“It’s a little like climbing a steep mountain; just keep going and whatever you do, don’t look back! Finally, be prepared to work hard. Unless you have the budget for a fulltime team, evenings and weekends are no longer your own. The past year has been tough, but I’ve genuinely loved every minute,” says Vanessa Wright...
She’s talking honestly about what it takes to launch a new business. Hint: it’s not easy, but the talented Leicestershire-based creative director and founder of new British brand Kingdom of Origin proves that hard work and determination pays off.
In-between mothering her seven-year-old daughter Bea, Wright has created one of the most covetable new childrenswear brands. Her inspiration? Timeless British style. What can you expect? Luxuriously soft fabrics and beautifully hand finished, exclusive collections. “I wanted to create something fresh and exciting. The idea was more than just another kidswear brand, I wanted to do something positive for the industry and support local artisans and ethical factories, with an aim to improve the local economy and help toward the revival of British manufacturing,” she says.
Wright studied printed textiles and University and went on to be one of the founders of Six, a brand and design consultancy, which was recently listed as one of the UK’s top design studios. Kingdom of Origin is a new and exciting chapter for Wright. “Motherhood has made me more ambitious. Becoming a single mother so soon, I felt passionate about creating a legacy for Bea, one that will hopefully help her financially in the future, but also build a company that she would be proud of and inspired by,” she says. Read on to find out more about Wright’s business tips, her honest journey and the highs and lows of motherhood what we can expect from Kingdom Of Origin.
Vanessa with her daughter Bea wearing Kingdom of Origin
Can you take us through a typical morning for you?
Since starting Kingdom of Origin, I’ve been an early riser. After taking our 13-week-old puppy, Maggie out to stretch her legs, I prepare breakfast, shower and dress, then I wake Bea to get ready for school before we eat breakfast together. I then bundle Maggie and Bea into the car – drop Bea off to school, then Maggie and I head over to K.O.O’s country-based studio for work.
What makes you feel happy and balanced?
Being at home on the weekend and relaxing with Bea and my boyfriend Matt; pottering and spending time together without the race against the clock for school and work.
What has motherhood taught you?
Patience, love and contentment. Before Bea, I was searching for happiness here, there and everywhere. Motherhood has given me endless courage and has helped me to settle down and love myself, through the immense maternal love that I have for my amazing little girl.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I’m incredibly lucky to have a very supportive mother. I’d reiterate what she has always taught me: have faith in yourself, trust your instincts and believe that anything is possible.
What has been the most challenging part of motherhood and how have you overcome any challenges?
Initially, I struggled with motherhood after having Bea. I felt like I’d lost all sense of self, including my identity. I put every ounce of energy into being a good mummy and doing everything by the book. I got so caught up in the ‘Do’s & Don’t’s’ of having a baby and being at home 24/7 that I completely forgot about everything else, including me.
I started yoga classes when Bea was eight months, which helped me find myself again. I was chatting to a lady on the course before the class began and was talking about the joys of motherhood when I admitted that sometimes I felt like I’d been living on a knife’s edge. She quickly helped me identify that how I was feeling was actually PND and as soon as she had given me a label for the feelings I was having, I felt completely normal again. The change in me within an hour was staggering. I had arrived at the class as one person and miraculously after the yoga class, had left as another – me!
Following this remarkable revelation, I was soon faced with another challenge: divorce. Bea was barely three-years-old when I decided it was time to end the marriage. That time brought me much grief and sorrow but I was determined not to let the break up affect Bea in any way. I would never reveal how sad I was to Bea and although I knew that raising a small child alone wouldn’t be easy, I was determined to stay strong and do what I knew in my heart was the right thing. Bea’s dad and I made every effort to make the split more than amicable. It was a very difficult and heart-wrenching time for both of us and I’m super proud that together we’ve rebuilt our little family, platonically. We all have a wonderful relationship and spend time together as a family – that’s always been fundamental to me, that Bea never missed out on what she deserves: our absolute best.
How has your life changed since your daughter arrived?
I stopped worrying about the little, trivial things in life and started pondering the big stuff – having Bea has made me see the world with fresh and eager eyes and naturally I want to make her world a better place, in any way I can.
Growing up, did you always love fashion? Can you talk us through your career path...
I’ve always been in love with fashion. As far back as I can remember, I always wished for clothes for birthdays and Christmas, and that’s what I was lucky enough to receive. My mum has always had a good eye and used to (she still does, occasionally!) spoil me with beautiful clothes. When I was old enough to buy my own threads, I would spend all of my money on clothes and live on cheese toasties. I’ve kept all of my timeless treasures from over the years. Especially the one’s which were expertly finished, they’ll hopefully last for many years to come. I imagine Bea wearing them one day, so I keep everything pristine.
After graduating university in printed textiles, I started my career in marketing, which then led me into the creative industry where I became senior project manager for a multimedia agency. After a couple of years of working on multi disciplined projects for an array of well-known fashion and retail clients, two of the directors invited me to join them as project director, along with three of my colleagues, who are each incredibly talented designers to start a new agency. Together we founded Six, a brand and design consultancy, recently listed as one of the UK’s top design studios.
Starting Six with the guys was an amazing experience. I was privileged to work with some exceptional people, where passion for their craft and creativity flourished, and nothing short of perfection would leave the studio. There I learnt the value of brand and creativity, how to manage diverse teams, (creative and technical), handle multiple tasks for many demanding clients concurrently, and how to manage a successful studio.
And finally launching Kingdom of Origin… how long were you working on the brand before you launched?
The very first thing I did was to write a creative brief for the brand and website. I wanted my vision to be perfectly clear to everyone from the start, including suppliers and manufacturers. I needed people to know I meant business. I asked my good friend and colleague from Six, Darren Firth, if he’d be happy to freelance and work with me on the K.O.O project, as he occasionally freelances under his own personal studio, Sane Creative. The guy’s a genius and amazing to work with. He totally got my vision and has certainly done me proud. The website, brilliantly developed by Simon Kitson, (another friend and former colleague), is so simple, but beautiful and ultra smooth.
All-in-all, the brand and website took over a year to deliver, due to Darren, Simon and I juggling full-time jobs and family life at the same time. We had to dedicate a lot of late nights and weekends to achieve the deliverables in time for launch.
What is unique about the brand and what kind of child are you appealing to?
I wanted to create something fresh and exciting. The idea was more than just another kidswear brand, I wanted to do something positive for the industry and support local artisans and ethical factories, with an aim to improve the local economy and help toward the revival of British manufacturing.
The idea for Kingdom of Origin was born from a desire to create beautiful clothes for children, focusing on the very best of British craftsmanship. My vision is to inspire something different within the market: a truly authentic and unique British made brand. Not only are we taking the trouble (and expense!) to source and make our fabrics and garments locally, within the UK, but we’re also producing our brand labels and packaging here, too.
Quality fabrics, attention to detail and a beautiful finish is essential if a customer is paying good money. The problem is, not all premium labels can guarantee this, especially since the majority of these brands are manufacturing overseas.Even more importantly, by supporting those behind the brand, we are creating something more valuable than just another premium childrenswear label – we strive for the best, morally and physically, offering consumers a better choice, from source to finish.
There’s nothing cute or twee about the collections. K.O.O’s clothes are for little girls who know their own mind and for mums who care what their children wear, how the garments have been produced and where they’ve come from.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I’m not sure any one day is ever the same for me – I wear many different hats at the moment! The first thing I do when I arrive at the studio is check my emails – I process any orders first and then reply to the day-to-day business emails. Running a company, there’s lots of little jobs, which take a lot of time, so I try to stay as organised as possible and devote the morning to the business side of things, which free’s up my afternoons to research and sketch for the next collection. Although, it doesn’t always work out like that!
What are some vivid memories of your childhood?
I grew up in a small village in the heart of England, with my parents. My siblings were much older than I and they had all pretty much flown the nest by the time I arrived. The neighbours on both sides had lots of children, so I’d peep through the hedge to try and wangle an invitation, as I was sometimes bored on my own. We’d spend many late afternoons in the Summer building dens and climbing trees. One of the neighbouring families had a massive dress-up box, full of fabulous 70’s floaty floral chiffon gowns. They were a little torn, hence being discarded for us to play with, but I used to love rummaging through the box and trying on all their pre-loved treasures.
What about your approach to health and wellbeing?
I’m not ashamed to say I pigged out during pregnancy. I’m a sucker for ice-cream and took the liberty of scoffing an obscene amount of Ben & Jerry’s. I had a complicated labour, resulting in Bea being born by caesarean, so exercising wasn’t an immediate option, but as soon as I was able, I started yoga and swam often. Now I go to the gym whenever I can and do Pilates on a regular basis.
Which women in business do you admire?
I admire and respect any woman who has chosen to build an empire of her own, however large or small, based on her passion, hard work, skill and good ethics.
What are your tips for building a business from scratch?
Firstly, finding the right people to work with that have the expertise and knowledge on aspects of the business you’re unfamiliar with, and people you can trust and rely on is critical. I was still working as project director at the creative agency, when I had the idea to start K.O.O. Whilst I had a clear vision of what I wanted to achieve, I needed expertise on how to actually make the clothes. I’d not long known Fiona Bailey, (K.O.O’s Commercial Director) – we were working on the local park fundraising committee and I asked her advice on how I’d go about entering the world of fashion. As luck would have it, Fiona had that day resigned from her role as an established buyer at Next to spend more time with her gorgeous three children and she offered to help make my dream a reality. Not only has Fiona been a huge support in helping me to start K.O.O, she’s become a great friend, too.
I met our studio manager, Anna Dougan, at a kids’ Halloween party, (she’d arrived dressed as Hillary Clinton and her husband came as Trump; very apt for last Halloween!). Anna and I started chatting and she asked if she could come and help me out at the studio from time-to-time. I immediately had a really good feeling about Anna and I’m so grateful to have her on the team. She’s creative, reliable and an extremely safe pair of hands. My second tip would be to believe in your abilities and have courage.
How do you juggle motherhood with work – what are your time management tips? What makes you feel stressed?
I’m constantly juggling. Thankfully Bea is an absolute delight and has the patience of a saint, (she gets that from her dad!). I wanted to start my own venture so that I’d get to spend more time with Bea and not feel pressure taking time off work to watch her school assemblies, plays, sports days etc.
However, since I’m the only member of K.O.O that works a full working week, there’s so much to do and never enough time. I’m ashamed to say that I have spent the best part of last year uttering the words “in a minute, darling”, which was excruciating and whilst Bea was happy to pop off and play alone, I felt horrendously guilty. Feeling like I was failing Bea was the biggest stress for me – everything else I could handle. I’m pretty good at identifying my shortcomings. As such, I gave myself a good kick into touch and now, regardless of how late through the night I have to work, if Bea’s home, she has my undivided attention.
Quick fire questions
Coffee or tea: Herbal tea.
Typical breakfast: Boiled eggs and soldiers.
On your bedside table you’ll find: a candle, current book, L’Occitane foot cream and a glass of water.
Exercise of choice: Pilates and swimming – I love both.
Book you’re currently reading: Audrey: Her Real Story by Alexander Walker
Heels or flats: Heels
Dream travel destination: Bali