It’s a classic “why didn’t someone think of this sooner” scenario. LITTLECIRCLE founders Lisa Picardo Hill and Anna Bromilow are putting an end to the short shelf life, and consequent environmental impact, of disposable childrenswear, instead focusing their online store on the buying and reselling of well made, high quality clothing that stands the test of time (and wear and tear of little people!)...
It’s this modern way of shopping that has seen LITTLECIRCLE blend style and substance so successfully in a market that is often filled with throwaway fashion. As former fashion director of Tatler magazine, Anna Bromilow knew that a career change after her second daughter was born would have to involve fashion, but also give her the freedom and flexibility of working around her two daughters, Martha and Georgia. It was a sentiment best friend Lisa Picardo Hill shared as the mother to Rocco and Coco-Rose, having forged a successful career as an executive director with Morgan Stanley Private Equity. Together, they built LITTLECIRCLE with an emphasis on beautiful children’s clothing that is the antithesis of fast fashion, with the option to resell the brands they stock as pre-loved items in exchange for store credit within their ‘Recircle’ platform. Today, we catch up with London-based Lisa Picardo Hill to talk starting a business, why children was a catalyst for change in many aspects of her life and lots more. Also stay tuned for Anna’s interview next week. Photography: Helene Sandberg | Words: Marisa Remond | Go to www.littlecircle.co.uk
Can you tell us about your childhood – what are some vivid memories?
I was very fortunate to have enjoyed a pretty blissful childhood, as one of three kids, with the most wonderful parents who treated us as the centre of their universe. They took us everywhere with them, and we had many adventures together. Holidays were hugely memorable – my parents made a huge effort to take us abroad regularly to visit family in India and the US, despite the expense. They prioritised time with family and viewed travel as an important part of a great education. We learnt from a young age to appreciate and enjoy different cultures, food, and ways of living. I’ve many vivid childhood memories, but here are a few that stand out. Sitting on my mother’s bed with her and my sister, looking through all her exquisite Indian jewellery, that had been passed down through the generations, listening to the back-story of each incredible piece. She would dress us in beautiful sarees and we would try it all on – I think this certainly sparked my interest in fashion and love of all things that glitter. I also used to love watching my mum get ready when she went out. I found it fascinating to watch her apply her makeup and paint her nails. The smell of her YSL Rive Gauche perfume is unforgettable. I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. My dad was a very modern, hands-on father, not to mention the sweetest man. Every weekend, without fail, he would take my sister, brother and I on our bikes to the sweet shop to buy a bag of penny sweets. We’d cycle furiously, and I’d always have to turn back to help my little brother who was trailing behind on his little tricycle. Happy days. How can I forget my older sister forcing me to watch the Sound of Music or Mary Poppins every day without fail, during the summer holidays. We knew all the words and used to jump around the living room acting out the stories and singing from the tops of our voices. She would also subject me to ‘makeovers’, where I was always the guinea pig for her to practice on (I hasten to add, she never allowed me to reciprocate on her!). I remember playing schools with my little brother from a very, very young age. I was the teacher and I would regularly drill him on the entire curriculum for kids way above his own age, with constant exams and tests. He’s gone on to be seriously successful, which I like to think is a testimony to my teaching skills!
What has motherhood taught you?
To live in the present day and to try and enjoy each moment for what it is. I used to always strive for the next thing and was constantly working and planning for the future. But since kids, I’ve become acutely aware that this phase of my life is simply the best and as good as it gets, so I try to revel in it as much as possible and max out my time with the kids. I worry far less about the future. This has been hugely liberating. Motherhood has also taught me to be a better person! Children are like mirrors and they most certainly reflect their parents’ behaviour, habits and actions. Seeing your kids grow up and their own personalities develop is fascinating, and you learn a lot about yourselves. It definitely encouraged me to try to always show my positivity, to be constructive, creative, to have fun and to show my happiness.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by motherhood and what makes you feel better?
Yes of course – I think it’s absolutely part of the job description! I’m overwhelmed both in a negative way (with the general juggle of being a working mother, the general exhaustion and the worry and anxiety that comes with it) but also in a positive way. The highs of motherhood, the love, laughter and euphoria, are like nothing else – it’s magic. I would rather feel overwhelmed, with the highs and lows, but be fulfilled and complete, than the opposite. It’s a total privilege. There are so many incredible mothers who manage with huge difficulties and hardships. One only needs to spare a thought for them to give you perspective on your own situation when things get tough. It’s never that bad.
Two children in – what advice would you give to new mothers?
Try to accept early on that you will very almost certainly not be able to do everything perfectly, and that you are only human. Let your standards slip a little – it’s totally normal and in fact quite liberating. Try to accept that your children will not always do what you want them to do, nor what they should do. It’s normal. Pick your battles and focus your energy on the things that really need it. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Let your husband/partner actually help. If you are a control freak, this will be a challenge, but it’s so much better for all involved to accept help when you need it. Retain your sense of humour. This is everything. My husband and I have found that it’s critical to be able to laugh in moments of extreme duress. Have faith that it will ultimately all be ok.
Talk us through your job as Morgan Stanley Executive Director – what did it involve and what inspired a career change?
I was lucky enough to enjoy a very long and rewarding career at Morgan Stanley starting my career in the European Mergers & Acquisitions department, working on the execution of some of the largest and most complex deals (mergers, acquisitions, restructurings, financings and IPOs), with a focus on real estate and retail/consumer. I was very lucky to have been around for some of the best years, working for some of the best in the business, with great clients. Then followed a long stint in Morgan Stanley’s Global Private Equity fund, as an investor (investing others and our own capital). I was responsible for evaluating and executing mid-market deals across all sectors, but again with interest in retail and consumer. This gave me a huge insight into the operational side of businesses and how successful management teams work together. Having enjoyed a career as both advisor and principal investor, the missing piece of the puzzle was to actually create and run my own business. To be making my own decisions, using the courage of my convictions… to be at the coalface, without a safety net. I’ve always loved the idea of creating something from nothing and running a start-up most definitely ticked that box.
Do you ever miss those corporate days? Do you feel it was the right time in your life for a career change?
I miss elements of it. I was a bit of a deal-junkie and loved the pace, the pressure and the challenge that it offered. It was a phenomenal training ground. And I would be lying if I said that I didn’t get a bit of a kick from reading about deals I was working on, on the front page of the FT. I was incredibly privileged to have worked at Morgan Stanley, alongside some of the best in the business, many of whom are still great friends of mine. However, I definitely do think it was the right time for me to make the change. Having children was a catalyst for change in many aspects of my life, and a gentle reminder that time was ticking. I always had the ambition to one day run my own business, but this doesn’t happen overnight, so I forced myself to be brave, get out of my comfort zone and to go for it – I think otherwise I would always have regretted it.
Were you more or less ambitious/determined after you became a mother – how did motherhood change your career?
Whilst having kids is mega life-changing, I don’t think motherhood changes the person that you are fundamentally, but it certainly evolves you. I would say that I’m equally ambitious, but with a different direction. And certainly even more determined (as the challenge has been much greater with different constraints and a major juggling act to manage kids and work).
Did motherhood change the way you approach fashion?
For the first several years, absolutely yes. Casual was king. Out went anything remotely body-skimming, replaced by loose silhouettes and pyjama-like clothing. My denim jumpsuit was a total godsend. My parka was like a security blanket that I’d never go anywhere without – so many pockets to stuff with toys and snacks! The heels rarely got an outing (I spent a lot of time chasing my son around the place), replaced with flats for every occasion. The lovely leather totes went back in their dust-bags, replaced by my very indulgent Prada change bag (which I still use!). This was also the start of my obsession with cross-body bags. I’d say I wore far less jewellery, and always had my hair up or scrapped back. On holiday, the bikini was swiftly replaced by a sturdy one-piece and a chic beach cover-up. However as the kids are now 4 and 7, the way I dress has started to change direction again as I generally feel like making more of an effort to dress up. At the moment, jeans have been replaced with pretty summer dresses, I’m rediscovering my treasured larger handbag collection, I wear my favourite gold earrings religiously and I’ve also just bought a couple of new bikinis – although I’m still trying to pluck up the courage to actually wear one in public!
What three items does every mum need in her wardrobe?
A stylish cross-body bag – combining beauty with hands-free practicality. A complete no-brainer. A great pair of snazzy flats. Let’s face it, carrying kids or doing the school run in heels just doesn’t work. I see no reason why flats can’t be super chic though – my gold gladiator sandals are the perfect school run to meeting flats. Great jeans – find a pair that fits you really well and holds everything in, and buy them in multiple colours to solve all your wardrobe dilemmas!
How long have you known Anna and how did the idea for Little Circle come about?
We’ve known each other forever (actually, at the risk of revealing our ages, its been about 2 decades), having first met at university in Bristol, and then living together in London before we were both married. She’s my best mate, business partner, godmother to my daughter and sister. Over the years, we’ve enjoyed very different but very intense careers and were, I think, quite institutionalized. Over a drink (or several) we’d always fantasize about how wonderful it would be to start a business together, as we have different but complementary skills and similar interests, tastes and passions. What started as a pipe dream, ended up as reality after we each had our second child. Having someone in the same boat as myself also making a drastic career change definitely helped me to take the plunge. Having four kids between us, childrenswear was certainly in our minds, but with Anna’s fashion background and my business and retail credentials, it made absolute sense to team up and create something special. Over the years we had tossed up other ideas, but with LITTLECIRCLE, we really felt like we had identified a gap in the market. We spent a lot of time thinking, planning, refining and agonizing over our concept before we launched.
What makes you buy a childrenwear brand – what do you look for when buying?
We are looking for high-quality brands with a differentiated design that you just cannot find on the high street. In terms of our aesthetic, we look for a contemporary take on classic pieces – pretty, modern fashion for girls and cool for boys. Sophisticated colours, muted tones, pieces so beautiful that you can’t resist. Clothes that people want for themselves – ‘mini-me’ fashion. We are incredibly careful to edit the whole collection so that it works together cohesively, and we style looks across the brands to give a unique LITTLECIRCLE look. Currently, we have brands that we’ve sourced from across the globe: a high proportion of French and Belgian brands as they do childrenswear so well, and others including brands from NY, Japan and South Korea. We are the exclusive supplier in the UK of many of the brands that we have on board, which is great for us.
What do you think it takes to make it in the childrenswear industry? Why do some brands rise while others close after a year or two?
Childrenswear is a booming industry, and that means that there are continually new brands (and retailers) emerging and the level of competition is increasing. Fashion is a tough business as you work several seasons in advance, so funding needs to be secure. Consumers quite rightly have high expectations of product quality, design and customer service, so you have to be the best at what you do to compete with incumbent high street giants who do a great job. To survive, you need to have a differentiated concept, very special product, sharp delivery and you need to evolve and keep things fresh.
What are your plans for the future for LITTLECIRCLE?
In the near term, we have plans for several more pop-up events. We just held a great event with leading children’s footwear brand Papouelli, which we hope to repeat. We also have a few other very exciting pop-up collaborations in the process that are still top-secret! We’d also love to appear in NY, LA and the Middle East when time permits to serve our growing international customer base. We have found that there is a huge demand for private styling appointments, so we are working on supporting and growing that side of the business where we can. We are continuing to evolve our list of brands, and have added more boys brands over the coming seasons, which we are really excited about. We’ve worked on product collaborations with brands such as edit58, Papouelli and Woodstock, and would love to continue these exclusives for our customers. Lastly, we have plans to replicate our concept for the slightly older child too and hope to breathe life into TEENCIRCLE at some stage. We are constantly being asked by our customers to stock bigger sizes for their kids (and themselves!), so let’s see.
Lisa with her LITTLECIRCLE business partner Anna Bromilow
What are some key qualities you think you need to succeed in business?
The list is endless, but a strong worth ethic, total dedication, steely determination and copious amounts of energy go a long way. I think the ability to focu s and prioritise and to be dispassionate when making business decisions is critical, as is flexibility and adaptability (you need to be nimble and recognize if something isn’t working and move on). As regards being a start-up business, it’s a real skill to quickly be able to identify what you know and can do, and to be realistic about your shortcomings and to be able to network and find people who can help plug the gaps for you. We have been incredibly fortunate to have such a great network of work colleagues, friends and family who have been incredibly supportive and generous with their time, advice and contacts. It’s been invaluable and we are so grateful.
What kind of children’s clothes do you personally love to dress your children in?
My kids are seriously lucky with their wardrobes, as they are pretty much fully kitted out in LITTLECIRCLE and also enjoy a few treasured hand-me-down pieces from older cousins. Neither of them has masses of clothes, I prefer them to have a tighter wardrobe of beautiful, high-quality clothes that get well used and well looked after. When we doing our buying each season I definitely earmark pieces for them, I just can’t resist. And I’ll admit, I do like them to be coordinated. Rocco loves fashion and is quite quirky and cool. This summer he’s sporting stripy Babe & Tess trousers, Louis Louise kurta-style shirts and denim shorts and his aviators. He loves to look super smart and can be found in a tuxedo, top hat and bow tie on ‘wear your own clothes’ day at school. My little girl is ultra feminine and girly and a total magpie. With her, everything has to be pretty but colour needs to be neutral (I buy a lot of white and ecru for her) or muted – no primary colours for this little one! This summer, her staples include exquisite Morley dresses, delicate Babe & Tess pieces, a gorgeous gold embroidered Lison bikini and some gold gladiator sandals. It’s not all fashion though, they do have a selection of pretty garish colourful pyjamas that they absolutely love!
How do you juggle it all – do you work full time/part time/always together?
By not sleeping. I work fulltime (which, when you run your own business, is actually all the time!) but flexibly, and am a fulltime mum too. So it means that I just sort of don’t really sleep. I am lucky in that working in a bank for 14 years was quite a hard-core training ground, an excellent test of stamina and endurance… and having little kids that didn’t sleep through the night for a long time, was the same… so I feel like a seasoned professional when it comes to the art of sleep deprivation! In terms of work, flexibility is key. Anna and I have a very similar work ethic (we are workaholics and perfectionists) and approach to looking after the kids (we like to pick them up from school and be with them until bedtime). So we sort of have a funny work-day that ends up being daytime until 3pm, and then the night and some weekends. I have a very supportive, modern husband, who is very hands-on with the kids and prioritises spending time with them over his other interests. He helps with the morning school runs, bedtime and on weekends when I’m working, which makes the whole thing just about work. Whilst I always need to be either near my iMac or with laptop and phone handy, I am set up to work from most locations and never go anywhere without great wifi. So I am free to be anywhere, especially when the school holidays come around. My kids are very understanding about my work. They understand that I have given up my old career to forge a new path that involves being with them as much as possible, so when I do have to work in their presence, they are cool with it. It helps they know what I actually do. They will happily play ‘office’ and pretend to be very busy and important, whilst I am doing real work!
Talk us through a typical morning in your home – how do you make the mornings as stress-free as possible?
My kids are not naturally very early risers, which I’m very grateful for. And both my husband and I go to bed super late (early hours of the morning) most days, so we are knackered in the morning and frequently struggle to get out of bed. We generally wait for the kids to come in and jump on our heads before we get up – there are no operative alarm clocks in our household! This means we are pretty much always behind where we should be. But nonetheless, we try not to rush the kids and to make sure they’ve had a really good breakfast (my son is obsessed with bacon sandwiches!). I’m lucky because most days my husband comes on the school run with us, so we all head out together in the morning and enjoy some family time in the car. The kids never get to school early, but literally just in the nick of time. Controversially as my husband and I have always been late for everything (as good friends will attest to), we made our peace with lateness a long time ago, and controversially do not find ourselves stressed at all because of it. I’d like to become a bit more punctual at some point, but until then we’re all pretty happy and relaxed.
Motherhood is all about priorities - what do you prioritise in life and what do you let slide?
I couldn’t agree more, it certainly is about prioritising. For me, first and foremost it’s about the happiness of my children and my husband (although he’s incredibly undemanding and chilled), who are absolutely the centre of my universe. My time with them is precious and I make a concerted effort to give them as much of my attention as I can when I am with them – so generally no taking phone calls or replying to emails (the iPhone stays in my handbag until bedtime, everyone can wait!). Sometimes it’s unavoidable though. I prioritise holidays and try to take them abroad as much as possible (although I still work every night when they are in bed) – a good dose of sunshine and fresh air does wonders for health and well being, it makes for wonderful time together often with family or friends, and it’s a great cultural education. What do I let slide? A lot. Whilst once upon a time I was obsessed with having the perfect home, I now really am not. We gutted our current house about 6 years ago and created a shell that we love, but its pretty bare in terms of décor, furnishings and finishing touches. I’ve taken my love of minimalism to a new level – it’s taken 6 years for us to get a picture frame up on the wall (and it’s still empty). A good friend once remarked, “where has all your stuff gone, it looks like you have been burgled!”
What are three time management tips you swear by?
Try not to do too many things at the same time, as it tends to be very inefficient. Pick a task to solve and try not to get sidetracked with other things. I’m religious about organising my work life and personal life with my iCalender. My husband and I regularly put everything in each other’s diaries, especially as we don’t really speak much during the day. When I have seriously amount of work to get through in short amounts of time, I forget time management. There are times where you need to just break the back of the task at hand, so don’t look at the clock, just get it done (and then worry about how late it is!).
Do you ever procrastinate?
Not much actually. I’ve always been quite focused and operate best when I am really busy or under pressure. I feel like I never have enough time, so tend to just go into execution mode and get stuff done. Ironically I tend to procrastinate on the rare occasion that I actually have any free time to think – I’m so over excited to have the luxury of time that I can become a bit paralyzed and don’t know what to do first!
What helps you to focus?
The fact that I’m normally under huge time pressure naturally serves to focus the mind! I break up my work-day to pick up the kids at 3pm, which is an unmoveable deadline so I’m racing against the clock until then. I then carry on to do the grave-yard shift once the kids are in bed, so the prospect of sleep makes me pretty efficient and focused. I will write a quick list of to-dos on a post-it note and stick it to my iMac, to empty my head of the noise. If that doesn’t work, I will call my husband at work and verbalise everything I have to do – he will always listen sweetly no matter how busy he is, and that in itself is so helpful.
What is your approach to parenting - are you strict/relaxed?
Like most parents, I can be both. I try to be strict with things that I feel are important in the longer term – for example, the use of good manners, ensuring they treat others with respect and being mindful of their environment. I am also not a huge fan of kids spending a lot of time on mobile devices, and I believe that they should be able to make conversation and learn to be ‘bored’ as its then that they learn to make their own fun (as opposed to being handed fun on a screen). So I am strict about screen time, especially during term-time. For the most part though I am pretty relaxed. I try to foster a peaceful, calm and relaxed environment at home. I’m lucky as the kids are pretty lovely and don’t fight, which majorly helps. I generally try not to be strict with things that don’t really matter. I believe that kids should be allowed to be kids, to have fun, to let loose and break the rules on occasion and even to make mistakes.
How do you tackle public meltdowns/tantrums?
It really depends on what is the cause of the meltdown is. In my kid’s case, it’s usually hunger or tiredness. My daughter comes home from school ravenous every day and can definitely be a little ‘edgy’ – I try to pre-empt a meltdown by arming myself with a handbag full of snack options, and this usually works! If I think the ultimate cause is tiredness, I am not afraid to pull the rip-cord and make a swift exit home! Sometimes, it’s the right thing to do, even if it means plans change.
Does the perfect mother exist?
It’s the hardest job in the world. But I think that there are many mothers out there who do a phenomenal job day in day out, often without any recognition. Perfect… well, we all have our faults, flaws and imperfections, but we try hard. And it’s no bad thing for children to see their parents’ imperfections and what makes them human. I have been blessed with a mother who is as close to perfection as they come – she’s truly selfless, always putting her three children before herself, always listened to us, had fun with us, made us feel like we could achieve anything we wanted to and showered us with unconditional love. She is perfect to me.
What is your approach to health and wellbeing – do you eat well/exercise?
The truth is that over the last few years, my approach has been pretty substandard, to put it mildly. With the needs of young kids and a new business taking priority, I have definitely put my own health and wellbeing at the bottom of the pile, like most busy working mums. Having the time to do exercise felt like an indulgence. And the need for sleep has most certainly trumped the will to go for a jog. As regards eating, I put my energy into cooking good food for the kids, but not for myself and my husband as my evening time is my ‘work-day’ and I just can’t afford the time out. We are very low-maintenance and are generally happy with something super simple, like a bowl of cereal or a salad. However, we are so lucky living in central London, where everything can be delivered to us almost instantly. I’m a huge fan of Deliveroo. It’s revolutionised my life! We often order in sushi, and it has saved us on many an occasion when we’ve been entertaining!
What are your beauty essentials/regular treatments?
I am a creature of comfort when it comes to beauty products – I swear by YSL makeup and never leave the house without YSL black liquid eyeliner on (I’ve always worn it, and feel funny without it). My best friend regularly sends me Chanel nail polishes for my birthday as she knows I love matchy nails. I don’t travel anywhere without my GHDs to sort out the bird’s nest. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Eve Lom skincare range. A friend of mine is shortly launching her own range, Santley Skincare, and I’ve been testing her incredible essential oil-based products for a while and absolutely swear by them. In terms of regular treatments, I am pretty low maintenance, as I am always short on time and don’t like to have structured routines! If I’m in need of a major overhaul before a work or social event, then Perfect10 is my first port of call – they will do the full range of treatments to ‘fix’ me at home whilst the kids are in bed. I’m also a spa-junkie. Every so often, I will indulge in a day at the ESPA Life at the Corinthia London with my two best mates, or my sis. So good for the soul. On our annual trip to India, we do a 10 days course of Ayurvedic massage – absolutely nothing beats it, its incredible for the body, mind, sleep and general sense of wellbeing.
Can you list 8 things you’re loving right now – could be anything from cuddles with your children to a book to a restaurant to a destination to a new brand – anything!
Glastonbury, VIP style – the best festival in the world. Recently my husband and I left the kids (for the first time ever) and had an epic four days there with great friends who know how to do it in serious style. I’m a convert, can’t wait to go again… recovery took a while though! Un-interrupted time with the kids. I love the school holidays as I get the kids all to myself and we can be totally off the program. I love how they totally switch into holiday mode, sleeping late (and in my bed!), lounging around and dare I say it, even enjoying some lie-ins. My oversized Diptyque Baies outdoor candle – my favourite scent, and so much candle! My blush broderie Anglaise dress by Sea – the perfect day to night dress, my summer staple. The best pizza in the world from our friends’ restaurant Homeslice, and incredible Korean food from the sensational Jin Juu. Swimwear by Marysia (love a scalloped edge) and the lovely Tara Matthews (incredibly flattering). Black walls – our house is pretty much all white and pale grey, but recently one evening, I decided to paint my home office in FARROW & BALL Off-Black Paint – I simply love this rich charcoal tone, it adds richness, depth and surprising warmth. Reading a book – No joke, I haven’t read a book since my honeymoon, and I’ve missed it. I didn’t go and see Lion at the cinema as I’m trying (slowly) to read the book.