Ask any boy parent and they’ll quickly confirm that boys’ clothing is nowhere near as fun as the girl stuff. Why is that? Why can’t boys rock all the colour and coolness of girls’ gear too?
That’s where Kate Hunter comes into the equation. The business owner and mama of two young boys, Banks and Zephr, saw a huge gap in the market for cute boys’ clothing without a dinosaur or train motif in sight.
“If I have to walk into one more clothes shop and see another dinosaur, car or camo print, I might explode,” Kate laughs.
“Boys’ clothing is either tragically dull or horrendously lame. It’s so fun to have two boys myself and simply design up the wardrobes I want them to wear, manufacture them, and then sell them to whoever would like to buy them too! Win-win,” the Sydney-based designer explains of the inspiration behind her fast-emerging kid’s clothing label, Sonny Label.
Kate’s clothes aren’t just for boys. The adorable basics (think soft striped shorts, cotton bloomers, oversized tees, and cosy playsuits) are all unisex. Which is music to any parent’s ears who want to recycle their kids’ clothes for other siblings and get more mileage out of them.
“I typically design each style in one stereotypical boy’s colour, one girl’s colour as well as one neutral. It’s a nice way to cover all the bases and make it gender-friendly. The quality of the fabrics and pieces is of utmost importance to ensure the clothes can be passed along to siblings and friends and maximise wear rather than adding to shockingly high volumes of fast fashion landfill,” Kate says.
Kiindred sat down with the children’s clothes designer to talk about why her label is striking such a chord with parents, how she dreams up her collections and what’s coming up next for Sonny Label.
How did the idea of Sonny Label come about?
During those daunting COVID lockdowns, I started sewing a few pieces for my firstborn, Banks, to get my creative juices flowing, WHILE also passing those long, endless days cooped up inside.
Before going on maternity leave, I worked in a corporate graphic design role that sadly had a really unhealthy work environment and ethic, and I knew it was never going to suit our new family dynamic. As my maternity leave drew closer to its end, and the relationship with my employer became more and more upsetting, I decided to bite the bullet and launch myself into starting up Sonny Label. It gave me a perfect chance to use all my creative hats, learn some new skills and juggle the working mum life a little easier.
What was the process/timeline like in terms of ideation to holding that first item of clothing in your hand?
It took about three months to turn the business from an idea into a fully-fledged eCommerce business. I don’t ever do anything in halves so as soon as I put my mind to it, I basically wanted it up and running yesterday. Ha!
What’s the inspiration behind the name of your business?
When you’re pregnant, you dream up and read through so, so, so many names. If you know, you know! I was right in the thick of that chapter of life, and already thinking up what we’d call our next bubba (who I was unknowingly pregnant with when I started up Sonny Label).
Sonny was a cute unisex name I loved that we didn’t use when naming our first son, and so BAM, it felt like it would do the job perfectly. I love that it’s also synonymous with sunshine and suits what the brand is all about; bright, fun clothes fit for the Aussie climate. I can be quite indecisive at times, so with things like the name and branding, I was strict with myself to pick it, design it, lock it in, and move on to the next thing on the to-do list before I started overthinking it all.
You make many of the clothes yourself, right?
When I first started the business and launched my first collection, I sewed about half of the collection. Then, as the brand grew and grew, I couldn’t juggle wearing all the hats of the business whilst still finding the time to sew so I started having the clothes component sewn offshore (I still design all these though).
One of Sonny Label’s favourite, most in-demand pieces is the Mama Clutch (a big Mary Poppins style nappy clutch), and while I could easily have these also sewn OS too, I love sewing these myself and know that customers love the speciality of lovingly handmade pieces. I think I’ll make sure I keep personally sewing these for a while still as it’s a nice nod to how the brand came about.
How did you learn to sew, is it something you were taught or recently learnt?
Good old sewing classes in high school! I’ve always loved sewing and made myself an odd dress or pillowcase here and there over the years. I was way out of my depth when I started sewing the pieces for Sonny Label but loved the challenge of learning and furthering my skills. I think it’s the best way to learn sometimes, just throw yourself in the deep end and fake it till you make it!
Are you still a one-woman powerhouse, or looking to hire someone down the track to help you?
I am. I wear all the hats! I love dipping my toe in all the components of the business and learning all the tricks of the trade. But it will absolutely be time to bring on an extra set of hands or two in the next year. Learning to delegate will be a big push for my OCD personality but will just be one of those things I have to learn to step past.
You previously worked as a corporate graphic designer but found your career priorities changed when you had your first son. Can you talk me through that?
My previous job just felt so wrong for our new family dynamic. It was a role that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to walk out the office door on time or feel I could work from home when Banks was sick and needed me. It gets my blood boiling when I think about how far some sectors and businesses still have to come in building family-friendly work environments.
As my maternity leave drew to an end, I suffered so much anxiety over how we were going to make it work for our family, and it got to the point where my husband and I had to find a way to survive on one income and make a different dynamic work. It’s been a tough couple of years financially while building the business and raising our two boys in a very expensive little corner of the world, but we wouldn’t have ever done it any differently because we knew this is what our family needed.
Part of me dwells from time to time about what it would have been like to have the pull and excitement to return to a job that I loved post-maternity leave. And I do wish I could have finished up my corporate job life perhaps with a different company so that I didn’t have this sour taste in my mouth about working mums and family juggles. Having said that, Sonny Label likely wouldn’t be here if I did so it’s a nice perspective shift to know I built something pretty great out of a tough chapter.
Your Instagram account and website is so beautiful, is this where you get to pop your designer hat back on?
Absolutely. I love, love, love being able to still utilise my graphic design skills across different components of the business. There are so many different areas I get to do this from designing the clothes, sewing some pieces, building the website, doing the branding and running the social media.
What are some of your favourite pieces from your range?
The Mama Clutch – a giant nappy clutch that you can fit all the wonders of motherhood into (nappies, wipes, sanitiser, change of clothes and a swaddle) will always be a favourite. Especially as I hand sew these pieces and receive so many kind reviews from happy customers about them. My favourite piece in the new collection that recently launched are the Stripe Bloomers.
There’s nothing more adorable than a cute nappy toosh with chunky baby thighs poking out from a pair of bloomers. So many brands sell mostly girly, frilly bloomers so I love being able to bring a more boy-friendly style to the game and put my boys in them too.
What has been the biggest challenge of launching your own business?
Working from home is, and likely will be, a big challenge for some time to come. While I am still growing the business and don’t have a designated workspace or office just yet, juggling it all around the chaos of home can be really tricky.
Trying to switch into work mode can be really hard when there are mountains of washing and dishes giving you the side eye… not to mention needy, whingey kids yanking at my toes at times. I say that with total tongue in cheek too, as it’s also really beautiful being able to work with the boys building magnet towers and LEGO creations around me and being able to share these fleeting young years with them.
Getting the not-sponsored shout-out on my favourite podcast, We Don’t Have Time For This! A huge pinch-me moment and a catalyst for finally realising people are actually buying my clothes and love the pieces. The little things like seeing a returning customer’s order is also so humbling.
What words of advice would you give to other mums thinking of starting their own business?
Do it. Just do it! What’s the worst that could happen? Sure it might be a flop or run its course, but you’ll forever be proud of yourself for starting something you love and were passionate about. I believe we finally live in a world where one career path is so rare, so why not jump aboard something different for a while and see where it takes you?
How do you balance being a mum of two while working on your growing business?
I’ll check back in when I figure it out. Jokes aside, some days I do, and some days I don’t. But I don’t think that’s unique to starting/running a business, but rather the juggle of being a mum and working no matter what it is you do.
It’s so important as a mum to fill your cup up doing something you love and that makes you feel important so that you have the space to be a better mum. When I prioritised being a mum over being a business owner, I found myself zapped, drained and irritable with the kids. But when I started prioritising more time for my work in our family’s schedule, I found myself stepping back into my mum role so much happier and more fulfilled. Working makes me a much better mum!
What’s coming up next for Sonny Label?
Some fun new collections like a basics range and a sleep range are coming your way soon!
What do you love most about what you do?
Maybe the fact that Sonny Label gave me the opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons. Being unemployed post maternity leave was really daunting, but building the business to where it’s come in just 18 months is really exciting, and I can’t wait to see where I can get it to in another 18 months.
What’s the ultimate dream for your brand?
Having a Sonny Label HQ and warehouse space one day would feel pretty great! Being able to drive to and from a workspace rather than ducking into a quiet corner of the house would be pretty magical. I don’t dream of building a brand bigger than Ben-Hur, but rather just a humble, quality brand that people love buying and supporting, and that gives me the opportunity to financially support our family and doubles as my creative outlet.
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