Kingdom of Wow! is all about embracing the art of slow.
Kingdom of Wow! is all about embracing the art of slow. That moment of transition when you get home after a hectic day at work, kick off your shoes and then slip into Kingdom of Wow! wool slippers ready to unwind. Their products invoke a feeling of homely “hygge” that allows you to enjoy a little bit of everyday luxury.
“Hygge” (pronounced hue-guh) is a Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of cosiness and comfortable pleasantness with feelings of wellness and contentment and it screams Self-Care! Here at House of Coco, we are all about that self-care life so when we stumbled across this brand, we couldn’t wait to find out more. We spent some time with their founder Godie van de Paal to discover more about their plans for the future and so much more…
Tell us about the journey that lead you to launching Kingdom of Wow…
As a diplomat in Shanghai, I dealt a lot with corporate social responsibility and the resistance that companies were facing in the supply chain when implementing this. I saw first-hand how it is nearly impossible for a small brand to influence the supply chain to implement more ethical production.
When the time came to move to Cambodia, I decided that I could use my experience and take the opportunity to create more responsible employment, while proving that responsible manufacturing is not more costly and should be the norm.
All I needed was a great product that was handmade and that I believed in. Enter our wool slippers!
Building a sustainable brand is top of your agenda, why is this important to you?
Sustainability for me is a concept of different elements: it’s about making a durable product in an environmentally friendly way, while also treating the people who make the products in a decent way.
I’m always puzzled when people applaud me for paying fair wages and offering a pleasant working environment. I’m not running Kingdom of Wow’s workshop any different than I would if located in a Western country: you treat your staff with respect, you pay them a decent wage, offer them benefits and run a compliant business.
We take pride in making high-quality products that last: I grew up in a throw-away society where everything is disposable. Nothing lasts anymore which puts a tremendous strain on the environment, on our finances, and in some cases our mental health. When I see my father drilling a hole with a 35-year-old drill, or make fresh juice at my parent’s place using the same juice press I used when I was living there over 20 years ago, I think: Yes! This is the way it should be! Products can be a bit more expensive if it means they last much longer.
As for our products, we only use top quality materials and continuously strive to improve. We recently moved away from manmade fabrics to using only natural materials such as bamboo. Our products are also biodegradable so when the time comes, they do not add to polluting this planet.
Who is your ideal customer?
Our ideal customer appreciates. They appreciate the time and dedication that goes into handmade products. They appreciate the value of paying slightly more for a well-made, durable product. They embrace the whole slow fashion ethos. For them, it’s simply not an option to buy garments at bottom prices, because vulnerable workers aren’t being paid properly.
Your company ethos is one to be admired, tell us more about the initiatives you support and how you give back…
We thought about how to approach this extensively. How can we give back in the best possible way? Being based in Cambodia there is no shortage of NGOs doing excellent work, the easy solution would’ve been to dedicate a part of our revenue to one of these. But we didn’t want to approach this from a “poverty-porn” styled marketing perspective: buy our product and an underprivileged child gets to go to school. Also, generally the revenue we make is reinvested into the business especially in the earlier years so there is little money to give. And with all the great work that is being done already, we felt we could do more by providing sustainable employment for local people.
Most businesses here in Cambodia are tourist-focused. A very unstable and seasonal market, which has sadly been proven more so in recent months. With many companies now out of business, we are one of the few still operational because we focus on export and established a stable brand. Most of our staff are the only ones left in their extended families generating an income.
As well as offering sustainable employment, we offer scholarships for staff who would like to continue to study. Our Office Manager started crocheting slippers and turned out to be great at administration. She now studies accounting part-time while gaining practical experience here. We also offer daycare for those with small children and provide small loans to purchase motorcycles and allow easier commutes.
In addition to looking after our team, we are also mindful of the environment so fund a tree nursery programme with conservation partners to help restore Cambodia’s tropical forests that have suffered from illegal logging. This is a great way for us to offset our business carbon footprint while having a very tangible impact on the country where we are based.
Do you plan on expanding the range in the future to offer other products, if so, what?
Absolutely! We’re serious about what we do and growing as a business is the best way to create more responsible employment and prove that ethical manufacturing is a good business model.
We started out making ethically handmade wool slippers and added a summer line of women’s and men’s espadrilles last year. We want to make quality products, so a lot of time goes into product development. At the moment, we are focusing more on incorporating zero waste projects into production (making brand labels from leather cut-offs for example). But in time we will add more models of footwear to our collections. And potentially venture further into the home décor with throws and other accessories. Any product that promotes well-being and adds a little bit more everyday luxury to the lives of our customers!
Looking back since launching the brand, is there anything you would do different?
Of course! Never trust anyone who says otherwise! But the key is to acknowledge what could have been done better and apply that to current operations.
As a start-up entrepreneur you basically do everything yourself. Some things you are good at, others you manage and the stuff you’re not so good at is often neglected. With hindsight, I would’ve invested in attracting expertise much sooner than I did.
Talk us through an average day in your life…
I don’t think there’s been ‘an average day’ for anyone recently. However, these days I start my day with a nice stroll through our tropical garden, followed by leisurely breakfast with my husband and two young sons. Although I’m not exactly enthused with the current home-schooling requirements, I’m loving that we can enjoy breakfast together as a family without the stress of getting everyone out the door ready for school!
Our workshop is located next door to my home, so around 7:45am staff will start to arrive, often sitting outside eating their noodle breakfast. I spend most of my days working here. This helps me to stay connected to production and the lives of our team. It’s a cosy and tranquil setting with ladies crocheting and sewing while chit-chatting; dogs sleeping lazily under office desks and local customers coming in to buy products directly. At lunchtime, the whole team enjoys a free nutritious lunch together in our outdoor dining area and then we continue work until 5pm. There will be meetings, calls and brainstorms, often extending into the evenings – one of the downsides of living in Asia and a different time zone to our sales markets.
How much has social media played a role in the success of your brand?
Social media is essential to most businesses these days. It has helped Kingdom of Wow! enormously to communicate our journey as well as our values and products to an international audience. It’s the perfect way for people to stay connected and interact with our brand.
What is your go-to quote when lacking motivation?
Elk nadeel heb z’n voordeel “There is an upside to every downside” This is a (rather bad) translation of a quote from famous Dutch football player, Johan Cruyff. Things rarely go as planned, especially as a start-up entrepreneur, but it’s key to not let it get you down, to roll with the punches and try to take advantage of whatever cards you have been dealt.
How has Covid19 impacted your business? Have you had to make any pivots to survive the pandemic?
Apart from some disruptions with logistics so far so good! We had to temporarily stop sales to some destinations as we can’t ship directly from Cambodia at present. And the costs of surviving logistical routes have increased dramatically. But we are very fortunate to not be dependent on local sales, with tourism at a standstill here in Cambodia. Also, with most of the world self-isolating in lockdown we have seen a spike in slipper sales! People perhaps embracing this slower pace and taking time to relax during these times.
The global recession will surely impact our sales negatively, which is very unfortunate especially as we plan to launch in the U.S. this autumn. But we remain positive and hope to make it through without too much damage.
What does self-care mean to you?
Well, it is essential for our well-being, but it often ends up at the bottom of our to-do list and I’m no different. Kingdom of Wow! slippers were designed with self-care in mind: to take off the restraint of footwear, allow toes to wiggle and freedom for feet to unwind. As a former diplomat running around in high heels and power suits, I know the daily strain we put on our feet and how important it is to allow these little centres of nerve endings some space! These days I mostly walk around barefoot, so that problem has been effectively solved! But many in colder climes don’t have this luxury.
Truth be told, I’m very much a product of my time and with children, work and social life, I often struggle to make time to practice yoga, go to the gym or read a book even. It’s hard to let go of the feeling that you need to be effective all the time and simply enjoy life in the moment. I can thoroughly enjoy an empty house and just sit down and appreciate the garden, allowing my thoughts to wander off. With the busy lives, we are all leading, I feel we need to be extra aware and appreciate the little things in life.
Northern girl Laura is the epitome of a true entrepreneur. Laura’s spirit for adventure and passion for people blaze through House of Coco. She founded House of Coco in 2014 and has grown it in to an internationally recognised brand whilst having a lot of fun along the way. Travel is in her DNA and she is a true visionary and a global citizen.