There’s nothing quite as cute as a baby in a bonnet. Just ask Toronto mama Amanda Blakley who has just launched new kidswear line Petits Genoux with friend Kendra Francis...
Blakley describes the line of hand-crafted baby garments as “old-fashioned silhouettes for modern day kin” and the duo were inspired by the simple clothing of their own early years. “We raided the archives of friends and relatives to uncover photographs of the beautiful silhouettes that made up the wardrobes of babies for generations before us,” she says. They used these images as a starting point in their design process. We chatted to Blakley to find out a little more about this covetable new heirloom childrenswear line and life as a mother of two boys. Go to www.petitsgenoux.com Holding image: Mirza Noormohamed
Petits Genoux Navy Cross-Stitch Knickers, $30, and Navy Cross-Stitch Archer Bonnet, $45
What's the best advice you've been given about motherhood?
You’re playing a long game. It’s not about the short term mistakes or wins. It’s inevitable that you’ll overreact, feed them too much sugar, non-organic milk or be late for school pick-up from time to time (or more often on those too-busy weeks). We’re bound to make many parenting faux pas, but the most important things are the consistent love we give, the sense of security and belonging we build amongst our little family units, the morals and values that get passed along and modelled by us. You put the time in now to be nurturing, consistent, loving, fair, accepting and so on, in the hopes that you raise good people who will be empathetic, kind, generous, smart and conscientious global citizens.
Can you tell us about your childhood?
I grew up in the country outside a small Ontario town. My parents emigrated from the US and my mom’s dream was to have an old farm house with horses, chickens and babies running around. I have amazing childhood memories of just that. My mother is very earthy and creative – she stayed at home with us and I have fond memories of making crafts with my siblings, building forts, baking and sitting around the piano while she played and sang. Both my mom and dad are nomadic and adventurous spirits (and clearly very brave). Every summer we would embark on epic road trips to visit family in the states. I have such special memories of those crazy car rides in our old station wagon listening to the Annie sound track, Barbra” Streisand and The Beatles.
When did your love of childrenswear begin?
It’s so cliche but truly I didn’t even notice the category until I had babies of my own. My mother had saved and passed along a few beloved pieces from my childhood as well as some vintage items from my ancestors. My favourite hand-me-down were my dad’s adorable leather baby shoes which my husband took to a cobbler to have refurbished before Atticus was born. Sadly, Archer just grew out of them, but it just goes to show that quality goods truly do stand the test of time!
Can you tell us about your career path and what then led you to launch Petits Genoux?
One of my best friends and I started a business together in 2006, a virtual culture club for the creative class that eventually had chapters in Toronto, New York and Miami. We both had our first baby boys at the same time, which was an incredible gift (definitely not planned as everyone joked) and decided to wind down the business in order to tackle our new jobs as moms. Fortunately, we were able to continue working on one aspect of the business for the following few years and this gave us the flexibility to keep an income while still being around for our little ones. It was during this time that I started to get the itch to start something from the ground up again. I missed some of the hustle and that start-up high. I had a false start when I tried to go it alone, but eventually a new friend (Kendra Francis, my current business partner) and I started throwing ideas around and everything just kind of fell into place. We met at school drop-off/pick-up and our sons have been in the same class for the past two years. She comes from a womenswear background and had designed her own label for many years. Our skill set was a natural yin and yang and our fashion and design sensibilities really mesh.
How would you describe the aesthetic of Petits Genoux?
Old-fashioned silhouettes for modern-day kin. Our garments are designed and engineered from simple but beautiful fabrics that stand the test of time. They are future heirlooms, hand crafted with small contemporary updates to suit our design-conscious clientele. Our hope is that our customers will value and honour the love and labour that goes into the production of each garment. As they build their layette or invest in a few special items for their baby, we would love our pieces to be among them and become wardrobe staples that punctuate a magical babyhood. We hope they buy our garments with the intention of passing them down to a future sibling, a niece/nephew or possibly even to be tucked away for an eventual grandchild.
What are your time management tips?
The elusive question of balance. Does anyone truly have it? I am constantly course-correcting. Some weeks my time is eaten up by unexpected doctor visits, play dates, grocery shopping and organising the family calendar with programs, work travel and family travel etc… Other times I will have a productive work day or week, but mostly I do what I can when I can. That means in the parking lot before school pick-up, on my iPad or iPhone while running errands or in between appointments. Definitely lots of late nights in front of my computer or sewing on buttons (as was the case one night this week prior to doing our AW16 photo shoot the following morning!)
What are your tips for getting out the door without a fuss?
With my four-year-old it’s all about communication and managing expectations. If I talk about it in advance and “prepare” him for my imminent departure, he’s more likely to be understanding. With the baby, it’s really a distraction game. As long as he has a snack or activity that is more exciting than the drama of mama leaving, he’s fine being left behind with daddy or our caregiver.
Are you tidy or messy? How do you keep your home in order with two young children?
I would say I’m quite tidy by nature – or at least I strive to be. Drawers, closets, built-ins and baskets ensure that everything has a home. I also read this great article on Apartment Therapy that described a tidying strategy that really struck a cord with me. You give yourself five minutes to frantically put things away. You literally set a stopwatch and do it as fast as you can. Focusing on clearing floors and surfaces of toys and crap. I try and do this once in the morning (since I can’t bring myself to be productive if I’m working in a messy environment) and right after the boys go to bed. I’m also trying to implement the rule of putting one toy or mess away before we make the next mess (it’s a work in progress with my four-year-old and Archer is oblivious to my pleading for order.)
Do you think you’re born creative or it’s something you learn?
I think creativity comes in so many different forms. My husband is a gifted writer, thinker, problem-solver, but ask him to draw something and all you’ll get is a stick figure. I have a long history of hobby artists in my family. My grandmother is an incredible illustrator and painter, same with my mother, sister, cousins. I studied fine arts (studio) in university since I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I think this background has always served me well for everything I have done to-date in my career and home life. Both of my children are creative in their own ways. Atticus is big into costumes and make believe but you would have to tie him to a chair to get him to draw or paint. Whereas Archer, my youngest, will happily colour the afternoon away.
What is your favourite social media platform and why?
Lately I’ve got stuck into Snapchat. I find the rawness refreshing after the past few years of the curated, edited photos and personal branding that happens on blogs and Instagram.
What is your approach to health and wellbeing?
Exercise has always been a big part of my life and my routine. These days I try to fit in a bit of yoga at my favourite local studio (889 Yonge
) and I love Pilates for the stretching and toning/tightening. My husband and I also do a weekly date night personal training session at Catalyst Fitness
. I always say I work out so I can pig out. But truly, eating good food is one of my greatest pleasures! I’m very picky about where we get our meat, fruit, veg and dairy (I order from a few local farms) and shop organic at weekly farmers markets and a couple grocery stores, but when we travel or eat out, I definitely loosen the reigns. I also have a crazy sweet tooth, possibly because I’m still nursing, so I find it hard to resist a good bakery. To zen out, I’ve been off-and-on the meditation wagon since childhood. Both of my parents and my 95-year-old grandmother have maintained a consistent practice for the past 40 years. I was fortunate to learn the TM method just like them when I was younger. I admire the overall health, well-being and mindfulness they enjoy and it is a constant reminder for me to keep up my practice.
What are your daily beauty essentials and how long does it take you to get out the door in the morning?
How do you treat yourself?
Time with my friends is what helps to keep me sane, bi-monthly dinners or night’s out with my girlfriends are a must. Dates with my husband – a sneaky lunch or quick getaway – I love to have little things to look forward to. I’m not a huge shopper these days, so quality time with the people I love is the best treat!
Who is your role model?
My mother for her beautiful connection to nature, her parenting style, natural health and beauty regimes, her moral compass and ability to always be grounded and present. My grandmother for her shrewd business sense, emphasis on family and devotion to intellect and higher learning.
What is your definition of success?
Balance, happiness and passion for the way you spend your days. I feel more successful now than I ever have, it has nothing to do with compensation but everything to do with the autonomy, and personal fulfilment that I get from running my business, being a mom, wife and friend.
What do you love most about raising children in Toronto?
The park and ravine system that runs throughout the city, how friendly, safe and diverse the neighbourhoods are, how multi-cultural it is and welcoming to entrepreneurs, supportive of small businesses and new ideas. The city definitely celebrates culture and the arts and there are so many different festivals and goings-ons that you can always find something interesting to do as a family on weekends. I also feel like the city is experiencing this incredible Renaissance at the moment. I moved here after university and traveling, not necessarily expecting to settle here, but as a city we have gone through so many exciting changes and developments we are in a particularly exciting evolution at the moment, it just feels like the possibilities are endless and Torontonians are taking more risks, being open to crazy, weird and wonderful ideas. Our restaurants are world class, our sports teams are kicking some major butt and we have a thriving art and culture scene. Summer is one of my favourite seasons so I’m looking forward to exploring and adventuring for the next few months!
What will we find in your handbag?
What are your fashion essentials?
My current uniform is high-waisted jeans (3.1 denim), a cotton lace tee or off-the-shoulder blouse, a Davis Project dress
for occasions, By James sandals and the Ela Bloom Bag
for everyday (it’s the perfect size to hold my essentials and I love the shoulder strap for hands-free child wrangling.) For resort wear, I live in the Plunge Collective kaftans
and Capri Positano Sandals
– love the Pompeii in red.
What are your essentials when travelling with kids?
The BABYZEN YOYO
has changed our travel game, it really did give us back our pre-kids mobility, we use it for our international adventures just as much as our local ones. We have also gotten so much value out of our Babybjorn travel crib
– that thing has been everywhere and Archer will likely continue to use it for another year or two! I rarely leave home without my Hobes
– the perfect packing shoe that goes with everything, because God forbid I take up more than a quarter of the suitcase!
How do you keep your holidays stress-free when travelling with kids? Is it possible to have a stress-free holiday with kids?
I think there is an innate stress going anywhere with children – travel is no exception. But to me the risk-reward equation is so high that I don’t mind putting up with all the hard work involved to reap the incredible rewards. I love seeing the world through my boys lens. Even a short flight to Massachusetts to visit their GG (great grandmother) is exciting to them. The stimuli and lessons that travel provides is compounded. Atticus makes references and connections that blow me away, he remembers little details about previous adventures, subtleties an adult would never pick up on. I don’t think it’s about having a stress-free holiday. If you want that, go on a romantic getaway for a few child-free nights with your partner (which is also amazing.) If you want adventure, family bonding, the extremes of parenthood (high highs, low lows) then travel with your children – you won’t regret it. Be realistic about your itinerary, do less but experience more. Pack more snacks than you could ever imagine needing, make friends or connections in advance with fellow families who live in or are also visiting said destination. Keep the rhythm of the day similar to home – we always plan our day around the afternoon nap and this doesn’t change when we travel. But mostly, be in the moment. Enjoy the magic of it all.
Dream travel destination?
I seriously cannot wait to take the boys on a safari and also to see the magic and colours of India.
Where are you travelling to next?
I’m currently on a flight to Italy for one of our best friends weddings in Capri – childless – wooooooohoooo! I’m also trying to plan our summer adventures. My husband travels a ton for work so I think we’ll keep it pretty local. A week in the Adirondacks and some long weekends in Pennsylvania (we love The Lodge at Glendorn
for a luxury family retreat), New York City and upstate (Catskills/Hudson Valley).