Polliwogs Children’s Boutique’s niche is ethical, sustainable apparel
Polliwogs Children’s Boutique prides itself on offering an assortment of ethically and sustainably-sourced baby and children’s apparel, shoes and accessories.
“I was actually really surprised that there were as many people who wanted that here,” said owner Alexa Orozco.
Part of what motivated her to open the Richland store six years ago was her own struggle to find clothes for her son that met ethical and ecofriendly criteria – and were also cute.
Opportunity knocked when a friend announced she was moving to California and would be vacating her children’s store in Richland’s Uptown Shopping Center, called Itsy Bitsy.
“She asked if I had ever thought of owning a business and noted that I could take over her spot,” Orozco said.
With the help of her sister and a mom with a business background in owning and running preschools, Polliwogs was born.
At the start, Orozco had a goal of stocking the boutique with at least 70% ethically-produced merchandise and the other 30% sourced from companies with some ethical or eco-friendly production practices.
Today, Orozco says about 90% of what she carries meets her criteria for being ethically and sustainably produced.
“Because my customers, that’s what they want, even if the price is a little bit more,” she said.
So, what exactly defines ethical production?
Typically, “ethically made” indicates a company’s commitment to providing fair wages, safe working conditions and other worker protections, as well as offering transparency about its business practices.
Ethical also can include an environmental stewardship component related to the use of agricultural chemicals, fabric treatments and dyes, the treatment of wastewater and mitigation of other polluting agents involved in production, as well as using sustainable manufacturing models that conserve resources, use recycled inputs, reduce overall waste or offset carbon emissions.
The tricky part is teasing out which companies and certifiers are the real deal, versus those simply “greenwashing,” or in other words, cashing in on buzz words like “organic,” “fair trade” and “sustainable,” without actually delivering behind the scenes the practices that consumers believe these terms represent.
That’s where Orozco, Polliwogs’ sole employee, comes in.
“I handpick all the brands we carry myself, do research and examine samples,” she said.
She explained that most of her brand and product line leads come from Instagram.
“You’d be surprised how much ethical stuff is on Instagram. Sometimes word of mouth goes around, and a lot of (business owners) are friends with each other that make these clothes,” she said.
Polliwogs’ most popular brand is Rylee + Cru and their Quincy Mae label. Other notable brands the store carries includes Spearmint Baby, The Simple Folk, and their newest line, One Day Parade.
She’s seeking out designers who establish ethics, love and uniqueness into each item made.
“I really wanted them to be versatile timeless pieces that are fun and practical – something that’s good for your child and the environment made from non-toxic fabrics,” she said.
She explained that quality and durability often go hand in hand with ethical and sustainably-produced products.
“I have mothers who bought items from us six years ago; for example, pieces from her first child her third child is now wearing them. It’s the quality it’s made with,” she said.
Polliwogs’ sizing spans newborn up to kids’ size 10 (size 12 coming this spring), though quantities in each size are usually limited so Orozco can continue cycling in new inventory on a weekly basis.
It’s what’s kept Robyn Tiller and her granddaughter, Liv, coming in almost every Saturday.
“The shop just has adorable clothes. I could buy anything in there,” Tiller said. “She has the cutest baby stuff in the whole world; whenever I have to do a shower or gift, I go there because I know it’s going to be good.”
Tiller said what she likes most about the shop is “you don’t have to go to the mall and you can buy unique stuff individual to the child or the family. … I love everything about the shop. I love her, Alexa; she is one of the most beautiful people in the world, inside and out.”
Tiller added that Polliwogs offers a wide variety of apparel to suit all occasions, and that Alexa is adept at helping customers put together outfits and pair accessories.
“She knows her shop better than me, so if I’m looking for matching bows or headbands, I ask her,” she said.
Tiller is also attracted to Polliwogs’ gender-neutral styles and colors, and appreciates that Orozco offers layaway.
“We just feel like she’s our friend; we just love going in there, even if we don’t buy anything,” Tiller said.
Though Polliwogs hasn’t yet ventured into toys due to space constraints, Orozco has added more shelving to accommodate the store’s growing offerings.
At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Orozco opened an online storefront for Polliwogs, which now accounts for about 30% of its business.
“We have been very blessed, even during the epidemic,” she said. “After being closed for three months, when we opened back up in August, our sales record went on to be the highest since we opened.”