One-year-old Charlotte Muller was entertaining herself Tuesday afternoon by pulling baby bottles out of a cardboard box in the new store in Conestogo that bears her name.
Baby Charlotte opened its doors this week, selling organic and chemical-free bottles, clothing, diapers and skincare products for babies and new moms.
On Tuesday, Carla Muller was unpacking the last boxes and putting the finishing touches on the store. The idea for the store was conceived when she was pregnant with Charlotte, her third child.
“I started hearing some pretty scary things about what was in everything. Everything from your shower curtain could kill you to your rubber ducky was the worst possible thing to put in hot water,” Muller said. “It seemed that every step I took with her I was hearing that something I was using for her was bad. So I stopped buying from the drugstore altogether and started sourcing out natural products.”
But natural products don’t come cheaply. A bottle of phthalate-free baby powder costs $15, after shipping and import duties.
“I don’t make enough to support that habit, and I bet a lot of moms feel the same way,” Muller said.
Muller decided to start her own business offering natural products at more affordable prices. It was originally going to be a web-based business, but she discovered that a lot of distributors wouldn’t sell to her unless she had a brick-and-mortar store. So Muller now has square footage on Sawmill Road in Conestogo, and will be launching the web side of the business in the new year.
The store was scheduled to open in early December, but delayed shipments and a leaky window pushed things back.
Muller has sourced products from around the world. She has merino wool snuggle suits from New Zealand, natural rubber soothers from Denmark and hand-knit clothing from Scotland and Australia. The store carries organic and natural fibre nursery furnishings, natural wood toys, BPA-free and phthalate-free breast milk pumps and chlorine-free, biodegradable diapers, among other things.
Charlotte is the store’s namesake, and she’s also its chief quality control officer – or its chief guinea pig. Muller said she doesn’t sell anything she hasn’t tried herself.
“I get to be the seller and I’m my own target audience. So I look at something and say, would I buy that? And then I try it and think, am I happy with this? And if the answer to both is yes, then I get it for the store.”
Baby Charlotte also carries bath and body products for moms and dads. Muller realized if she was going to use natural products on her daughter, she should be using them on herself as well.
“She’s up on my shoulder, and any of those fragrances that have the scary things in them, she’s going to be breathing if I use them. So to really make sure she’s going to be safe, I had to switch to them too.”
This is Muller’s first venture into owning her own business. Most of her relevant experience comes just from being a mom, she said. But she also worked for many years at a pizza place where she handled everything from making pizzas to bookkeeping and hiring.
“As funny as it sounds it was the best experience because you had to learn how to do a million things at once,” she said. “I think any job you do is a juggling act. If you know how to juggle, it doesn’t matter if you’re juggling pizzas or bath products.”