“My husband and I both have a long commute, so to make the mornings as drama-free as possible, on Sunday evening I organise the girls’ clothes and bags for nursery as well as my outfits for work for the week ahead. We also try to plan out meals in advance. Despite all of this, I still feel like my life is like an episode from that TV show ‘The Amazing Race’, running against the clock from place to place, and often forgetting coats or bags for nursery, or even to shut the front door! Not so long ago I interviewed a high-profile, very successful mother of four and she said that juggling work and motherhood is about embracing the chaos. It is so true, it makes it easier if you make peace with the madness and realise that it’s rarely going to run like clockwork,” says Australian-in-London Amanda Woodward-Brown on the daily juggle working mothers face...
After spending six years working at marie claire magazine in Sydney, the now mother of two girls moved to London and landed a job at Net-A-Porter. She then went to work at NINE IN THE MIRROR, a very chic e-commerce store for the expectant mother. She recently joined the team at women’s footwear brand Rupert Sanderson as head of content. “While juggling children and a career is never easy, it has also given me a more balanced perspective to work. I deal with challenges more objectively and I use my time much more efficiently,” she says. We caught up with Woodward-Brown to talk about how motherhood has changed her life (the highs and the lows), changes in the fashion landscape over the last decade, her advice to new mums looking to get back on their fashion feet and life in London. Photography: Helene Sandberg | Follow @amandawoodwardbrown
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Loyal, optimistic, creative.
What has motherhood taught you so far?
Patience, (there is no hurrying a toddler determined to put on their own shoes!) and the beauty of looking at the world through children’s eyes – their innocence and wonder at the smallest things makes you see everything anew. And most importantly, love. The enduring, selfless love you have for your children is both humbling and uplifting.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
To apply eye cream and have confidence in myself.
Tell us about your career pre-motherhood?
I have always loved fashion – even as a little girl I was fascinated with clothes and jewellery. I started my career in fashion magazines at Marie Claire Australia and worked there for six years before moving to London and swapping styling for writing. I had a feeling that the future of fashion lay online and so decided to move overseas to gain digital experience. Shortly after arriving in the UK I joined NET-A-PORTER, where I worked in the fashion marketing department before moving to social media. Switching from print to online, and working on commercial content for a huge, fast-paced company with teams all over the world was a steep and at times difficult learning curve, but it was a turning point in my career and made me realise how much I enjoy working in e-commerce.
Did your career change when you became a mother?
Becoming a mother changed how I approach my career. I switched from a full-time role at a large company, NET-A-PORTER, to work part-time at a start-up, NINE IN THE MIRROR, that offered more flexibility. It’s a move I would never have made without having children. While juggling children and a career is never easy, it has also given me a more balanced perspective to work. I deal with challenges more objectively and I use my time much more efficiently.
What do you love most about the world of media/e-commerce and what are some of the more challenging parts of media/e-commerce?
It is always fascinating to see what stories and products resonate with readers and customers – I love the instant feedback that online content and e-commerce offers. You immediately know when people like something – or when they don’t! One of the primary challenges of working online is keeping ahead of new developments, the landscape is constantly changing so you need to be continually evolving to stay relevant.
How would you describe the changes in the fashion landscape over the last decade?
Fashion is based on reinvention, but over the past decade, the changes the industry has experienced have been seismic. The rise of the internet and with it social media, e-commerce and the ability to self-publish, has made what once was a closed, exclusive world, extremely accessible. It is a fascinating time to work in the industry. I love how much more inclusive fashion now is, how young designers and small labels can build a business from social media and how easy it is to buy beautiful, unique pieces from all over the globe. That said the breakneck speed at which fashion now operates is a little unnerving – the relentless, feverish pursuit of the new does make me question the constant consumerism that the industry encourages. The impact this has on the environment and in turn, the world our children will inherit especially concerns me.
How would you describe your personal style?
I love classic silhouettes but with an irreverent twist. I usually build my look around one statement piece, whether that is a pair of pink trousers or oversized earrings, and team it with more pared-back styles.
What items do you wear time and again?
Pleated skirts, printed midi dresses and oversized knits. I also wear denim on repeat – on days out of the office with my daughters I mostly throw on jeans and jumpsuits.
Talk us through how you shop – online or in store? How often do you shop/update your wardrobe?
With two children, I rarely get a chance to shop in a store anymore, so I generally shop online. I used to buy clothes in a much more impulsive manner, I spent most of my time in a fashion office and out at appointments or events which meant that I always had an excuse to buy new clothes and shoes. If I saw something I loved and could afford it, (and even if not!) I bought it. However, when I became a mother I realised I had absolutely nothing practical to wear. I decided to rethink my wardrobe and invest in more casual pieces – I own much more denim now! I also buy from the high street more than I did before children. Before I buy something new, I consider what else it works with and whether I already have something similar. I also do an edit every now and then. I pull out any clothes that I haven’t worn for awhile, store them or sell them and work out what pieces I am missing to update my look in line with shifts in trends. I still buy things that I love, I am just much more considered about what I invest in. Plus, childcare costs mean that I can’t just buy whatever I want!
Favourite high street stores?
Other Stories is my favourite high street store – it’s the perfect mix of cool silhouettes and feminine detailing. I love Cos and Mango and will buy the odd piece from Zara too. I also discovered Arket when I was in Copenhagen. Each item is merchandised according to colour which is such an easy way to shop. It has a very understated, Scandinavian vibe.
Favourite designer stores?
I can never resist dropping into Stella McCartney, Chloe, Chanel or Celine if I am nearby, if only for window shopping. If I have a few hours in town without the girls I will always visit Liberty, I especially like the eclectic mix of jewellery. I also love the edit at Matches and Joseph.
Talk us through your shoe closet – what kind of shoes do you wear in a week?
I love shoes and would own so many more pairs if I had the budget and space! The right pair of shoes can completely alter an outfit. I wear everything from trainers to heels to statement flats – although nowadays I really only wear heels for work or going out. I rarely wore flats before I became a mother, but they now make up the majority of my closet.
What advice would you give to a new mum looking to get back on her fashion feet?
Create a capsule wardrobe of pieces that you can mix and match, so that you can pull a look together in limited time. Invest in closet staples like jeans, simple tees, oversized knits, flat boots, slides and trainers, then add statement pieces to lend interest to an outfit, such as a printed coat, jewellery or embellished flats. Fashion may appear superficial but feeling confident about how you are dressed is empowering. Becoming a mother, I found that putting on an outfit that I loved made me feel more like myself – even if I was covered in baby sick or feeling overwhelmed by sleep deprivation. Also, never underestimate the mood-boosting effect of buying a pretty dress or a new pair of shoes!
What are some vivid memories of your childhood? Where did you grow up? How many siblings did you have? What was it like?
I am the eldest of three children and I had a very happy childhood. My house in the Blue Mountains was surrounded by bush and set at the top of a valley of gumtrees so our backyard was basically endless acres of national park. My brother, sister and I very close and grew up playing outside and also travelling – my father worked for an airline and my mother loves going overseas, so we went away quite often. I feel very lucky that my parents opened my eyes to the fact that the world was much bigger than Australia from a young age. They were careful to take us beyond the hotels and resorts in the countries we visited, out into the streets, to the markets and to local restaurants, to expose us to different cultures. Aside from travelling, my happiest memories are of time spent with my cousins. My mother is one of six and I am very close to my extended family. As my mother worked full-time I often spent school holidays with my cousins at their houses. Now, most of my cousins have their own children too, our catch ups are even more chaotic and noisy if that’s possible!
Talk us through your journey to motherhood – can you share any highs and lows?
I have been very fortunate to fall pregnant easily twice and even though I suffered from severe nausea each time, both my pregnancies were healthy and fairly uncomplicated. I was lucky my journey to motherhood was relatively straightforward as I know this isn’t always the case. Looking back, I can see I had no idea what motherhood would involve. I always loved children, I had lots of younger cousins growing up and was even a teacher’s assistant for a year before university, but I knew nothing about looking after a baby. I remember a prenatal class when I was about eight months pregnant and the instructor telling us that a newborn needed to be fed every two hours. I was like, ‘Um, pardon me?’ I was sure that she was exaggerating. I had no clue how all-consuming motherhood would be. That said, I am not sure anything can prepare you for how it will change your life.
So far, what has been the most challenging part of motherhood and how have you overcome any challenges?
The year I had my first daughter was an incredibly difficult time. A few months before I had Violet we bought and moved into a run-down terrace house, in an area where we literally knew no one. We soon realised we had underestimated the amount of work and money it would take to renovate it. Shortly after my father was diagnosed with cancer. My grandmother, who I was extremely close to then passed away. I started back at work and was trying to juggle motherhood with a busy start-up environment, which was completely different to my former role. Violet started nursery and then was constantly ill for three months straight – she even came down with hand, foot and mouth when we went away for a weekend in Paris. I felt a little like I had been swept off my feet and caught at sea in a strong current – every time I found my footing again, it felt like another wave would come rolling in. Although it was a hard year in so many ways and made the identity shift that comes with motherhood even more difficult, I found strength and resilience I didn’t know I had. Not having my family close by for support is tough – it is one of the hardest things about living overseas. As London is the opposite side of the day from Sydney, I can’t just call my family and friends back home for advice or help if I am sick or having a bad day. But conversely, the fact that I have to deal with so much on my own has also given me a self-belief and confidence I never had before I became a mother.
What are your go-to fashion items when pregnant?
I prefer pieces that drape or skim over a bump rather than body-conscious silhouettes. My go-to pieces for pregnancy were elastic-waist trousers, A-line tops, shirt dresses and my leather biker jacket. I have never worn maternity wear apart from jeans and lingerie – they’re the only items you really can’t cheat!
How have you/did you handle any sleep deprivation/getting up in the night?
Coffee! My youngest rarely goes a night without waking up to a full night of sleep is extremely rare nowadays. When you’re facing a busy day of work on only a few hours sleep, sometimes only caffeine helps! Even though I naturally like to stay up late, I try to go to bed early nowadays, so I can get as much sleep as possible. I think I actually Googled ‘Can you die from sleep deprivation?’ at one point. It is truly torturous.
What’s your approach to health and wellbeing – do you eat well/exercise?
I always say I would like to do more exercise but I am not sure if that is true?! I have never really liked going to the gym! I love Pilates and try to do a class every week and I also try to go for a run when I can. We eat quite healthily but I am not obsessive about it, although I am conscious about limiting our intake of sugar. I cut out sugar when I was in my early twenties on the advice of a doctor after a long period of illness, and it made me realise how much is added to most foods. We don’t buy juice, cordial, flavoured yoghurts or cereals and we rarely cook with store-bought sauces or marinades. Although, I don’t think there is anything wrong with the occasional slice of cake or biscuit and I do have a weakness for Green and Black’s organic chocolate that I don’t think I’ll ever curb.
Describe a typical day in your life...
Mornings are always a mad rush to get out the door on time. We usually all wake up before 7 am, my husband will make me coffee, and then I’ll race around trying to get ready while helping Violet and Isla get dressed. I’ll then bundle them both into the car. This is always easier said than done. Something inevitably comes up at the last moment, like Violet will lose a shoe or Isla will tip her water cup over herself and need a change of clothes. I’ll drive them to the nursery, drop them off, and then drive back home, before running for the next train into London. My days in the office are quite varied. I might work on the site, social posts, plan or oversee shoots, meet with press and influencers or focus on content strategy. As my office is now in Central London, my husband usually picks up the girls. I arrive home just as they are finishing dinner, then its bath time, a story (or two) and they are generally in bed by 8 pm. My husband and I have dinner together, then we might watch something on Netflix or catch up on work. I try not to go to bed too late – especially as we have a toddler who seems to think that 2 am is party time. I have every Friday off with the girls and it is always a lot more relaxed – we are sometimes in our pyjamas until 9 am! We will go to a park, do artwork or I will take them on a playdate.
How do you juggle work and children?
I try not to divide my attention – when I am in the office, I concentrate on work and when I am with my daughters, I switch off and devote my time to them. It doesn’t always remain so defined, for example sometimes I will have an issue with work that comes up on my day off with the girls, but I try my best to keep my personal and work life separate. I am not an organised person by nature, but planning does help. My husband and I both have a long commute, so to make the mornings as drama-free as possible, on Sunday evening I organise the girls’ clothes and bags for nursery as well as my outfits for work for the week ahead. We also try to plan out meals in advance. Despite all of this, I still feel like my life is like an episode from that TV show ‘The Amazing Race’, running against the clock from place to place, and often forgetting coats or bags for nursery, or even to shut the front door! Not so long ago I interviewed a high-profile, very successful mother of four and she said that juggling work and motherhood is about embracing the chaos. It is so true, it makes it easier if you make peace with the madness and realise that it’s rarely going to run like clockwork.
What makes you laugh?
My husband. I think it is why we are still together fifteen years later, although we are completely opposite in every way! And my friends – particularly my best friend Genevieve who I have known since I was twelve.
How would you describe your approach to parenting? Are you strict/relaxed?
I think I am quite relaxed, motherhood is challenging but I try to approach parenting with a sense of humour – some days are perfect, some are not, and even when everything is going wrong, there is usually something to laugh about in the situation (even if only later in the evening after a glass of wine!). The girls have a routine, but our days are quite varied, so they are pretty adaptable, which makes it easier when travelling or going out. We spend as much time outdoors as possible and I actively encourage the girls to have a sense of adventure, they are both very free-spirited and independent. That said, I will always be strict about being kind to others and good manners – saying please and thank you, as well as behaving politely at the table during meal times. I also try to be firm about not letting the girls play on our phones or the iPad, apart from speaking to my family on Facetime or when we are travelling (parenting rules go out the window on long-haul flights!). Technology will undoubtedly play a role in their lives in future but for now I want them to develop their imaginations and play together.
How do you handle things such as tantrums?
I have learnt from experience that it is best to let a tantrum run its course. Especially when they are usually about ridiculous situations – Violet once had a sobbing fit over the fact that her buttons were sewn onto her shirt! Tantrums are an inevitable part of life with children and as hard as it can be not to become exasperated, showing your frustration has only ever seemed to exacerbate the situation for me.
Where are your top 3 places to go in London with your daughters?
Kew Gardens – there is endless space for the girls to run around and the change of seasons means there is always something new to discover. Kensington Palace Gardens – the round pond is lovely, and it is also right near the museums. Barnes Pond – it’s only a short drive from where we live and the girls love feeding the ducks and swans.
What about travelling – where do you love to travel to and why?
I love travelling, and the fact that it is possible to visit so many different countries in only a few hours travel time is one of the most wonderful things about living in Europe. I always try to go somewhere new each year but I particularly love Italy, it is a country I could visit again and again. This year I have Iceland on my list as well as Spain. Travelling with children completely changes a holiday (it’s definitely not as relaxing!) but my husband and I want the girls to experience seeing as much as the world as possible and embrace other cultures, so we try to take them away with us as often as we can. Plus, it can be even more special sometimes, visiting the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen last year with my mother and the girls was utterly magical and it wouldn’t have been the same without them there.