My mum owned a store in Melbourne in the 1960s and called it Oobi Things. I have no idea why, but it was the ’60s so that might answer some questions. When I was a kid, we always used the word ‘oobi’ to describe something we couldn’t explain or didn’t understand. Like that dress, it’s ‘so oobi’. Or that ice cream – tastes totally oobi. So of course, it was the inspiration behind the name of my label. I studied art history at uni and had to do a practical component, which, as fate would have it, was screen printing. I took to it very quickly and it became a passion. What I really started to love was textiles design and, more specifically, textiles for children. My passion is to collect old fabrics and children’s books, haberdashery and vintage prints, so everything just sort of ‘meshed’ for me.
While I was studying for my PhD to fund my lifestyle (i.e. eat), I decided to take my fabrics and designs to sell at the Glebe markets. From there, I was approached by a few retailers, and, weirdly, from the buyer of a major department store who was visiting Sydney from Melbourne. He said to me “Now it’s time to choose your adventure – teaching or designing.” Designing won. I eat, breathe, sleep, dream and live Oobi. I LOVE what I do. It’s never a chore, it’s never a ‘job’ and luckily my partner feels passionate about his career too, so he understands my passion. Dominik runs an art gallery, so we are both fascinated by each others’ businesses and offer a fresh or different perspective when things become cloudy.
I generally get up around 6am and take my dog to the park. This is my zen time of the day. I try not to check my email before I get to work, but I ALWAYS do. When I get into the office, I chat with my staff members and we have a 10 minute stand-up meeting, where we throw ideas at a board, brainstorm and chat about anything and everything. It’s really fun. In these meetings we’ve learned how to hula hoop, discussed photo shoot ideas, fought over whether our balcony garden should have purple themed flowers or white – serious stuff.
Being the owner of Oobi, I’m also the boss and not just the designer, which means my staff like to run a lot of things by me, and I have to be available to them. I have an incredible group of people working with me and the most amazing thing is that in this day and age they are generally long-term. We are family, really.
Most days I chat to my production manager and my team in India where my fabrics are printed. I like to travel to Jaipur and Delhi to oversee production, instead of having the team sending samples backwards and forwards. I try to head home each day by 6pm, but that doesn’t happen very often. I try not to work nights or weekends, but that doesn’t happen either. But what is work when you love your job?
Our workspace is gorgeous. When kids come here for parties and events or shoots, they say it’s like a fairytale. It’s really cute. Often kids assume that I live here too. There’s a beautiful bed, an old wardrobe, heaps of dress-up clothes, a huge sundeck filled with flowers and pots of plants donated by Oobi mums painted by their children. Lanterns hang outside and glow at night. There’s a cubby house and corner tents, chairs shaped like fruit…it’s magic. I’m inspired every day when I’m at work, but I’m inspired everywhere to be honest. I don’t wait for inspiration to hit me, I dedicate hours and hours to design and I work hard at it. I keep abreast of trends, but I don’t follow them necessarily – however, it’s important to be aware of what’s out there.
Social media is really valuable for me, but probably not in the ways that you’d imagine.
I have a page for Oobi mums called Little Oobi Scrapbook, where we all chat about fit, garments, design and their beautiful photos of their kids. I ask them lots of questions and get lots of great feedback. It’s a fun and amazing community that any Oobi mum can join to be part of the think tank and conversations.
I design in ‘stories’, so I think of a theme e.g. my recent collections, I Love Candy or Barefoot Princesses, and then I design pieces for the ‘girl’ in that themed story. The Barefoot Princess is an English rose, from a crumbling estate. The clothes are glamorous and luxurious, but also have a ‘barefoot’ feel, a relaxed nature. It’s a spring range, and is a mix up of floral prints, vintage and hand-drawn, plus some hand-painted roses and tiny flowers. It’s sweet but not formal. I think it’s fresh, clean and really pretty.
My Candy girl is fun and poppy, bright and wears retro rollerskates, loads of pom pom accessories, knee socks and loves brightly coloured things. Last month, we had a launch party for the Oobi summer 2015 collection in Melbourne at the Royal Exhibition in Carlton Gardens – it was such an honour.
I’m pretty wild about the reversible pieces, the Tilly Tutu dress, the wands and handbags shaped like watermelons in the Barefoot Princesses collection. But really, I don’t design anything I don’t love. That’s one of the joys of running your own business. I stay true to my aesthetic and designs and I hope that I can bring people along for the ride. In contrast, my summer I Love Candy range is bright, bright, bright. A fun mix-and-match style with all different fabrics designed by me and hand printed. It’s very eclectic and very bold. It’s clothing to chew bubble gum in and wear rollerskates with. It’s a range designed to the song I Want Candy – it’s got a bit of an ’80s vibe.
The Oobi range is designed for newborns to 11 years, but every now and then I will go to 13 if I feel that a garment warrants it. The Oobi range includes everything from dresses and skirts, jackets and coats, raincoats and baby bibs to jumpsuits. Tulle and wands, crowns and necklaces, handbags and all the pretties. We also do divine handmade homewares, such as tents and patchwork quilts using fabrics that I design.
Being voted Australia’s Favourite Children’s Fashion Label and Favourite Web Store by the independent voters in the KidStyleFile reader’s survey seven years running is such a pat on the back for us. Trends come and go, but I think people like what we stand for. The most incredible thing recently was starting my own charitable program called Oobi-fy the World, where we have pledged to donate a piece of Oobi clothing for every garment sold from the new season’s ranges. It’s a scary thing to commit to, but it’s been amazing.
My childhood and the firm belief in two core things inspire my collections.
Firstly, childhood is to be celebrated and enjoyed. It’s a time to be playful, to learn and experiment with colour, shape, movement and texture. It’s a time where, if you want to wear the crown, the wand and 10 necklaces – you can! The second thing I am inspired by are the girls that I design for. When I see Oobi girls feeling special in their new garment, my heart bursts. I can see it in their faces when they try pieces on, or in photos when their mums post on Facebook or Instagram. They love their new dress, they feel special and pretty and amazing. That’s why I love what I do.
Looking to the future, we have a really cool charity project happening with Global Sisters (GS). I’m a GS ambassador and we’re working with refugees who are trying to start businesses in Australia. They use their skills and are mentored by women entrepreneurs who give advice and guidance, support and encouragement. In an environment that could feel threatening and scary, they are nurtured and encouraged. The GS ambassadors are amazing women and the founder Mandy Richards is an absolute dynamo.
If I had to give advice to any other creatives, makers, business owners and designers, it would be, don’t be afraid if people don’t always love what you do straight away. Listen to feedback and advice, take it on the chin when it’s critical, and lift your head when it’s good.
Alexandra Riggs, 41, is a children’s fashion designer who lives in NSW with her husband Dominik. Founder and owner of Oobi, her collections are inspired by old fabrics, vintage prints and children’s literature. You can find her beautiful designs via the Oobi website and find her on Facebook, Oobi online scrapbook and Instagram.