Kelly-Lee Wright is the creative genius behind boho children’s label, Feather Drum. She talks to us about her Woodstock-inspired threads, the transition from corporate to creative, and the best parenting advice she’s been given.
In a previous life, I was a corporate lawyer. For 12 years I practiced law in London (the UK is my mother country), and then in Sydney, and never had time to channel my creativity. When my daughter Willow was born in 2012, it was the golden opportunity for me to explore a side of me that had been busting to come out. It also became apparent that my corporate job was just too stressful to do part-time. Feather Drum was an idea that was born after spending the day at Laneway Festival. I was so inspired by the cool fashion I saw before me that I turned to my partner Scott and said, “I wish I could dress Willow like this, but there’s nothing in the stores remotely similar,” to which he replied, “Then make it yourself.” That was the ignition that lit the flame.
After filling copious notebooks full of sketches and ideas, Feather Drum launched its first collection, Dream Seeker, on 12 August 2014. Since then, the label has gone from strength to strength, both nationally and internationally. At the start, I would never have guessed that the label would be stocked in Japan, Korea, and 11 US States within its first year – it’s all been a bit crazy and quite overwhelming at times. I get inspired by lots of things, particularly fashion from decades past. I love vintage clothing and how well made it is compared to the throw-away fashion that we have today.
The ’70s have had a huge influence on my collections to date, and I’ve tried to channel the floaty bohemian vibes reminiscent of Woodstock into my designs. The values transcending from the ‘hippie free people’ back then are definitely ones that I believe should be instilled in our children: peace, love, happiness and respect for the planet. Wherever possible, I always opt for natural fabrics, soft cottons and wool. I find it so disappointing to wash something once to find it has shrunk to half its size – let’s face it, kids clothing requires a lot of washing. Foremost, my partner keeps me motivated. He sees the hard work that goes on behind the scenes and he encourages me at every level. I’m also very fortunate to have the help and support of a lot of friends who are all creatively gifted.
My inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere, but I’m particularly inspired by French design and aesthetic. The label is quite focused on its custom-made prints and inspiration – some of which has come from deep below the ocean, or from an old sofa I saw dumped on the side of the road! At some level, I think if you look hard enough, you can see beauty in almost everything.
When I started Feather Drum, I thought I’d work way shorter hours than I did as a lawyer, but in hindsight I can see that was a foolish assumption. I wouldn’t be able to balance everything without the undying support of family, and the fabulous daycare arrangements I have in place for Willow. I do, however, feel I have way more freedom running my own business in terms of where and when I work, which definitely helps with my other full-time job of being a mother.
My mum probably gave me the best parenting advice when she said, “It’s not always the quantity of time you spend, but rather the quality of time you spend with your child that counts.” That little nugget came at a time when I first decided to put Willow into daycare at the age of two, as it was increasingly impossible to get any work done while she was with me at home. Mum’s words help me deal with the massive pangs of guilt I have when I drop her off, which have hugely subsided since I’ve seen her develop so well, both educationally and socially.
How much time do you dedicate to Feather Drum?
The honest answer is probably too much. Other than when I tap out for mother/daughter time, I never entirely switch off. The volume of email enquiries, marketing work, manufacturing issues, order processing and bookkeeping is really quite staggering, and definitely more than I ever anticipated – I just wanted to design some cool kids’ clothes.
Willow is at daycare two days per week, and with her grandma two days per week. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are my days with her, and I try my very best not to do any work unless it’s urgent. It’s rare for us not to visit either the zoo or the aquarium on one of those days, as she’s animal obsessed! My first sale was a highlight in my career. When you create something, there is a piece of your heart in it. It’s a very personal thing, and you hope that people like and appreciate what you present to the world. I always get a bit nervous when I release a new collection for that reason. There’s no better feeling than seeing your hard work appear in glossy magazines or on the back of a celebrity’s child. However, I get just as much buzz from seeing my customers post photos of their kids in my clothes on social media and letting me know that their fussy child actually wants to wear my designs.
I get inspired by a lot of things, particularly fashion from decades past. I love vintage clothing and how well made it is compared to the throw-away fashion that we have today.
My workspace has changed significantly since the beginning days when I was working at home on the dining room table surrounded by boxes of stock. I now have a wonderfully creative workspace in the Northern Beaches that acts as my warehouse, design studio and showroom. I spend so many hours at work that it’s important to me that I work in a nice environment. I also see my workspace as an extension of the brand, so that when visitors come they get to step inside and feel the whole Feather Drum experience.
I think the most special part about being an artist is creating something that comes from the heart – creating a tangible item that you hope will bring a sense of joy to its wearer (or at least the parents).
The most challenging part of the job is dealing with manufacturers, who are tasked with translating that idea. They very often get it entirely wrong, despite the fact that so much time and effort is put into detailing specifications and creating and grading patterns. Finding a manufacturer who understands the brand and knows the importance of quality, attention to detail and crucial deadlines has been the hardest task to date. I’m now well aware of the fact that manufacturing issues will continually be part of the job!
I’d like to work towards sourcing more organic and sustainable fabrics for my collections. We go to great lengths to make sure the materials we use are chemical free, non-ferrous and non-toxic, to look after our precious children’s skin. I want to extend that philosophy to ensure that I’m also looking after our precious planet. The aspiration is to continue to design great kids’ clothing and hopefully build the business up to a level where, as a family, we can spend more time together and travel the world seeking new inspiration for future collections.
38-year-old Kelly-Lee Wright is a designer and the creator of Feather Drum. She lives in Sydney with her partner, Scott, and daughter, Willow, 3. Inspired from her lifelong love of French design and her local environment, Feather Drum is for the free-spirited boys and girls. See more of the label via Instagram.
Feather Drum features in the September issue of CHILD Mags. You can also check out our giveaway post for your chance to win a $200 Feather Drum voucher.