In our series #GOODTHING we meet inspiring mothers who create wonderful and sustainable products and dedicate themselves to making a positive change in the world. We want to find out what moves them, how they combine being a mom and an entrepreneur and what living a sustainable lifestyle means to them.
In the newest edition of #GOODTHING we meet Elise. With her label COCLICO, she creates kids furniture according to the Montessori Principle, helping kids to develop and grow independently at home. Elise talks to us about how her passion for Montessori furniture came about, what daily rituals she has and how she copes with the responsibility of being a mother and her own boss at the same time. But we don't want to give away too much upfront, so over to Elise!
COCLICO's founders Elise and Steffen, business and life partners © COCLICO
Hey Elise, can you start out by telling us a bit about yourself and your family? How did you grow up, where do you live now and what is your family life like?
Hi, my name is Elise and I'm 39 years old. I originally come from Normandy but I've been living in Germany for the past 21 years. I grew up in Cain in a 'European' Family with French, Spanish and Italian roots. Before coming to Germany, I actually had quite different plans for my life. I wanted to study applied languages and become an interpreter for the European Union. Ever since I first heard about the EU in third or fourth grade and the plans to create a common currency, I was inspired by this dream of peace and really wanted to be a part of it.
But things didn't quite turn out that way. After a six-week stay in Germany as an au-pair at the age of 18, I decided to move to Germany and to study there. I actually just planned to be here for six weeks in the summer of '98. But in that time I met and fell in love with Steffen, my husband and business partner. The things you do for love! ;)
During the first year, I learned the language, worked in all kinds of different jobs (even mowing the lawn for the municipality) and wrote a language diploma. After my studies in business and law, I moved to Frankfurt and worked in human resources for companies like Accenture and Thomson Reuters.
Today we - my husband, my two sons and I - live in Freiburg im Breisgau. After nearly 15 years in Frankfurt we decided to move to the three-country corner, where we enjoy the high quality of life and being so close to France. And what is better than making wooden furniture in the German Black Forest?
We recently found out about your wonderful products. Can you tell us what exactly COCLICO is?
COCLICO stands for a mindful philosophy integrated into children's furniture and inspired by Montessori. At the same time, it is a rethinking of interior design for the entire family. The COCLICO furniture allows families to create places of togetherness at home, where kids and parents can live, play and work independently as well as together. It's about creating places that value and support the growth and independence of each family member.
At first I wanted to open a Montessori room in Frankfurt after two trainings (the Montessori diploma and an anthroposophical education with approaches by Emmi Pikler). The business plan was written, locations had been scouted. I was only missing the right type of furniture. In Montessori, the “prepared environment” plays a big role, meaning that the rooms where the child spends time should be designed in a child-friendly way. The size and height of the Montessori furniture needs to correspond to the size of the child so that it can explore the environment independent of adult areas.
But I simply could not find the type of furniture that I had in mind. Through common friends I got to know Olaf Schroeder and introduced my project to him. As an industrial designer, Olaf has created kids furniture before and we really hit it off and inspired each other. That's how our Montessori furniture line was born. Instead of using our newly-created furniture in the Montessori room, we decided to start selling our collection to all parents and in this way, allow all families to be part of our mission to give children more independence at home.
Empowering, playful and gorgeous, that is what Montessori furniture is about! © COCLICO
What's the story behind your big passion for Montessori?
It started pretty early actually! In my first job at Accenture, I met a colleague who asked me some simple questions: “what if what is presented as normal to us is actually not normal at all? What is normal in the first place? And can I have my own definition of what is normal?” After this talk, I started to question many things that I had taken as truth from my upbringing and learnt about the so-called 'alternative education.' Even though I didn't have kids at that age yet, I spent a lot of time thinking about this and it became one of my biggest interests.
What does it mean to design furniture according to the Montessori-Principle and how does it strengthen children in their growth?
Children are born with two basic needs: attachment and autonomy. We can draw a comparison to a fetus in the belly of the mom - it's connected to the mom through the umbilical cord but grows independently into a baby.
With our Montessori furniture, we want to fulfill these two basic needs that every child has. Most importantly, all pieces are light enough to be carried. When the parents leave the room at home, the child can carry their own chair and move to where we are. With our table, chair and the prepared shelf, the child can independently move around and follow their interests. I mean, how often do we adults here the sentence 'let me do it alone'?
Our Montessori furniture is completely thought-through and every detail has a function: the cross-braces for self-carrying, the material for discovering sensory experiences (smooth and rough surface), the open shelves that invite playfulness.
In what other areas of life can parents bring Montessori ideas into their life?
I think it starts with how us as adults view our kids' development: let's have less expectations and prejudices towards our children, and let's have more trust in the wonderful potential that each of them carries in them! With this attitude, we can encourage children at home and be loving companions to them.
I already described the two basic needs of children. The child wants to be a part of society and contribute to it. In the comfort of the home, there are so many possibilities to do so! The child can participate in the preparation of dinner or afternoon snacks, it can cut vegetables, slice bananas and apples, and do so much more. The kitchen is actually the perfect place for this combination of connection and independence at home.
In addition to being beautifully designed and super child friendly, COCLICO's products are sustainable! © COCLICO
What does sustainability mean for you and how do you live it with COCLICO and in your private life?
Being sustainable is very dear to us at COCLICO. Sustainability is not just limited to the materials that we use, but starts with our mindset, with our awareness. From the very first idea, to the design, the materials, the regional production and all the way to our deliveries, we act sustainably and responsibly. For this, we were recently awarded with the Green Product Awards for two of our Montessori furniture pieces: our chair CLÉMENT and our modular shelf system VICTOR & THÉO.
At home, we feel about sustainability the same way: it starts with the right mindset. It's about asking: do I really need these new shoes? Is it a need or a desire? If a pair of shoes is too small of worn out, it's obvious that a new one is needed. Then we decide what to buy based on the fabrication, the materials and the price. We do it a similar way when it comes to buying our food and we always make sure that we cause as little waste as possible.
What is a typical day like for you? Do you have something like a specific routine?
I make sure to follow 3 routines each day. The first one is my coffee! After i bring the boys to school, I get back home and prepare myself a coffee. It's my ritual and I make sure to take my time for it. I enjoy every single step, all the way to sprinkling cinnamon onto the frothed oat milk. An absolute treat at the start of each day!
My second routine is meditating. No matter when. And the last one is writing down my To Dos for the next day each evening. That way, I can see what tasks are open and urgent… something that I don't like to do so much because I tend to ignore them;) But by writing everything down, I have a great overview.
What female role models inspire you?
Definitely Maria Montessori, she was a true visionary. She was a very humble woman with unconditional love in her, something that the world needs more of. Besides that, many women in my personal surroundings inspire me. I'm inspired my mom for her love and for being such a wonderful single mother who gave my sister and I so much self-confidence. And my grandmother, who stood up to an old image of women who should not want too much from their job and was very successful in leadership positions.
Inspired by the strong women in her family, Elise now lives her passion 100%. ©COCLICO
Starting your own label and being your own boss sounds appealing to many. But are there also things that are difficult for you?
Absolutely! Steffen, my husband and business partner, and I each have their own areas of expertise. It's something that grew very naturally. Areas that he is responsible for, like the production and the sales, are more difficult for me.
It's the same way as in other areas. Things that you are passionate about seem more easy to do. In my case it's the creative and educational activities related to brainstorming products, doing press work and so on. Social media does not come so natural to me because it's about presenting myself to the rest of the world, which is something that I honestly find hard.
Next to your work, you are also a mother to two sons. How do you combine being a mom with your own company and do you have some advice to share on how to deal with stressful situations?
To be frank, not every day is easy. For one, being an entrepreneur comes with many responsibilities and tasks, and many of those things were completely new to me. It means that every single day, I learn new things. It's exciting, no doubt, but at the same time it costs a lot of time and energy.
On the other hand, my responsibility as a mother is just as important. Our kids very openly and directly ask for our attention and presence. It doesn't mean that we always have to be directly around them. Sometimes it's enough for them to know that we are there for them, even if they are visiting their friends in the neighbourhood. What is really important to me is to clearly communicate our daily plans, so that my partner, my kids and I know what to expect. That way they feel listened to and secure.
If I know that a very busy day full of private and work activities is coming up, I tend to experience those days in different ways… dependent on how I feel. The result can happen to be an inner unrest that becomes more and more present. But thankfully, I am able to recognize this unrest and try to make sure to relax myself by doing everything slow. I walk slower, eat slower and enter every activity with my full presence.
It's very important to me that I feel good and that my own well-being does not suffer along the way. This might sound self-centered to some. But no kid needs a stressed mother. In my case, I find balance while singing and while practicing Ashtanga Yoga. I'm part of a Jazz Choir and I take singing lessons. For these things, I take MY time.
Being an entrepreneur and a Mom is not always easy to combine ; the daily practice of mindfulness, as well as regular Yoga and singing sessions help Elise keeping her balance. © COCLICO
What do you hope the future brings for yourself and your company?
“RE-THINK the Family Interiors”, that's our motto at COCLICO. I wish for us that we always live this motto and that we have the courage to rethink the way our Montessori furniture is designed - to make sure that spaces are created for every family member to grow.
There are many things that we find completely normal and take as the status quo. But once we talk and think about them, we might notice that there could be a completely different way to see things. We might for example never notice that most of the furniture at home is meant for adults and not for kids. So we are all the more inspired about COCLICO's mission to question the status quo and create Montessori furniture specifically designed for children's growth!
Thank you so much for this wonderful talk Elise! We learned a lot from you about raising kids according to Montessori ideas and will definitely follow your advice to slow down our busy days and bring more awareness into our everyday life. We wish you all the best for the future and can't wait to see what more we can expect from COCLICO!