We have been Mabo fans for years, but give our readers a little intro of who you are and what your shop is trying to offer the world.
Hi! We are a children’s clothing brand - we design and produce clothes that we hope are timeless, sturdy, wearable, and special enough for daily use as well as special occasions. We try to do 2-4 seasonal collections per year, mostly with unique and fun woven fabrics, and then have our evergreen organic cotton basics collection that never changes - tees, leggings, tank tops, underwear, and more - in 10 colors as well as our pajamas. Everything for now is made in the US at family-run factories in small volume designed in our Salt Lake City studio.
We have a small brick and mortar store in Salt Lake where we sell our line as well as a lovely mix of women, home, and lifestyle products that we feel have the same small-batch, responsible and thoughtful ethos as our house brand!
We are so excited to be doing this collaboration with gathre - I have used the mats SO often throughout the years for lake and beach-side sits, to lay my baby on in our living room, and for picnics.
How did you start Mabo? Do you feel like you’re solving a problem for people? Or did you just want to share your good taste? Tell us what made you tackle such a big task of starting a business.
I started it when my two girls (now 14 and 11, and I had a new one 2 years ago!) were little. I had left my stressful job in the film world to spend more time with them, but found I still needed a creative outlet and really surprised myself with how much I loved dressing them in the vintage pieces my mom had saved from my childhood as well as designing and making their clothes myself.
At the time, and this has certainly changed since, I had trouble finding clothes that I felt were made intentionally and ethically, with natural fibers, that were somewhat affordable - which I soon learned was a true challenge to produce! One thing led to another and I was searching for factories, learning to draft patterns and setting up a website. Looking back, I’m not sure I had any idea what I was getting myself into, but it has honestly turned out to be such an amazing, unexpected career - challenging and fulfilling, and what could be better than having a small part of the magical, fleeting moments of childhood?
If you could only shop at three places for kid clothes other than Mabo, where would it be?
Etsy for kids vintage, Mama Owl, and Babaa
Tell us about your creative process with choosing fabrics, designs, and styles.
Sometimes I start with the fabrics, just pulling out seasonal options (maybe some plaids for winter or fun prints for summer, and always Liberty of Londons) and seeing what I’m immediately drawn to, creating a palette from that and blossoming out from there. Or sometimes an image or outfit from an old movie or magazine and again, moving outward from the colors. For me it really has to start with the color story - which means trying multiple Pantones to get just the right pink or the mustard. Lately we’ve been experimenting with custom prints, which means sourcing vintage fabrics, wallpapers, any print inspo we can apply our seasonal palette to. We have a stable of silhouettes, it’s important to me to have styles that parents can return to between seasons as their kids grow, so I like to keep some familiar “faces” while also challenging myself to come up with new designs. The fun thing is really sitting with a fabric and letting it talk to you - trying to figure out which body it would be best applied to - what would be fun, twirly, comfortable, easy, etc for a kid to wear as well. It’s all so much fun but the absolute hardest part is making the final decisions about which fabric goes to which style, it’s like a puzzle you’re trying to solve.
Your husband owns a pizzeria next door. So of course we have to ask, do you eat pizza alllllll the time? And what is your favorite flavor? Tell us what it’s like to work next door to each other.
Yes he does and he is currently working on opening a second restaurant! I recently moved our mabo studio from above our store (and the pizza restaurant) to down the street to where the new restaurant will be and I have to say I took the daily lunch pizza for granted. I like the good old fashioned Margherita, but ALWAYS with buffalo mozzarella.
It has truly worked so well for us to work side by side - both being business owners we understand the frustrations that arise and can talk one another off the edge with a real understanding. We cross paths multiple times a day (lots of “where are you now?” texts), lots of juggling back and forth with who is busier at that moment and who can pick the kids up. I wouldn’t say it’s been the safest or most secure way to have lived a life, but luckily we really enjoy being around one another so relish the closeness (and yet distance) that having two businesses right near each other offers!
What would you say are the similarities and differences between running a restaurant and running a brand like Mabo?
The similarities are managing people and having the buck stop with us, interfacing with customers, which is a total mixed bag - absolutely lovely most of the time but incredibly difficult others (hello yelp), and just the financial stresses of an ebbing and flowing business. One night one of us is saying, “ugh sales today have not been great” while the other is psyched, and the next night it might be the other way around.
The restaurant business is so much faster paced, Will can decide on a new pizza or menu item and have it up and selling the next day - or have a day where he feels like the pizzas didn’t come out as well as he’d hoped and turn it around tomorrow. Clothing manufacturing has such a long turnaround time, requires thought-out photoshoots, and if the products don’t come in looking as great as you’d hoped, you’re sort of stuck with them for the season.
Tell us how you balance work and family. With your husband running a restaurant, two kids, and your own long to-do list, how do you turn off your “work brain” when you get home?
Three kids now! I’m not sure it’s super well balanced, but we do have a great partnership with the kids, we tag-team pretty well on shuttling them here and there and both care very much about having a lot of family time. We both really enjoy our jobs but I wouldn’t say we are workaholics - we are usually home by the time the kids come home from school and might work on our computers after the baby goes to bed and we are watching movies with the big kids. While I wouldn’t say either of us turn off our work brain, our kids have probably grown up hearing WAY too much about pizza-making, clothing manufacturing, mean customers, and issues with employees, we also have had to some degree, the kids demand it. Having a teen, a tween, and a toddler is pretty full-on.
I think we also have used travel as a way over the years to force ourselves to step away from the inevitably all-consuming nature of having our own businesses. Sometimes it feels like the only way to truly tear ourselves away from work is to leave the state or country!
How do you relax as a family? Tell us your favorite traditions.
We love living in Utah because the outdoors is so rejuvenating. Any time it feels like the wheels are coming off the bus, we hit the road and head up a canyon. Hiking in the summer, skiing in the winter, or even just getting a meal at a restaurant up in the mountains are all game-changers for us. And as I mentioned before, we absolutely live to travel. Our kids are amazing travelers - we’ve made it a priority even and scraped the money together even when we think we can’t afford it because it’s such a bonding thing for us to see the world together. We’re all our best selves in unfamiliar places!
We’re so excited to do pajamas with you because they’re cozy and represent childhood so well. Tell us why you wanted to do pajamas, do they have meaning for you?
We started making pjs because I was looking for unisex PJs for my kids - all I was seeing were quite gendered and I wanted something an entire family could wear and match in a fun, timeless print. I have a weird belief that babies shouldn’t wear anything but snuggly knit cotton until they’re at least 1 (babies in jeans and dresses, no no no!) - and I really really love the organic cotton baby rib we use. I wanted to try printing on it but didn’t really want to do graphic tees - so pajamas seemed like the perfect format for this! We’ve stuck with our spotted pjs in different colors for years, but we are SO excited about this floral print collar with gathre. It was a vintage japanese print we sourced and used for our FW20 collection, but I always felt like it would be the perfect graphic for the PJs too. And then of course it seemed silly not to make our first adult version with the same print!
What are your hopes and dreams for Mabo? More brick and mortar stores? (We selfishly want a Provo location please and thank you!) Or are you focusing more on e-commerce?
I’ve always dreamed of a teeny tiny store in Brooklyn or Manhattan since that’s where my two oldest babies were born and where mabo was hatched, but I’m not sure more brick and mortars make sense (maybe in Provo!) for us? We love having our little shop but it’s so much work! So I think for the next bit we will be focusing on e-comm. We really want to expand our organic cotton basics offerings and explore more custom prints in both knits and wovens, and would love to start moving to all organic cotton and really true to be as responsible as we can with our manufacturing. We want to do more collaborations, more capsule collections, and just steadily, responsibly grow. Honestly I started mabo because it seemed like a fun job, and that is still my hope and dream - for it to stay fun, creative, fulfilling, and as stress free as possible. Ultimately it’s just children’s clothing!