AS MOST OF YOU PROBABLY KNOW by now-- although this might be the first mention of it here on the blog, I'm pregnant with J's and my first child, a baby boy we're naming Harrison (after the beautiful and incomparable Harrison Ford, of course), so I've been occupying a lot of time researching some great independent makers of baby/children's clothing and other necessities. We've got the nursery pretty much set up and decked out, nice and minimally with some small pieces of art, some toys from OYOY, our Stokke crib, and some plants, of course. (I'll post a nursery entry soon, I promise!) As far as clothing, though, one designer that really stuck out to me is Atlanta-based Kim Woods' willaby clothier line. I love her design aesthetic, the materials she uses, and her mission as an ethical designer and a company. I think a part of what draws me to it is that I'd want to wear the pieces myself!
I can't wait to see how this little gingham top and pant (pictured below) will look on our boy! I'm also really excited to see the rest of Kim's fall collection which will be released at the end of this month.
Read on to find out more about Kim and her process below. She's got a really interesting and informative take on transparency and small, independent production.
1. How did you get your start in design? Has children's clothing always been what you've wanted to do?
Like so many other people, I haven't followed a straight path to my career. In college, I was a political science major. I went to law school on a merit scholarship and then decided a couple of months into it that it wasn't my destiny. I left for art school and moved out East. The school that I went to is interdisciplinary and there are no majors. But I mostly focused on painting and drawing. I think that I'm a designer at heart, though. My paintings were always about trying to perfectly place objects or a series of objects on a white background (go figure!). I've always been one of those people that loves arranging and rearranging things.
I never set out to make children's clothing, but looking at the scope of my life, it makes sense to me. I've had a fascination with anything miniature since childhood. I was looking at children's clothes and stockpiling them long before I was pregnant with my son. And I just have a special place in my heart for kids; I directed a summer program for ages 4-14 while I was in art school, and I taught art for four years afterwards. Other pieces of the puzzle are that I've been sewing since I was around 12 years old, and I've wanted to have my own business for about that long, too. All of this somehow converged on a children's clothing line once my son was born.
2. What are your sources of inspiration? Other designers? Nature?
I'm constantly thinking about my designs. It's hard to say where inspiration comes from, as I feel like I'm exposed to so much content every day. When I go looking for inspiration, I always turn to vintage clothing. I'm fascinated by how children used to dress, that era in which kid's clothing was made with as much care as adult clothing, and when much of it was sewn by family members. It was a time when clothes were understated, special.
3. What is the mission statement for willaby?
willaby makes uncomplicated, understated clothing, blankets, and accessories that honor the integrity of children. Our pieces are heirloom quality and meant to stand the test of time for their classic lines, versatility, and unisex nature. Based in Athens, Georgia, we locally manufacture unique, small batch pieces constructed from natural fibers.
4. Describe your design and production process.
Oh boy, this could take awhile! I'm always, always thinking about designs. By the time I put them down on paper, I know exactly what I want. I problem-solve it all in my head, and it takes one sketch. Then my production team and I head directly into pattern making a sample piece. Sometimes we get it right on the first sample piece, and sometimes it takes one or two more versions. Once the final sample is approved by me for design, construction, and fit, we head into production.
I should say that while the sample is being finalized, there is a mound of communication, decision-making, and negotiating taking place. I have to weigh a number of factors, like retaining quality construction while making the piece affordable enough to produce, and thus in a reasonable price range for my customer. Every decision gets passed on to my customer, and I'm constantly aware of that. The bottom line is that I need to provide a high-quality item at a price that makes sense for what you're receiving. Anyone making clothing locally in the U.S. will understand that this is one of the most challenging aspects of my job. Small businesses like mine are competing with big box stores making clothes abroad, who are paying much lower prices for manufacturing. I myself have been guilty of allowing these practices and the prices that result from them to form my perception of what a piece of clothing should cost. It was only after starting my own domestically-made clothing company that I truly understood, accepted, and valued the pricing of other such small companies. Nonetheless, I work hard to retain the quality of the item while tirelessly negotiating production costs. Quite a bit of work and careful thought goes into determining prices.
But I should get back to talking about production. Production itself is a big effort. Although willaby clothing is made in small batches compared to major clothing companies, there are still many pieces that are made in a relatively short period of time. This requires careful written instruction for each piece, including notes on sewing, measurements, and materials. Production is a focused team effort among myself, my production team, and the dedicated people who sew each stitch. Pre-production and production require lots of meetings and checking in, tending to last-minute needs, and problem-solving when any issues arise. All of this effort results in the pieces that arrive at your doorstep in a neat little package.
4. Describe a day off.
To be honest, I don't have many true days off right now. My business is growing fast; keeping up with the growth and being a wife and mother take up most of my time. I've had to put aside some things that I used to do, knowing that I will get back to them again (like knitting, which I miss so much!) Whenever I have free time, this usually takes the form of my husband and me taking my son somewhere special or just playing with him and snuggling him. I love decorating my home and making it a comfortable, warm space. So I work on that as well. We recently moved to a new community and our lives are getting more settled. I've been able to just BE with my son much more since we moved, and it's my goal to carve out more and more time like this.
5. Fall baby/children's essentials?
Gosh, I love fall for the ability to layer. I'm all about insulated, warm vests for kids in the fall. They're quick to put on and easy to move in. I'm crazy about warm bonnets for both boys and girls. My son's hat is always falling off and I like being able to tie a bonnet on. I'm coming out with a cotton flannel bonnet and matching vest for fall and cannot wait for the release! Oh, I must say, too, that I'm in love with colored leather boots and oxfords right now.
6. What's next for your line?
In the short term, my AW15 collection will be released on August 31. This season I've expanded into outerwear and loungewear, and added to our layette section. I'm so, so pleased with how AW 15 has turned out. Looking into the future, I want to continue to find ways to broaden the selection, and possibly expand into bigger kids' sizes. I'm never fully satisfied with the status quo, and I'm a risk-taker by nature, so there's much more to come.