Leading Brisbane fashion retailer, Rachel Moor Bryce is well known for the fashion boutiques (and Brisbane institutions) she created, Kisses and Little Kisses, for women and children for over 20 years. Now a mother of three - Edward, 5, Isla, 3 and baby Sylvie, 6 months, Rachel is continuing to evolve the fashion-led business - “After nearly two decades of involvement in the retail fashion industry, I longed to start a family, especially as the first child took a little longer than expected! So when my firstborn son Edward arrived I made the hard decision to finish with bricks and mortar fashion stores and transition to an online business. I was really ready for the change and to embrace motherhood by this stage.”
Little Kisses is now run by Rachel with business partner and mother of two, Anuska De Luca, (also boasting a fashion pedigree including Fenwick London and Collette Dinnigan). Together they curate premium gift hampers, full of gorgeous essentials for mother and baby, delivered all over the world in a signature chic red box (even Prince George and Princess Charlotte have been recipients, so we’re fairly certain one is on it’s way to Prince Louis!). Rachel radiates strength, authenticity and wisdom alongside her obvious sartorial style and credits both her mother and mother-in-law (Dame Quentin Bryce) as constant sources of inspiration. On her mother-in-law, Rachel says “She inspires me every day. I honestly don’t know how she does what she does… from getting off the plane to bringing us a cooked meal to minding some of the 12 grandkids to heading out to a reception then having someone for lunch the next day, then doing it all over again!” The stylish and busy mum of three also shares some inspired mama hacks such as “Go to others peoples places to let them meet the baby. It’s too much work having people at home where you have to have a clean house, provide food and clean up afterwards!’ (er, why didn’t we think of that!), to tips on time management, “I now use an hours tracker app which is fantastic for keeping you accountable for real hours you are spending on work. It helps you monitor your time so you know when you have to step it up or you’ve earned a break!”. We spent the morning with Rachel inside her beautiful Brisbane home (you may want to copy her children’s bedroom decor – that wallpaper!) to talk the juggle of small children with small business, fashion careers and inspiring mothers (and mothers-in-law)… Photography: Bridget Wood | Words: Emily Armstrong | Go to www.littlekisses.com.au
What are some vivid memories of your childhood?
I was born in Harrogate in England. Before I was four I had lived in Prague, London, Melbourne and Brisbane. Travelling a lot as a child and into my teens gave me a global perspective, little did I know this was later the catalyst for starting my own fashion business with an international focus. At that time Brisbane seemed like rather a sleepy town to me compared to what I felt Sydney and Melbourne had to offer in the way of fashion, food and beverage. My Dad was very interested in small businesses and very supportive of me, so Dad and I had many conversations about business ideas and the importance of good customer service. My childhood was very happy. I grew up on the river at Fig Tree Pocket with my elder brother and sister. I would spend my holidays and weekends riding my pony around the local pony club and suburb, often collecting one or two more kids on the way and exploring what was then quite an unspoilt green playground.
Can you tell us about your journey to motherhood - the ups and downs?
The wait was well worth it but it meant I had my third child at 40. I got shocking morning sickness with all three so that wasn’t pleasant but it’s funny how you forget all the worst bits and have another! Before my third child, I went for a scan and there was no heartbeat, which was a real shock as you never think that will happen to you. After the sadness of the news, I was actually able to pull myself together as I felt blessed to have two healthy kids already. I can’t imagine facing that with your first child. Thank God for the natural selection process as obviously something was wrong in that pregnancy. You blame yourself for being too busy or getting a spray tan or eating the wrong thing but it’s actually way beyond that and you have to not be so hard on yourself.
Has 2-3 kids been a big jump for you?
Not so far as Sylvie is still sleeping a lot and happy to come along for the ride but I can see things getting more tricky now as routine is starting to form. The third child is so much easier to manage as I feel more relaxed about motherhood and big brother Edward and sister Isla keep her entertained and my husband Rupert is very hands-on. It has certainly delayed my entrance back into the full-time workforce a bit longer than I planned. I am fortunate enough to be able to run my business partly from home and job sharing with my amazing business partner Anuska De Luca. My mum was also an integral part of kisses and Little Kisses so I am thankful for her ongoing support and time in this new phase.
What advice would you give to a woman about to have her first child?
Get a copy of Marie Mongan’s hypnobirthing book. It’s sad how fearful first-time mothers are about childbirth. I had three completely natural births and it was a very empowering experience that I believe was everything needed for a happy mother/baby start in life. Evenings don’t have to be the ‘witching hour’. Don’t stress as the baby feels it. Put on some classical music, bath the baby, have a wine and let the baby sleep when it’s tired. It hasn’t read the baby books! Have a hot meal brought to you every weekday for the first month if possible! My mother-in-law did that for me and it meant I had something nutritious to eat when I was at my most tired and hungry from feeding the baby. It meant I ate well, didn’t snack on junk food and that my husband had something nice to come home to and we didn’t have the usual evening stress and chaos. Stay connected whilst on maternity leave. Having interesting people to meet up with when you feel ready to step out keeps you from getting swallowed up in the vortex of babyhood – pyjamas all day, messy hair, clothes with avocado fingerprints. It makes you make the effort and keeps yourself in the picture. Mothers can lose themselves and their confidence if they get too disconnected from their former life. Go to other peoples’ places to let them meet the baby. It’s too much work having people at home where you have to have a clean house, provide food and clean up afterwards! It’s nice to step out, it normalises things and makes you get help from the people around you. Staying at home amplifies the issues of a vomiting, crying and pooping baby. I know for first-time mums the first baby seems hard but after a second or third you realise it was a lot easier than you thought at the time! Make the most of it and try to enjoy the moment as it soon passes. Sort yourself out with a capsule wardrobe of basics you can call on, so dressing while pregnant and after is effortless, stylish and comfortable. You won’t have time to think about this when the baby comes and keeping presentable will help with how you feel about yourself, especially when sleep deprived emotions creep in. Join a gym with a creche. Essential to give yourself a break and get back in shape. Even if you just go down to check emails and have a hot shower in peace, and maybe one time you’ll make the Pilates class! Whatever it takes I say.
Any words on trying to juggle parenthood, a relationship and a career?
A regular babysitter that the kids love and that becomes part of the family is essential for you and your relationship. Otherwise, you do not get a break from the grind and you become resentful with each person fighting to get a bit of their own time. My mother-in-law said you don’t remember the money you spent on childcare but you remember the fights and the unhappiness caused by being tired and stretched. I am getting better at more paid help to alleviate chores around the house and to get some time out. Unfortunately, fun things for you and your partner are less spontaneous. We schedule everything now. For example, if we’re going on holidays we’ll schedule the lunches with friends or the yoga class or the surfing otherwise it doesn’t happen. We’re yet to schedule in date night but we need to! I see the benefits of regularly having an outing for just the two of you to focus on each other and be individuals, not just mum and dad.
What are your time management tips?
I type up a weekly schedule for each term that includes kids’ school, kindy and extracurricular activities, my gym class, social events and days allocated to work. This allows others such as grandparents to be familiar with our schedule and offer to help out with the running around where possible. It also lets your close friends know your free times so a quick catch up in a busy week can happen as well. I now use an hours tracker app which is fantastic for keeping you accountable for real hours you are spending on work. It helps you monitor your time so you know when you have to step it up or you’ve earned a break! I also go to bed early. Something has to give, unfortunately. This helps with any disturbances from kids in the night and also enables me to deal with a busy and demanding day. I use all the obvious shortcuts available like online shopping and click and collect for groceries. I try to lay out outfits, school uniforms, lunch box items the night before. We do a bit of meal planning and bulk cooking on the weekends. The babysitter helps with lighthouse chores like tidying kids areas and folding and putting away the kids’ clothes. I tap into the amazing community we’ve formed in the neighbourhood, childcare and primary school, we look out for each other’s kids. If we are tied up or late someone stays and we share the running around to before and after-school activities.
What is the best/most useful piece of advice you have received about motherhood?
Everything is a phase that passes – this is so true. If I’m having a terrible time with a child waking early it’s a phase that soon sorts itself out. If the kids are going through a ratty phase or the terrible twos or reacting to a new baby, I know it’s not forever. If I’m struggling on the home front and work and our relationship, it is only a phase. All the low points are a catalyst to re-evaluate the situation and make some positive changes.
What do you love most about raising your children in Brisbane?
I love the ease of getting around. Driving and parking is mostly no problem, family nearby, lots of beautiful parks everywhere, excellent local primary schools with amazing supportive communities (also delays the dreaded high school fees by a few years). All the big city advantages without the downsides.
SHOP: Little Kisses hampers
How would you describe your personal style?
Simple, no fuss, appreciation for beautiful fabrics and designs. This was rooted in having a very fashionable Nan who sewed for herself and a local children’s boutique and was the influence in my love of fashion from a very early age. She was a very stylish lady whom I loved and admired very much. I still remember her Tiffany blue leather suitcase and beauty case and the hand-smocked dresses she sewed for my sister and I. I have unfortunately less opportunity to wear all my beautiful things from my time in the fashion industry. My afternoons now mostly consist of standing in woodchip at the park so no shoes really stand up to that. Everything has to be comfortable and quite practical but with a fashionable aesthetic. Equipment silk shirts are slowly creeping back into the wardrobe but they’re on kid-free days. I now fill my wardrobe with Aje, Velvet and Rag & Bone tees, Frame and Citizens of Humanity denim and Cecilie Copenhagen for every day, and for special events without the kids, I love Sea New York, Poupette St Bath and Zimmermann.
What about your wellness routine?
I had to join a gym, it was the only way I knew I could count on getting regular exercise. I was paying a babysitter so I could do Bikram yoga, which I love, but with an expanding family, I found I couldn’t possibly take two hours out of my schedule. So now it’s a 45-minute Pilates class and you don’t even sweat so it’s perfect if you have to go on to run errands. Everything is a juggle so it’s blow-dried hair or emails, meeting a friend or groceries! My husband is health conscious so that keeps our family on track. Buying healthy equals eating healthy. I’m interested in meditation and have a few programs downloaded but use them less and less. I have no trouble getting to sleep now I am a mother of three! I would love to visit a wellness retreat but it’s really up to me to bring these disciplines into my life so they can be maintained.
Can you talk us through your career path as a retailer and how you came to found Little Kisses? What are your most vivid memories of launching your first multi-brand boutiques - Kisses and Little Kisses back in 1996?
I feel really proud I was able to be an integral part of the fashion industry in Brisbane. I opened my first kisses boutique in 1996 and was the first to bring to Brisbane labels such as Sass and Bide, Zimmermann, Third Millennium, Marks & Spencer, Collette Dinnigan, Stella McCartney and Vanessa Bruno. I opened our second boutique in the early days of the James Street precinct which is now a thriving fashion hub for Brisbane. I realised after several years of running my fashion boutiques that all my fashionable customers were having babies and needed stylish clothes and accessories for themselves and their children. That resulted in my launching Little Kisses in 2003, also in James street. Little Kisses stocked Bugaboo prams, Citizen of Humanity maternity jeans, Burberry and Hugo Boss for baby and all things for the layette and nursery. It was a very exciting and dynamic time being part of the emerging Brisbane fashion scene. Just recently I cut out a few of the magazine articles and social pictures we featured in and made a pinboard. It’s such a snapshot of time and fashion and key people involved.
Little Kisses is a premier online bay gift service - what have been some highlights since you launched (such as Prince George receiving a box!)
Well yes, Prince George receiving one of our first Little Kisses hampers was a huge highlight! We had some pieces commissioned in the national coat of arms print. We were excited that the gift recipient received a note back saying how much they loved the items so it was a real coup. Since then personalities such Megan Gale, Carrie Bickmore, Jamila Rizvi, Leigh Sales, Leila Mckinnon and Libby Trickett have all loved our Little Kisses boxes and that certainly helps us put the name out there.
Why is Little Kisses so unique in the market and how do you put together each hamper?
I feel Little Kisses is very unique because of the two people behind driving it. We both bring a lot of passion and energy to our business. Anuska De Luca, my business partner and an integral part of the business, has a history in fashion, art, visual merchandising and customer service. Anuska was a buyer for Fenwick in London and worked with Collette Dinnigan in Sydney so our combined buying experience makes for a beautiful and unique selection of gifts. We are both mothers so we bring the experience of first time motherhood to our choices which makes the products in the boxes so desirable. Anuska has an amazing ability to style each hamper within an inch of its life and always with such a wow factor. As an artist, she has a great eye for colour and has just finished an art piece to submit for this year’s Archibald prize so she’s very talented and certainly brings the X-factor to the boxes.
What excites you most about working on a small business?
You are a jack of all trades so that keeps life interesting! The endless opportunity to evolve, make improvements, test the water in new markets, see the small business grow into a medium sized business that can sustain two people, getting great positive feedback from happy customers.
What's the most challenging part about working on a small business?
Watching the budget, taking the right risks that will pay off as poor decisions can set you back. Having to educate yourself on many different areas of business as you can’t employ as many specialised people as you would like to.
How has motherhood affected your career path?
For me, I have had to change course so I can balance kids and family, so transitioning to an online business was the perfect solution. I love Little Kisses and buying for and styling beautiful baby gifts, so it’s been a blessing. It’s not chasing the fashion circuit anymore but it brings me more fulfilment and allows me to have a better balance between work, family, friends and home life. It has forced me to use my time more wisely, almost every minute counts now and I am far more efficient and productive. You have to look at things differently when you have others so dependent on you.
How does your mother-in-law Quentin Bryce inspire you? What is some memorable advice she has given you?
She inspires me every day. I honestly don’t know how she does what she does from getting off the plane to bringing us a cooked meal to minding some of the 12 grandkids to heading out to a reception then having someone for lunch the next day, then doing it all over again! It’s exhausting watching it all but for her, it’s energising and keeps her feeling young and in touch and making a difference. It makes me think of my lifespan and what comes next. I know I want to crank things up a bit now I feel ready and it’s good timing with the business growing rapidly. I want to ensure I have a vibrant career and interesting life for the next two decades and onwards, so it makes me think about how I do that with a family. She makes me feel it’s ok to have help with the kids and she dispels any of the guilt. She always says if the mother is ok then everybody else is too so she’s big on supporting all the women in the family. She wants everyone to be the best version of themselves that they can be.