Eco Entrepreneur Justine McKnight

Justine with her sons Jude (age 4) and Noah (age 2)

When Justine McKnight’s second son was 10 months old, she launched her eco-friendly baby wrap business, Human + Mother. Being environmentally conscious isn’t new, of course, but the extreme lengths McKnight goes to in order to operate a business as green and ethical as possible stands out. Not only is the sustainable beechwood fibre she uses milled in Ontario — keeping production local and emissions low — but a percentage of her profits go to charities that support mothers in Haiti and crisis zones around the world.

Not one to take the easy route, McKnight lives her life, and runs her business, the way that she feels is right. “I care about all things, and I really want others to care deeply about them too, because I feel like that’s the only way things are going to change is if people are going to start giving a crap,” she says. We asked McKnight more about her business, beliefs, and how she manages both as a mother.

Why did you start doing what you do?

I’ve always been an entrepreneur, and the short answer is that I saw a gap in the market because these types of wraps weren’t being made with eco-friendly fabrics, plus there was nothing lightweight and modern like this being made in Canada.

Doing it this way isn’t easy though, I’m pretty much doing everything the hardest way I can in order to have the smallest impact on the environment, and I’m basically running this solo. I have to get the pulp my fabric is made from custom knit and dyed in Toronto, which isn’t cheap, but it means I have complete control over colours and everything is super cute. It is worth it to me because I’m passionate about helping people think about these things in new ways. I’m hoping people think, “Oh shoot I wasn’t even thinking about where the fabric was coming from or where my money was going, but now you’ve pointed it out, I see that it is important.”

What are you trying to achieve by doing things this way?

I hope that I’m starting to set off light bulbs in new parents heads. Although new parents can get overwhelmed with the amount of advice that is thrown at them, I do think they are at a time in their life where they’re questioning everything that they do and how they do it.

When we start a family it is a vulnerable period where we aren’t so set in our ways and we start to reorganize some of the ways we are thinking. It’s a great time for us to evolve, when we have babies and are raising this new human being. You’re outside of yourself now, life is no longer me-me-me, and it is all about what is best for my child or the future of the planet for my child.

Has parenthood changed how you view your work?

It changed everything really. It was like I had an epiphany and woke up when I became a mom, and it was because of parenthood that I started this business.

What do your kids think about what you do?

Well, my oldest has a concept of the baby wrap thing and has been to plenty of trade shows with me, but beyond that he is a bit young to understand the philosophies of my business. There’s no real separation between how I run my business and live my life, so for me it’s all about teaching my children that we have no right to destroy this planet, and that we are the only species that isn’t working in harmony with it.

For example, we’ve chosen a vegan diet because of the environmental impact of eating meat, and I see this as a good first step as how to explain the effect of everything we do on the planet.

I get some backlash from my family about raising my kids this way, because it’s not what they know, but I’m so passionate about why I’m doing it that they’re starting to understand. My kids are going to be raised differently than I was, because that’s what the planet needs.

At the beginning I felt like me doing this wasn’t going to change anything, but I see that it is having an impact on the people around me. In the last couple of months even my dad has gone vegan! You influence other people by living your life and by holding true to what’s important to you.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other parents about living with purpose?

Having something to believe in helps. I’m not religious by any means, but I can’t imagine not believing there’s something bigger than myself, that there isn’t something that connects us all. I think you have to look inward and start there instead of worrying about what society dictates your purpose should be, or anyone telling you that you have to just suck it up and be happy.

We get told all the time that nothing is impossible, but I think it all comes back to belief in yourself and whatever makes your heart call out. You might be stuck in a job you hate, but your purpose could shine through in raising your kids a specific way. You may not have the resources to do everything that you want to do for them, but you can make sure that you’re feeding them healthy food, or less screen time, or whatever it is that is important to you.

What do you think you have in common with other moms?

I think I have things in common with some moms, but sometimes I find it challenging to find them. I was the first of my girlfriends to have kids, and I often feel like I’m the odd one out because of the way I’m raising mine.

What’s been hardest about what you do?

Balancing my time. Giving my boys my full presence and attention when I’m with them, and not having my brain half on work and half on them. I have to stop myself from responding to social media or work emails when I’m with them, but it’s hard because I’m doing all this mostly on my own. If I was able to grow my business to the point where I was able to hire someone and hand off some of the many hats I’m wearing, then I think I’d be able to be completely present when I’m with them. Being present is really important to me, and they grow so fast, so that balance is my biggest challenge. But the whole reason I’m doing this is to try and create a life for us where I can have a schedule that works around them and I don’t have to miss things.

What other moms do you admire?

I really admire this mom that I follow on Instagram, Ellen Fisher, who is fully aware and conscious, and raising her family in a very awakened way. Everything that she does, she takes into account the impact of that — to the point where even if they go to eat at Whole Foods they’ll take their own wooden utensils and bowls so that they won’t use a carton that has to be thrown out. She’ll run up to houses on Halloween and give them healthy treats to give her kids instead of candy. She goes to these lengths because it is so important to her for her kids to be raised this way, and she has opened my eyes to a lot of things.

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The Whole Family Happiness Project is a group of moms exploring our connection to our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us. Come join us on Facebook.

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