Mum in business: Allison Holland

Allison Holland is one of the two women who own The Little Sparrow, an ethical children's range made by women in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. She's also the mum of Asher, four, who has a rare medical condition.    

Tell us about The Little Sparrow ...
The Little Sparrow is a fair, ethical and fun children’s product range. We design boutique-style products then work with various ethical, fair trade women’s producer groups in India, Bangladesh and Nepal to produce them. Our belief is that ‘beautiful things should also be beautifully made’.

Why did you start your business?
The Little Sparrow was first dreamed in 2008, after I couldn't find fair trade, ethical children's products for my family. I've always been passionate about social justice and human rights, and have travelled to Zimbabwe to work with HIV/AIDS affected orphans and America to work in a summer camp for economically and socially disadvantaged youth. There was a gap in the market for ethical children's products within Australia, so after a lot of research I decided to join my passion for social justice and fair trade to develop a product that meets this consumer need, along with my business partner Megan.

Allison Holland and The LIttle Sparrow toy tester, Asher, four.
Allison Holland and The LIttle Sparrow toy tester, Asher, four. 

Has starting your own business lived up to expectations?
It has been an exciting journey so far and has exceeded any expectations that I initially had. Working in a job I love and am so passionate about is rewarding on so many levels!

What have you enjoyed most about running your own business?
The change that we have been able to make in peoples lives! The Little Sparrow partners with producer groups that are tackling poverty and exploitation by empowering marginalised men and women with tangible opportunities such as fair wages, health care, micro credit, literacy, anti-trafficking education programs and relevant skills training. 
By choosing to work within these existing frameworks, we're able to provide sustainable ongoing business relationships and access for these skilled artisans to a wider market. We love working alongside groups that are using their unique skills and knowledge to provide a practical solution to the needs in their own communities.
What’s been the biggest challenge? And the biggest surprise?
The biggest challenge is the flexibility you need when working with producers in the third world. One of our orders was quite delayed because the copper pot they were using to hand-dye the yarn broke and it took a lot of time to source a replacement, so managing larger orders ahead of time can be challenging. We need to order quite in advance to ensure we have our orders by when we actually need them.

I have a four-year-old son. He's an expert toy tester and loves helping!

We love getting feedback, and the biggest and loveliest surprise has been all the positive comments we've received, and the overwhelming support for our products!

Do you have any children?
I have a four-year-old son called Asher Jet. He's an expert Little Sparrow toy tester and he loves helping!

How do you manage to juggle the running of your business with family?
Asher has an extremely rare medical condition (mecp2 duplication syndrome) so it's more challenging at times than the average family situation. But it's such a huge benefit to have a job that allows me to be able to spend quality time with him and be available to attend his appointments and therapies - that's so important to me.

I manage my time carefully throughout the day and work on the more challenging aspects of business at night, when the house is quiet. I have a really supportive husband and family - they love and support The Little Sparrow as much as I do!


What’s the hardest thing about being a working mother?
The tiredness!

What's your ‘me’ time? And do you manage to fit some in?
Saturday morning sleep-in is by far my favourite (if I don’t have a market or event on!). 

 Do you have a favourite networking opportunity or event?
The fair trade sector in Australia is growing fast, and Megan and I love Fair Trade Fortnight! It's such a fantastic opportunity to meet with other fair trade organisations.

I studied at the School for Social Entrepreneurs last year and it was such a fabulous networking opportunity. Being surrounded by other like-minded business people was a rich learning experience.

Do you have any advice for someone starting their own business?
Be passionate about your business idea, and have a strong vision and goals. Learn from those who have gone before you because this can save you from expensive mistakes. And build networks with like-minded people and businesses - there is strength in numbers!

Join other mums in business in the Essential Baby forums.