Exciting news: Donna has finally designed her first collection of clothing for babies and kids for British department store John Lewis! Donna’s lambswool cushions and homewares have been available at John Lewis for a number of years now, so the two brands knew they would be a perfect match for creating a fresh, new range together!
Children’s notebook: practical clothes with homespun charm
by Daisy Bridgewater
It was really only a matter of time before the designer Donna Wilson turned her hand to childrenswear. Since launching in 2003, her company has had at its core a quirky, playful and deeply individualist aesthetic based around a menagerie of bizarre hand-knitted creatures, such as Cyril Squirrel-Fox, a bandana-wearing bear called Bibi, and the oddly proportioned Bruce Monkey. These characters and their friends already crop up across a range of vibrant, folksy homeware, poking fun at mealy-mouthed minimalism and reminding us that good design does not have to be beige. Now this anarchic glee is spreading into the children’s market, with a comprehensive range of clothes for babies up, developed in collaboration with John Lewis.
The resulting collection is a gleeful riot of colour and pattern. Many of her best-known characters and designs have made it into the range – bird feet, clouds and foxes abound – and others have been tweaked for the children’s market. Colours are strong and unexpected: emerald green, mustard and dirty-pink knits mixed with monochrome-print cotton jersey with colour-pop patches and pockets. ‘It is lovely to see some of my designs in print,’ she says. ‘When I see the collection now, all ready to go in store, it makes me feel really happy. It feels fun.’
While much of the collection draws on her strong design staples, Wilson also looked to her own childhood for inspiration. ‘My mum was really into Clothkits [the densely patterned clothing kits launched in the late 1960s; clothkits.co.uk], and I will never forget the amazing quilted jackets with pockets for toys. I grew up on a farm in Scotland, and spent a lot of time outside, so I wanted the clothes to be easy to wear and easy to care for. My own son is going through a stage where all he wants to play with is mud and water, so I also know how important it is to be able to put things in the washing machine.’
Avid childrenswear watchers might suggest that this is not the first time that we have seen birds and animals knitted into children’s jumpers or printed on to T-shirts. There has been a proliferation of homely, nostalgic designs finding their way back into a market once dominated by designer labels and their high-street imitations. But it was Wilson’s knowingly folksy homeware that spearheaded this move back to the homespun in the first place: look closely at her clever colour combinations and un-cutesy animals and you will see that she remains the master of her trade. That she has been shamelessly copied is not something that she wishes to dwell on. With prices ranging from £3 for a pair of socks to £25 for a colour-block dress, Donna Wilson for John Lewis is making a small stand for individualism at a pocket-friendly price. Invest in this collection, safe in the knowledge that this time you will be buying an original.
Some additional thoughts from Donna:
Much of Donna’s thought process while designing the collection came from her own experiences as a new mum. After her son was born, Donna found herself making jumpers for him out of lambswool scraps and cushions in an effort to make unique clothing in styles she saw during her travels but could not find in the UK.
“I remember seeing a little Icelandic boy with leggings and a woolly jumper and he looked so cute that it really stuck with me. But when I started looking for leggings for boys I couldn’t find any. Her collection for John Lewis reflect the qualities she herself seeks out when shopping for her son.
“I always look for something a little unusual for Eli. He wears a lot of hand-me-downs, so when I buy him things I want them to be really lovely pieces that I too can hand down! And I always go for colour. I don’t really buy into the idea of ‘blue for boys, pink for girls,’ so I did my best to design the range for John Lewis in bright and fun colours, and to keep it quite flexible and unisex.”
Donna’s commitment to local and responsible manufacturing as embodied in her own collection of UK-made home furnishings is also maintained in this collection for John Lewis. Only suppliers based in Europe were used to produce the line.
“It means we can be sure everything is of the best quality and made in fair working conditions.”