Charlotte Khan may be relatively new to the toy scene, having been operating her high street independent children’s shop, Moo Like a Monkey for little over 18 months now, but in that time, Khan and her shop have certainly made an impression on the independent retail scene.
Just this month, Khan was one of a handful of finalists to make the trip to The Houses of Parliament to take part in the final of the Best Small Shop in the UK. While the retailer may have missed out on the 2019 crown to Bristol’s high street deli and cookery school, Papa Deli the feat alone is hugely commendable.
ToyNews catches up with Charlotte Khan, owner of Moo Like A Monkey to find out just what it is that sets them apart, and get the lowdown on the UK’s high street.
Moo Like a Monkey is an interesting name – where did the name come from?
Charlott Khan: It was a mixture of finding a name that sounded silly and fun, and one that was about celebrating being an individual. Be who you are, and let people be who they are . But mainly because it sounds silly.
How long have you been operating in Folkestone – what inspired you into opening Moo Like a Monkey and into the children’s space?
We have been operating for just 18 months so we still feel like beginners. After having my second child I felt strongly that I needed to find a way of making a living and provide for my family while being a parent who was still present in my children’s lives. I wanted to start a business that could work around my family. I had moved to Folkestone and I thought there was a gap in the market. That was the start of the idea and the shop has developed from there into something much bigger.
The mainstream children’s market has always made me feel slightly uncomfortable. from the sheer volume of plastic toys being produced to the unnecessary gender stereotypes in clothes books and toys. After researching into the effects these stereotypes can have on Children I was inspired to tried to create an inclusive, diverse space for all children.
What is it that you guys bring to the children’s retail space?
I like to think Moo like a Monkey is offering an alternative to the mainstream children’s retail space. Having children doesn’t mean you house is full of landfill-bound plastic toys. Buy less, buy better – Toys that are made well will last generations. Girls can be interested in dinosaurs and benefit from playing with toys that develop hand eye coordination and fine motor skills without feeling they are playing with ‘boys’ toys. Boys should be able to play with dolls and develop their nurturing side without feeling dolls aren’t for them. Children of any race and gender should feel represented in their toys, having dolls that look like them is so important for the beginning of an inclusive society. There are more valuable role models than princesses who marry money and dress well.
When I buy for the shop I avoid brands and product that I feel use the marketing or styling to feed into any harmful stereotypes. There is so much unconscious stereotyping that still goes on, it’s more dangerous than we think.
What do you bring to High Street retail and to the UK’s independent retail landscape?
Folkestone’s community has been hugely supportive of the shop from day one. There is a pride and identity associated in the area you live. Nobody wants to live near streets of run down or empty shops. Communities want high streets that represent who they are and what they want as a community.
UK high street business are more than shops and services, they provide people with a sense of place, a sense of identity. We take the challenge of being a valued business on a UK High Street very seriously, we want to be a part of the community and add genuine value to the area.
Why is it important for indie shops to be seen at the heart of the community like this? What has this brought to the community around you?
The importance of including of the local community is something that has we’ve become increasingly aware of since we opened last year. The shop is based in Folkestone’s Creative quarter so the area is full of artists, makers and small independent creative businesses. We take full advantage of the rich pool of talent in the area we are based.
We stock toys and clothes made by local people and books by local authors. It’s healthy for the local economy and it feels great to be able to offer a boost to a local business by giving their product another platform. Becoming a parent has been one of the hardest challenges I’ve faced, personally. This has encouraged me to host events that are more than the nursery rhyme session you find in any town. We simply offer a space and support for events to take place, and we select the most interesting and relevant events people are running.
We have made a start but there are many more events we are planning, post-natal art therapy, social events, comedy and music gigs for people to go to with their kids and babies. If we are to succeed on the high street we need to be more that just a shop. There are different ways of supporting people and businesses in the local community.
So you guys stock nearly everything from toys and books, to shoes and clothes for children – what is the ethos that Moo Like a Monkey operates on?
Every child is an individual, no child should feel limited of excluded for any reason. There are no harmful stereotypes anywhere in our shop. We believe all children should feel represented in toys and books. We have a book that re-tells the traditional princess stories with the princesses as the heroines who are brave, intelligent and not dependant on anyone else, books that teach children about other cultures and that difference is not something to be afraid of.
The dolls we stock feature a range of ethnicities and genders. All the toys are gender neutral, Children’s don’t actually use their genitals to play with their toys so I find it very strange to try and market or design a toy to be played with by a specific gender.
There is no separate girls or boy sections for the clothes, we sell bright quirky comfortable clothes for all children. There is so much talent in the independent children’s wear market and we are proud to be able to showcase these small brands.
So many headlines at the moment talk about the struggle of the high street, while within the toy industry, it’s been a tough year for big name retailers. How tricky is it for indie shops like yourself today? What are the biggest hurdles? What is key to survival today?
I don’t have a huge amount of experience in this industry but my point of view as a new player on the UK high street is that the high street businesses need to adapt. And It’s easier for a small independent shops to adapt, change and respond than it is for a large established business with branches and staff and systems in place.
When you run a small shop you could have an idea and implement it in the shop the very next day, small shops can be more agile than the large established players. Online retailers can offer convenience and value, so the high street needs to find something more experiential to offer consumers. A social experience, a luxury, informative or fun experience. As shops we need to be innovative, listen closely to what customers need and keep evolving in order to survive.