The trouble with Pink….

Pink, as a colour, has become a bit of a political thing in the world of parenting. There is too much pink, everyone agrees. Whole aisles in toy shops with a rosy glow of neon pink. Girls are pushed into pink by companies eager to market their products directly to the little girls who demand everything be sprayed in shades of the stuff. I agree with this anti-pink stance, mostly. There is simply no need for the Early Learning Centre (yup, I do feel the need to name and shame!) to create a garage in blue for the boys, and the very same product in pink, for the girls, who presumably might keel over if they have to push a car down a ramp that is (shudder) blue. Our girls have always enjoyed playing with cars, and trains, and have never demanded that I swap them for pink ones. They are toys, and so they are fun because  you can play with them, it doesn’t matter if they are the ‘wrong’ colour. I have made a conscious  effort to avoid buying the girls a wardrobe full of pink. I go out of my way to find things that are blue, green, orange or purple. We avoid Barbie-pink toys wherever possible. Neither of them have too much of an attraction to pink, although occasionally war does break out over who gets the pink cup and plate at tea time.

But here’s the thing: I like pink. I really do. I like dusky pink, rosy pink, I even like hot pink, in moderation. Pink looks awesome with brown, gorgeous with white, and is a flattering colour on most people, including boys! I don’t think we need to ban girls from pink, I think we need to reclaim it as a nice colour for everyone, and not instate it as a uniform for the pre-teen girls of the world.  And perhaps boycott the pink garage.

The shoe-rant.

I am not a shoe girl. Or, for that matter, a bag girl. Recently I disgusted a friend when we were looking at very nice bags in John Lewis together, and I said ‘it’s very pretty and all, but it’s not wipe clean, is it?… What? What?‘ The reason that I am not a shoe girl is mostly because I have very big feet (size 8+) and therefore my feet look like they are sailing great big boats off the bottom of my legs in most flat shoes, and I am way too clumsy for heels. And getting a size 8, or 8 and a half, in ‘normal’ shoe shops  can sometimes be quite tricky. Once, Rich’s dad said ‘oh Alice, I’ve found the perfect website for you, it’s called ‘canoes for shoes’!!  Elegant. And he didn’t mean it as an insult, or anything.

Also, I have had several traumatic shoe incidents (TSI’s.) The first TSI  (ha,not sure I can keep this up!) came when I was on a night out with some very cool, arty people from university who I didn’t know very well. In an attempt to make a good impression, I borrowed some proper going out shoes, with a (quite chunky) heel. In the queue to get into a cool, arty club, I managed to get my heel stuck in a drain. That’s right. I actually am that ridiculous.*  I had to be prised out, by a guy in Jarvis Cocker-esque glasses and a Pearl Jam t-shirt. Another TSI involved a brand new pair of brown leather platform sandles  (I’ll let you treasure that image for a while,) which my friends instantly labelled ‘Alice’s geek shoes’. Having only just purchased them, I removed them in the park in order to do backwards rolls on a goal post -not going to apologise for that one, blatantly that is just the kind of person I am- and a dog promptly ran off with one in its mouth.  I did get it back, it was just a bit soggy and had actual dog teeth marks in it which reduced its  appeal, somewhat.

So, anyway, I don’t really do shoes. Contrary to the modern myth that all women go gaga over heels, I resolutely live in bashed up converse, flip flops and wellies. And nor do we, as a company, sell shoes. There is already a lovely independent children’s shoe shop  in Bedford (hello, Angels and Urchins! – my children definitely qualify for the urchin part of their customer base.) But baby shoes are a different matter entirely. They are my shoe-shopping Achilles heel, (not sorry.) There’s that supposedly-Hemmingway six word short story, which is one of the saddest lines in literature:  ‘For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.’

It’s a scale thing. Tiny shoes are just so adorable, so perfect. It’s like when you see a new baby and you can’t help but comment on their teeny-weeny fingers and toes, even though you know, logically, that everything is to scale. It wouldn’t make sense for babies to have giant toes; therefore they must have tiny toes, hence the tiny shoes. Yet every time I see baby shoes, I feel the need to coo over them.  Which is why I’ve ended up in possession of these beautiful, hand-knitted ones, which I will be listing for sale on our website when I next get half an hour:

Also, charity shop find of the week (play appropriately joyous fanfare yourself) are these cuties!:

And guess what? They are originally from Zara. My favourite European clothing  store.  Such a cut above that other, orange-fruit-named shop…

*you know the sitcom Miranda? Well that is essentially me. Apart from owning a joke shop (yet!) or being single. I do also have a ‘little friend’, just a bit like Stevie… (you so know who you are!) Although, I would like to state that I have never got stuck, half naked, in the railings of a park gate. I have managed to get a railing stuck  in my foot during a drunken 2am wall-top rant but that’s a totally different thing…

The tale of the Rollerskate and the Fusspot.

Here is my eldest daughter, Polly, in her favourite t-shirt. This, for me, is victory on a massive scale. Finding a t-shirt that Polly will actually wear is not for the faint-hearted. This is the girl who will refuse to wear pretty much anything; clothing being rejected on the grounds that it is too tight/too itchy/ the sleeves are too short/too sweaty/generally the item is deemed ‘not nice’. For most of a whole term at nursery she insisted on dressing as a television character – Rosie the ragdoll, from Everything’s Rosie – google at your own peril. The outfit consisted of the most hideous red satin HelloKitty skirt, and a too-small pink t-shirt. I gave up, in the end. She looked weird, but she was happy. But the Rollerskate t-shirt was, astoundingly, a hit.

The inspiration came from a djFresh video,  which brought back happy memories of my rollerskating days (they’re not over, incidentally, I still have a pair of green and purple size 8’s hiding in my parents’ laundry cupboard…for my own safety.) I remembered the joy of learning to skate backwards, of taking fast downhill corners slightly too fast, and of a classic incident where I limped home with a wheel in my hand:

My dad: ‘Did you find any ball bearings, at all, or bolts and screws?’

Me: ‘Ummmn, yes, I think they might have been the things I rolled down a drain…’

My Dad practically tutted himself into a coma, and my sister has never, ever let me forget that one.

Sarah’s brother did the design, and we loved it instantly. We chose a nice subtle cerise for the print, and bought some organic, unbleached cotton t-shirts to print on. The clincher was the softness of the t-shirt. Until then, I had been a teensy bit skeptical about the whole ‘superior quality of organic cotton’ thing. It seemed like one of those things that’s nice if you can afford it, but a bit unnecessary,  like shopping exclusively at Selfridges.  But these really changed my mind. They were SO soft, even after you’ve washed them a LOT of times (believe me, Polly’s has been!) The price difference, because we bought in bulk, was negligible. And the thing about designing stuff for children, is that they really want to wear stuff that is comfy. You can play around with the most beautiful fabrics, the coolest prints, but if the end result is scratchy, or tight, or in any way uncomfortable, the kids just won’t wear it. They’re not like grown ups, who will happily squeeze into torturous heels and hobble painfully about in them all evening, just because the shoes look mind-numbingly beautiful.

I’m pretty sure that, despite the cool t-shirt, Polly’s rollerskating career will go in a similar direction to mine. Having put some skates on for the first time this Spring, she promptly lost control trying to go round a plant pot on the patio, grabbed hold of some washing, and snapped the washing line. Must be genetic…

The incident in the Clifftop Cafe.

This is Tilly (Matilda), in one of my many, many attempts to take some ‘nice’ pictures of our Esme dresses. Interesting result, I think you’ll agree.  As Tilly is my littlest girl and still at home most of the time, she gets to come along on all of my fabric and clothes-finding expeditions. And today, well today we had a very exciting little outing to the Post office to post some wool to our knitter/seamstress extraordinaire, Pat. As it was about 20 degrees this afternoon (lovely!) I thought it was a bit surprising that Tilly wore a sunhat/mittens combo, but you know, pick your battles, don’t sweat the small stuff, etc. The drawback to Tilly wearing mittens was that she lost her grip on the little suitcase of important tat that she likes to carry around. (Contents: hairbrush, purse shaped like a bear, a kazoo, and a snow-globe.) The snow-globe smashed, leaking  whatever the liquid is that is in snow-globes, and a LOT of glitter onto the pavement. I cut my fingers trying to clear up the smashed glass, whilst one very distraught three-year-old wailed beside me.  I managed to distract her by saying that when we got to the Post Office, she could spend the 53p that was in her purse on ‘something exciting’ – that covers many bases when you are 3…

Having made it, albeit bleeding – to the Post Office, Tilly then announced that of the two ladies serving at the Post Office counter:  ‘Not that one mummy, I don’t like HER.’  She announced it with a pointing action that confirmed to everyone in the shop exactly who it was that she didn’t like. (I don’t know why Tilly has taken against her, I’m not aware of any previous gripes between the two of them. She seems like a nice lady.) Two of the people behind us started giggling uncontrollably. I love having opinionated girls, I really do, and I think it’ll be the making of them, but sometimes I long for nice, passive children who just keep quiet.

So the reason that we are becoming Post Office groupies is that we ‘export’ a lot of our sewing to sunny Norfolk, where the lovely and very talented Pat stitches our Esme dresses and most of our knitwear. I’m very proud of this arrangement. I found Pat completely by chance, by buying one of her dresses  for Matilda from ebay. As I opened the parcel, I remember thinking, ‘this dress is insanely cool! (yes, in my head I speak like a Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle.)  We could sell these!’  So I emailed Pat, and told her my little story of setting up a little childrenswear company. And she (luckily) didn’t think I was entirely mad and actually quite liked the idea. So later in the Summer, on holiday in Norfolk, I met up with Pat at the Clifftop Cafe in Overstrand,  (one of the nicest cafes, ever, and my initial disappointment that it is not literally on top of a cliff was soon replaced by relief .) Over tea and cake, we discussed ideas and made a plan. Pat is retired now, but used to run a fabric shop in the very nice town of Holt and make dresses.  She assures me that she enjoys the work that arrives through her letterbox once a week, and she is very good at it. Later on, I discovered she can knit very well and very quickly, and soon she was sending over knitwear too.

The reason that I am proud of the arrangement is that it sort of encapsulates what we are about. We didn’t, and don’t, want our clothing to be made by children in awful conditions in China, or India. We do, eventually, want to have some of our clothing made in fair-trade factories that are supporting families and children in poor areas. But we also like the idea of having clothing made here in England, by people who enjoy doing a bit of sewing and knitting in their spare time. A lot of people have even come to look at our things and said longingly,  ‘oh, if only I had someone to knit for!’ And although I am definitely not the kind of person who knits or sews for pleasure, it’s lovely to meet people who genuinely do. So if you buy one of our Esme dresses, or a handknitted jumper, you know that it was made in Norfolk by someone who does really enjoy their work.  And hopefully, some of that happiness gets stitched in to the clothing.

I’d like to just say though, as a disclaimer, that we can’t guarantee happiness for wearers of our clothing. I know this because Tilly has had the MOST hideous public meltdown whilst wearing a very pretty dress made by Pat. It was in the library, and I will never speak of it again, except to say that it was the last time we borrowed any heavy board books from there. Oh, and good luck if you ever encounter a smashed snow-globe. Pretty much the hardest thing to clear up, ever. Who knew?!