Nearly two years ago, after having enough of fast fashion and its impact on our planet and well-being, Abi and I set out to go against the odds and start our own line of childrenswear.
The journey has been treacherous, invigorating, eye opening, and uplifting. We get asked nearly every day what it’s like—as women and mothers—to take on this grandiose mission of changing an industry (and the consumer shopping habits that go with it).
For Abi and I, who are both novices to the world of fashion, bringing a collection to fruition is often a long and winding path that starts with a whole lot of heart and pure, creative inspiration. From there, it then twists and turns with both beautiful and gut-wrenching lessons, a plethora of “ah-ha” moments, and some downright exhilarating adventures. In many cases, we never know if we’ll get that item “just right” and if it will see the light of day until the final hour.
So, while we’re currently putting the final touches on our Spring Summer 2020 (SS2020) collection, we thought now is as good a time as any to pull back the veil and let you all in on what it actually takes, behind the scenes, to design and ethically and sustainably produce what we are sure is the world’s softest line of children’s clothes.
How do you ensure your production is above reproach and is indeed leading the fashion revolution?
For starters, I live in Portugal, where making clothing is an esteemed artisan profession that has been in many families for generations. Those who cut, sew, and dye our garments are incredibly skilled and enjoy many benefits associated with their career…from long lunches and private health care to a tight knit community feeling and an incredible amount of pride in the individual pieces they make.
Our facility is GOTS* and OEKO-TEX® certified and runs on green energy, recycles their own well water, and uses power generated by solar panels. It’s such an uplifting place. We visit often and work closely together to bring our dreams to fruition. We are very hands-on every step of the way, and feel fortunate to have found partners who feel more like family.
We are so committed to changing the fashion industry that we made the decision internally to reject the traditional clothing markup of 5-6x.
Making small batch, artisan items in an ethical and sustainable way means that our cost of a finished garment is often higher than the retail price of clothing at big box stores. This represents a substantial price difference to the consumer, making it harder for them to jump ship on their fast fashion purchasing habits.
We decided that the only way to entice many consumers to the other side and to impact change on the level we’d like to see is to absorb much of the price difference ourselves. So we’ve opted to reduce our profit margins and to only mark our items up 3-4x.
So, as part of a multifaceted approach, we are heavily focused on educating consumers on who made their clothes, how they made them, what materials and processes they were made with, and why it matters. Our content regularly emphasizes that less is more while sharing insight on simplifying and minimalism; facts on consumerism, pollution, and landfills; and tips on how to mend and upcycle our clothes.
Armed with knowledge and better alternatives, we believe we can come together as parents to vote with our dollars and to prioritize the health and well-being of our planet and its inhabitants.
*SIMÃO & OLGANDO SA, certified by ECOCERT GREENLIFE SAS, license number 00272632.
What inspired the SS2020 collection?
This is the first season where we felt we had successfully laid the foundation as a brand (with many basics already available) and were able to focus on pieces we’d been dreaming about for many moons. With nature and our children’s outdoor play as our muse, we chose muted tones and earthy shades and also focused on sourcing a few new key fabrics like our tumbled cotton and terry cloth.
We have also been able to listen to feedback from our community (seriously one of our favorite privileges) and respond to what they would love to see us make. All of our dyes are OEKO-TEX® certified, meaning they’re free from any harmful substances, but we also now offer new (and much requested), undyed garments that contain zero dye and are simply the natural and unaltered color of the raw fabric—like you see on one of our new incredibly soft styles for babies, The Ribbed Kimono.
Another focus going into this collection was extending our sizes on some of our rompers and bloomers for older kids. They are such fun and practical pieces, and so fitting for the spring and summer seasons, but many of the sizes ended at 24 months. As our kids got older, we found they still wanted to wear these timeless pieces so we initially extended the sizing to 3 years, and then pushed even further to create sizes for bigger kids (up to 7 years!).
We’ve always taken a non-conforming stance by making our playsuits in bigger sizes, so adding in the big sizes on the rompers and bloomers made a lot of sense. We want kids to feel free to play and romp around (plus, look incredibly stylish), and that shouldn’t have to stop when they get to a certain age.
How long did the SS2020 collection take to develop?
As with every collection, our brainstorming begins a couple years before launch with a Pinterest board detailing our inspiration on colors, style, and overall aesthetic (and a whole lot of messaging back and forth between Abi and I). Many of the fabrics and colors have been in the works for over a year, but we really started finalizing the designs and styles in the last ten or so months.
We’ve been able to reintroduce some of our previous and most popular styles in new fabrics, like The Terry Boxy Tee and The Terry Long John. Our brand new styles often involve lots of alterations during the development process and sometimes we need several rounds of the tiniest adjustments before we approve a prototype, as the fit is incredibly important to us—and every little detail has to be right. We are exceptionally manual and hands-on in the design and creation process as we would rather a garment takes longer but be perfect, than to rush through something we aren’t 100% in love with.
What specific steps go into creating a collection?
- Abi and I keep notes and lists of all our inspiration throughout the year.
- We meet and talk through our ideas, looking at the collection as a whole and deciding which styles we’d like to develop.
- We work to source the fabrics we envision within Portugal (and yes, we make sure my son Benjamin gets to touch all the fabric options so we can get his “softness seal of approval”).
- We send color samples to the dye house to begin the process of replicating it. They send us lab dips for approval—sometimes it’s perfect right away and sometimes it takes 4-5 tries before we approve a colorway.
- We create drawings based on the style ideas, and tech packs that include all of the garment details, like measurements, fabric, colors, and trims.
- We work with our pattern maker to finalize the style and fit.
- Our factory sends the first prototypes for us to approve. These are made with the correct fabrics, but we use any available color and don’t always use the correct trims so we aren’t wasteful.
- We try the prototypes on our fit models and make measurement adjustments where necessary.
- In the meantime, we also receive and approve the color and trim samples, such as buttons and zips.
- Once all of the separate components are approved, we can place an order.
- We receive press samples that we use for photoshoots, and it’s often the first time we get to see the completed garment in the correct fabric, color, and with all the right trims and labels. (This may very well be my favorite part!)
- We then do a final check of everything—we review measurement charts for all sizes, and check and approve the fabric and the colors.
- Once all is approved, production begins! We start by carbon brushing the fabric (as opposed to a chemical wash) to ensure it is luxuriously soft, next comes cutting the fabric, then assembling and sewing the item. If it’s a garment-dyed style, the piece is individually dyed before they attach the trims and labels, and then it goes through a vigorous quality control process to check that everything matches the approved prototypes. And finally, the garment is packed and ready to ship!
What lessons did you learn from the first two collections that you were able to carry over to this collection?
So many things! It hasn’t always been easy and we don’t often do things the way other brands do, but we’ve figured out what works best for us. One example is getting our colors right—we are so very particular with our colors and have to make sure that each one is exactly the right shade (who knew a sand color could be slightly too yellow?). We figured out that Pantone references—what most brands use for color references—are not specific enough for us, so we have to find a color swatch exactly matching our vision. Sometimes this means cutting the lining out of one of our coats or giving up our handbag to get just the right match!
Our linen fabric has also taken a long time to perfect. We always look for the softest fabrics, and for our first Spring Summer collection we couldn’t find a 100% linen that was soft, but also light and airy enough for play and movement. For SS2020, we finally found the right one! It’s 100% linen, GOTS certified organic, and remarkably soft. We loved it so much, we’re introducing some really beautiful new linen pieces, like The Frill Linen Top and The Frill Linen Shorts. They go beautifully together, but they can also be mixed up with some of our other classic styles, like our Wilder Tank or Linen Trouser.
What have been some of the obstacles you’ve encountered while developing this collection?
Our biggest obstacle was finding the tumbled cotton fabric. We knew what we wanted—it’s this really light and soft (always soft!) summery fabric that makes a slight, rustling noise when you move it around. But when we explained it to our factory, they said it wasn’t possible to source this type of fabric and have it be natural and soft, and that it would have to be made from nylon. That goes against everything we stand for, so we kept looking for what we wanted. Eventually, we found a cotton fabric woven in a particular way to create the “paper touch finish” but even then the fabric sample we saw wasn’t quite right because it was too thin. It was completely by chance that we received some prototypes labeled “wrong” fabric and it turned out that they weren’t wrong at all. We had to call the factory to let them know that the “wrong” fabric was actually perfect! Most use a chemical process to achieve this texture but we stuck to our guns and found exactly what we’d envisioned at the end of the day.
We have such a specific sense of aesthetics that there can be quite a lot of back-and-forth to get things right. But that sense is actually what keeps us going—we put so much love into our collection and we know in our minds it’s going to be amazing, and it just takes a little patience, a lot of communication, and sometimes even a few tears to get there.
What are some of your favorite pieces in this new collection?
There are so many to choose from but The Sage Dress is just so beautiful—it really is one of those styles we wish we made for adults, too. The inspiration came from Abi’s daughter, Sage, who likes to be a bit of a tomboy and roll around in the mud. Abi wanted a dress that she’d be comfortable playing in so we made it looser, in a longer comfortable length, and with little pockets she could put things in. We saw the first prototype and just made a couple of adjustments—moving up the empire line slightly, moving down the pockets, adjusting the length of the ruffle on the sleeve—and by the second prototype it was exactly the way it should be. The Sage Dress is a good example of a garment that we really willed into existence because our desire to create it was so strong!
Among others, we are also introducing The Daily Playsuit, a terry cloth basic that is truly essential for summer days, and a few key pieces in our beloved vintage light denim fabric that is both beautiful and practical.
How do you balance being moms of young children and running a very hands-on, creative business?
It can absolutely be tricky to find balance when we’re honing our vision for a new collection, juggling meetings, reviewing prototypes, and visiting the factory, all with our kids in tow. But it’s also pretty perfect that they’re part of every step of our journey because they are our ultimate inspiration, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We set out to develop a line of childrenswear that was not only ultra-soft, non-toxic, ethical, and sustainable, but that also gave us the peace of mind knowing that our children can play, explore, and adventure to their hearts’ content in ultimate comfort and health. And with new, dreamy styles and more GOTS certified organic fabrics than ever before, we couldn’t be more enthusiastic for and proud of what’s to come!
So when we’re feeling overwhelmed, dealing with possible delays, or reviewing the tenth prototype of a new style that still isn’t quite right, we can look at our kids and know that it’s all worth it.
We are leading the way toward a more conscious future that values quality over quantity, prioritizes the health and well-being of both those who make and wear our clothes, and chooses earth-friendly practices at each and every turn. This is the legacy we want to pass on to our children, so yes, it’s worth every single minute of it.