mabo is a Utah-based children's brand designed by Emily McMaster, a wife and devoted mother of two children. She launches her SS15 collection this Friday, and we get the first full glimpse at what beautiful heirloom pieces are to come. Her designs are creatively simple and crafted to be passed down from child to child, which is what makes us so drawn to mabo and everything it represents.
How did mabo come to fruition?
After quitting my job when my daughter Ruby was about 1, I started sewing for her. Mostly to keep creatively engaged. I was sort of reeling after leaving a career track that I had wanted to be on since high school, because I was finding it so hard to juggle with a baby. I found myself hiring babysitters just to work on little clothing projects, which suddenly occurred to me might be a sign that it could be something I'd like to dedicate even more time to. We were living in Brooklyn, so really there was no time or money to start anything, but after we had our second daughter, we decided to move back to Utah, which made it so much easier. I knew immediately that I didn't want to make everything myself, as I'm not a great seamstress and got bored after I landed on the final design, so I set to work finding a small manufacturer that could help me. Everything sort of developed from there!
You have mentioned that you come from a crafting background. Did you have any formal education in fashion or is it simply innate?
No, I've never had any formal training. My mom sewed most of her own clothing when she was young, so she taught me a lot and she really encouraged me to hand-make my holiday presents for family. I took sewing classes when I was a child and always enjoyed making things, but I never had any interest in pursuing it as a career. I grew up in Utah, the crafting capital of the world, so I wasn't by any means the most interested or skilled in it within my social circle! I have a masters in Cinema Studies and had worked in the film industry for years before Ruby was born. That's all I wanted and thought I was trained to do!
How does the design process work for you? Where do you find inspirations for each piece you create?
I usually start with one fabric or style that I fall in love with and then try to add things that can fit within a theme I create in my own head, whether it be a color scheme or era. I try to tweak patterns from previous seasons since patternmaking can be so costly and time-intensive (and the limitations of doing that are actually really helpful to me). My kids: in particular, my free-spirit oldest daughter Ruby, are really inspiring. She creates some completely insane outfits from existing clothes or fabrics (headwraps out of sweaters, and she's big into making casts out of fabric). A skirt we have this summer was inspired by Ruby putting a halter sundress around her waist with the straps wrapped around and tied in a bow - turning it into a really cute maxi skirt. It looked so adorable. I also like to draw inspirations from women's clothes!
Who or what have you been your biggest inspirations for mabo?
When my daughters were born, my mom opened up an old cedar chest where she had saved my childhood clothing, so many of the designs have been inspired by those pieces, which also branched into seeking out other vintage kids' clothes. I also watch old films and look at old photos, and try to mentally have a "theme" for each season, sometimes a decade or geographic area, and whether it actually turns out to reflect that them or not, it helps me organize my thoughts. I have a dress coming for AW that is inspired by a photo of a little girl from the Ken Burns' Dust Bowl documentary - the patternmaker laughed when I sent him the screenshot!
You're both a mother and a business owner. How do you find time to juggle the two?
It's hard, but I feel really lucky that I've been able to dictate my own schedule. The kids definitely take priority over anything else, and I've tried to arrange my schedule so that I can pick them up from school every day and be there for field trips and special events, even if it means my company has probably grown at a slower pace than it could have if I were working more hours. I try to outsource what I don't enjoy and don't have to do myself, so I have an amazing group of people (patternmaker, shipping coordinator, etc) helping me out. Luckily I also have a self-employed husband whose work schedule is really flexible too, so we very much "co-parent." He loves spending time with the kids, and I couldn't have gotten mabo going if it weren't for him being around as much as he is. Unfortunately what ends up suffering is the housework, laundry, and my exercise! Someday we'll have a clean house...
What has been the biggest learning curve in your mabo journey?
There have been so many! I literally knew nothing about fashion, even kids fashion, not to mention manufacturing and production, so I can't think of anything I haven't had to learn! Luckily (not at the time!) I worked for years as an unpaid intern and then an assistant in film, and one of the things I learned in those jobs was just that you have to figure things out for yourself. I'm a skilled Googler and I'm personally not afraid to be an idiot and ask about things I know nothing about. I also really enjoy ALMOST every aspect of this, so I've found it all quite fun to learn. It's getting scarier now as the collections get bigger and the bills get higher, so I guess that's the next hurdle in my journey!
What are your 2015 goals for mabo?
The goals are just to continue to grow at an organic pace. I'm opening a brick and mortar store this year and adding kids' shoes and some knits to the mabo collection. I love collaborations and am hoping to do more of those!
In summary, how would you describe mabo and its aesthetics?
Hopefully classic and simple, with a conscience. I'm somewhat ambivalent about this crazy consumer world we're in, so I really aspire to create a product that can stand the test of time (quality and style-wise), is made ethically and responsibly, and makes people feel good about the way they dress their children!