Stu French & Teigan Margetts
Founders, Ethicool Books
What were some of the key motivations behind setting up Ethicool Books
We are both prolific writers and readers, and upon having our own children and becoming more engaged in young children's literature, especially, we really developed a passion for a particular type of children's books. They were books that subtly and creatively focussed on the big issues that are critical to the future of society and the planet. E.g. climate change, equality (of all forms), and sustainability etc. We decided we wanted to release our own range of books that focussed on these issues, whilst still seamlessly weaving them into narratives that carried timeless appeal to young children.
Ethicool Books tackle a whole range of important issues such as sustainability, climate change, ocean care, gender equality and poverty. Can you give a few examples of how you approach some of these sensitive subjects in a child-friendly way?
The trick is finding an angle that makes these themes accessible/relatable to young minds. In our books thus far, that angle has been using a character that is intriguing to little minds (e.g. Mother Nature) or embedding a protagonist that is sweet, disarming and approachable (e.g. a sea turtle or a young polar bear). Once the little reader is interested in the character, it's easier to extend that interest into the theme that character is exploring or unpacking. We are also very particular about the theme being embedded in the sub-text, rather than an overt driver of the storyline. The intention here is to provide some subtle but meaningful points of conversation that parents can then pick up with their children at the end of the story.
How important is it for kids to explore subjects outside of their comfort zone?
It is critical. Reading is a way to transport the mind anywhere - even to fantastical places - and kids grow and learn the most when they're challenged to think outside the box and leverage their imagination. The majority audience that is purchasing our books are progressive, self-aware parents/grandparents/relatives, who want to instill the same qualities in the next generation.
You recently commissioned two talented Childrensillustrators.com members, Francisco Fonseca and Alvin Adhi Mulyono. What first attracted you to each artist's portfolio and can you tell us about the books they illustrated for you?
Alvin was the first illustrator we hired, and his work has been immensely successful. We selected Alvin originally because we felt his illustrative style really nailed the "disarming" element of our books that we noted earlier. Alvin is also deeply passionate about nature and conservation, and having this values alignment meant (and still means) that he was invested in the outcome of our books even beyond the practical level. The most notable work of Alvin's is Stu's book, Remembering Mother Nature, which has absolutely cemented the presence of our business in just a few short months.
Francisco is a more recent hire, but someone we've had our eye on since before we launched the business. His style is absolutely unique and his alone. The way Francisco draws cities and streetscapes is otherworldly. There is a level of realism, but also a tweak of fantasy and abstractism, that is like nothing else we've seen. His first book with us is actually also the work of the first author we signed-up, Priscilla Pho.
Pris's debut book, Just a Rabbit, explores inequality in the most incredibly fluid and endearing way. The gentleness of her language is beatifully juxtaposed with the progressiveness of Francisco's illustrations, and this combination has created a deeply special book.
Are there particular illustration styles or subject matters you are interested in when browsing artists' portfolios?
Absolutely. The ability to show a diverse style is critical: by "a diverse style", we mean the ability to draw/create a wide range of things without breaking from a distinguishable and consistent aesthetic. Creating people, animals, landscapes, cityscapes etc. and having them all recognisable as "your own" is exactly what we're looking for.
What are some of the rewards & challenges associated with running your own business?
Running an ecommerce business is especially rewarding, above all things. We can work from anywhere we want, whilst automating so much of the customer experience lifecycle. Closer to home, as passionate writers and readers, running a business that is grounded by these things is also emotionally, creatively, and intellectually satisfying. Conversely, yes, the challenges are extreme at times. Given we're still heavily embedded in the mobilisation phase of our business, the workload is extremely high. We both have a strong growth mindset and we're never fully happy with anything, which means we're always refining and optimising - this takes time and is often draining. The ultimate reward, though, is having all the foundations in place - including more staff - which will enable us to focus more exclusively on the creative parts of the publication process, which is what we're most passionate about.
What are some of the main messages you hope children will take from reading your titles?
Firstly, and quite simply, that there is a lot to learn and reading is a way to learn it. At the more micro-level, we want children to learn how to question the norm and challenge the status quo. If nothing else, though, we simply want kids to develop a love for reading, and for our books to be the catalyst for this.
Who or what have been some of the major influences in your career so far?
We are most positively influenced by businesses that are doing something new, and in a socially-equitable way. We adore brands like Canva for this reason. Perhaps, though, the biggest influence on our business is our own children. Seeing them thrive in reading the books we've published is the most heart-warming and inspiring experience. It's invaluable motivation to push harder and further.
What was the standout children's book from your own childhood?
It would have to be anything Winnie The Pooh. Simple, endearing and disarming, these books always demonstrated the power of kindness and acceptance.
What is your vision for the future of Ethicool Books?
First and foremost, we want to remain to true to our vision and only publish books that promote a positive and healthy message. Secondly - and regardless of how large the business becomes - we also want to remain fun, personable, approachable, sustainable, and socially-equitable.