Absolutely Mama meets Joanna Welch, founder of playful childrenswear brand Small Stories
What made you decide to set up a kids clothing label?
I have a background in fashion and a love of design, so naturally as a new mum, I looked forward to a whole new world of children’s clothing to explore. But I found myself struggling to find cool, unique, modern clothes that were also functional and of high quality, without the designer price tags. I could find lots of cool Scandi kids brands but hardly any British brands so this spurred me on even more to start my own childrenswear brand. So, I left my job of 16 years as a London fashion buyer to create my own label for all those other mums like me, who are looking for something a bit different and want to be the envy of other parents wanting to know what brand their child is wearing.
How did your own motherhood journey play a part in the decision to launch the business?
Becoming a mum to my son Jack really played a massive role in spurring me on to start my own business for so many reasons. Like I said earlier I found it extremely hard to find unique, cool, fashionable printed kidswear which was British and even more so for boys too. I also found it difficult to find easy everyday wear such as tracksuits that were super comfortable and practical for my son to wear in cool prints that stood out, felt soft, were long-wearing and washed well. I continually bought from Scandi brands so while on maternity leave I did extensive research and decided there was a gap in the UK children’s market and that’s where Small Stories started. I also knew going back to my buyer’s role at Kurt Geiger London meant I wouldn’t be around or see much of my son as it’s a very demanding job and not 9 ‘til 5. So I decided if there was ever a moment to start my own brand then now was the time to really give it go. Although starting your own brand is a 24/7 job, you never stop and never feel you’re doing enough but at least I have the flexibility to be there for my son too.
Where do you get the inspiration for each collection?
Each season we loosely come up with a theme that the prints are based around and it’s always something that not just resonates with children but adults too. A lot of our prints I want the adults to love and want to wear too – not just the kids. The first season the collection was based around the sea and all its surrounding wonders. Last season it was the woodland and this season the collection is inspired by the inner artist within us.
How important is sustainability to the business?
The future is sustainability and brands need to pay attention to it if they want to succeed and have longevity. Customers are changing their shopping habits due to their concerns about our country’s carbon footprint. Consumers want to buy from brands that do not waste, recycle and are sustainable. At Small Stories we try to limit the amount of packaging we use and make sure it is reusable. All our fabrics are Oeko-Tex Standard 100 which are the softest and safest materials for your child’s skin and contain no chemicals. One of the lifestyle boutiques where our collection is stocked in Peckham has even stopped printing receipts to save paper and will only email receipts to customers now. All these little initiatives show to consumers that you are taking sustainability seriously and want to help the environment.
One thing that people don’t often know about Small Stories?
All our prints are hand painted by British artists and then printed onto the fabric so they are totally bespoke and unique to us. If you look at a lot of the prints up-close you can actually see the brush stroke marks.
What have you learned since setting up the brand? And is there anything you would do differently?
I have learnt so many lessons and I have made so many mistakes along the way. Starting your own brand is very much a learning curve and will continue to be. I don’t think I quite realised the power of social media when I first started and how important and brilliant Instagram is for a small new businesses. It is a free platform that enables me to promote my brand and allows me to really connect with my target audience through my Stories – showing me as the face behind the brand and getting my audience’s feedback and opinions on styles and colours. Also being able to load images that are shoppable make it so easy for my customers to buy through one click and you are taken straight to the website to the style to buy it. I would say between 60% and 70% of my sales right now come from social media.
What does your son think of Small Stories? Does he happily wear your pieces?
Jack is only three so I still don’t think he quite understands that all of the clothes he wears are designed and made by his Mummy. He is always a model in every ad campaign we do and he loves that, well I hope he does, ha?! He is also my number one model showcasing Small Stories on a daily basis and nothing makes me more excited and proud than when people come up to me in the supermarket or in the street and ask where Jack’s outfit is from. He is always head to toe in Small Stories!
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