Charlotte Harding heads to Worthing to meet a children’s clothing designer.
Growing up Emma Kirwin always felt like she was born in the wrong era.
“I wanted to dress like Jemima from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or someone from Mary Poppins,” she reveals.
“But it was the 1970s so even then I would have looked odd.”
Embarking in a career in fashion she started with a degree in fashion design and marketing and went to work for retail giant Arcadia as a buyer for brands such as Topshop and Dorothy Perkins.
“I loved that job I got to travel the world and meet exciting people,” she says.
“If I hadn’t had children I probably would have stayed in that role.”
Based in Worthing and commuting to London Emma found that she was missing out on key moments and wanted to spend more time with her family.
It was while making clothes for her own children - Posy, five, and Freddie, seven, - that the chance to start her own business and be at home more came about.
“I had started to make clothes and dresses for Posy and people would comment on how good they were,” she recalls.
“I had friends asking if I could make them pieces and then people requested waistcoats and it grew from there.”
Going back to the drawing board, quite literally, Emma worked on creating a number of patterns that she could turn into items of clothing for children.
“When you do a fashion degree you always hope to one day own your own business but it is a very competitive market,” she explains.
“I never did anything in children’s clothing so to have a business in it never entered my mind.”
Little Ladies and Lords officially launched in the summer of 2015.
Initially starting by modelling items on her own children and those of her friends the website includes a sizing chart for parents to use which she says is now ‘spot on’.
Once an item is ordered Emma makes each one by hand and can usually get it out the door within two weeks.
“It is lovely as I get emails from people asking for one design but different buttons or a different colour panel at the back of a waistcoat,” smiles Emma.
“I have had brides get in touch who have emailed a picture of the groom and want the waistcoat to match them, it is just lovely to be able to create something for people.”
Emma does everything in the business from the pattern cutting to the making, packaging and photographing, but as the business expands her husband Miles is providing a helping hand.
“We are starting to look at premises as I am bursting out of our spare room,” laughs Emma.
“Everywhere you look there are waistcoats and dresses.
“We are also starting to research the fabrics we use and get in touch with a range of suppliers.”
“We try and use as many British fabrics as we can,” adds Miles.
“We are planning a road trip to Yorkshire or Harris to look at the tweed, the only things which aren’t British at the moment is the polyester lining and the buttons.”
Working mainly on word of mouth the pair have seen orders from all over the country including Ireland and Scotland with a recent one coming from Italy.
Sizes start at six months, but Emma admits she has made a waistcoat for a baby in the past which was attached to a white long sleeved baby grow.
“I found the smaller patterns easier to do when I started,” explains Emma.
“The larger ones especially for boys can be tricky as they start off as bean poles and then have these growth spurts and fill out.”
With the business coming up to turning two Emma says this year is going to be an exciting one and she hopes that as it grows her husband Miles can be involved more.
“The kids know that because of what I do it means I can take them to school and spend more time with them,” she says.
“We hope that as Miles becomes more involved he will be able to do the same.”
As we live in a fast fashion world it is nice to know that there is a part of Sussex where you can get handmade items which your children can look back at fondly as they grow up, just as Emma did wanting to dress like Jane Banks or Jemima Potts.
To view the full collection, visit the website: www.littleladiesandlords.com
Pictures: Emma Kirwin
This first appeared in the April edition of etc Magazine which is out now.