mother-daughter label oats proves mums make the best business partners

Fashion is a tough business, so why not make it easier by taking your mum to work.

by Bri Lee
19 July 2016, 3:05am

Images via @oatsthelabel

For many designers, a love of clothes and construction begins at home. Mothers are often our first textile teachers, introducing a world of patterns and stitches. This was how Bridie Davey from OATS the Label began.

Today, she makes the kind of exacting pieces that effortlessly combine specificity with simplicity: think mesh turtlenecks, silk wrap dresses and perfect slim trousers. The twist is that Bridie is still sewing with her mum Julie; they run the label together out of their home studio.

The two women hand-make every single order, skipping the wasted time and materials larger design teams suffer through, and assuring each piece feels extra personal. The approach also means pieces routinely sell out. Loyal fans wait for email notifications telling them that they can place orders again and their social media is full of girls begging for long-lost pieces. 

Success aside, the idea of being in a creative partnership — let alone a business — with a parents is still a stressful prospect. But as OATS show, working with your mum can be a dream.

How did OATS begin, did you always want to work with you mum?
OATS started because my friends were asking me to sew clothing for them. I wouldn't have had the courage to put myself out there without the support of my friends and family. The first collection started with my love for linen and silk. I love working with these fabrics and I love the contrast of textures between them. I wanted the first collection to be functional, affordable and simple — basically what my friends and I would wear.

You've mentioned your mother taught you everything you know, can you tell us about your working relationship?
My mother has sewn since she was about 17. She always made clothes for my sister and I, she taught us how to alter clothes from op shops and how to make our own. She's incredible to work with; I'm a massive stress-head and she always brings me back down to a calm level. And she's especially good at pattern making, which is something that I am still yet to master.

I guess no one gets you like your mum, so she knows how to balance your strengths and weaknesses.
My mum is my best friend so it's pretty nice being able to spend so much time with her and OATS has brought us even closer together. We have a studio at my parent's house out in Montmorency where I grew up. I absolutely love it. It's pretty far out but there are lots of trees and it's so quiet, it's a really great working environment.

What's the design process like between the two of you?
I design all of the clothes, roughly sketch them up and then mum patterns them and teaches me along the way. She has a really good eye so she'll also help me with design detailing and gives advice on functionality and practicality. We sometimes disagree on things but we work it out pretty quickly because she is so knowledgeable and I trust her.

Can you go into a bit of detail about Collection 3, your latest one?
Collection 3 is basically building and refining on everything from our previous collections. Playing with proportions and new textures such as mesh and wool. I take inspiration from art with my colour palettes. Artist's work such as Picasso, Joan Miró, Robert Motherwell, Matisse, Roger Hilton, Le Corbusier and Mark Rothko play a massive part in my love and use of rich colours. Functionality and what I think people will want to wear every day also plays a huge part in my design process. Collection 3 has a mixture of basic and sophisticated items and it's all about layering to keep warm. I'm really proud of this collection because it's a lot more mature and it shows the label has come so far. I have never been able to spend a lot of money on clothing and being able to create clothes that are affordable for women is a pretty good feeling.

People clearly have responded to that approach, you're currently totally sold out. Do you have plans to expand the label or adjust production? Making everything by hand does limit you in the long term.
At the moment, we are only able to take limited orders each week, otherwise customers would have to wait too long, like you said, we're hand making all the pieces! I would love to employ people to sew and who really value what we do at OATS. Sometimes mum and work seven days a week to keep up with popularity — which is so great but exhausting — but neither of us have time for other jobs. Of course, we would love more days in the week to relax and that's why we're looking at expanding. Eventually we would love to have a much shorter turnover time and take a larger quantity of orders, but at the moment we're really focusing on making the business the best it can be and keeping it ethical.

What tips do you have for young designers wanting to start their own label; especially if they don't have an awesome mum for a business partner?
Get yourself an amazing PR and business-savvy partner like my girl Brittany Stella. She's incredibly talented and has really turned this business into something special. I am terrible at that side of things and without her OATS wouldn't be anywhere near what it is today. Also, don't be afraid of judgement or putting yourself out there. Being able to create is an incredible thing and being able to do what you love to make a living is really amazing! 



Text Bri Lee
Images via Instagram

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