In a sea of predictable designs and garish colours, childrenswear brand By Billie is going against the grain with its gender-neutral range of effortless, easy-to-wear pieces. And for mini-me matching with none of the cliché, the brand has an adults line too.
Charlotte, talk us through the moment you decided to create By Billie?
I was a new mum and had just moved my whole life from Brisbane to Crescent Head, a small coastal town on the mid-north coast. I was in the throes of new motherhood and felt a strong need to have a creative outlet (it’s so easy in the first year to feel like you have lost a bit of your identity). During this time there weren’t a huge amount of children’s clothing brands so I felt like there was a space for me in the market.
I vividly remember the night I conceptualised By Billie. I was up late breastfeeding my three-month-old and was researching manufacturers with an emphasis on finding one who accepted low MOQs (a small number of units). I was lucky to find a small family-run manufacturer who I sent a few very simple designs through to and patiently waited for the samples to arrive. I will never forget that feeling when I picked them up from the post office — I was so excited. I ordered a very small quantity to launch with, a total of $1500. I felt so anxious about spending that money as in my eyes it was such a lot to fork out on what could be a massive flop. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my partner pushing me to go for it, I hate to think about the missed opportunity!
Once I had the inventory, a basic website and my social media set up, it was all ready to go. I made two sales that night and then a sale every day after that. I just kept momentum up and saved all my profit to buy the next pieces.
What does your morning routine look like?
Lately I have been trying to join the 5am club — getting up when it’s still dark and it feels like the world is asleep. I make a coffee and take the time to answer emails or do odd jobs that would usually feel like a drain, but for some reason don’t when you feel like you have so many more hours in the day. I then head off to a workout class and by the time I’m home it’s 7.30am! This is when I feel the morning gets a little chaotic: making my three-year-old three different types of breakfast because she is literally an eating machine at the moment, packing her lunch, having a quick shower, getting us both dressed, the list goes on! By 9am I’ve made it to the studio where I am straight into actioning urgent tasks, replying to emails and liaising with my manufacturers. Before I know it, it’s lunch!
What does your work space look like?
We are so lucky to be based close to the beach. Our studio overlooks the iconic Crescent Head point surf break, which at times is a little bit distracting, especially on a scorching hot summer day. I spend most of my time in the office I share with my wholesale manager Millie. Our space is open, light and minimal. I am easily distracted and find when a space feels cluttered, so does my mind. As much as we love being based in our town, we are growing at a pace where we need a big warehouse. We are in the very early stages of making our dream By Billie HQ in a nearby industrial estate and we cannot wait to design it to our aesthetic.
What influences your designs, colours and amazing prints?
It can be a place, a flower, a saying or a combination of colours that have caught my eye — literally anything and everything inspires our collections. Effortless, easy-to-wear designs are at the heart of By Billie. We want parents to know they are buying pieces made from durable fabrics and are intended to mix and match in their child’s wardrobes.
We are so lucky to have collaborated with incredibly talented artists to create one-of-a-kind prints that are fun and unique. We first introduced a print a couple of years ago after chatting to my girlfriend Melita Dedden, who owns design agency Den Studios. It was one of our best sellers and we brought it back three times over in fresh new colours (our lovely customers couldn’t get enough). We soon realised that prints allowed us to stand out in the crowd and helped define us as a brand.
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Tell us about your creative process — from the seed of an idea to the final piece or product
The best part! Nothing beats the initial concept of an idea, seeing your vision come into its final stages and then how well it is received by our customers. Our latest collection, WABI-SABI, was conceptualised from the name itself. I was actually looking at interior design pages for our renovation and came across the term wabi-sabi, which means finding beauty in the imperfect. I was instantly drawn to prints with raw, organic lines and bright colours. With all of my rough ideas jotted down, I meet with artists to start mocking up prints. I then get my designs into sampling, which can be a lengthy process as we are always working towards perfecting the fit of each design. Once the sample is approved, we then work on the print placement and colours, ensuring there is a cohesive element throughout the collection.
What is the production process like for your clothing? Tell us about your textile suppliers, factories and makers
Over the years we have really tried to streamline the production process, quality control and relationship between our suppliers. We have had to make some tough decisions in the past about cutting ties with manufacturers because they didn’t align with our vision or ethos. It does make you feel like you are back at the very start of your business, however you do have a lot more experience, confidence and a deeper understanding of your direction and non-negotiables.
Today we are lucky to work with two manufacturers who both see our vision and truly feel like friends now. Our Chinese manufacturer works with some of my favourite brands in Australia that I love and trust. They have great working conditions for their staff and the quality of the garments they produce are excellent. The manufacturer based in India sources all of our GOTS-certified organic cotton yarn, hand-prints the fabric and has a huge focus on quality as well as a passion for minimising the wastage of fabrics.
What are you doing to minimise the environmental impact of your brand?
This is an aspect of the business that we are continually improving. We choose to use cotton for 95 per cent of our pieces and, where possible, GOTS-certified organic too. All of our packaging is made from biodegradable and recycled materials, from the swing tags to the mailers.
How do you manage the so-called work-life balance?
In the early days of By Billie I felt like I had it down pat. I started the business as a creative outlet that would hopefully create a small income stream, allowing me to stay at home with my daughter. I would post one photo a day on Instagram, pack a few orders, then spend the rest of the day hanging out with Billie and my girlfriends. I look back at those days with such fond memories and cherish the fact that I didn’t have to go straight back to my full-time job.
Fast forward a year and the business really took off. It was only myself working on every aspect, stock levels increased tenfold and I still had my daughter at home with me every day. It became quite stressful and I had a lot of guilt during this period as I felt a lot of valuable time spent with Billie was being eaten up by the business. It wasn’t until last year that I made the decision that the only way to move forward was to hire people to take on some of the load of By Billie. I now have four employees and I’m able to take a huge step back. It’s been life-changing!
What do you wish you had more time for?
Right now, some alone time! There’s something about being able to recharge, potter around the house, go surfing or read a book in peace that resets you and allows you to be a much more present and patient mother, partner and friend.
What would your advice be for any creative or small business owner at the beginning of their journey?
Keep your bookkeeping/accounts in order! No matter how small your business, ensure you track all expenses etc properly (it will save you the headache later on). Another tip is to stay true to yourself; ignore what others are doing and create something that hasn’t been done before.
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When do you feel most wild and alive?
Riding around on a scooter on Nusa Lembongan after a big day in the sun. There’s nothing quite like an ice-cold Bintang watching the sun go down — BLISS.
What are you …
Listening to: Joe Rogan’s interview with Yeonmi Park about her life and escape from North Korea
Reading: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Wearing: By Billie knit shorts and Bassike tee
Dreaming of: Indonesia!
What’s next for you?
Manifesting our dream By Billie warehouse is big on our list. Plus, we really want to dive into more women’s wear and create a solid sub-brand to BB.