Taking her love of sewing and creating to the next level, Merlin Whitman, founded of The Tiny Hedgehog, aiming to create clothing for children that exceed simply just looking good; clothing that is fun, comfortable, and inclusive.
Why did you start your business?
After my daughter was born I was making some clothes for her, I’ve been sewing forever, I used to do costume design and stuff in the theater during college and after college so I make some of my own clothes and I was like, oh baby clothes are super simple and easy. So, I made her some and then my friends were like, oh, these are really pretty, we really like the clothes! And I kind of was thinking about it, maybe I should just make a couple and see if anybody wants to buy it. It kind of just expanded from there and exploded. So yeah, I was very surprised that people wanted to actually buy then.
What makes you unique?
I like to work a lot with different patterns and colors. So, I like the contrasting, like a lot of the clothes have contrasting trends on them and I like to use fabrics that are not so much because I feel like a lot of baby and toddler clothes tend to be very hostile, very, you know, symbol and childish and their designs, which some of them are nice, but I kind of liked to do a little bit more of different things. Stuff that you wouldn’t normally see, like baby clothes, you know, I’m trying to also gear it more towards like gender, neutrally type colors and patterns so anyone could wear them if they want to. Awesome.
How big is your company?
It’s just me. Every once in a while I’ll have some friends like come to help out into craft show. But, yeah! So, I make the patterns and I cut all of the fabric and all the packaging and marketing, and someday it would be nice to have another person! Right now, it’s me.
Have you had to overcome any challenges with your company?
I think in the beginning, there was like quite a ramping up between just making clothes for myself and then saying, well, if I’m making clothes for kids, I have to research and make sure that like all the certifications were in order and you know, having to register the business and sales tax things and all of the technical stuff that when I first started, I didn’t really think about. I was lucky I got to be a part of the Balsa Foundation, they’re a for-profit with a small business startup. And I entered their grant competition and I got a grant. Also, a lot of other classes that were so helpful in helping the business to become an actual business so for that they were very helpful and I’m really grateful for just what they’re doing. Not only to help me but also for the rest of the small business owners in the city.
How long has it been since you first started selling?
That would’ve been about almost two years now! It was in the fall of 2016.
What kind of different types of clothing do you sell?
My biggest sellers that we make are the tunic dresses. They come about knee length and it’s kind of like t-shirts working on the top, but they’re super light and super easy to wear and because all the fabric is cotton jersey. It’s very soft and very stretchy. And I really wanted the clothing to not have to be hard to put on. I don’t use any buttons and I don’t use any snaps because I just wanted to be like, you pop them on.
In what types of ways do you like to promote your company?
I have my website and I have an Instagram account that’s been really helpful. There was a bit of a learning curve learning how to use Instagram effectively, and so there was quite a while it was hovering at like 100-200 followers. But I met some other small businesses through Instagram, and we’ve been kind of chatting with each other and working with each other and that’s been really helpful. And then I do a lot of craft shows and other things around the city. That’s been nice to start making like a base and I I feel it’s only now that I have people who are like, “oh, I saw you last year, my daughter or my son still wears your clothes. Can we get the next size up?” So, it’s been fun to have these repeat customers.
Um, so why is St Louis a good area for your company?
I liked St. Louis because my husband grew up here and so we have roots here. I like it because it’s a lot cheaper to live and work here, because I came from New Jersey, and so it’s a lot more expensive and I don’t think that I’d be able to have started it so quickly and with such little capital versus having to be in New Jersey plus, I feel like the maker scene St Louis has so very welcoming and helpful. All of the people that I have met, all the small business people, and all the crafting people are always very helpful and they all want to work together. If you have a question you can just ask and people want to build each other up. And I think that’s very good, that’s been very, very helpful. It’s the community aspect of it, that’s great.
What makes you so passionate about your company?
I love creating things and being able to make stuff not only for my daughter, but for other people, and to know that their kids will be comfy and will be happy to be wearing them. It’s so fun to be walking out, at the botanical garden and all of a sudden, it’s like, “Oh hey, that’s my shirt!” And just to be able to work in St Louis is super fun too and I don’t think I could just sit and not make something.
What do you see for the future of your company?
Well, I’d like to, in the future, probably have someone else to be helping with manufacturing. So it’s not just me sewing all hours of the night. And right now, I’m working on more wholesale and trying to ramp up and get into some other small shops around the country. I would like to keep it fairly small. I don’t want it to be some big clothing business. I’d like to keep it more narrow and focused. And so that’s the main thing, hopefully in the next year or so to find someone else to help out.
Um, and if you could describe your company in one word, what would it be?
Oh, one word is very tricky.
I feel like saying creative is just like super basic. Normally I tell people that the tagline is that we create inclusive clothing for babies and toddlers. So, I think inclusive is also a good word because I want everyone to be able to be comfortable. I want everyone to be able to wear our clothes and not be conformed to just, “Oh, like I’m a girl, I just have to wear a dress” or “all I get is trucks and shirts”. So, I think that inclusive will work too.
How did you come up with the name?
I was trying so hard, these are always the hardest part of writing things. And the trend recently I feel like has been people being like “Blah and Blah”, you know, and that’s, that’s, and I kind of was like, well I don’t really, you know, let me think of something else. And I just like hedgehogs! There’s a print shop called “Tiny Little Monster”. I think I had that on the brain when I was thinking of that, everything is cuter with it, and then I had my sibling who’s an artist, help draw the design.
Don’t miss out on this inclusive and comfortable side of the children’s clothing world that The Tiny Hedgehog has to offer!