Friday 20 October 2017

Childrenswear company founder Caroline Dunne: 'On a night out, I might wear fishnet tights, or leather trousers with a fur jacket. I don't want my kids to dress like that'

Caroline Dunne (39) is the co-founder of a childrenswear clothing company, and she's also a market researcher and a former fashion buyer. She lives in Glasthule, Co Dublin, with her husband, Rory, and their daughters - Harriet (4) and Holly (3)

Caroline Dunne is the co-founder of a childrenswear clothing company
Caroline Dunne is the co-founder of a childrenswear clothing company

Ciara Dwyer

My husband, Rory, leaves at 6.30am, long before the storm hits the house. The minute I wake up, I'm thinking about the day ahead. I've just launched a children's clothing range - Little Larks - and I also do freelance market-research work. Our daughters - Harriet (4) and Holly (3) - are totally synced. They wake up at 7.30am. We play and have a little chat about the activities they have that day. Then we get the ball rolling.

This involves breakfast and coming down in funny outfits. There is a lot of: 'I've forgotten my teddy' and 'I've forgotten my wings'. It takes a good hour-and-a-half to get out in the morning. If it's nice, I'll walk them to Montessori. Often, they bring their scooters. I certainly don't have a scooter, but my father-in-law does. It's funny. He brings all the grandchildren out, and they go scooting together.

I come home, and then 9am is the start of my working day. That's when I get stuff done. I used to work full-time, as a buyer for Dunnes Stores, and I loved it. But after I had kids, I struggled to go back to work. I just felt that I couldn't go back full-time. Maybe it's because the girls were so close in age. I just felt that they needed me, and, also, I needed to be around them for their early years.

After I had children, I changed. I realised that I wanted to do something slightly different. Also, I needed flexibility in my working life. I'd always loved fashion and retail, so I decided to bring my skill set into something new. I had an idea in the back of my mind.

While on holidays in France and Spain, I used to admire the way children were dressed. They looked so innocent and pretty and simply dressed. In general, I liked the way French women dressed - all those neutral palettes and classic lines.

When I had my girls, I didn't want to buy clothes at the lower end of the market. It had nothing to do with snobbery, I just didn't love glitzy, tacky sequinned stuff, or cartoon characters with slogans. At Christmas, I'd buy something in one of the lovely higher-end boutiques. But when I had my second daughter, I knew that I couldn't afford these clothes for everyday wear. I wondered why I couldn't buy the sort of stuff I saw abroad. I wanted good quality children's clothes, at mid-range prices. That's how Little Larks Clothing was born. Our dresses start at €55, and our pinafores start at €50.

My sister-in-law, Leigh, is my business partner. She also has daughters, and, like me, she noticed that, after the age of three, there was nothing nice in the shops for girls. We put our heads together and came up with a business plan. And we found a supplier in France.

At the moment, we cater from babies, up to eight-year-old girls. We are working on a boys' collection too. We believe in children's clothes that are beautiful but durable. Our aim is to offer value, so you can pass them on when your child has grown out of them. Also, we knew that there had to be more to girls' clothes than pink. So we have greens, blues, and reds. Our clothes are suitable for machine-washing and driers, and they don't have to ironed. These are the things that matter in busy homes. It's really important to listen to customers and their needs.

One of our biggest hates is the sexualisation of children's clothes. It's not that we are fuddy-duddies, but I don't want my little girls in skirts up to their hips, with sequined tops, or in leopard-skin. On a night out, I might wear fishnet tights, or leather trousers with a fur jacket. I don't want my kids to dress like that. Let them be children for as long as they can.

The business is online, but we also have pop-up shops - we have one today in Clontarf Castle. I have friends who work in banking, and they only do online shopping. They don't have the time to go to shops. Also, I know what it's like bringing kids shopping for clothes. When I had one daughter, I used to stroll around with the buggy, and it was easy. But when I had the second, it was a nightmare. One would be running around, getting lost, and the other would be screaming because of the lights and the heat. Then you'd go into a posh boutique and they'd look at you, as if to say, 'What are you doing here with the double buggy?' Usually, one of the children would nearly rip the rails down. Online shopping makes sense.

During the day, I might be on to suppliers, and thinking about venues for our next pop-up shop. I'm always thinking about how we can drive the business on to the next step. People have no idea about the amount of work you put in when you run your own business. You're putting in double the hours that you'd do if you were working five days a week. Bank holidays and weekends mean nothing, and when the kids are in bed, I go back to work.

I try to fit in Pilates classes about three times a week. It's more for my sanity than my stomach. I also love walking the pier on my own. I might sound like I'm a loner, but it's great to have that space. When I pick up the girls in the afternoon, I stop work for a while. We might be off to ballet or swimming. When I'm playing with them in the park, I want to give them my full attention.

In the evenings, after the girls are in bed, I do more research for the business. My husband works long hours and he is away a lot, but when he is home, we love watching Netflix together. I like to hibernate in winter. At the moment, we're watching Divorce. I love it. Sarah Jessica Parker is great. It's very depressing, but I've always liked watching dark stuff.

I try to be in bed at 10pm. Even though I'm passionate about Little Larks and I enjoy that each day is different, I'm still a bit of a worrier. But walking and Pilates help me to switch off. I'm able to rest. I'm gone by 10.30pm until seven the next morning. I need that.

Little Larks has a pop-up store today at Clontarf Castle Hotel, D3, 10-6pm, see littlelarksclothing.com

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