MIMI & WILL FOR NO PINK PLEASE!
Prior to launching Mimi&Will, did you have a background in fashion or childrenswear? What drove you to set up your own brand?
I was fortunate enough to intern with two board members of French couture and luxury goods brand Hermès in New York in the late 90s, and learned a lot about established couture business models and the importance of quality, tradition, craftsmanship and values in the fashion sphere. I went on to complete a graduate traineeship in one of the big four supermarkets as they were starting to introduce clothing to their offering, and learned how not to do things, in ethical terms!
Jo co-founded the Glasgow Craft Mafia around 10 years ago, and has a successful jewellery line, and I have a small stationery and accessories business which works mainly with upcycled materials, founded around the same time. We both had children 6/7 years ago and were sad that none of the creative people we were surrounded with were making things for children. Instantly, we had discovered our market! We wanted to continue to support independent designers and makers, but with the expense of having children, resources were scarce for treating ourselves to things like original art and prints, ceramics, jewellery, furniture, textiles and accessories. We thought that wearable art from creative people (not just illustrators, designers and artists) would be a way for parents to indulge their love of independent design and treat their children at the same time.
How did you move from a great idea, to actually launching a business?
We both have day jobs with aspects of project management, so we broke it down into achievable goals – find printer, find t-shirts, find designers, find funding, go! We did a small crowdfunding campaign in 2013 to help us get our first samples into production, and then sold directly to the public via our website and craft markets (both real life and virtual) while we went about finding our first stockists.
What are your views on gendered marketing in childrenswear? Was the unisex element always part of your initial vision for the brand?
In terms of our initial vision, Jo has a boy and I have a girl (the Will and Mimi who inspired our name), it was important that if it the business did not take off we would at least be able to clothe our children! I think the classic t-shirt shape is iconic and should not be messed about with, no cap sleeves or cinched in waists, and sizing should be dictated by the size of the person who’s going to wear it, not by gender. Particularly as a large part of our customer base is online, we want people to know what they are getting before it arrives.
Practical considerations aside, gendered marketing of childrenswear in the high street kicks against the norm for retail these days – it’s the one area where choice is not abundant. Walking into stores and being confronted with a wall of pink and a wall of sludge is not visually appealing in any way. We’re swimming against a current of marketing where stores know that ranges aimed at boys and girls separately means that retailers sell more- because parents don't tend to pass clothes down to boys from girls and vice versa. Keeping them distinct means the gendered aspects are polarised, with pink and blue becoming more prevalent. We know that for lots of consumers, it’s boring and frustrating. Children are individuals, they have their own interests and preferences, and we wanted to reflect this in our product range, hopefully there really is something for everyone there.
As mothers, what have your personal experiences been, have you found gender to also be a big influence in your parenting?
I was brought up in a feminist household, surrounded by Jacky Fleming cartoons, with fond memories of my Fisher Price work bench, tool set and garage alongside my Lego, Sylvanian Families and Sindy dolls. At home we continue to embrace those values and are really careful not to gender behaviour, personality traits, interests and preferences, and we also try to avoid “othering” boys wherever we can.
Your designs are age appropriate and fun. Do you think the commercial market encourages children to grow up too quickly?
The commercial market seems to encourage this idea that clothing should be uncomfortable, that from an early age we should suffer to look good. It starts with babies in stiff uncomfortable denim, or dresses that button up the back through to leather skirts and heeled boots for 3 year olds. We want children to be attracted to our designs, to feel comfortable in our organic cotton, with images which sink into the fabric instead of sitting on top of it, making them itch. Most of all, we want our offering to be wearable, fun, nostalgic, engaging for parents and children alike.
All your t-shirts are screen printed in Britain, was it difficult to source suppliers in the UK?
We were extremely lucky with our hunch about our printer, we use a creative studio which has its own line of handprinted homewares, and we were initially attracted to working with them because we were fans of their design and their values after reading a number of blogs and magazine features about them.
When we got in touch to say we were interested in working with them, we discovered they were as committed to ethical business practices as we are, and only work with fairly-produced t-shirt blanks sourced from accredited factories in India and Africa, and they use eco-friendly, skin-safe inks. They also provide paid apprenticeships for young people in their local area.
We would love to work with businesses producing t-shirts and babygrows in the UK, who can supply us in the smaller quantities we work with, but we found that the required minimums were just too big for a growing business. One day...
Who inspires you in business?
Our wonderful designers, our printer, our stockists and members of our informal network of creative friends in Glasgow and beyond all give us inspiration, encouragement and support. Word of mouth and personal recommendation have brought so much business our way, and some great opportunities to collaborate with people who are working outside the traditional fashion model, as well as engaging with more traditional business structures.
In terms of individuals, I’m particularly inspired by creative people who’ve moved into fashion despite training or origins in different disciplines or backgrounds – Tory Burch, Victoria Beckham, Diane von Furstenberg, and even Kanye West, who loves his t-shirts as much as we love ours. I was very inspired recently by an interview with Henry Holland, who DJs as a way to raise capital for his fashion line – this really reflects our work ethic and our commitment to making things work by walking a different path.
We’ve been really fortunate in that almost everyone we’ve approached to work with us has said yes, and has bought into the slow fashion principles and ethical approach that guides us. We decided recently to only use organic cotton after seeing the film 'The True Cost' which highlighted some of the dangers of intensively-farmed cotton, for those working in the industry, the ecological consequences, and the potential harm to skin from wearing non-organic cotton.
What’s next for Mimi&Will?
We have just launched a new collection of t-shirts for this summer, and we have plans on the horizon to increase our offering to include more babygrows featuring our current designs... with a twist! Long term, we want to explore the possibilities for creating accessories and homewares which feature our designs, and of course, to continue to collaborate with great brands like No Pink Please, who share our vision and enthusiasm for design-led, age-appropriate, well-made and fun clothing for boys and girls.