Handmade Entrepreneurial Love with Hey Pomelo’s Charmaine Baan

Cropped yellow-blue gift set

Every baby is the sweetest and the best.

– L.M. Montgomery

If you love the One of a Kind Show the way Plenty loves the One of a Kind Show, you may already be familiar with Hey Pomelo‘s beautiful line of organic and eco-friendly baby bibs, blankets, and accessories. I met the woman behind it all, Charmaine Baan, a few years ago, and was won over by her quiet commitment to handmade gorgeousness and ethical quality. After caressing her quilts, I started scouring my thoughts for a baby in my life who could receive one.

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In addition to her entrepreneurial acumen, I also love the waste-not, want-not philosophy that infuses Hey Pomelo. I loved how Charmaine made charming children’s toys from the off-cuts of her bibs to maximize each piece of precious organic fabric. Even the littlest of fabric and batting scraps are carefully gathered and repurposed as stuffing for the coolest ottomans ever. The only problem with these is that she can’t make them fast enough: when I wanted to buy one, she was sold out!

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If you have a baby in your life, you could scarcely do better for the little pup than to wrap it up in some soft Hey Pomelo goodness. It’s our pleasure to introduce Charmaine to you so she can tell you precisely why.

Plenty: Tell us a bit about your background. What path led you to the work you do today?

Charmaine:  I grew up in rural Ontario with a large community of women who made things: my mom and my aunts sew and both my grandmas would knit, crochet or quilt. I learned to sew as a kid but hadn’t done anything beyond hemming pants since high school. A few years ago, when my son was born, we received all sorts of lovely gifts, but it was the handmade things that I treasured most.

Early on our little guy developed a drooling issue and I got back into sewing, setting out to create a fashionable bib for him that would absorb the drool and hide the constant wet look he had been sporting. Inspired by the handmade gifts and a desire to make something that lasts, I started Hey Pomelo and added blankets, hooded towels and custom embroidery to the options for stocking nurseries and baby showers.

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Photo by Rhythm Photography

Plenty: What were you doing before this work?

Charmaine: I trained as a chef and have almost 20 years of experience in the professional kitchen, mostly in pastry. Most recently, I’ve done some freelancing in product testing and recipe development.

Plenty: What inspired you to start your business?

Charmaine:  I’ve always enjoyed making things: baking, woodworking, knitting, whatever. It’s very rewarding to look at a finished project and see something to show for your effort. Growing up with so many people who used their hands to make things showed me the importance of learning those skills.

When you look at our current world of mass produced goods, it really looks like a system of waste and want. Things are made cheaply in factories overseas, by workers who are underpaid and live in constant need. The goods are then sold here and, as they are cheaply made and cheaply purchased, they are thrown out when their use is quickly outlived, creating waste and garbage to clutter our world. It really is a cycle that keeps moving, and gets bigger and more convoluted. I simply wanted to do something that would go against that flow and create things that just make you feel good on all levels.

So as a first step I use organic fabrics from small companies who pay their workers fairly. Then I wash and test everything thoroughly to make sure my handmade offerings could be passed on and be used over and over again, creating a lovely, useful item and a less wasteful end result.

organic cotton baby quilt

Plenty:  How long have you been in business?

Charmaine: Hey Pomelo is just reaching its 4 year anniversary this spring!

Plenty: What’s your favourite part of your job?

Charmaine: I love packing up gift sets. I’m a big fan of giving gifts, and baby gifts most of all, so lovingly packing up the gift boxes is just the best part of my day,

Plenty: What or who has inspired you in your work?

Charmaine: The makers in my life; who showed me the value of hard work and how much nicer it is to use things that are well made.

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Plenty: Do you have a favourite quote?

Charmaine: Two actually! My dad, who is a perfectionist and among many things, a talented wood-worker, often quoted “Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.” With so many mass produced baby goods on the market, this quote has sort of become my mantra. If the fabric quality is poor, or it won’t wash well, etc. what is the point in making it?  It’s sort of an old fashioned thing, but I guess I am too.

And like many Canadian girls, I’m a big L.M. Montgomery fan and I love Marilla Cuthbert’s quote “Every baby is the sweetest and the best.”  I try to pack a bit of that love into each baby gift I send out, because each one is for a very special baby.

Plenty: What have you been focusing on lately?

Charmaine: We welcomed a baby girl to our family in January so she is getting a lot of my attention. I’m excited to see what new products will be inspired by this little one.

Plenty: Tell us about your customers.

Charmaine: We have wonderful customers who come back over and over, with Hey Pomelo as their go-to baby gift. Being a small business means I end up wearing all the hats, and it also means I get to know my customers and learn about the babies in their lives. I often meet people at shows who tell me they received our things as a gift and loved it so much they are now buying a set for a friend. How lovely! I also get to hear their stories of how special this baby is: sometimes it is a baby that the mother has longed for, other times it is baby number four, but no less special than the first. Whatever the story, it just warms the heart and makes all the effort seem so very worthwhile.

Charmaine‘s hands are just a little too full with a wee baby to bring Hey Pomelo to this spring’s One of a Kind show, but she’ll be there at Christmas. In the meantime, check out her collections online.

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