“My mother dressed my sister-and-I in the most beautiful clothes growing up,” says Ella Ringner, co-founder of luxury British loungewear label, Yolke. “I have such vivid memories of the feel of the fabrics and the colours of the prints.”
Her mother, Hilary McManus, was a successful artist and textile designer, and her studio at home was an Aladdin’s cave of hand-painted textile prints, paints, trims and books that Ella loved to explore. “I associate certain prints with periods of our childhood and the same goes for pyjamas,” she says. “We would get a special pair for Easter and Christmas, and as we got older we had matching white nighties that we’d leap from bed to bed in.” Memories of those imaginative childhood days are the inspiration behind her new Little Yolke collection but the starting point – as with all of her designs – is the fabric. The mini pyjamas (for ages three to 10) are cut from the same cotton poplin as her tailored adult designs, and boast the same playful contemporary prints; pink botanicals, verdant florals and classic stripes in a chorus of colours. On the brand’s website, the Yolke Girls section reads like a yearbook to the coolest girls about town – all of whom are more likely to wear their PJs out to cocktails than just to bed – and Ella, who began her career at British designer Temperley, shares her studio space in London’s Ladbroke Grove with fellow tastemaker Matilda Goad. Temperley is where she met co-founder Anna Williamson (Anna has stepped away from the day-to-day running of Yolke and is now an adviser to the brand) before leaving to study textile design at Central Saint Martins in London. And it is where the idea for Yolke was born. Now juggling her business with motherhood – Scarlet, who stars in the Little Yolke campaign, is four and Blue is one – she understands how special bedtime is; each pair of pyjamas comes with a bedtime story by Fred & Foo author Sophia Topley. “I hope one day Scarlet and Blue can dress their children in the pyjamas or make costumes from the fabrics,” she says. We couldn’t wait to discover her view on being a successful working mother, her brilliant recommendations on childrenswear and how she puts her house to bed as well as her babies. She is our kind of mama. Words: Claire Brayford
Why did you decide to launch Yolke?
Both my parents worked for themselves, growing up it allowed us the freedom to spend summers abroad, my mother was an artist and textile designer and would bring her designs with us and my father would make a phone-call a week to keep up with his restaurant business. It was ingrained from an early age to build up something of my own. Meeting Anna at Temperley, we both knew we were meant to do something together, but it wasn’t until our careers took us to Avenue32.com and Purple PR respectively that we got an insight into running an online business and creating a product we could market and sell ourselves. We decided to give up our day jobs and venture out.
What do you enjoy most about building your own brand?
I enjoy the journey of designing a print, crafting it into a collection and seeing people wearing it. The successes are so personal but then so are the struggles that come hand-in-hand with starting up a clothing business.
How do you juggle work and family?
I work Monday to Thursday and then Fridays are fun days where we see friends and do anything and everything Scarlet and Blue want to do, or we head out of town for the weekend. I’m an early-morning person, which is lucky these days but despite this we are still always in a rush. After cycling Scarlet to school, I stop at my favourite café, Vicki’s, and write my list for the day, one for work, one for family. Our studio is just off Ladbroke Grove in London – it is a calm space to work in and I’m surrounded by creatives.
What are your time-management tips?
I am pretty organised. I focus on the task in hand and I don’t dwell on things. I write a lot of lists. I’m learning to delegate and to accept that I can’t do everything. I have some brilliant friends and family who are a much needed support network for when it gets a bit much or we need a night out.
Talk us through your bedtime routine...
I have a process of putting the house to sleep. I go room by room making sure everything is ready for the following day. I love a hot bath, I catch up on articles I’ve saved during the week, put on a face mask and light some candles. I’ve recently discovered Balance Me which has transformed my skin.
Do your children sleep well?
They do, but it took a little more effort with Scarlet. Perhaps because he watches his sister, Blue has always been happy to go to bed and sleep through, although on the odd occasion he doesn’t realise how important sleep is, especially for him. Both our babies moved out of our room at four months, which I think is very important for making them feel safe and comfortable in their own rooms. The newest development is that they want to sleep together so we may be entering a phase of sleeplessness again!
What do you treasure most in your wardrobe?
A Temperley two-piece suit and some dungarees my cousin gave me which have become my day-to-day staple. I’m now remaking them in silk for smarter occasions and linen to live in! I have never taken off my five gold rings that were given to me from my most loved people, my husband (to be), mother, sister, cousin and daughter.
What does every working mother need in her wardrobe?
How do you make your work-wardrobe more efficient?
I have a few staples that I rely on for the week, dresses (Mango have some great ones) and dungarees make dressing a lot quicker. I wear our silk shirts a lot, dressed up or down under dungarees. Those and our tapered trousers, which are so comfortable paired with white trainers (I like Veja and Adidas) or pumps (I buy the black French sole ones on repeat).
How has your style changed since becoming a mum?
I think my style has changed as I have got older but not so much from having children. I wear a lot of our pieces day-to-day, the silk is stretch which is surprisingly practical! Our leopard slips look great over a white tee but for me, it’s the Ribbon Wave dress, a new style for us that I am wearing over jeans and as a dress on its own.
How do you make the most of your me-time?
I escape and do some yoga at the new White City House Members Club, the gym is still a bit undiscovered so it’s quiet in the mornings. I spend a lot of time in our garden, reading, painting with Scarlet and having dinners with friends.
What are your favourite brands for children?
My sister just introduced me to Olivier Baby and Kids who make the prettiest girls’ dresses. We’re getting married in September and I’ve just bought one for Scarlet to wear. I love Sasti, a children’s boutique off Portobello Road in London for sweet little gifts and gilets. There’s a Danish brand called Fub, which make the most gorgeous knitwear and a French label called Hello Simone which I wish went up to my size.
How do you like to dress Scarlet and Blue?
Scarlet in smocked dresses and pretty leather boots (Boden do brilliant metallic and red ones, the designs are so playful) she looks like a wild angel with long wavy blonde hair. Wearing floral cotton dresses suits her character, she lives in the bushes looking for bugs and kittens to adopt. Blue would live naked if he could, he’s a work in fashion progress! We’ve been lucky to have some wonderful hand-me-downs and I recently discovered my entire wardrobe of childhood smocked dresses in my father’s attic which my mother had stored perfectly. I do love finding special things for them but I prefer to look in the markets and find things they can hand down to their kids.
Are you more ambitious now you are a mother?
I’m not sure I am more ambitious but I am definitely more driven to succeed. I felt a lot of guilt during the first years with both my babies, guilt that I wasn’t in the office as much as the others and guilt that I wasn’t at home as much as other mums so I want the sacrifice to be worth it. As I get older I am much more level-headed about what I need and what success is. If I have a happy family and happy customers, time for family holidays and manage to put healthy food on the table that’s success.
What has surprised you most about becoming a mum?
The way your body and mind become in tune with your children. Sometimes I think I know exactly what they are thinking and feeling – I know when they have a headache or just a sore thumb. I’m sure this will change as teenagehood comes along!
How do you tackle the tantrums?
By trying to remain calm and, when possible, with a sense of humour. Being able to laugh, especially with one’s other half, at moments like this is crucial.
What do you remember most from your childhood?
I grew up in Bristol. My parents are from Canada and Sweden and met in Somerset and my granny lived in Gloucester, so weekends were spent roaming around the countryside, climbing hay bales and causing havoc in her house and building tree houses in the garden. We have a lot of cousins and I think we spent the majority of our time in costume. We’d raid the attics, which were full of clothes from my mother and her three sisters. Old wedding dresses, lots of Foale & Tuffin and 90s getup, the works, from all the ages! We spent summers travelling to my aunt’s house in Ibiza, road trips in Sweden to see cousins, sailing the Med.
Did your mum work when you were growing up?
Yes, she was an artist and textile designer, I don’t think she really stopped working when she had me but her studio was in the house and I had a magical nanny called Madonna who is now my godmother. Memories of her working are not negative in any way. She passed away when I was 23, but it is something I always want to ask her about. Her work hung in the V&A and recently I found some of her textiles in the Design Museum in London, which she had done for Conran. It was an amazing moment when I encountered her work at Glastonbury. Seeing her logo up on the Pyramid stage was something I won’t forget. These were all things she did when Thebe and I were little, so I feel proud to be a working mum. Now Scarlet is a bit bigger she can come to the studio with me, she sorts the eye-masks and counts the buttons.
And what did she teach you?
To have a positive outlook no matter what, to dance on the kitchen table with my sister and make girlfriend cakes for friends who are having a hard time.