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Waddler

Living the dream is something Philip Thompson seems to have all figured out.  From a tiny tropical island off the coast of Brazil in a house he built himself, Philip and his wife Marina run their miniature clothing brand Waddler using Bolivian alpaca wool they’ve sourced themselves, Peruvian Pima cotton, and their sunkissed children as models.

As if that’s not enough, this follows a nomadic existence travelling around South America and is broken up by stints in Ireland, England and Scotland every year – the couple’s respective motherlands.

“It made far more sense to work from home in a warm sunny place rather than a cold damp one,” Philip explains matter-of-factly

Waddler began as a vague idea while Philip, Marina and their oldest son Finn (then aged one) were travelling in Argentina, Bolivia and Peru, after leaving London for a life less ordinary. “  (In Philip’s words, “Life in the city with kids was not as fun.”)  Inspired by their wild, bareback horse-riding and empanada-feasting filled days and firefly-filled nights, they began working on Waddler with Marina, whose background is in theatre, in charge of design and marketing and ex-documentary producer Philip in charge of sales and administration. 

While there are a total of five in Waddler’s core staff, there are another 300 craftsmen in Bolivia who all help bring the designs to life – and Philip and Marina know them all.  There’s Yoni, a guy in his fifties who makes their bowler hats and is a rock musician in his spare time.  There’s Camilla, a single mother in El Alto who runs a team of six who help to make Waddler’s sweaters.  Because Philip and Marina pay three times the minimum wage (which is only $180USD per month), they’ve been able to make real difference to their employees lives.  Camilla, for example, has been able to buy a washing machine and a freezer since working for the Thompsons. 

“It still seems small compared  to Western wages… but when compared to minimum wages in India and Bangladesh (where most brands produce) of two dollars per day… it's much, much better,” says Philip.

“We prefer less competitive costs and happier humans as opposed to the normal market ‘logic.’”

The result is a collection of whimsical, beautifully made pieces of clothing that are made to be passed down the generations.  There are the tiny jumpers hand knitted from freakishly soft alpaca wool and finished with miniature elbow patches, wolf and bear wollen hoodies inspired by Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are, crisp cotton tops printed with bowler hats and lamas, and cocoons for newborns so soft that they make the fingertips of grown men tremble.

“We tend to be inspired by what's around us - South American landscapes, colours, textures, animals, people,” says Philip.  “We also look at old fashioned clothes from the 20's and 30's, old photo books and some current trends we like.”

While the business takes up a fair whack of Philip and Marina’s time, they also have time to grill fish for breakfast, home school Finn (which includes map making, ukelele and calculations on the sand among other things), tend the tropical vegie garden, practice yoga every day, fish, swim and take the kids to capoeira classes.  Oh, and they also have an eight week trip to Spain and the UK coming up. 

Upon reflection, it all sort of sounds a bit out of reach. But Philip is adamant.

“If you have the opportunity, you like to travel and you are adaptable then go for it!” he says. “Don't let worries about financial security and health hold you back. If you don't do it you'll never know what you might have missed...”

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