Baby massage, baby sensory, baby yoga, since being on maternity leave I have been to them all! These sessions are great for baby but not the most stimulating for me. So I was on the look out for something a bit different, somewhere it was socially acceptable to take my baby to but was for me, to make me feel sane again and to stimulate ideas for the magazine, – so my mind did not become completely encompassed by all things baby.
In my search I came across Tantrum XYZ, a network and resource for busy parents. I attended one of their Roundtable events – a free networking and advice event for parents running their own businesses. At this event I met Well Grounded’s founder, Jenny Voyce, intrigued with her Kids clothing business I arranged to meet with her again at one of my favourite meeting points, The Book Club in Shoreditch to find out more about Jenny and her brand. Well Grounded offer a great collection of clothing for children aged 2 to 12. They are fun mainly unisex pieces that combine illustrations and simple styles.
Jenny, tell me how did it all start?
So I’ve worked in retail, in various different ways for a long time. I previously worked in homes and interiors for about 10-15 years in either product development or product curation. After having my own online business (which didn’t work out as sadly it was just before people started buying online!) I became a buyer at Liberty, from there I went to work at the Southbank Centre. This was during their redevelopment project, I created stores within the centre and worked with artists to create exhibitions.
Though-out all this time, I’d seen all the trade shows grow from being a few halls of an exhibition centre to taking over the whole area and I had this moment of (I suppose) fear, I started thinking of all the products at these trade shows, how each stand has one product of each displayed, but then there were several thousands of them behind the scenes. I thought ‘how much ‘stuff’ have we got in homes and interiors’, and that terrified me. It was the expernentual lot of ‘stuff’ that this one trade show represented and I didn’t feel comfortable adding to that world.
Then after having children, I reevaluated what I was doing. I wanted to do something for myself, I wanted to work flexibly so that I could still see my children. So I started design blogging, just to really talk about all the trade shows I was going to. That lead to working with some startups, and as great as it was, I asked myself why am I doing this for others, helping others, I want to do this for myself!
Having kids, obviously made me look at the clothing brands available and I felt that there wasn’t a lot of independent children’s clothing brands, but it was a sector that was set to grow. I was able to bring in my interest in the art and design side, working with illustrators and artists as well as my experience of being a buyer and internet store.
At The Holborn, we love illustration and I see you feature them on most of your products, how did that come about and what illustrators do you work with?
So I met the guys from NoBrow Press who publish the children books, Flying Eye Books, they put me in touch with Rob Frank Hunter, who did these sketches for me. Then I sat on them for a couple of years because so much was going on! I then roped in a friend of mine, Fiona Woodcock, to do the teddy bear and the racoon illustrations. It was really great working with (London based) friends or friends of friends, as that wasn’t a skill I had. Neither of them had done something like this before, Rob had illustrated children’s books but this was still very different.
The whole brand feels very ‘London’, from yourself being based in London to the illustrations to the photography, is that right?
Yes it all does have a very ‘London’ feel. The photoshoot was in Hackney, it was actually a very complicated shoot! I had never done anything like that before – far too many kids involved! – luckily the photographer was very patient!
So how did you go from the idea to getting your products made?
As I had worked in that area before I wasn’t afraid to approach companies. I knew the process being a buyer and I could ask people I knew to recommend others. I tried to do everything in the UK, but costs made the clothing inaccessible and it was important for me for the brand to be accessible. I didn’t want to make an expensive brand. I have two daughters who don’t mind getting hand-me-downs but I still don’t want to spend to much on their clothes as they won’t wear them for that long.
Unfortunately keeping everything in the UK adds on to the price, and makes them too expensive. So we make in Portugal mainly, we have a dress that is made in Hong Kong but I used a company that checks out the factory so that I know they are being paid a decent wage – that’s one of the problems with being a small business, I can’t travel over there to check the places out myself. Big companies are able to do spot checks but unfortunately I’m not able to, which is part of the reason I chose that particular company as I knew they were being checked on.
Tell me more about your products,
I don’t work in collections, I brought out this first range that has been going for a couple of months now and I’m about to bring out a few new pieces. Being a small brand I can’t work to the 6 month rotation of other fashion brands but I’ve found that with my girls when they like something and grow out of it they want to buy it again! So the fact that I have things that carry on I think is a good thing.
I’m at the stage now where I’m bringing in newness and commissioning Fiona to do a few more illustrations for me and also another commission for some patterns. Picking up on my experience with homeware, I know there are brands that have ranges and continue them for years!
The hot topic in children clothing at the moment is all about being unisex. Your products are pretty unisex, was this important to you?
Yes very important, I wanted the quality to be good enough so that they can be passed down to numerous children, and not everyone has the same sex children so it was important to me that parents don’t have to worry, the designs can be worn by boys or girls. To me it is not about being gender neutral its more about the ability for several children to wear the clothes. It comes back to the sense of wastage, longevity is important.
Do you do wearer trials?
Yes, mainly by my kids. I also wash them several times to see how it washes and put it on the wrong cycle several times, but they last. I leave them at the bottom of the wash basket, put them in the tumble dryer, just to see what happens.
So finally, what is next for Well Grounded?
I’ll hopefully be bringing in some other products on to the website, some complimentary products to go with the range. I have a friend who has an interactive story game, its to get kids away from iPads – so its that kind of interesting product that I would like to get on to the website.
The name of the brand, Well Grounded, has a dual meaning, either to be a well rounded wholesome individual or to be a naughty individual, for example ‘you’re well grounded’. There are two sides to kids and I wanted that in the clothes too. There are the prim and proper dresses but also the rougher jersey style. So I want a few more products to come under those two sides. With the illustrative products I think that the artistic, creative toys go well with them.
When you run your own business you have to be realistic about how you can expand and this way I can expand my range but without the all the product development. So its exciting to get the brands together.
Interview by Julia Hamilton-Griffin