go around telling people that trees do ‘talk’ to each other, you’d be sneered at or frowned upon as if you’ve just flown over the cuckoo’s nest. But as the debate surrounding the wood wide web – a kind of underground Internet linking the roots of different plants by mycelium, a mass of thin threads that make up most of the bodies of fungus – became increasingly heated and at the same time interesting, you can’t brush off the suggestion of communication among trees so easily.

If you’re on the more liberal end of the debate, you’d want to know that Suzanne Simard, an experienced forest ecologist with three decades of research work on Canada’s forests under her belt, is suggesting that trees do recognise their offspring. This may sound a tad too nerdy on the surface, but let’s hear her out.

“Now, we know we all favour our own children, and I wondered, could Douglas fir recognise its own kin, like mama grizzly and her cubs? So we set about an experiment, and we grew mother trees with kin and stranger’s seedlings. And it turns out they do recognise their kin. Mother trees colonise their kin with bigger mycorrhizal networks. They send them more carbon below ground. They even reduce their own root competition to make elbow room for their kids. When mother trees are injured or dying, they also send messages of wisdom on to the next generation of seedlings. So we’ve used isotope tracing to trace carbon moving from an injured mother tree down her trunk into the mycorrhizal network and into her neighbouring seedlings, not only carbon but also defence signals. And these two compounds have increased the resistance of those seedlings to future stresses. So trees talk.”

And that is that: trees talk.

Intrigued and curious to find out more? The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by German forest ranger Peter Wohlleben might prove to be an eye-opener. 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Let's Talk about Breastfeeding

Image: BuzzFeed 

You’d have heard of UNICEF’s ‘Say Yes to Breastfeeding’ campaign, initiated in tandem with the Food and Health Bureau and the Department of Health to promote breastfeeding-friendly workplaces and public places. The pledge to support breastfeeding in public places was supported by 64 restaurants citywide, including 20 McDonald’s branches. Likewise, you should be no stranger to the Department of Health’s promotion and support of breastfeeding by launching a document called ‘Breastfeeding Policy of the Department of Health’ last year, also promising to train staff at health centres and hospitals to respond accordingly. You might have been among those who applauded and cried tears of joy: it’s finally happening in Hong Kong! 

But nope. According to SCMP, mother of two and teacher at an ESF school, Amanda O’Halloran was blasted by three nurses for breastfeeding and therefore upsetting other patients, while she was sitting in a waiting room at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. What O’Halloran encountered was by no means a singular incident, as hours after she posted about it online, she saw a deluge of angry messages in support of her, from mothers who have had similar frustrating experiences while breastfeeding in public.

To be fair, the stubborn refusal to accept breastfeeding as just the most natural way to feed a hungry baby is pretty universal. What boggles the mind is, how hard is it for people to see breastfeeding as just that? If we were all fed with our mothers’ breastmilk for various lengths of time after our birth, who are we to stop others from getting fed by the same means?

If you’re nodding in agreement, sign the pledge here and lend your support to UNICEF’s #SayYesToBreastfeeding campaign.