Kate Agarwal recently launched Bella & Boo, an eco-friendly online boutique featuring organic children's products, from clothing and toys, to bedding and gear.
The Whitefish Bay mother of three is vastly knowledgeable about the health benefits of environmentally safe baby clothing and equipment, but it's not because she's trying to tap into a niche green market.
It's because her own daughter's health depended on it.
When her youngest, Ella, began breaking out in perpetual skin rashes, she wasn't sure what was causing it -- Food allergies? Skin conditions? -- but she was sure a doctor could pin point the problem.
When a host of allergists, pediatricians and specialists couldn't bring her any closer to an answer, she decided to take a step back and really analyze the situation herself. Finally, she says, something clicked.
"I thought, maybe it's a lot simpler than we're thinking? Maybe it's just as easy as what's right next to her skin?"
It was. Agarwal discovered Ella's sensitive infant skin was reacting to many of the harsh dyes and chemicals found in traditional cotton clothing. Amazingly, only a few weeks after switching out her daughter's clothing to organic fabrics, the rashes cleared up.
As a result, Bella & Boo -- a play on her daughter's nickname "Ella Bella Boo" -- was born.
"I wanted to create one place where parents can go and find the things that I had been looking for as a parent," she says. "Clothes, good toys, good blankets, eco-friendly things like reusable shopping bags and bottles -- the stuff that we as a family really cared about and that I thought would go well with the natural, organic clothing we offer."
When it came time to stock her store, she hand-picked from the items that she'd researched and purchased for her daughter, figuring other parents would appreciate them as well. Some of favorites include imagiPLAY wooden toys made from sustainable wood (chemical-free rubberwood) and waterbased paint, baby blankets from Robbie Adrian made from organic cotton fleece (her daughter loves to rub the silk trim between her fingers) and LunchBots, stainless steel food containers to use in place of plastic baggies.
The IsaBooties soft soled baby shoes appealed to the vegetarian in her in that they are 100 percent animal-free and chemical free, as well. Agarwal says she's long been passionate about eating organically, but that it wasn't until Ella's reaction that she began to recognize the importance of pesticide-free ... everything.
"It's just cleaner, safer and better," she says. "I also considered the environmental impact of regular clothes. The growing of traditional cotton is really polluting and bad for the earth and bad for people. I just feel that every buying decision we make as consumers has an impact on the earth and on people. So, if we can make good choices and support companies that do good things in the world, I think that will make a huge difference in the long run."
Eventually, Agarwal hopes to open a brick and mortar boutique to sell her wares, including her own line of organic clothing and baby blankets under the Bella & Boo label. Until then, her savvy and adorable collections can be perused and purchased via her Web store, bellaandboo.com.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”