Drapers alumna Leanne McKeever co-founded Tobias & the Bear in 2014 with friend and former colleague Ruth Cozens after struggling to find baby leggings for her son.
Childrenswear brands Tobias & the Bear started life three years ago when friends Leanne McKeever and Ruth Cozens were hunting for stylish, comfy leggings for their baby boys. Focusing on quirky prints, the range now creates unisex cosy sweaters, T-shirts and leggings as well as bedding, and a small selection of matching styles for grown ups.
The entire collection is manufactured in the UK, with 120 stockists worldwide including London independents Alex & Alexa and Duck Duck Goose as well as Fenwick Newcastle. Prices start at £8 for a bib and range to £40 for an adults sweatshirt. Leanne McKeever tells Drapers about her fashion life.
What’s your background? How did you come to be working in fashion?
While I was working on my MA in Fashion Journalism at London College of Fashion, my tutor there recommended me for an internship at Drapers – this is where it all started! I started at Drapers as a junior fashion writer and left five years later in as deputy fashion editor.
How did you make the move into business?
I spent the six years following Drapers at luxury fashion website My-Wardrobe.com. I was one of the founding team members, so I was privy to, and part of, a lot of business decisions, which was great for learning the ropes of online retail. It was a baptism of fire – a good one.
Peanut 30 (1)
What were some of the challenges you faced when you started out?
We started really small, and ran the business in the evenings and weekends for the first year. We didn’t launch with any huge expectations and so the main challenge, really, was time. Even now that I’m working on it full time, albeit it flexibly, there’s still never enough time.
Why did you decide on kidswear?
It wasn’t really a decision between this and something else. I simply had an idea to launch a line of cool and comfy baby leggings for boys. Five years ago, kidswear was a very different place and boys were so underserved it was super-hard finding anything nice for Toby – I guess he made the decision for me!
We design our unique prints in house. We also manufacture entirely in the UK and we pride ourselves on creating collections that both kids and parents love. That’s the key.
Who are Tobias and the Bear?
Tobias Fox is the name of my little boy and Arlo Bear is Ruth’s. The brand name is an amalgamation of them, which made perfect sense seeing as they were our inspiration.
Peanut yellow&black 03 cropped (1)
Where do you hope to take the brand from here?
More collaborations – we launched the Tobias & the Bear x Peanuts collection this year. Some great new stockists. More global presence – we have a lot of ideas.
Is there anyone in the industry you particularly admire?
I listened to the podcast How I Built This with Raegan Moya-Jones, the founder of Aden & Anais, who has created a huge global business quite literally by selling baby muslins. It’s an incredible story and shows you that you can do it.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
In the early days, when we weren’t really sure how it was going as we’d only been working on it in the evenings, we met with a retail consultant who looked at the business and told us quite categorically that we really had something. He was amazed.
That was a bit of a wake-up call for us. We started to scale back our freelance work and dedicate more time to the brand.
Favourite clothing brand Real life: & Other Stories. Wish list: Emilia Wickstead and Preen by Thornton Bregazzi
Favourite places to shop The Outnet, Graham & Green
Last fashion purchase A knit from & Other Stories
Last holiday Marrakech and Essaouira with family and friends
Last book you read American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Last film you watched Blade Runner 2049. It was bleak!
First job Sales assistant in Next kidswear
Dream job Marine biologist – not much chance of that one …
What would we find you doing at the weekend? Taking my little boy out and about, and building Lego!