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Kissy Kissy Founder Talks Peru, Pima and Building a Layette Business

Babies have been dressed in one-piece snap suits since the ’50s, but few have been as soft and luxurious feeling as the Pima cotton styles Kissy Kissy founder and owner Roxana Castillo brought to the layette scene 16 years ago. A pioneer in introducing Peruvian Pima cotton baby apparel to the U.S. and international markets, Castillo has been a champion for the material’s baby-friendly qualities, while her line has been a shining example of what Peru’s manufacturing facilities can achieve. Kissy Kissy now spans up to 80 groupings a year from simple one-pieces to sweet prints to timeless Christening gear, and it sells in more than 2,000 doors worldwide, including mom-and-pop boutiques, Saks Fifth Avenue and London’s luxury emporium, Harrods. Sourcing Journal spoke to Castillo about her early years sourcing in Peru, how the company ensures top-notch quality, and what it takes to keep retail partners–and mothers–happy season after season.

SJ: Describe the early years producing apparel in Peru.
RC: When we started out 16 years ago, manufacturing in Peru was a challenge. It was unchartered territory, especially in the children’s market. We had to knock on doors and follow up on leads. I always use the analogy of creating a path in the wilderness with a machete. It was tough going and there were no roadmaps.

SJ: That’s not the case today.
RC: Today it is very different in Peru. The market there is well established and there are agencies that can point you to production resources very quickly.

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SJ: Is that driving more brands to explore Peru?
RC: Well, Peru had been under the radar. I used to have to tell people where Peru was located. They had no idea. Now that Peru has such a wonderful reputation people start their businesses with the idea of working there.

SJ: How does that growing interest in Peru impact an established brand like Kissy Kissy?
RC: This popularity makes the market more competitive, which affects the factories that are available, costs and availability of raw goods. There are a lot of brands using Pima cotton today. Consumers have become educated to the advantages of Pima, and Peruvian Pima cotton in particular, so brands are using it as a selling point. The fact that consumers love Pima is a good thing, but on the other hand, there is a lot of sameness in the market because brands are not coming up with new designs and ideas. They’re simply relying on the fact that their collection is made of Pima.

SJ: In regards to safety compliancy, how do you ensure that all products meet the necessary requirements?
RC: We conduct tests of our products both in Lima as well as in the U.S. to make sure they’re in compliance not only with CPSIA regulation, but also with regulations from different countries and regions of the world.

SJ: What are some other steps you take to monitor production in Peru?
RC: Our garments are produced in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Business Alliance for Secure Commerce (BASC), a partnership between businesses and U.S. Customs created to promote safe international trade. The factories, freight forwarder and quality control companies in Peru that Kissy Kissy work with all hold BASC certification.

Additionally, our merchandise is tested on an ongoing basis by third party accredited laboratories approved by the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), and our products always exceed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act standards.

In coordination with the quality control company in Peru, we are able to closely monitor the factories with which we work. We make sure they abide by the Fair Trade regulations. The Fair Trade movement works to ensure cotton farmers are paid a fair price and workers are paid fair wages–rather than minimum wage–and are treated fairly.

We are committed to bringing the best quality product to our customers while being socially responsible in regards to workers’ rights and all regulations pertaining to the environment.

SJ: Have you had to adjust the way you do business to stay competitive?
RC: Kissy Kissy has the advantage of having built a reputation and a brand aesthetic over the past 16 years. For a new baby brand starting with Pima, I think it would actually be very difficult. For us, we focus on delivering what moms love, which starts with our incredibly soft Peruvian Pima cotton but also includes quality, comfort, adorable prints and unmatched customer service. That’s how we compete and stay ahead. We don’t compromise and we focus on what moms love best about our collection.

SJ: Is it becoming increasingly difficult to sell to retailers?
RC: The retail environment is very difficult these days, but Kissy Kissy sells exclusively to brick-and-mortar and online stores. We do not sell direct to consumer. We got our start in childrenswear with a boutique, so we understand retail and we know the challenges stores face. Just like we keep moms in mind, we try to think like retailers. We offer them what they need when they need it. That’s how we’ve maintained our retail relationships over the years, and those relationships help us through difficult times.

SJ: In addition to its use of Pima cotton, the brand is known its extensive range of collections. Why do you choose to offer so many prints, themes and styles each season?
RC: We offer a dizzying array of patterns and themes each season because there’s a desire in the market for variety. When you ask about the retail environment, that’s part of it. Stores want to be able to create their own assortment based on their customers’ needs and tastes, so we must provide choices. Add to that the fact that we sell all over the world, and every geographical region has different needs. Creating such a vast collection each season is a challenge, but it’s necessary.