Cécile Roederder’s Parisian family lifestyle concept store, Smallable, was her very first baby. Seeing a gap in the market for parents, she launched Smallable before having children – an unusual but shrewd move – and now is mother to two children, two boutiques, and a booming online business that’s been likened to the Net-A-Porter of family shopping...
From womenswear, design, and decor to baby needs and children’s clothing, Smallable has made the notoriously tricky ‘clicks and mortar’ model, of online and in-store retail, work. And work beautifully.
“My children have enabled me to see more concretely what is important for them, which has helped me make the right choices”, Cécile says of her role with Smallable. “In addition, my husband, with whom I work, helps me a lot in my daily life. We really do share the load together.” Together, they’ve created a lifestyle that manages to find the balance between hard work and truly enjoying life.
“We regularly go away for the weekend and often take advantage of a few days by the sea or in the countryside to recharge our batteries together. Every summer, we go with friends to Formentera to a big house with all our children. It’s a little island that has remained authentic, which I like. It still has a number of wild coves and the way of life there is perfect for de-connecting. Otherwise, when we are at home, we like cooking together a lot, playing board games (our weekend ritual!), and taking long walks in Paris.”
Cécile shared with us the trials and tribulations of running a family business (in every sense of the word), her must-have baby products and favourite childrens’ fashion, and her lust-worthy list of current loves. Prepare for the urge to drop everything and fly directly to Bon Temps Patisserie – followed by a visit to Smallable, of course.
So much has changed and grown with Smallable since we last spoke! The online business has ventured into womenswear and home, and you now have two stores in Paris, a family concept store and baby store. Can you explain the brand’s growth over the last few years?
Yes, thanks so much for noticing! In 2015, we opened our first concept store in Paris, it was something our customers really wanted and kept asking. Regarding our womenswear selection, it has grown over the past few seasons with the introduction of beautiful brands such as Roseanna, See by Chloé, Masscob, Ulla Johnson, A.P.C, Jérôme Dreyfuss, Mara Hoffmann, Momoni and The Great. From the beginning, we offered décor and furniture for children’s rooms. Gradually, we noticed that our customers, who tended to be parents, really liked our selection and wanted to find things for themselves. We listened to them and have since extended our range to furniture, design and décor for all the family and all the home. We have also reinforced our position in the world of baby care with the opening of our boutique dedicated solely to babies and baby care, and the release of The Great Birth Guide, a publication designed to accompany future parents during their baby’s first year. Going forward, over the next few years, I’d really like to expand upon Smallable’s international development, particularly in the United States and the Asia-Pacific region.
Did you always plan to move into bricks and mortar stores after building the online brand?
We had the opportunity to open our boutique in Paris, in the St-Germain-des-Près neighbourhood, and really fell in love with the unusual industrial-loft-like spirit of the place. The condition for opening the boutique was that it needed to reflect our universe, the one we created online, so our customers could see the products in real life. Like the site, it is a “one-stop-shop” – you can go there to discover new creators and brands, and our collection of products is always being updated regularly. If a product is not available in-store, we have a digital hub where you can order the product online and have it delivered free of charge. Our customers also come to us for advice. We help them to create living spaces from A to Z (a child’s room, a living room, etc.) or to create a gift registry list for their pregnancies and new babies. We wanted to test the ‘omnichannel’ experience. Even though the ‘click and mortar’ idea doesn’t work for all pure players, in our case, it makes sense.
You started Smallable before you had children, and now you have two - son Charles and daughter Nina. Do you think having children has changed your focus or business plan at all? If so, how?
My children have enabled me to see more concretely what is important for them, which has helped me make the right choices. Charles is 9-years-old and Nina’s a little over 2-years-old, so they don’t have the same needs. In fashion, I have always paid special attention to the quality of materials and cuts, which I do now even more so. The same goes for other areas. I play with my children, test our new products and they inspire me every day. The birth of my daughter pushed me to seek out skincare and body products adapted to her. Putting away my son’s tonnes of books – he loves to read – helped me find the perfect bookshelf and so on… Nevertheless, I am still 200% invested in Smallable, but also in my family. Especially since my husband, Pierre, works with me at Smallable.
Smallable is often compared to Net-a-Porter and you have spoken about your admiration for them as an online business. How have you stayed on top of the game in terms of children’s online retail and where do you seek inspiration and education for continued success?
Thank you for the compliment. That means a lot to me. Smallable is constantly evolving and renewing the brands, products and services we offer. We listen to our customers and regularly conduct surveys with them to get their take. From this we know they come to us to discover new products, so that’s what we offer them: every season we find and present new brands and a number of exclusives. We have more than 250 new products arriving every week. In terms of inspiration, I find new creators and brands on Instagram and during trade shows. Plus, my team and I are constantly on the lookout for what customers want, market developments, technical developments for the site, trends in customer experience, etc. It’s important to note that we try to innovate constantly and to question ourselves regularly to improve what we do. For example, we have noticed and seen first-hand the evolution of customers towards more responsible, ethical and eco-friendly consumption. Since the launch of Smallable, we have always chosen “green” brands, but seeing as this awareness continues to grow among our customers, we decided to create our “Greenable” label to group together brands that are doing things differently so people can find them quickly and easily on our site.
What has it been like moving into womenswear? Do you approach brands and buying in the same way as your children’s collections?
When expanding our womenswear selection, we wanted to stay true to our ethos: finding creators and designers from all around the world that we admire, and want to share with our customers. It’s really important that it remains something carefully curated and to create a selection that’s distinctive and relatively exclusive and authentic with products you can’t find everywhere. That’s one of Smallable’s strengths. Women’s fashion brands were very quick to trust us, even if we came from the world of children’s fashion. They understood the specificity of Smallable as a Family Concept Store and fit in seamlessly with our universe, our selection, and our editorial tone.
There’s a distinct French sensibility to the women’s pieces you stock - unassuming yet so beautiful. What are some of your favourite brands and pieces to wear personally?
I love designers who have a story to tell, a creative process, ethical or sustainable production, or just an extraordinary personality. Being French, we obviously have quite a few French brands in our selection. But there’s also a large number of European and American designers, too. Personally, I love patterns, colour and beautiful materials. I like seeing the way a piece of clothing falls, its elegance, and I am very sensitive to the quality of finishes and the cut. To name just a few of my favourite brands: I’m a big fan of dresses from Roseanna, Masscob, Ulla Johnson and Heimstone, jeans from Mother and Xirena shirts. For summer bags, I love Claris Virot and Guanabana, for swimwear La Nouvelle or Albertine, Elise Tsikis for jewellery and Michel Vivien shoes!
Hundred Pieces is your house-brand children's label and seems to be nostalgic yet totally modern all at the same time. Can you tell us about the design process and how you approach each season?
We launched Hundred Pieces in 2016 and it’s now one of our best-selling brands. We’re super happy with the enthusiastic response we’ve received from our customers. My husband, Pierre, who manages the artistic direction, and I are both very involved in the project and we are supported by a very dedicated team. Our aim is to create easy to wear pieces that are contemporary and very comfortable that children want to wear on a daily basis. At the same time, we’ve forged a very distinctive, creative style in terms of prints, patterns, slogans, typography and looks, which appeals to both children and parents. The latter particularly appreciate our subtle nods to the 80s and 90s, and the cheeky humour of our slogans. The inspiration for the brand is a mix of pop culture references, vintage sportswear and street culture, with a lot of influences from cinema and music too.
Now that you oversee more staff and have diverse business needs, how have you managed things like a growing team, flexible working and overall office culture? It's such an important and evolving part of a modern business these days, would you agree?
You have to surround yourself with people you can trust and try to convey to them the values of the business so it doesn’t lose its soul. Even though I like to head projects, be in charge and go into detail, once a company grows it’s no longer possible to control everything, sign off on everything, check everything, so you need to delegate. You learn to trust the people you work with and the intermediaries you have set up. Your role changes, which is normal and the ideal evolution of a business when it’s working well. It’s also more satisfying to focus on the areas where you’re most needed and your added input is the most valuable.
How did you find the jump going from one to two children?
I come from a family of five girls, so I never thought I’d have just one child. At the same time, Smallable was taking up a lot of my time, so I didn’t want to do everything all at once. That’s why we waited a little while before having our second child; Nina is seven years younger than Charles. Having two children and a company means above all I need to be very organised. Our nanny, who’s looked after Charles since he was a baby, now takes care of Nina. This kind of assistance is truly invaluable and we were lucky to be able to have this continuity, she is really part of the family now. In addition, my husband, with whom I work, helps me a lot in my daily life. We really do share the load together.
Did you take any time off after the birth of Nina?
I alternated between working from home and in the office. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take any real maternity leave and stop for four months (the duration of maternity leave in France). But I had (and have) the freedom to organise and manage my time how I like(d). Also, fortunately, my office and apartment are very close to each other and I have a great team I can rely on!
You still travel a lot and often take your family with you, do you have any tried and tested tips on travelling with little ones?
Travel light, in terms of luggage; there’s always the tendency to pack too many clothes. Take just the essentials. For baby’s one of those essentials is a stroller adapted for travel. Babyzen’s YOYO+ is perfect for taking planes and all kinds of travel, so is Bugaboo’s new Ant model. Once Nina was a little bit older, I used a Studio Roméo baby carrier quite a lot; they’re super practical. I also always took our BabyBjörn baby bouncer, it’s super light and you fold it down to take with you wherever you go. Nowadays for Charles, a notebook and some pencils can keep him busy in most situations because he loves drawing and creating his own comics. For Nina, I always bring cotton muslin cloths and swaddles; they’re useful for everything. You can use them as a bib, a blanket, a sunshade, a comforter, etc. We also pack little toys and games to keep her busy over longer periods of time – like play dough, colouring-in books, card games, and dominoes – as well as lots of books that aren’t too heavy.
What sort of clothes and brands do you like your own kids to wear?
That’s a difficult question for me to answer because we have so many beautiful brands. Also, my son is at an age where he’s the one who chooses what he wears. Charles likes sportswear-style brands like Hundred Pieces, Finger in the Nose, Bellerose, AO76 and Veja. He’s very active and loves football, so it’s hard to make him wear anything other than T-shirts, jumpers, and trainers. Nina’s not old enough to decide too much yet, so I’m taking advantage of that. I really like dressing her in Caramel, Bonton, Louis Louise, Rylee + Cru, Louise Misha, Bùho and Omibia. For her, I like prints, muted tones and soft materials.
Has your own mother or childhood impacted the way you parent? If so, how?
I’m the youngest of five girls and my mother was alone with us during the week because my father travelled all the time for work. Growing up in that context, we quickly learned to be resourceful and autonomous. We knew how to take care of ourselves and had certain freedom. We were never coddled, which gave us all a sense of responsibility early on. All this, but in a very joyful, creative atmosphere. Two of my sisters, in particular, played a big role in my upbringing, being my little “mother hens”. I was really lucky. Of course, I have passed on some of the same principles to my children. Something I’ve noticed is ever since they were little, the two of them have been very free and independent in their mindset, and they both wanted to do things by themselves from very early on.
What are some of your favourite rituals or things to do together as a family?
Holidays! We regularly go away for the weekend and often take advantage of a few days by the sea or in the countryside to recharge our batteries together. Every summer, we go with friends to Formentera to a big house with all our children. It’s a little island that has remained authentic, which I like. It still has a number of wild coves and the way of life there is perfect for de-connecting. Otherwise, when we are at home, we like cooking together a lot, playing board games (our weekend ritual!) and taking long walks in Paris.
What is the first thing you do on a rare day off from work and without kids?
Unfortunately, these kinds of days are too rare! Having your own business means there’s never really a moment off. Also, even though we have a great nanny, our families don’t live in Paris so it’s rare to be able to leave the children for a whole weekend. Going away together for a weekend and making time where it’s just the two of us, with no restrictions, is nevertheless essential and gives us a chance to be a couple, even if it’s just allowing ourselves the luxury of sleeping in and enjoying lunch together whenever we want. Even if it’s only for 48 hours, that feeling of freedom works wonders!
What is your definition of self care and how do you make time for it?
Self-care and well-being can entail a number of things. For me, taking care of myself is growing and learning in an environment that’s warm and inviting. Feeling at home and content in my apartment is important, whether that be with bouquets of flowers dotted around the place, admiring a beautiful photograph every morning or enjoying a good meal. Also, it’s especially important to take time and slow down, not run around all over the place. That can be going for a walk by yourself, seeing an exhibition, reading a great book, doing a yoga class, getting a facial or massage, or catching up with a girlfriend over lunch and talking for hours on end.
Cécile's Little List of Loves:
Restaurants in Paris:
- Mr T – My local haunt
- Badaboum – Near our offices and where I often go for lunch
- Claus – For a delicious breakfast
- Bon Temps Patisserie – A tea room in Paris that’s not to be missed
- Le Paradis Plage – A friendly family hotel, great for surfing and yoga with your family in Morocco
- The Castelbrac Hotel – In Dinard. I recently discovered it on a couples weekend away. It’s small, full of charm with beautiful décor. The location is gorgeous, by the sea and it has a very good, gourmet restaurant
- Formentera (in the Balearic Islands) where I go every summer and where I’m currently on holiday.
- Goodmoods – For unearthing new trends and mood boards
- Podcasts. I really enjoy “Generation Do it Yourself” and “Entreprendre dans la mode”, which give the floor to entrepreneurs.
- At the moment at Jeu de Paume (a photography museum in Paris that I like). I really loved the Sally Mann exhibition.
- The photos of Joel Meyerowitz
- We often go to see exhibitions at the MEP in Paris (Maison Européenne de la Photo)
Architects & Designers:
A boutique in Paris:
- Smallable: Obviously, no visit to Paris is complete without a visit to Smallable! I love our boutiques and there’s always something incredible to find. Address: 81 rue Cherche-Midi, 75006
- WHITE bIRD: Their boutiques have a magnificent selection of jewellery by independent designers such as Naohiko Noguchi, Brooke Gregson, Maria Tash, Pascale Monvoisin, Myrtille Beck. The ambiance is really intimate and special too
- My playlists on Spotify. Right now, I’m listening to the New Wave again and rediscovering Patti Smith.
- Stranger Things
- Big Little Lies
- I have just finished “Bakhita” by Véronique Olmi and I am currently reading “La civilisation du poisson rouge” by Bruno Patino, which looks at attention and our digital addiction.