Minouche is French for kitten – I wanted a European name to reflect the fact that the clothing I’ve designed has been influenced by gorgeous vintage European designs. I chose kitten because they have a lot in common with little girls – they are both cute, sweet, curious, playful and very lovely.
The Minouche clothing is designed by me, from our little house in the beachside suburb of Cronulla, Sydney. With two little girls, I wanted unique, sweet, simple and lovely clothing for them that was ethically made and fabric that felt good – without a huge price tag. I also wanted to create a business that would allow me to work from home, so combining the two seemed like a logical progression. What lead you to start your own children’s clothing brand?
Initially I just started sewing as a hobby. I bought a sewing machine totally on a whim. I wanted something to do in the evenings that wasn’t about cleaning, or the kids, or just sitting around watching TV. I then progressed to selling handmade pieces through Etsy. I wholeheartedly encourage anyone with a little idea to start there, as it’s such a supportive environment that allowed me to figure out if this was what I really wanted to do, and on a small, non-scary scale.
Before too long, and much to my surprise, I wasn’t able to keep up with the orders I was getting. I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed and needed the creative side of my little business. I’d been giving some thought to the idea of going back to work, but adding up the figures I realised that putting two kids in daycare to work in an unsatisfying job wasn’t going to make me any more money than staying at home and working on my own business – and it certainly wouldn’t give me any kind of creative outlet. What is your creative process and design inspiration behind Minouche? Once I’ve finished the sketches, I try and imagine each one fitting in with a story I’ve written for the collection. If it doesn’t fit in with the story I’ve written, it’s out. I wish I could include every design that pops into my head, but from a financial perspective, it’s not possible. So, I have to remind myself that if I can’t let go of an idea, I can always include it in the next season. Once
I’ve finalised the sketches, they’re sent off to a lovely team of penjahit (seamstresses) in Bali who bring them to life. In the meantime, I will be sourcing fabrics and perhaps other embellishments from all over the place such as Australia, India, the US, China and Bali. Once the final samples have been refined and approved, the team in Bali go into production. After it arrives in Sydney, it comes to me for the admin side of things: product photography, inventory and distribution etc.
What pieces can we find in the Minouche range?
Playsuits, sundresses and shorties (bloomers), with the addition of a fun tulle skirt or cape. I don’t know any little girls who don’t like to dress up occasionally, even my tomboy daughter. All the pieces have been designed to be simple and casual enough to wear on a day to day basis, but can also be dressed up for a family gathering or a party. Can you tell us about your latest collection? What inspires your collections?
The latest range is the Minouche spring collection (for girls aged two to five), that is based on a story I wrote called Lolly and the Moon. It’s about a little girl who gets taken to the moon by a fairy she finds in her garden. I find inspiration everywhere and easily get distracted trying to follow too many paths at once, so I’ve found that by writing a story I was able to clarify the collection. When it came to deciding what pieces to produce, I could ask myself if I could see this little girl I’d imagined wearing them. I’ve done the same thing with the summer collection (for three months to eight years). Although I don’t take the stories too literally when finalising the collection, it really helps having a muse in mind – someone to picture wearing the pieces.
I find a lot of inspiration in the books of my childhood – Enid Blyton characters, Anne of Green Gables, the Laura Ingalls stories (Little House on the Prairie). While I don’t aim, or want, to recreate the vintage pieces exactly, I love the sassy but sweet attitudes of the characters in these stories.
I also spend a lot of time reading magazines, and on Instagram and Pinterest. I draw a lot of inspiration from those sources, especially vintage children’s clothing. I have made a conscious decision not to follow too many children’s clothing labels on Instagram though – at the beginning I did, and I constantly felt like I should be producing different pieces, or including something because everyone else was doing it. It’s too easy to let the self-doubt slip in when you start comparing everything you’re doing with all the wonderfully talented, creative people out there, so now I just try and do my own thing.
Top 5 pieces in the Minouche collection?
1. The tulle skirts/capes – it sold out in a couple of weeks, so there will be more coming in 2 October.
2. The Evie playsuit in chambray
3. The Evie dress in blush
4. The Lolly dress in orchid
5. I have a gorgeous indigo maxi skirt coming in the summer collection that I think will be a hit too.
What challenges have you faced starting your own label, and what are some things you love about it?
Dealing with suppliers in other countries has certainly been a challenge. I have learnt to be ultra clear in communication and to double check everything! It’s so easy for things to be miscommunicated or lost in translation.
Having to work with the kids around isn’t always easy. I either feel guilty for not giving them enough attention, or cranky at them for not letting me get work done…and then guilty about being cranky. The kids can also be somewhat of a workplace hazard. I’m constantly in fear that one of them will upend a bowl of weetbix all over some parcels waiting for shipment, or take a texta to something!
On the other side, there is so much to love, like the ability to earn an income while still spending time with my girls. I love sending packages off to all corners of the world, and receiving positive feedback. It’s nice to be doing something creative.
Being a mum can be pretty mundane at times, I spend half my time on the floor wiping up food spills, mediating between the girls, picking up toys…so having an outlet to do something else makes me much happier.
The people I’ve met on my journey so far, on Instagram, and also customers and my stockists, have been a huge bonus – there are just so many lovely, kind and supportive people around. Is there anything you’d like to share with other mums who may be trying to combine their lives as business owners/designers and caretakers?
I’m not too good at it, but try to allocate specific times for work, so you’re not checking your emails and Instagram while you should be giving your kids some attention. I feel much less guilty about time spent away from my kids if I know I’ve given them quality time and have been present with them when I’m not working. Don’t feel guilty about a little screen time if you need it to get some work done. Know that your work is your work – working from home doesn’t make it less valid.
We’re all about celebrating Australian motherhood and creativity on child mags blog, what does it mean to you to be an Australian creative who is also a mother?
I feel truly lucky to be able to bring my kids up in this wonderful country. Not only are we blessed with such a safe environment, but the quality of life – our outdoor environment, beaches, parks; our education and health system; the availability of gorgeous, fresh produce – is also amazing. I’m also grateful for the options afforded to many women. Of course, not everyone is in their ideal situation, but with free education, parental leave payments, subsidised childcare, and a good government support network, women in Australia have many more options available to them than their counterparts in other countries. I hope that the opportunities available and support for women only gets better over time, so that my daughters will be able to find fulfilling work while being able to raise a family, if they choose to do so. Where can we find the Minouche range?
Minouche is currently stocked in NSW in the Infancy stores (Rozelle and Newtown), My Messy Room in Summer Hill; in ACT in Tip You’re It; in WA in The Greater Good; Merry Love Joy in the US also stocks a small range. Online stores are Mabels Garb, Indigo Babe, Mini Wild Child and Lil’ Threads.
Ally Mahoney is the creator and founder of super sweet children’s wear label Minouche, she lives in Cronulla, Sydney, and is mother to Lottie, 4, and Molly, 21 months. You can find the gorgeous Minouche collection via their website and connect with them on Instagram and Facebook. You can also read Ally’s Minouche collection stories HERE.