Durham-based Designer Michelle Jones on her baby and children’s clothing brand

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Freya Lillie rompers
Mum-of-two Michelle Jones used to sell clothing from around the world, but she now makes her own gender neutral pieces which last all year long. She spoke to us about her brand Freya Lillie, which is named after her three and a half year old daughter

Your business has really taken off in the last year. 

I designed a baby romper about a year ago, which my aunty produced on her sewing machine, but the demand was so high that waiting lists were over six weeks. That’s when I started looking into companies that could help me out. Now I’ve got two teams of seamstresses from two charity organisations working for me to keep on top of stock so that people can have the items right away – the main company is Self Made Studios in Bishop Auckland, but I also use Point3CIC in Peterlee. We’re in constant contact creating new patterns and orders. 

As a former model, it seems that fashion has always been a big part of your life. What encouraged you to make your own clothes?

I started sourcing clothes to sell in 2014, and what really annoyed me was that items would only last a few months and then I had to get new stock in, because people wouldn’t wear last season’s fashion. That’s when I started to think about making pieces that would last all year round, either worn on their own or layered up. I thought, if I’m feeling this way as a mum, surely other people feel the same. I discovered the slow fashion movement which produces sustainable pieces, meaning that less raw materials are wasted and you have clothes that can be worn all year round. We use organic velvet, jersey, and a lot of 100 percent linen as well. We’ve produced organic sweatshirts, and have a fleece-lined one coming out next month – it’s all naturally-made.

One of the reasons why people buy new clothes each season is because of the change in weather – how do your sustainable clothes combat that? 

Our most popular pieces are the all-in-ones, as I like to call them, which are more commonly known as rompers. A lot of mums take them on holiday because they’re made of linen, so they help babies keep cool in hot weather. In colder weather, it’s possible to wear long socks or tights made out of a chunky knit underneath. That’s how versatile they are. 

John Lewis has recently removed the ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ labels from their clothes, did this influence you to make your own gender neutral items?

I think it’s really important that they did that because I don’t agree that children’s clothes should be labeled in that way. You should be able to make a choice on what you buy from the entire department, without being judged. I’ve always bought my little girl clothes from the boys section. She has the same approach to toys and games too – she has the odd dolly but also loves football, so it’s a total mixture. I’m very like my daughter in the sense that I’ve never been a girly girl – the things I wear are quite gender neutral, like blazers, polo-necks and jeans. I’ve definitely passed that on to Freya Lillie.

The whole debate around gender neutral clothing has been quite controversial. 

I was a bit concerned to start with. I wasn't sure if my rompers would be bought for boys, especially with the addition of tights, because a lot of people don’t see tights as a boys thing. But in reality, more and more people are getting on board with them, and a lot of boys are wearing them for special occasions. 

How have people reacted to your clothes at events?

We’ve been going down more of a wholesale route at the fairs, but when people see the clothes they really are quite pleased. Photos don't do the high quality and detail of the items much justice – for example, our buttons are made of coconut shells which people can see for themselves at the events we visit. That said, most of my sales do actually come from Instagram. I’ve got around 6,000 followers.

The future looks bright for Freya Lillie. 

I had my first paid show at Bubble London in July, which is a premium children’s trade show, and I’m off to Berlin in January with the help of the Department for International Trade. We’ve had a lot of customers in Germany, Australia and America so it’s becoming more and more international. I’d love to take the brand to New York and Tokyo soon – but one step at a time. I’d also really like my own shop eventually, when I’m happy with the range and variety of products I have on offer. Not necessarily on the high street, but a nice little boutique shop in the North East.

To order Freya Lillie clothing, please visit www.freya-lillie.co.uk 

 

Published in: October 2017

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