Thursday 8 October 2015


At the start of this year Sydney designer Ally Mahoney decided to take a leap of faith with her children’s wear label Minouche. Up until then she had been making clothes herself and selling them on Etsy. But Ally was struggling to keep up with orders and had to decide if she was ready to get the clothing made in larger quantities - which meant going overseas. “It was so daunting starting a new business, you don’t know how it’s going to be received until you take the plunge,” she says. The reception to her debut collection has been amazing, though, and she's had many repeat orders. Ally was more confident about taking production offshore after she met the people who produce her clothes. It is run by two Australian sisters who pay their staff above the minimum wage, provide medical insurance and double the minimum holidays and pension. "They really do provide a great environment to work in, the factory is such a happy place," Ally says.

Now, the mother of two young girls, is about to launch a Summer collection, which will also expand the size range from three months to eight years. As for the name, “I wanted one that was European, to reflect the simple yet well-made European feel of my designs, and I love kittens – their curiosity, playfulness, and occasional naughty behaviour, reminds me of my girls,” she says. “So I picked Minouche, which is French for kitten.” Ally will be announcing details of the release date of the upcoming collection on her Instagram page.

What was behind the decision to start Hello Minouche? Initially I just started sewing as a hobby – I bought a sewing machine totally on a whim. I just wanted something to do of an evening that wasn’t about cleaning, or the kids, or just sitting around watching TV.

I then progressed to selling handmade pieces through Etsy but before too long I wasn’t able to keep up with the orders that were coming in – it just wasn’t practical, trying to grab five minutes here and five minutes there to sew, getting cranky with the girls for getting in my way or playing cubbies with my fabric.

So I decided to take the plunge and design items to be produced on a larger scale – that way I was able to focus on the tasks I most enjoyed doing – designing, sourcing fabrics and customer service, without having to actually do the sewing myself.

What had you been doing previously? I did a business degree at uni, followed by a Masters in Media, but I spent most of my time pre-kids working in predominantly admin roles with a marketing focus.

I can’t say I ever really enjoyed them but working in generalist roles for small companies taught me so much about running my own business that I’m grateful for them – I haven’t had to outsource anything yet, as a start-up business not having to spend more money is always welcome.

What is important to you when designing children’s clothes? My main motivation is to create something that children like to wear, and their parents like to look at. Creating items that are ethically made is also of huge importance – the last thing I want is to dress my children in clothing that made life worse for someone else. 

How do you try to differentiate your products from others on the market? I try my best not to look at what others are doing. When I first started out selling on Etsy, I spent a lot of time looking at what other brands in my niche were doing. Now, I try and not look at all. 

As someone who finds inspiration constantly from my surroundings, it’s hard for me to know sometimes if I’ve come up with an idea or if I’ve been influenced by someone else. So I feel better within myself if I’m not paying too much attention to what everyone else is doing, at least until the designs have been finalised for the current season.

What has been completely unexpected since starting your business? The wonderful, kind and supportive women I’ve met through Instagram has been a lovely surprise. It is a lovely way to connect with people, improve photography skills and discover life through the eyes of someone else. 

What is something that people often don't realise about your wares? A lot of people don’t realise how much is involved. A few people have wondered what I’m actually doing now that I’m not constructing the garments myself.

While I have outsourced the sewing side of things, there is still the design, sourcing fabrics, marketing, customer service, finances, administration and a lot of trips to the post office.

The scheduling of production is something many people are unaware of too – I’m often asked if I can just make something in a smaller size, or get more stock in of an item. But the decisions regarding stock are made months in advance – and for larger companies much longer – to allow enough time for samples to be made, fabrics arranged, and garment construction. I would love to have a factory at my disposal with staff just sitting around waiting to make a few more of this or that, but unfortunately I don’t - yet, haha.

Where do you look to for design inspiration? I find a lot of inspiration in the books of my childhood – Enid Blyton characters, Anne of Green Gables, the Laura Ingalls stories. I don’t aim to recreate any of their clothing, but in my mind I am creating pieces that could be worn by these spirited characters.

I also spend a lot of time on Pinterest – I draw a lot of inspiration from images and patterns of vintage children’s clothing, and enjoy using elements of these in my designs. 

What do consider when dressing or styling children? Above all, comfort. To me this means natural fibres and comfortable designs, and for children not to look like they’ve been fussed over much at all. Whether they’re going to the beach, playing in the yard or going to a party, they’re going to be running, climbing, jumping and dancing, and their clothes should be comfortable enough to do this. And as a parent, you don’t want them wearing something that isn’t going to stand up to a bit of rough and tumble.

That being said, I also think it’s really cute when they come up with their own styling, and I give my girls the freedom to wear whatever they choose, although often inside I’m screaming for them to choose something else.

What role do you want your products to play in a childhood? I hope that they can become pieces shared between sisters, cousins and friends. I’m the youngest of four, with three sisters, and a lot of the clothes my girls wear have been handed down from cousin to cousin, and are now on to the fifth child. I’d like to create pieces that are loved that much, and made well enough, to last that long.

Clothing plays such a big part childhood memories – I can vividly remember the dresses my mum made, the dresses worn to birthday parties and at Christmas. It would mean so much to me if a little girl remembers in years to come one of my pieces as her party dress, or playsuit she wore on a lovely picnic with her family.

What was the last great children's book that you read? For Lottie we are loving Imagine by Alison Lester – it’s a lot of fun, and a challenge, trying to find everything on each page. Molly is still a major fan of Dear Zoo and Oh Dear!, and so am I. She is probably getting a bit big for them now but neither of us ever get tired of it. I can’t wait until they get into some Enid Blyton, Judy Blume, and maybe a little Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High.

images courtesy of ally mahoney of minouche

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