Q&A with Rachel Riley

Rachel Riley, founder of the British award-winning children's clothing brand, kindly answered some of our questions.

Your flagship store is located on Marylebone High Street, can you tell us more about how you came to open the store?

I’ve always loved Marylebone and feel it has the perfect balance between being part of a bustling metropolis as well as having a village feel to it too. So I was delighted when I found the location of what is now our flagship store. The shape and the feel of the shop was ideal for us – it has symmetrical windows which are perfect for our vibrant displays. We’ve had the shop there since April 2001 and it’s also the location of our head office and showroom. It is fun that I can pop upstairs and spend time on the shop floor, chatting to customers, and getting their feedback on our collections first-hand. I also love to hear their stories and see photos of their children and grandchildren wearing our outfits.

How long have you had your shop there? Are you able to tell us a little bit about your clients?

We have been there for over 19 years now! I don’t know if we are one of the oldest traders on the high street, but we have certainly seen shops come and go. Marylebone is a wonderful area as it has a mixture of tourists and locals. We have lots of regular customers whose children have grown up with us, as well as tourists who come to see us specifically and who are looking for something special for their child or as a gift. It seems that we are a popular destination for visitors who want to take something home from a British brand.

Speaking of Marylebone Village, do you have a favourite place to eat in the area?

There are so many wonderful choices for us to have a bite to eat in Marylebone. I spend a lot of time having meetings in Aubaine and might pop into La Fromagerie to pick up some of their wonderful cheese. Sometimes I surprise my husband with some of his favourite chocolates from Rococo Chocolates, and I like to support small local businesses and have used the flower service from the lovely flower shop on Moxon Street.

Can you please tell us about what inspires your designs and future collections?

My favourite era in terms of fashion is the 50s and 60s and I think people would describe my style as being vintage-inspired, which I translate into our baby and childrenswear collections. For me it is important that our designs are timeless and my favourite saying is ‘Timeless style never goes out of fashion!’. I love to create special pieces that can be worn at family occasions but are also pieces that children can just put on for a walk in the park or to play in the garden. Our collections are divided into pieces that are designed to be treasured and become keepsakes and handed down to the next generation, as well as soft comfortable jersey pieces which can be worn around the house. I love print and colour, and designs that bring joy.

You have shown some great initiatives towards the NHS during the pandemic, and you also created face masks. Can you tell us more about those initiatives?

Thank you. We have all found ourselves in this extraordinary time where we have an opportunity to come together to support one another. I thought long and hard about designing and producing our face masks and am delighted that the response to them has been so positive. This is such a scary time for children, so I think that having a face mask which is fun, colourful as well as being functional is very important. We took advice from the Grenoble University Hospital in France in terms of the design of the masks, which are produced by hand in our workshop in the Loire. We re-purposed our workshop that makes baby shoes, and we have been producing colourful printed face masks for children and adults for the past few months. Demand has continued, so we will carry on producing these for as long as there is interest.

We also wanted to show our support to the wonderful NHS staff who have been working tirelessly to keep up safe and are offering them a 40% discount off our collections as well as supporting the Trussell Trust with donations from certain items to the charity.

Where do your creative ideas come from?

I have been collecting fabrics since I was a teenager and have archives of historical prints. My favourites are from the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. I have also been collecting silk scarves and children’s illustrated handkerchiefs from the 50s, they had such fun designs! I have always been inspired by my travels and I love to look at books or films to understand what children have worn over the past century, and how that has shaped what they wear today. Children need to be comfortable and happy, so that is a big part of my design process. I am also very tactile and l like soft fabrics, I always like to feel what cloth feels like on my skin!

You say “Timeless style never goes out of fashion”. Do you have a favourite piece?

It’s hard to pick just one piece so I would have to say my favourite technique would have to be hand smocking, which is something which we have become known for. This was something which was quite popular in the past and has had a revival in recent years thanks to the current generation of our Royal family. Hand smocking represents love sewn into each stitch, which is what I felt when I smocked dresses for my daughter when she was small. Now she is grown up, we have kept them as fond memories and for a future generation.

Do you have a must-have in your SS20 collection?

At the moment, I guess it has to be our face masks which are selling out fast! Of course, we had not planned to design or make these, but we are a small, creative and adaptable team, so were able to adapt to this ‘new normal’ and offer something that people want to buy. I feel pretty when I wear my face mask – I have one with red roses on it, and it makes me feel like I am wearing lipstick, even though you can’t see my face! We chose the cycling shape for our face masks, as it seemed to be the one that fits best, and by chance it also looks like a smile, as it curves upwards! It is what we need these days!

What is ‘on-trend’ right now?

The interest in traditional childrenswear continues to endure and people love to come to our shop for something special either for their children or as a gift. I think people are looking for joy wherever possible right now, so our fun and colourful prints have been proving to be popular such as our ice cream, pineapple and tropical prints. Our nautical theme is always popular. Charlie, the little boy who lives next door told me that he thinks our anchor print has a ‘pirate theme’!

Photos credits Rachel Riley.