Clothing Startup Helping Kids Stay Outside Longer
Having a parka with a pocket designed specifically to hold a peanut butter and jelly sandwich may not be a must have necessity for most adults, but one Vermont mother is betting most adults want one that does for their children.
Hootie Hoo is a startup company launched by Xiaonan "Claire" Zhu in 2021 that makes high-tech functional clothes specifically for children. Pockets are strategically placed throughout most clothing items such as pants and coats, so a child can carry his or her belongings, such as a snack so it does not get “smooshed” while playing outside.
“Hootie Hoo’s clothes are about making kids more independent and being good stewards, not just handing everything to mom or dad to have them carry their stuff around all day long,” said Zhu. “Every feature has a purpose, streamlining production costs, with a focus on water-proofing and warmth. We want our kids warm and dry so they can stay outside longer.”
Hootie Hoo makes a variety of children’s clothes including hats, gloves, pants, coats and fleeces. All the clothes have a clean, fun design and are very well made.
Like many Vermont families, Zhu and her husband and children spend much of their free time outdoors. Zhu grew up in China and said her parents who were very strict about getting outside and exercising. The name of the business is rooted in outdoor activity as well, Hootie Hoo is a phrase her family uses to call out when they are hiking in the woods or on the slopes.
“We used to shout it out to call our children. Instead of yelling their names, we’d yell "Hootie Hoo" to locate each other. Being outdoors is a big part of our life."
Zhu hasn’t always owned her own business. For nearly 20 years she developed outerwear and apparel working for various companies in New York City and Vermont. In 2021 she was working for a large-scale winter clothing company for almost 10 years when she was suddenly let go.
Losing a job can be devastating, but it can also provide that much needed spark to start a business.
“There was the pandemic and then losing my job, both of which you hope never happen, but they did. Of all the things I am trying to teach my children is that anything can happen and you have to be resilient and move forward. I had this idea about starting a children’s clothing company in 2020 during the pandemic and I knew it was now or never, so I decided this is the time to start Hootie Hoo.”
Resiliency is a recurring topic for Zhu. She says Hootie Hoo is very much about resiliency because so much of being outside is about building a child’s resiliency and perseverance, such as falling down and getting back up.
In two years, she's grown Hootie Hoo considerably. In the last year Zhu has partnered with two national retail chains that sell in the U.S. and Canada. Additionally, she has built a very robust Hootie Hoo website, www.hootiehoo.com, for people to purchase clothes directly. One added bonus to keep costs down, her children helped model most of the clothes on the website.
“It’s very interesting owning your own business. I’ve had to learn new things and I learn every day. It can be very challenging sometimes, but it’s very fulfilling. I’m very proud to have started at zero and now today, just a little over two years later, am selling in two national chain retail stores that specialize in outdoor gear with plans for growth and expansion in the future.”
Zhu says her ultimate goal is to be one of the leading children’s technical apparel brands in the U.S., Canada and China. She wants her kids and others to be shouting "Hootie Hoo" outdoors and to have the right gear in to fulfill her company slogan's promise: Outplay The Elements.