Kids’ clothes. I’m so sick of the bedazzlement. The sequins, the lace, the ruffles and frills. The neon, the mesh and most especially the cacophony of branded characters from Hannah to Dora and Spidey and beyond. Everywhere I go, it seems I’m bombarded with the antithesis of style, which is sucked out of so many items of clothing in the name of mass-production and ‘affordability’.
Oh, please give me the merchandising job at Target, Big W and Kmart. I could make them a fortune.
Yes, I know seven-year-old girls love coloured tights and skirts, and four-year-old boys are obsessed with super heroes – but it doesn’t mean things have to get ugly. I also know three-year-olds love tutus and trust me, there is nothing cuter than a poppet with a blurr of pink fizz and sparkled wings, jammed over her jeans. Yes, I do love to see an individual stamping her style down with her glossy pink gumboots, but if I see one more matchy-poo-poo purple tracksuit emblazoned with shiny, licensed brands, I’ll fire up that darn sewing machine myself.
Yes, I adore white clouds of French linen, exquisite retro cottons, whimsical designs, vintage recycling, funky tees, simplicity. It’s not that I’m a kids’ fashion snob. It’s just that I absolutely adore kids’ clothing; always have – and I’m constantly intrigued at the blathering mess of ugly in the en-masse clothing world out there.
Like many things in life, the more ‘beautiful’ it is, the higher the price tag. I realise most of us get vertigo at the thought of paying $118 for a long-sleeve top, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of very affordable independent brands available, and fantastic sales abound every season at the mall. There’s eBay, Etsy, sensational seconds and recycling stores, and clothes swapping parties galore.
But there’s also a very talented group of quiet achievers operating all over Australia – mums just like you and I – powering through the night to the light of whirring sewing machines, designing and creating absolute treasures in their hidden, sewing box treasure-troves. Treasures that are seeping into the market with a quiet force that could very well change the face of kids’ fashion.
These mums are flying high on such powerful vehicles as the sudden resurgence in all things handmade, in word of mouth, and in the internet – which is allowing them to create, source, market and sell exciting designs that have mums all over the world drooling right alongside their dribbling tots.
One such mum is Wynona Leach from Ivy Designs, who began her label only last year. Based in Sydney, Ivy Designs clothing is already selling well at several stockists in NSW and the ACT, and on babygotstyle.com.au.
“Having my daughter, Ivy, inspired me to make the leap and start Ivy Designs,” Leach told Australian Women Online. “I first made Ivy some dresses and showed them to family and friends for feedback. Then I got together with my sister Anna [Dinh] and we designed our first range.”
And this designing duo haven’t looked back. What’s attractive about Ivy Designs’ clothing line is that all items are limited edition and Australian-made, with handcrafted, quirky touches, like appliqué and cute buttons. The designs are also road-tested on the sisters’ own kids, to ensure fit and endurance. What more could a mum (and stylista kid) want?
Although she believes in handmade, quality items, Leach does admit to buying a lot of basics from places like Target and Cotton on Kids. “Like many people, I am attracted to the low prices of mass produced items,” she says, but adds she’s not a fan of licensed clothing like Dora, Barbie. “I am conscious with my purchases and regularly support Australian-made, handmade and fair trade. I don’t mind paying a little bit extra for Australian-made items – I know first hand how expensive it is to produce.”
Wynona is not alone. Leonie Vazey of Tippie Toes Petite Couture is another mum obsessed with handmade, vintage-inspired clothing and accessories. After the birth of her two children, Leonie, who is based in the Sutherland Shire of NSW, decided to embark on a search for children’s clothes to fit her unique style.
“I’m so inspired by old world vintage, shabby chic and soft pastel pallets,” Vazey told AWO, whose design style is clean and simple with ‘edgy vintage’ touches. “Most of my clothing is one-off or very limited; I search op shops, online and obscure markets to use in my designs. I love using florals, lace, old school appliqués such as Holly Hobbie, old vintage table clothes, napkins, doilies. Some of my best pieces have stemmed from creating something new from something old.”
When asked about the availability, range and price of mass-marketed kids’ clothing, Vazey also says larger stores are great for basic essentials, but if you seek items without Dora the Explorer’s adventures plastered on every appendage, range diminishes and prices escalate. “I’m not really into mass produced clothing,” she says, “I can’t understand why cheap tends to be nasty!” Indeed, Vazey also prescribes to my theory that providing gorgeous, good quality, unique clothing at affordable prices is possible.
Gold Coast-based label, Three Little Trees, is yet another Aussie label doing well with its unique designs. Despite starting the label only 18 months ago, its design duo – Jacqui O’Sullivan and Kate Hamilton – are selling in over 40 boutiques globally. With their current range heavily influenced by divine Japanese elements, both designers understand the attraction of making unique clothing. “We both love children’s fashion and design,” says O’Sullivan. “So things quickly snowballed and before we knew it we had a name, a manufacturer and were at the bank getting a very small loan… very nerve-racking!” but nonetheless worth every creative moment.
Three Little Trees designs are bold and bright, featuring unique prints from talented UK design company ISAK. They are mostly 100% cotton and the designers like to ensure the cut and fit of their clothing is very comfortable and practical. “We try to make a difference in the world for all children by attaching native seeds to each garment we make,” O’Sullivan told AWO. “If all the boys and girls plant these seeds, our world can regenerate and grow.”
For Kelly Parrish of Little Bubble and Tree, starting a children’s label was inspired by a friend who asked her to design kaftans for her children. “My wardrobe has over 20 kaftans itself, so it was a natural progression to start dressing my fair headed boys in them also,” admits Parrish, who loves textiles and fabric in bright colours – especially colours that clash. “I’m inspired by flowers, a dash of paint or even a box of Smarties!” she laughs. “I have some beautiful silk Indian cushions that I constantly look at for inspiration, along with the million other objects I have at home.”
Sun conscious design is important to Parrish, who is based on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula and began selling her items online and in boutiques in Victoria and South Australia from October last year. “Little Bubble and Tree’s main aim is to allow children to play freely, giving parents the confidence that tiny bodies are protected from the sun,” says Parrish, whose garments are a blend of practical design and gorgeous fabrics, sourced from around the globe. As they are not mass-produced, each kaftans is unique, featuring beautiful embroidery from paisley to stars. Parrish designs all of the pieces herself and outsources the sewing to Melbourne and to a fair-trade organisation in India.
“I sew all of the accessories and appliqué long-sleeve tees myself,” Parrish says, “From the dining table, the lounge room floor, my study, my husband’s study, the beanbag in the family room and the bench in the kitchen… I have a very large workroom!”
It’s a wonderful thing for these talented designers – all of whom have young children – to be able work from home. Some outsource all or part of their work, while others still do all their own sewing. O’Sullivan from Three Little Trees currently outsources, and went to great lengths to ensure their manufacturer was ethical. Like all the designers, she says it’s fabulous to work from home. “We love the flexibility!” she admits.
Since speaking with all these clever women, I’ve come to appreciate how much work goes into designing and creating beautiful children’s clothing, yet I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the price range. For all labels, prices cruise between $5 for hair accessories and $70 for a very special one-off dress or jacket. Considering these items are made with such care and beauty, and most importantly – are unlikely to be seen anywhere else on the playground jungle gym – I’d be more than happy to invest in such pieces for my kids.
So, will this talent mean the end of mass-produced uglies on the market? Probably not. But seeing the passion behind these unique clothing labels is a joy, and watching them succeed is even better. Word of mouth, Etsy, local markets, blogs and retailer promotion, both online and instore, has proved a huge boon to these talented women.
Like all the designers, O’Sullivan of Three Little Trees says marketing her label hasn’t been as difficult as initially presumed – perhaps clearly indicating a children’s clothing market that’s keen for fresh and unique items.
Mums everywhere – I encourage you to beat the uglies and jump on board the local designer style wagon. For sylista kids everywhere, the only way is up… and fabulous!