I had the opportunity of chatting with creator and founder Caroline Duckett about her journey to Apolina’s inception and her role in the children’s wear industry.
I admire Caroline’s heirloom pieces which transition seamlessly between seasons and allow for easy layering between cooler and warmer temperatures. Her silhouettes provide extended wear with a relaxed fit. And Apolina’s small batch manufacturing ensures much care and attention goes into each quality piece made.
Tell us about yourself, your journey to becoming a childrenswear designer and the concept behind Apolina?
For about 10 years I worked in the fashion industry, starting off with buying and design for a large high street fashion brand, followed by working at a world renowned fashion house as design assistant to the creative director... this is where my skills for developing embroidery really emerged.
After the birth of my first daughter I was feeling disillusioned with the world of fashion and trends and longed to make something more meaningful and classic that would stand the test of time. Having always loved vintage Mexican embroidered dresses, I had built a great collection and was finding that I had developed a signature look for myself. I was searching for clothing in a similar style for my new baby and it was really hard to find. At that point I had the first idea that I could create a line of childrens clothing myself.
As any business owner knows it’s a scary leap to leave a well paid job and try and start your own business. I wasn’t brave enough at that point but when my younger daughter was born a year and a half later I had gained courage and started planning Apolina.
I like to think that motherhood gives you that confidence. It can be a confusing personal time, I immediately loved being a mother and it was easy to be consumed in that role. But for me I really wanted to also find a creative outlet. I remember feeling empowered, sitting at home with my two young girls, I wanted to set a great example for my children, show them that anything is possible if you follow your instincts and work hard.
I spent evenings sketching and formulating the concept for my brand.
During my working life before having children, I made many contacts in India but one in particular became more of a friend. He had studied in London and has great interest and insight into the fashion industry, so we had a lot in common and a lot to talk about. He started to work at his father’s clothing company, overseeing things along with his sister and his wife. I reached out to him with my idea and he was incredibly supportive (and remains this way). I feel lucky to work with him and his family. They have an incredibly skilled workforce and the girls that work directly with me ‘on the ground’ overseeing development and production are amazing and have become dear friends.
My main aim with Apolina was to create something for like-minded parents; something which did not depend on trends but could be kept and handed down to younger siblings and future generations.
I set out to create everyday pieces that are special enough to become woven into childhood memories.
I have a love of traditional crafts and vintage styling but I am very 'unfussy' in my approach. Apolina takes reference from traditional crafts of many different cultures but the influences are re-imagined with a modern approach and a distinctive natural-toned colour palette.
Your embroidery work is very intricate and unique, what is the story behind your artistic style and personal taste?
My grandmother is a great embroiderer, she used to make dresses for me when I was little and they always had amazing smocking and beautiful embroidered flowers... I remember feeling that they were so special and I loved wearing them.
Since my late teens I have worn a lot of Mexican embroidered dresses... I love the relaxed bohemian feel and to me they remind me of summers holidaying in California which is where I collected most of them! I also love them layered with knits in autumn.
I am not interested in copying dresses exactly from one cultural source. I love to research embroideries from different cultures and different times and create something new that may encompass a few inspirations. I love the vibrant colours of Mexican embroidered dresses for example but for Apolina I always use a much softer, subtler palette. I love experimenting with unusual colour combinations and to me this is what really sets us apart.
From inception to the final product what stage of the creative process do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy the research, I absolutely love researching and collecting inspiration and building up the mood board for the season ahead. I particularly love thinking about colour and seeing initial development samples come back from the factory is hands down the most exciting part of my job. My girls in India send me photos and little videos of the initial samples being made (a bit like teasers) as they know I am always so desperate to see.
What inspires you daily?
The natural world. Since having children I feel like I am much more appreciative of the smaller things... I notice a lot more. We are lucky to live right next to a huge expanse of grassland meadows and woodland... so we spend a lot of time out in nature. My eldest is a very calm and quiet child and she loves quiet walks and collecting flowers. My youngest is a total free spirit and much more energetic and she just loves running around, climbing trees and exploring. Both of the girls inspire me in different ways to create clothing that is beautiful and special but allows children to play freely.
What are your core business values?
Allowing children to be children.
I imagine our pieces being worn on adventures and collecting stories. They are mindfully designed for ease of movement and to allow free play outdoors. For me personally I do not like to see young children in grown up, trend led clothing. I prefer a simple nostalgic style. Childhood is so fleeting and I am certainly a huge believer that we should hold onto that carefree innocence as long as possible.
I have such a love and respect for craft. This form of art is so inspiring to me and I love how you can trace the roots of various cultures through handicrafts. India is so rich in craft and in particular embroidery. It is really important to me to show our customers the intricate work involved in our pieces and to make sure that the processes are understood and a fair price is paid for the work.
Creative and distinctive.
I strongly believe in maintaining a unique viewpoint with Apolina. There are so many beautiful brands out there and I appreciate and respect so many of the brands within my field but I am not interested in imitation. I see value in having your own unique aesthetic.
What role does Apolina play in ethical and sustainable fashion?
A key component in sustainability and ethical clothing is seeing the value in traditional handicrafts. India is abundant with embroidery skill which has been built up for so many generations. So much can be done with machines but it is the human element which is really important to me. A lot of our pieces include hand finishing such as blanket stitch, crochet stitch trims and hand-smocking. The main floral embroidery is developed with hand-fed machine embroidery which means after the design is transferred onto the fabric someone essentially colours it in with a sewing machine by hand. This in itself is a tremendous skill.
Do you think there’s been a shift in consumer buying habits towards sustainable brands?
I think so yes, particularly in childrens wear. I love seeing bigger brands drawing attention to environmental issues. It feels like there is a huge way to go but I can see the mood is changing. I think it's so important to promote the idea of buying less and re-using, passing down etc. It's so shocking to think of the waste in the fashion industry.
What are your favourite wardrobe essentials for your daughters and why?
Obviously, my girls are mostly in Apolina :)
Our go-to everyday dress is the 'Pattie' as it's so versatile, I like to think of this as our most classic style. I love it in autumn layered with tights and cosy knitwear (usually family hand-knits or our favourites Misha & Puff).
This winter in particular I’m excited to have the 'Bobbie' pinafore dress as I know it will be a favourite here over a chunky knit sweater. I do love a layered cosy look for autumn. Particularly when it first gets colder but you can make do without coats and just go out with dresses, chunky knits and scarves.
We also really get a lot of wear out of our winter bonnets, they are super cosy and I love how cute they look even worn with a simple rain-suit in our typically rainy English weather!
Has starting your own business changed you in anyway?
It allows me to feel much more creatively fulfilled. This is still such a luxury to me and I am so grateful that I am able to create freely. Having my own business has also made me much more organised with my time. I have to plan my days very precisely and comparmentalise tasks. I drop-off and pick-up my daughters from school and nursery, so generally I finish work at 3:30 and then start again at 7:00 for a couple of hours.
How do you like to spend quality family time?
At the weekends, we love spending time together doing art and crafts. Both the girls are really into drawing and painting and a current favourite is creating artworks with pressed flowers.
We absolutely love camping and all the traditions/ rituals that come with this. A couple of years ago we bought a great canvas teepee and over the past few years we have collected a lot of vintage camping accessories so it always feels pretty special to head out with our kit and set up our home from home. It is also such a great way to switch off from the modern world for a few days. It really allows us to fully relax, reconnect and enjoy the simplicity of living this way.
Do you have any interesting hobbies?
I have been interested in botanical and plant dying for a number of years but recently have been on a course to learn more. I also studied photography and ceramics when I was younger so I dip in and out of these as well.
As an independent label, do you feel it gives you more autonomy?
Certainly. I spent the entire early part of my career having my design work tweaked to fit with someone else's vision or 'commercialised' and it becomes incredibly frustrating as a creative. Although I will say that obviously without this I wouldn't have learnt all the skills to start my own label!!
I am so grateful that the success and support we have received so far with Apolina allows me to create to my own vision. I actually really enjoy having pieces within the range that I know will only be loved by a certain few people, I am lucky that Apolina seems to have attracted a lot of like-minded people who really get the subtle references of our pieces.
I recently had a lovely email from a customer saying that she loved our pieces because even though they are so detailed they are not too fussy and not too girlie, they have a casual feel about them. I was delighted to hear the line described this way.
Thank you to Caroline for sharing her inspiring story!
Photos provided by Apolina