Thursday, 5 March 2015

INTERVIEW | FIONA KOWALSKI OF PRINTEBEBE







Fiona Kowalski knows clothes. And she knows what a little girl really wants to wear. After working in fashion magazines for more than 20 years she was able to combine her industry knowledge - the best types of seams and finishes - with practicality. The result was Printebebe, a children’s wear label that was launched in 2013. It turned out that her timing was perfect - it just as Instagram was gaining traction and spreading the word about small independent brands. After running the business from her home, Fiona is now in the process of moving to a dedicated office space. All of this after she thought the collection might only last one season.

What was behind the decision to start Printebebe? It started from clothing I was looking for my daughter and couldn’t find. Simple easy clothing that was pretty and practical. I wanted to dress her with simplicity, ease and comfort. 

What had you been doing previously? Previous to starting Printebebe I was fashion director for Madison Magazine, and before that fashion editor at Vogue Australia. I had worked in magazines for 20 years, and while it had been an amazing career I knew I wanted more flexibility once I had my daughter so thought about what I could do that I could have control over my hours and when I would work. I thought I would do one collection of clothing for [daughter] Gidget and see how it went, worst case she would have a very big wardrobe of things! But it went well, so here we are.

What is important to you when designing children's clothes? Comfort is what I think of first, and ease: can they play/eat/sleep/get in and out of the car? I like them to do all of this as well as look super pretty. We really focus on our finishings and ease of getting on and off. Most of our seams are french seamed or bound so it’s soft against little skin. But the combination of pretty and practical is our trademark feature.

How do you try to differentiate your products from others on the market? I like the soft pretty palette that you often see French children wear, muted tones and pretty florals. This was hard to find in Australia and I thought if I want it, other people must too. I was aiming for that European sense of colour with an Australian ease of dressing.

What has been completely unexpected since starting your business? Instagram and online stores: when I conceptualised this idea originally I thought I might sell it at markets, and my husband who is in IT said, “Why don’t we just build you a website so you have something to show people.” When we launched, I did one market stall, but I didn’t feel it was the right fit, then online started going so well so it was a no-brainer to focus on that.  Then with Instagram, which was just becoming popular - I was a late adapter, it has allowed Printebebe to spread organically from one mum to the next and allowed it to be an online business. Instagram allows me to show our product the way we want it and also, there is a whole network of mum-trepreneurs out there that has just been amazing and inspiring to me.

What is something that people often don’t realise about your clothes? I am really aware of our hot climate and being sunsafe, our smock blouses when teamed with a hat don’t require too much suncream. I was very aware of that when she was tiny, especially. For instance when we designed our first rompers, they are quite covered. Even our butterfly sleeve only needs cream on the arms. Another thing is, the longevity in our styles, it is important to me that there is a lot of wearability in kids clothing, so most of our pieces look good at different lengths and can be worn alone in summer and layered for winter. Sleeves and legs roll up and down for growing little limbs.

Where do you look to for design inspiration? My daughter always: I think of what she needs or needed as a baby and start from there.

What do consider when dressing or styling children? I am a lot more traditional in dressing children than I thought I would be. I love children to look like children. I love them to look pretty. Like my own wardrobe, I like simple pieces and if I like something I tend to buy it in a few different colours. That’s why I do the same styles in multiple prints; it’s how I buy things. 

What role do you want your products to play in a childhood? I like the idea that children wouldn’t even notice our clothing. It should let them be comfortable to play and get messy without any distraction. Although, now my daughter is four and giving me feedback there is a lot more demand for pieces that swirl and spin so you will see fuller skirts and tops sneaking into the collection now. 

What was the last great children's book that you read? Alphabetical Sydney: it’s a gorgeous book with wonderful illustrations, great words and the added bonus of book-spotting opportunities when you are out and about.

images courtesy of fiona kowalski; photography carlotta moye (2 and 3), portrait justin ridler for inez daily

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