The designer and director of kidswear brand Little Linens tells Eve Oxberry how a background in supply helps her stay competitive.
How did you get into fashion?
It’s all I’ve ever known. My grandmother was a seamstress and I was given my first sewing machine aged eight. I studied fashion and textiles at Southport then Medway and got my first real break at Velmore, the women’s tailor and a supplier to Marks & Spencer. I was design director there until four years ago.
So how did that evolve into kidswear design? I’d just had my third child but I was never in the country because of my job. I realised I couldn’t juggle three-week trips to China with a family anymore so I left Velmore but I soon got bored. During a trip to Vietnam I saw some beautiful linen and decided to design monogrammed linen kidswear. I bought 16,000 pieces without a single order, then it all arrived and I had to sell it.
How did your supply background help you in your own business?
I wasn’t just a mother who decided to make clothes for kids in her spare time. I have a business degree and worked with some of the UK’s biggest retailers and suppliers so my fabrics are perfect. They are all tested to really high standards, are machine washable and can be put in the tumble drier, which is so important for kidswear, but not something people expect from linen. I also learned that in this market you need to specialise to survive; we’re the only company I know that specialises in linen kidswear.
You’ve just launched a second kidswear line. What was the inspiration behind Angel’s Face?
Linen is a summer fabric so we sell far more of our spring collections than our autumn ones. I wanted a range that would sell well for autumn, so Angel’s Face has lots of tutus and partywear.
It’s just girlswear and that’s partly because 70% of our Little Linen sales come from boyswear so I wanted to do something girly to balance it out. Spring 10 is our first collection and we started selling this month. It’s kidswear but a lot of women in their 20s have bought the age 16 tutus for themselves.
Would you ever expand into menswear and womenswear?
We were planning on launching a linen womenswear collection for spring 10 but we put it on hold because the market’s so tough right now. I’m still going to do it but not for a year or two. It’ll be called LA Linens and is going to be for larger women who want to look fabulous but don’t want to buy big sizes. I’m going to design up to about a size 22 but we’ll label the sizes 1, 2, 3 and so on because no one enjoys buying product with such large size labels.
Recent reports have suggested kidswear is outperforming other sectors in the recession. Are you finding that? Definitely. Kids keep growing so parents have to keep buying. Our stockists have cut back on their orders because everyone’s been buying cautiously but we do a lot of short order sales now. We hold stock so they can keep buying throughout the season and many will spend half of their budget on short order top-ups now.
Which is your favourite UK store? I love Anthropologie. I go in there and touch everything. There are so many great quirky clothes as well as books and other bits and pieces.
Which is your favourite era in fashion? The 1940s. People didn’t throw anything away during the war so they were very creative and would cut embroidery off a torn dress and sew it onto another.
Which is your favourite city to shop in? New York. It has some iconic department stores (Bloomingdale’s, pictured) but really I love to shop in the flea markets on a Sunday morning.
I hunt out hidden treasures with a story behind them, like sewing boxes full of things that took someone a lifetime to collect.
Keely Deininger is owner and designer of vintage-inspired kidswear brand Little Linens, which has 140 UK stockists