Gear Up for School with Kittery’s Newest Children’s Boutique
With a selection of toys and clothes for adventurous kiddos, Kit Supply + Co. makes it easy for children to get outside, rain or shine.
The not-so-secret secret of September in Maine is that it’s one of the best months to be outside: biting insects and blistering sun have retreated, leaving shady woods and still-warm waterways open for exploration. But for Holly Curtis and Suzie Glover Heinz of children’s store Kit Supply and Company in Kittery, every season is the right season to enjoy the great outdoors: as we begin our chat, Curtis cites the Scandinavian saying that there is no bad weather, only bad clothes. Fortunately, Kit Supply and Company has clothes—and toys, games, puzzles, and tools—that make being outside in any kind of weather enjoyable. “We want to foster a creative, exploratory mindset where kids can really enjoy the outdoors in a different way,” Glover Heinz says.
Curtis and Glover Heinz met about 15 years ago when they worked for a footwear design company. “Both of us went to art school and have been super involved in all manner of product creation: supply chain stuff, sourcing development, product management, and design,” says Curtis. Glover Heinz had also worked in retail during high school and college: “I always loved it. Fashion and apparel and accessories—that world was always a part of my life, so it felt very easy to step back into it, but with all my back-end knowledge now,” she says. When each was ready for a new start, they began talking about going into children’s retail together. “I think one of the things that we both share a love for is sustainable and ethical sourcing. I think in the kids’ space specifically, things are moving faster than they are everywhere else, because people are so conscientious about what they feed their kids or put on their bodies,” muses Curtis. “So it felt like a really fun departure to do something that was really about thoughtful selection, curation, and sourcing. We wanted to educate and also to inspire.”
Also uniting them was a shared appreciation of the outdoors. Even before the pandemic made outdoor classrooms more common, Curtis’s older child attended a nature-based preschool in Kittery. “It was year-round, fully outside, so they would come in just for nap and lunch. Watching him and his peer group go through that program was so inspiring,” she recalls. “It’s Maine and it can be harsh, but my son does not get cold. He’s unaffected by rain. He’s just happy and comfortable outside all the time.” They wanted, in their new venture, to extend this experience to as many children as possible: “We saw it as an opportunity to take that magic and say, ‘Hey, we can all tap into this!’” says Curtis.
The store, which they opened in June 2021, is housed in an old clapboard building in the heart of Kittery Foreside, and combines old and new seamlessly. An original painted tin ceiling hovers over sleek modern plywood pegboards that hold clothes and toys. (“Suzie’s dad built our pegboards!” Curtis exclaims.) The pegboards extend almost to the floor, and the offerings displayed lower down are meant to be handled by the smallest patrons. “We really encourage kids to touch. Please touch, please touch! If it’s down at their level, it’s meant to be played with,” Curtis laughs. An expansive display (yes, right at little kid level) of soft fabric Maileg mice engaged in a variety of outdoor activities—hiking, camping, windsurfing—greets visitors as they come through the door. One corner holds a multiplicity of bags, from backpacks to pencil cases and every size in between, all made from recycled materials. Lavishly illustrated picture books about the natural world have their own area. Spread throughout the store, clothes in unisex colors and soft natural fabrics are meant to be durable and passed on from one child to the next.
Just like recycling, reuse is something both founders are passionate about. “We just launched what we’re calling Kit Circle. You can bring stuff in, you can trade it up, you can get store credit. Then, at the end of its true life, it should be something that is either going to break down or be recycled,” explains Curtis. They were encouraged by seeing that, once again, children’s wear was ahead of the game: “We’re seeing that, in the kid space, the resale component within the brand is becoming really common. It’s definitely outpacing the adult brands,” she adds. Both Curtis and Glover Heinz feel that their customers understand that items that are initially more expensive can keep their value. A nice wool Misha and Puff sweater, for example, can be worn until a child outgrows it, and then be sold for nearly its original price if it’s in good condition. Glover Heinz notes, “I think there’s more education out there for people now with social media. People can follow and learn about some of these smaller, more eco-minded brands more easily. So they’re being taught that there is an alternative. Then to have a community space that they can go to and see it happening in real time is just going to encourage that even further.”
This sense of a place to bring people together lies at the heart of their endeavor. “We always wanted it to be a community space,” says Curtis, as Glover Heinz nods in agreement. On the second floor of the space, they host yoga classes for kids and their adults. “We also did a little series of cooking classes with some local chefs up there, because there is a really great food scene here in Kittery,” says Curtis. Then there is weekly story time, a Kit Supply and Company tradition born during their first summer season. As Curtis says, “It’s been so great that adults ask to come read, older kids ask to come read, and we get some authors and illustrators that come in and read their own books. We get some regulars from the neighborhood that are just so eager to have it be part of their weekly adventure: they go down the street, they grab Lil’s Cafe crullers and coffee, and then they’re here when the church bells toll 10 o’clock to let them know that story time is starting.” But of course, at Kit Supply and Company story time isn’t just for sunny summer mornings. Curtis notes, “We committed to doing it outside, and we pretty much do; I think we’ve had to cancel, like, once or twice in a year due to extreme weather, but we did it all the way through Christmas last year. So outside, even in the cold, we had people coming all bundled up and drinking hot cocoa and stuff. It just really resonated with our mission of being outside, no matter what.”
The Whole Kit & Caboodle
Long summer days may be ending, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to retreat inside! Here are some of Curtis and Glover Heinz’s best ideas for the fall and beyond.
• Back-to-school season is a fine excuse for a new, durable backpack. Kit Supply and Company carries a wide selection of Topo bags, made in Colorado. “We love them. They have a lot of new commitments to sustainability. So pretty much everything we have in the store now is made of recycled materials, and they have a lifetime guarantee,” Curtis says.
• Analog watches may seem like relics from an earlier era, but both Glover Heinz and Curtis say they are among their best sellers. They carry Mini Kyomo watches, a Japanese brand made of recycled plastic with interchangeable canvas straps. The watch face has different-colored minute and hour hands to help kids learn to tell time. “Plus, they are water resistant, which is great for inevitable spills and splash pools and all fun activities,” notes Glover Heinz.
• Puzzles are another favorite at Kit Supply and Company. “We try really hard to not pick things that are easily breakable or not able to survive the camping trip or the hike. We try to keep the scale reasonable too, so that it is something that you could throw in your jacket pocket. We have a lot of mini puzzles that are just in a little canvas bag inside the box, and you could just throw it in your purse,” says Curtis.
• Curtis and Glover Heinz believe strongly that outerwear doesn’t need to involve all sorts of chemicals and harsh manufacturing processes to be useful and long-lasting. They love Reima, a Finnish brand, for its commitment to recycled polyesters and innovative water-repellent finishes. Reima even offers a “monomaterial,” a type of fiber that is entirely recyclable, right down to the zippers and snaps. “For fall and winter, we have the two different one-piece suits. We have a one-piece rainsuit that is made of the monomaterial. And then we also have a one-piece snowsuit that is such a game changer for outdoor school or sledding or snowboarding,” says Curtis.
• Channeling my inner five-year-old, I can’t tear myself away from the display of Maileg mice. “These aren’t just something that’s adorable but too precious to be played with. These are the most beloved thing. Every kid that comes in wants one, every kid who owns one plays with it all the time, they look gorgeous, and they are fully machine washable,” says Curtis. She and Glover Heinz laugh about the mice’s popularity. Curtis begins, “At Christmas time, it was hilarious, it was our first holiday season. And every week we’d be saying, ‘We need to get more mice! We’re completely out of mice!’ So Suzie would order an absurd amount of mice.” Glover Heinz chimes in, “Then I’d say, ‘We have too many mice! We’re never going to sell all these mice.’” Curtis concludes, “And then Monday would come, and we’d say, ‘We’re out of mice again!’ It was like this every week!”