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Baked with Love

Peru-based manufacturer A Muffin in the Oven employs mothers of all ages to sew sustainable cotton clothing and gives back to the community as part of its
core company philosophy.

Owners Martina Carafo and Alexander Soler with their muffin, Leonardo

It started with a seed. A Pima cotton seed. Nurtured in rich Peruvian soil, it sprouted to form the fabric that would become the proprietary, organic fiber TRU-Pima Cotton for A Muffin in the Oven. Relatively new to children’s wear, but not to the clothing industry, the husband-and-wife team of Alexander Soler and Martina Cafaro brought A Muffin in the Oven to market during the especially challenging year of 2020. After all, they couldn’t let their own little muffin down, their first-born child who inspired them to create the brand. Together with their team of talented sewers and 10 years of experience running a fully vertical operation, they are seeing some of their dreams grow into a reality.

We spoke with Soler and Cafaro about their passion for handcrafted quality, their family-driven values and why every little muffin deserves to be wrapped in safe, snuggly softness.

Earnshaw’s: What’s the history behind the company?

Alexander Soler: This was mine and Martina’s passion project, which we started in 2018 when we found out she was pregnant with our first son. Martina is a pattern maker who trained in Milan. My father, Alberto Soler, who passed away the year we launched Muffin, was an integral part in my journey of establishing our design ateliers and garment factories. He taught me fundamentals of engineering and leadership. He was an inspiring, successful entrepreneur and he shared so many experiences that served me on my own journey. Over the past 10 years, we built an entire atelier in Italy and when that grew, we set up a larger facility in Peru, which is my country of heritage.

ER: Why was a vertical operation so important for the brand?

AS: It’s important for us to cut and sew in house because it allows us to guarantee the quality of our garments, which is a cornerstone of our company. This allows us to protect our wholesale buyers and customers because our team is committed to on-time delivery and quality. In fact, many of these processes came in house because we learned how important it is to control key processes so we can fulfill the promise of on-time delivery.

Also, we can guarantee the well-being of our workers and offer stable, long-term jobs for the families who make A Muffin in the Oven a reality. Today, we have more than 11 different countries represented on our team, and we embrace the diversity of our team for each collection, something that will really be showcased in the coming years. A Muffin in the Oven really is a product of passion from so many amazing moms and dads, creatives and garment makers, that we wanted the company to really have a soul and spirit that is representative of the team.

ER:  What’s unique about your makers and the garments they create?

AS: We have three great grandmothers who still sew with us and 77% of our team are women. Our clothing is made by moms, for moms. Each piece that comes out of our oven has to be one that will be loved by babies. This means that while we aim to create cute, chic and cuddly clothing, we remain conscientious that the little end users—our muffins—have to be super comfy and happy. They should be able to play and frolic while still looking modern and cool. Most of us know how to sew, and this passion guides each step in our design and manufacturing process. We believe in continuous improvement, and we leave no stone unturned when it comes to quality.

ER: What are the qualities of your proprietary fabric, TRU-Pima cotton?

AS: Pima cotton is a sustainable fabric, and our commitment to sustainability goes beyond the word. So many brands today claim to be sustainable because they use sustainable fabrics or because they simply “ask their factory.”  That wasn’t enough for us. We worked through our supply chain all the way back to the seeds of our cotton. We wanted to know the who, what, when, where, why, and how of each step of our process. Our dream was to curate the softest and most natural clothes for our baby and yours, sewn with love and created with genuine and sincere care.

In the process, we invented our own fiber and fabric, TRU-Pima Cotton. TRU-Pima is genetically verified Pima cotton, engineered to be a super-soft, organic, all-natural fiber that retains the purity back to the original pima’s from decades ago. This guarantees the long-lasting durable nature of our fabric and garments. This special fiber is perfect for creating first-class quality fabrics, second-to none in brightness, softness and durability. The fabric has high resistance to pilling, so you can use our clothes for your first, second and third babies.

ER: How else are your business practices impacting the global economy?

AS: We donate 10% of all our revenue to non-profits that serve orphan children and orphan animals. We have several specific SKU’s where 100% of the revenue is donated. Also, we practice zero waste manufacturing. We do not throw anything away—it is all upcycled.

ER:  What market trends have you seen in children’s apparel?

AS: We definitely see a push towards sustainability, transparency, shorter lead times

and reliable suppliers.

ER: How did you navigate business during the pandemic?

AS: Just three months before our scheduled launch, the pandemic struck in Italy. Our garment factory had been producing for nearly a decade and it serves many top global brands. We also have our flagship women’s line that serves haute couture orders from Italy. When the pandemic struck, 90% of our private label manufacturing orders were cancelled in the span of three days–imagine how that can destroy a company.

We did prepare for a rainy day, but we never expected a tsunami like COVID.  It was time to put our money where our mouth was with all this ‘work-family’ talk. We strongly felt as a work family and organization that it was time to support one another more than ever. We spoke with our entire team and agreed that we would band together, sacrifice a bit and make keep making our clothes. This has become a common thread and expression of the relentless hard work and commitment of everyone at our clothing factory.

We were super excited to broadcastour message to the public and take our product to all the trade shows in the United States.

ER: How do your three factories differ?

AS: Each one has its own character. In Italy, I have never seen a population so creative and so entrenched in quality. Made in Italy is not just a country of origin, it is a way of life. Our garment-makers there are born with a relentless passion to make top quality sewn goods. Peru is an up-and-coming country. Our Peruvian team has lived up to the moniker of one of their war-time heroes Colonel Francisco Bolognesi, who said ‘Luchare hasta quemar el ultimo cartucho’ that translates to: ‘I shall [fulfill my duties] until the last cartridge is burned.’

Even during the horrors of the pandemic, our Peruvian team demonstrated a culture of resilience, never giving up, no matter how dire the situation became. Our Peruvian team was so motivated to work and deliver their Muffin products because they really felt that this brand’ was theirs—that allowed us all to keep our families stable, even when all else seemed lost during COVID. In the United States, we know that America has an amazing ability to innovate, create and push the boundaries of tomorrow.

ER:  What’s the inspiration behind the designs and collections?

AS: There’s no doubt Martina takes her inspirations from nature, architecture and interior design, and the childhood pleasures we all know and love. I think what makes Muffin different, though, is that we constantly seek inspiration from our customers, because we don’t feel that this is our vision alone. We really feel that A Muffin in the Oven is a community. Families need to be able to buy quality, long-lasting products, without breaking the bank, so we have balance and promote the well-being of our children across the board.

ER: What do you and Martina love most about what you do? What’s the most challenging?

AS: Muffin is our “creative baby” and I just love the journey of watching the company grow. Making clothes is a tough craft. So much goes into making a simple garment. So, whether it’s the fun moments, the tough ones, or the stressful ones, I just love the entire package that comes with the journey of growing our brand and our team. I am grateful to have the opportunity to do what I love with amazing people.

I think the biggest challenge today is centered around the pandemic. Uncertainty is everywhere and governments are considering shutting down entire economies again. I think this is causing emotional instability at the individual level, and this is going to cause long-lasting effects on our societies, ones that are rooted by the love of community and socializing.

Martina Carafo: I love seeing my baby and other babies in our clothes. I love knowing that we created a product with passion to give back to families and seeing them enjoy it. As for the most challenging, being on time with products. The pandemic has really flipped the world upside down.

ER: What are the company’s future goals?

AS: We dream of serving more families in the USA, Europe, and worldwide. We hope to sell enough clothes to begin a scholarship fund for underprivileged kids in Peru, for them to travel to Italy and learn fashion—or their trade—firsthand. If we can do this for just one child, that would be a real dream come true.

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