For the love of Courtney

Haakaa is a family owned online brand marketing safe, natural, non-toxic and eco-friendly baby products. Director Morgan Van Der Harst reveals the driving force behind its success.

By Glenn Baker

Morgan Van Der Harst had been a key member of the management team at Nespresso since it started in New Zealand around five years ago. But when her little sister Courtney was born with autism and other disabilities, life changed virtually overnight. Courtney’s health became her absolute focus. 

It was during the family’s struggle to source products suitable for Courtney that Morgan noticed a huge gap in the market. “Wait times were long; there was no customer service here or in Australia; shipping costs were high and the quality of products not that great,” she recalls. “That’s really how HaaKaa began. My stepmother and I now work together designing, creating and sourcing new products [for the business]. My sister Courtney is 100 percent healthy, happy and totally medication free.”  

The past 12 months have been huge for Morgan, and she admits there’ve been many sleepless nights getting the business to where it is today. 

“I left my job at Nespresso just over a year ago to focus on Haakaa full time and the speed at which we’ve grown since then has been amazing.” 

The business began with the idea of providing chemical-free and safe products for children – particularly those with special needs. It’s since grown into providing these same options for adults, with a huge emphasis on minimising waste. 

“This is a key focus of mine,” says Morgan. “The amount of single-use plastic we generate as humans is devastating and a lot of it comes down to education. People don’t stop to consider why the products they are using are so cheap and break so easily. The mentality of “throw it in the bin and let’s buy a new one” is something we want to change. 

So Haakaa products are made to last and to buy once. “Our bottles grow and change as your child does and go from newborn right through to school; from teat through to sippy then straw cap and eventually ending up as a thermal container,” says Morgan. “Our dinnerware is made from organic bamboo which is the most sustainable material on this planet. We use glass, stainless steel, silicone, and reusable, sustainable materials.” 

The biggest challenge in growing the brand is changing people’s thinking on buying quality that will last rather than multiple cheap and nasty products, she says. “Buying six bottles at $10 each over your child’s early years is false economy and where do these products end up? An estimated 1,500 plastic bottles end up in our oceans and landfill every second.”

Morgan has had plenty of support in building Haakaa. “I’m lucky this is a 100 percent family owned operation and I have had the support of my parents as well as a genuine reason and drive behind all of us – Courtney. We all share the same vision. But without my stepmother and Courtney we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Harnessing social media
Morgan’s key message for other fledgling business owners is a reminder that it takes time to build a business and a brand. “Don’t give up, because the moment you’re about to give up and it starts getting really hard, you are about to catapult. We are lucky we live in such a digital world with social media; the moment you create something amazing it can be shared around the world in a matter of minutes. 

“A perfect example of this is our Haakaa Breast Pump. Overnight our pump [information] was shared hundreds of times around the world and the madness began. 

“Use social media as much as you can; we have some amazing bloggers we work with who believe in our brand as much as we do. If you check out our Instagram you’ll see they are all over our page. If you do not have Instagram, get it!

“I think just using these tools in a productive and smart way can make all the difference.” 

Morgan believes the key to building a successful online business is having a great website. 

“I rebuilt our entire website. It was a huge process but the effect was amazing. Having an easy to use, simple and clear website that functions properly and efficiently makes all the difference. Shopify is brilliant and having a great web company to help you and steer you in the right direction is a must,” she says. “We worked with Zeald and I could not recommend them enough.

“We are also lucky in the fact we now have retailers who stock our product. These guys have been incredible for getting our message across.”

There is a lot of trial and error and a lot of mistakes made, but that’s all part of learning, says Morgan. “Just don’t give up and keep going. If you believe in what you are doing it will happen.”

Setting goals
Morgan’s goal for the next two to three years is for Haakaa products to be available worldwide. “We are attending the Kind + Jugend 2016 Baby Show in Germany this year and would love our products to be available in retail stores worldwide for our international customers. 

“We want to create more products that everybody can use every day in a way that is both affordable and safe for them and the planet.” 

Morgan says the baby show is exciting due to Germany’s huge eco-friendly and sustainable product focus. “Going to these countries is so important because we’re all working towards the same goal – figuring out new ways to protect our planet and our children. Forming friendships and relationships with people who share the same vision as us is a key tool in getting products into these markets.

“We don’t want to form partnerships with people who appear to care but are all about making a profit; we want people who will work with us and grow with us. 

“Another key goal is to help other families in the same situation we were with Courtney all those years ago, and make these safe options available to them,” she says.  

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