John Carolan, Head of Childrenswear for Tu at Sainsbury’s: What's the best thing about your job?
The great thing about designing childrenswear is that there are no rules, especially when it comes to fancy dress, at Tu at Sainsbury's. So, a werewolf costume could also be Chewbacca from Star Wars, the Witch could also be a Princess dress and a Spider outfit could be turned into Spiderman.
As designers, we provide the props and the children provide the imagination. That’s what I love about working on the design, and not just for fancy dress: it’s about giving the children something they will actually want to wear and really get involved with. Designing products that children will want to wear, that’s the most important challenge of my job.
Tu at Sainsbury's offers a great selection of fancy dress, can you tell us a little more about it?
We started the fancy dress collection with the introduction of a nativity range. Nativity plays are a big event for both parent and child. I remember watching my eldest daughter, now 11 years old, in her first nativity where she played Mary. It got me thinking that fancy dress is not just a bit of fun, once a year, but that children love it all year round.
What makes your childrenswear stand out?
Designing the childrenswear, we always keep in mind the extra details. We don’t have to add leather trims, fancy buttons, or belts, but it makes all the difference. Lots of parents come to Tu at Sainsbury's to buy leggings but then we can turn their head with our more fashion-led pieces. We sell the whole outfit, from dress, to tights and shoes, either as separates or as sets. The mini-me look is still big in fashion, so we have some outfits that you will recognise from the adult collections. Although, we strive to keep the childrenswear age appropriate.
Where do you find inspiration?
Between our fancy dress offering and our regular childrenswear, I think we have a broad appeal, and always keeping fashion at the heart of everything we do. We are inspired by visits to Antwerp, Barcelona, Miami… Antwerp is probably my favourite for inspiration. As the crossroads of Holland, France, Begium and Germany, it is a great ideas centre. We get inspiration from trend spotting, street style and catwalk fashion, or even simply taking note of seeing some children playing in the park, or eye-catching interior designs, such as children’s wallpaper patterns.
Why did you decide to work in childrenswear?
I’ve worked in childrenswear for over 25 years now. I started at C&A. Even though I didn’t have children when I began the job, I found childrenswear so creative. I felt, as a buyer and designer, that there is lots more scope than in adult fashion. The colours, fabrics, styling: except for keeping styles age appropriate, there are no boundaries. It’s all about, fun, happiness and colour, which has kept me in childrenswear. It’s so exciting! As adults, we have so many hang ups, but children don’t tend to experience that. They can be who they want to be – hence the popularity of the dress up.
There’s nothing that makes me prouder than going along to help at one of my children’s school disco and seeing some of the outfits that I have designed on the dance floor. That, for me, is the pinnacle of the job. For a child, let alone the parent, to choose to wear that outfit to a party or a festival, it has to be their favourite and their most comfortable. So, when you see your own clothing being worn, my goodness me, that is when you know you have got it right.
What did you like to wear as a child?
I was brought up in the early seventies with homemade corduroy patched trousers that my mum had sewn on. I graduated, at the end of the seventies, into being a second generation Mod. I bought my first parka round the back of Carnaby Street. So, even at seven or eight years old I showed signs of being a fashionista.
Can you tell us a little about Back to School wear from Tu, for the upcoming autumn season?
The new innovation for Tu's Back to School season, along with the machine washable, tumble dry, secure hem and easy iron fabric parents expect, is ‘Perfect Crease’: a soft, non-scratchy resin down the crease in the trouser, which wash after wash, will keep the crease in the garment. Also, there is a double action Teflon coating in the fabric, a bit like a frying pan, it will resist not only rainwater, but any kind of sauce thrown at it: it just slides off. We call it ‘playground armour’.
The most important thing is great quality at a brilliant price. If the technology is successful in this range, school trousers, skirts and pinafores, we would look at expanding it throughout our fashion collections.
What are your hot tips for Autumn/Winter 2013 childrenswear?
The equestrian look, brown and green tweed, is big in girlswear. Camouflage is coming through for boys and girls, for example over parka style coats. Nordic prints and styling for boys and girls, too. Also, all-in-ones are not going away. This season, they are for outdoor wear as well as indoor, in camouflage and Nordic prints – for children and adults!
Boyswear, in particular, for autumn winter 2013 feature slub yarns, cord details, back of the neck detail, reverse printing and quilted sweatshirts. The whole look is much more contemporary than you may expect to find in a supermarket childrenswear collection.
If you were five years old again just for one day, what would you do?
I’d love to go and play football with all my mates again. Then I’d dress up as the Gruffalo and have fun on my slide for the rest of the day.
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