With six children, there are lots of items of clothing going in and out of circulation in our house. But it is still often the case that despite having drawers and wardrobes brimming over, we are faced with the common dilemma of having “nothing” to wear! On the other hand, some people have a curious knack of putting together brilliantly stylish and cohesive outfits for their youngsters no matter what the occasion, budget or speed in which they had to get out the door!
So, in my quest to shop wisely for the Winter, I spoke with some of the most stylish women I could think of:
Jenny Mortimer, Director of organic online children’s boutique, Kyna Boutique
Deborah Medhurst, Creative Director of quirky, British children’s brand no added sugar
Nicole Frost, Founder of online designer discount club, Half-Pint Chic
In keeping with my policy to only buy sweatshop-free clothing, I am putting together a list of brands who are loud and proud about the provenance of their clothing. I will publish that list next week (as soon as my fingers have finished typing it!!)
Here are the questions I put to Jenny, Deborah and Nicole together with their answers.
Jenny: Woo hooo, I would be in heaven!
Deborah: Interestingly I am just about to do that; my 13 years old boy has finally grown out of no added sugar’s last size so we are, for the very first time, going wardrobe shopping!
Nicole: My start point would be a discussion with your child about what they love and hate both in terms of types of clothes (I don’t know why I keep buying my daughter jeans she refuses to wear) and also colours and even fabrics (lots of kids hate wool). Once you have these fundamentals established, you need to think about some practicalities: what is their routine and what clothes work best for the activities they are doing? This should then give you a starter shopping list.
Jenny: You have to think about the seasons and how quickly children grow. I always pick out a few key colours that suit my child and work round that. A tank top/ vest or sleeveless dress make perfect staple items as they can be worn on their own in the summer and over the top of long sleeved tops in the winter for the warm stylish look.
Deborah: My list has the basics: trousers and jersey tops and then an open mindedness for finding pieces that will bring it all together. I’ll be looking for interesting textures in knits, soft handle jerseys and sweats and generally modern shapes. What he is looking for might differ…?!
Nicole: The key has to be to know your audience, I can’t tell you how many unworn clothes my daughters have because I’ve bought something I adore but they hate – fortunately they have a lot of less fussy cousins who benefit.
What pieces would you say are the basic/ essential components in a wardrobe?
Nicole: For a toddler girl: leggings, and tunic tops, day dresses, party dress and fun tights. For older girls: skinny jeans, leggings and accessories too. For boys: trousers (preferably with simple elasticated waist, no buttons and zips), jeans, casual jersey tops and a smart shirt.
Deborah: For girls: vests, long & short sleeve T’s, zipped sweat or cardigans, dresses, easy pull on skirts, leggings & trousers, machine washable coat – all made predominantly from natural fibres. The same for boys excluding skirts and dresses.
Jenny: For girls, plain leggings, plain tops and tights. These can be worn under a number of printed dresses/ skirts to create new outfits. For boys, boys tights (can be worn under trousers if you aren’t daring enough, but really keep them warm in the winter), trousers (printed leggings or slacker pants), plain tops (again can be worn under tank tops/ vests), a plain hoody.
Would you choose a colour palette? If so how many colours? And how do you choose them?
Deborah: Pieces that are easily coordinated make dressing easy and will lend themselves to a better look when your child chooses to dress themselves. To keep to a similar colour palette is helpful but so is having easy match, timeless colours like greys, navys and neutrals.
Jenny: I always like bright colours, orange and yellow are my favourite but you have to think about the childs complexion. A yellow can sometimes wash out a pale blonde haired child where as an orange looks amazing with dark hair!
Nicole: I think a lot of children very quickly develop their own opinions about colours and if they have a favourite you should try and work with it and find other colours that compliment what they love. One of my daughters is obsessed with pink, but I’ve learnt that actually something just needs to have a pink embellishment or be very nearly pink to pass the test. So you should encourage them to explore but don’t ever assume you can impose your preferences upon your child, unless you are up for some early morning wardrobe battles.
Are any of the styles that are currently popular worth developing your child’s wardrobe around?
- Preppy is forever doing the rounds and I don’t think ever really goes out of fashion. It’s a safe, clean look that I think is perfect if you love classic styling with a contemporary twist … Great for boys or non girlie girls.
- Boho Chic – definitely one for the girls, this is a great look if you want to steer your little one away from the Disney princess look. A lovely way to indulge in beautiful prints, and perfect for girlie girls who like to experiment a bit with clothes and accessories.
- Pretty Princess – this is for girls whose idea of heaven is pink frills and twirly skirts. Not so much an in trend fashion statement but definitely a stage that a lot of girls go through. Personally I think it’s a lovely phase to indulge as they grow up so quick.
Deborah: As a brand we tend not to follow trends, we design purely as to what we would like to see our children in. Of course we are conscious of those trends but are not lead by them. We design our collections for the child that is spirited and curious and parents who appreciate a little wit. There is no particular style or look we follow but our aim is to offer a unique and chic wardrobe.
Nicole: Day shoes for nursery or school are a must have; Converse style canvas shoes for running in the park and messing about; Summer sandals for holidays and if we get a bit of sunshine; Party shoes for girls – such a shame to ruin a gorgeous outfit with the wrong shoes
Jenny: I ALWAYS suggest Converse as they go with everything and can be worn season to season. Additionally for the summer I would buy two pairs – Sun Jellies for the beach, running around, paddling pools etc and then a pair of proper leather sandals for day to day wear.
Deborah: I would purchase no more than three pairs for my boys; sandals, canvas and flip flops. They out grow out of shoes far too quickly to indulge in any more.
How many pairs of shoes would you buy for winter and what style?
Jenny: For the winter you will need a good pair of hard-wearing leather boots and some wellies.
Nicole: Day shoes, as above; Boots – kids spend so much time outdoors in the park that these are a great investment buy; Wellies – kids just love puddles; Party Shoes for girls are even more important with Christmas on the agenda.
Deborah: Probably two pairs; boots and shoes.
Jenny: Yes! Dungaree’s look great rolled up so you can get a number of seasons out of a good pair.
Nicole: Definitely coats and also some knitwear
Deborah: the only pieces that I do this with are products that no added sugar do not offer, such as waterproof dungarees.
What accessories would you recommend for each season?
Deborah: As someone who feels the cold I fuss over my boys to ensure they are wrapped up warm so hats, gloves and scarves in winter are de rigueur in our house and sunglasses on beach holidays. My boys aren’t big on accessories and I follow that lead, it’s also something less to lose!
Jenny: I’m not a huge fan of accessories, I think they get in the way of play. Although a good hat is essential and if you get a matching scarf and gloves they will co-ordinate with most outfits.
Nicole: For girls I’d always buy some great tights, – an easy way to add some individuality to an outfit. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend matching unless you are going for a co-ordinated look. Plus the best thing about accessories is your children shouldn’t grow out of them so fast. Also hair accessories are a great way to refresh a look and add some fun to your child’s wardrobe. Accessories for boys are harder – I love the Spirit Hood animal hat/scarves – great fun for little boys in winter. In summer, I think with boys less is more, they want to be free to run and play and actually a great pair of trainers is enough.
Jenny: Organic Cotton, I’m all about the Organic. In my store I only stock organic cotton clothing. It is much softer than standard cotton so kinder to skin and on average you can wash an organic piece 100 times before the cotton begins to break down, compared to 10 times with standard cotton making it last much longer.
Deborah: Using natural fabrics in our collections is very important to me but I also see the value of man made fibres for performance.
Nicole: Personally I adore cashmere, but it’s not the most practical fabric when it comes to kids. I think synthetic fabrics are often under-rated: for some kids 100% wool is scratchy and the great thing about a lot of synthetic fabrics is they wash incredibly well.
Do you suggest “investment” pieces for children?
Deborah: I consider our tailored wool coats as investment pieces. They are expensive but are expertly tailored in high quality wools making them not only durable but very beautiful. I glean pleasure from seeing my two boys in their wool coats even when I know beneath it’s all rather scruffy!
Nicole: I always invest in a good party dress for girls, they don’t get worn very often but they provide enormous amount of pleasure and they make brilliant hand me downs.
Coats are another great investment, kids are always outdoors and the difference between a good quality coat and a high street version is enormous.
The other thing I would invest in is good quality basics, like leggings and t-shirts – you wash children’s clothes so much that the basics – unless they are good quality – often need to be frequently replaced as they loose shape and colour.
Jenny: Yes certainly. I have three boys and the clothes get passed down them all. A good quality coat is essential, if you buy something classic it will never look dated.
Are there ways to save money without lowering the quality of the items you are buying?
Nicole: Shopping the sales is often hard for children as you are never quite sure how much they are going to grow. However there are an increasing number of private sale sites like Half-Pint Chic that are great for offering up to 70% off designer kids clothes, so you can get the quality you like without eye watering prices. However watch out as some can take a long time to deliver your orders. Personally I hate having to wait so at Half-Pint Chic we aim to dispatch our orders next day.
Jenny: Yes. Buying good quality clothing that lasts does save money as you are buying once rather than several times throughout a season. It can then be passed down the family to any other children. Charity shops are also a great place to find great clothes.
Deborah: Sale times are a fantastic opportunity to stock up on quality pieces for considerably less and can provide their wardrobe for the following year.
Jenny: I tend to update the wardrobe as they grow out of something. Once one top is too small it gets replaced with another that will co-ordinate with the rest of the wardrobe. This way it isn’t too expensive and you don’t get to winter and think “Oh no they have no jumpers/ long sleeves that fit!”
Deborah: I would look for key pieces to bring a fresh look to each season; it could be a statement knit, an on trend print or a luxe piece of outerwear.
Nicole: An obvious answer but accessorize – tights, belts, scarves and hats
Keeping things ethical:
Shopping ethically can be a minefield as many brands are cagey about the provenance of their clothing. If they are less than forthcoming I tend to be suspicious that they have something to hide!
If you are committed to buying clothes which haven’t come at the price of someone else’s suffering, make sure you ask before you buy. If brands know that an ethical supply chain is important to their customers it will become more important to them! (Just think, you can shop and change the world for better at the same time – amazing!)
- Do your research into your favourite brands before you leave home. That way you can phone or email the head office and not get fobbed off by a sales assistant who may not know anything about the supply chain whatsoever.
- A simple way to put it is: Do you ensure that all workers along your supply chain are paid fairly and have decent working conditions?
- You are also very welcome to copy and paste text from my standard letter to retailers Just a simple “Yes” or “No”, please.
- Look for a Fairtrade label on a cotton garment. (If they don’t have one, they’re not Fairtrade!)
- Alternatively, if you buy clothes that are made in Europe (look on the tag, or ask the retailer), you can rely on the manufacturers having to comply with EU work regulations.
- Organic brands usually promote ethical working conditions for everyone along their supply chain, but again, do ask if you’re not sure.
- Jenny Mortimer from Kyna Boutique is a wealth of information on ethical clothing. Her online boutique specialises in organic and ethical labels. Visit her site to discover some bright and beautiful Scandinavian brands (amongst others) and take advantage of her outlet if you’re keen to find an ethical bargain.
- In response to my request for information on the provenance of no added sugar, Deborah Medhurst provided me with the following statement:
“Our supply base is 90% European where workers are paid a minimum wage and standards are high. The remaining percent of production is China. no added sugar carry out factory audits on all our suppliers annually to ensure procedures and safety are being adhered to.” no added sugar clothing is available online or in the Notting Hill shop.
- As a clothing discount “club”, Half Pint Chic sell a variety of different brands. When asked about the provenance of the labels she sources, Nicole Frost said: “We would like to think that we only ever deal with companies who take responsibility for their impact on the environment and also the conditions under which their goods are manufactured. If we ever found this was not the case we would not continue to work with them. At the end of the day I think everybody has a responsibility … the customer, retailer and the brand to police this and it can and only will work, if its something all parties do together.” If you’re interested in designer ethical brands at a snip of the usual price, check out Half Pint Chic sales: Little Green Radicals (eco and fairtrade), Simonetta, Caramel Baby and Child and Baby Graziella (made in the EU).
*featured image courtesy of Pirouette blog