Thursday 11 June 2015


It was when Emily McMaster opened an old chest full of 
clothes that she wore as a child that the seed of an idea was born. She had been working in New York City in the film industry when she had her first child. Both her daughters were born in the city and it was where Emily started to make clothes based on the timeless designs in that cedar chest. When she launched the company Mabo Kids in 2010 its original collection comprised about six pieces, with lots of tweeds and wools. But it was when she added organic cotton basics that the brand took off. At about the same time as starting Mabo Kids, Emily and her family moved back to Salt Lake City, the place where she grew up. “It’s a beautiful city surrounded by mountains,” she says. It’s her hope to open a brick and mortar store in her hometown later in the year. She also plans to introduce a line of shoes, socks and knitwear. 

What was behind the decision to start Mabo Kids? My mom had saved all of my most “special” childhood clothes in a cedar chest, and when Ruby, my first daughter, was born, we opened it to see what might fit her. I think seeing how long some of the beautifully classic styles lasted and how they represented the fleeting nature of childhood really put an importance on children’s clothing for me that I hadn’t previously had. Living on a budget in NYC, I found it frustrating that the most simple and timeless clothing was the most expensive, and started making similar styles for Ruby myself. People seemed to like them as my passion for creating grew, so after we had Mabel and moved back to Utah - and had a little extra time and money, I found a pattern-maker and manufacturer and decided to go for it.

What had you been doing previously? I have a masters degree in cinema studies from NYU and had been working in the film industry for a few years before having Ruby. I worked in independent film; the company that I was with made Little Miss Sunshine and a lot of other great indie movies. It was really my dream job for years until I had a daughter and my priorities completely and surprisingly changed.

What is important to you when designing children's clothes? A classic style that will still be stylish years forward, simple design without a lot of fuss, with fabrics that are strong and durable. Ideally I like to create things that both children and adults will like enough to want to wear every day and incorporate into their daily lives.

How do you try to differentiate your products from others on the market? I’d say through the combo of quality and price. I really feel strongly that you shouldn’t have to be extremely wealthy to be able to buy things that are made responsibly and with nice natural fibres. It is expensive to create a product made in the USA and with great fabrics - we aren’t able to wholesale very much because our margins just don’t account for it, but it’s so important to keep our prices down as low as we can, so I focus on our own online sales and those special local neighbourhood stores that we want to support and be a part of. I try to keep the designs simple, which I not only prefer aesthetically, but makes it more affordable. I prefer to use nicer fabrics and strong construction for longevity sake than details that might drive the cost up.

What has been completely unexpected since starting your business? I think how much I would enjoy the parts that aren’t as “creative”. I actually enjoy the logistical and technical details of pattern development and the businessy-y Quickbooks-y stuff. There’s very few parts of the job that I dislike.

What is something that people often don't realise about your wares? I don’t feel that there’s much, besides maybe how expensive it is to produce clothing with nice fabrics that are made in responsible factories. I do feel this is changing and that people are really starting to appreciate this, but it’s tough and, as I said before, makes wholesaling really difficult.

Where do you look to for design inspiration? Quite a few styles have been inspired by my own clothes as a child, that my mother very carefully chose and saved. I also draw inspiration from classic films - both the childrens’ and adult styles, and from adult clothing that I love. I also try to draw inspiration from the fabrics themselves, because often that’s what I fall in love with first. I read a quote on Patagonia’s (one of my favourite companies for their ethical focus and wonderful products) Instagram that I loved and come back to quite often: “Let the materials shine in their own light. Don’t fight them, let them do what they naturally want to do.”

What do consider when dressing or styling children? It’s very important to me that my own children and the children we style for the Mabo photo shoots look natural and unfussy. While I do (obviously!) feel that children should have nice, quality clothing for this magical and fleeting period, the whole point is to be able to run, jump, play, spin, and to do it in comfort and feeling confident. I want the clothing to be comfortable and unprecious enough to be able to move between school to the playground, and even to special events. I also think it’s important that they have a say in their clothing choices and don’t feel “styled” by parents - style is such an important way of expressing yourself throughout life and cultivating a healthy sense of identity through style, rather than following trends or brands, can be such a nice lesson to learn early on.

What role do you want your products to play in a childhood? Oh, just to be there for all of the amazing memories. It’s so bittersweet and poignant how quickly this time passes. I can’t tell you how heartwarming it is to get photos people send from all over the world and just feel so lucky that I have some small moment in those special events, photos, and everyday moments. The addition of the pyjamas was a super sweet new example of that - all of a sudden I was getting these precious photos of babies and children sleeping in our little dotty jammies - how amazing is that?

What was the last great children's book that you read? We read Tasha Tudor’s A Time to Keep all the time - it’s my all-time favourite.

images courtesy of mabo kids


  1. Lovely interview with a lovely label! My girls love the dresses they have and I have my eye on a few more pieces! It's so nice to hear the story behind the label - looking forward to seeing the new ranges soon

    1. Doing this series, it amazes me how many people come from non-fashion backgrounds. I think it's partly related to them having children, and their experience of that, but still interesting all the same. Thanks, Belinda. x PS Socks and shoes should be great, too!