Monday, 31 December 2012

Happy New Year

2012 was an extraordinary year in so many ways.

A huge thank you from Grubbies and a very happy new year to our fabulous customers.

Thanks to (in no order whatsoever) Orla, Henry, Archie, Violet, Lola, Finley, Henry, Betsy, Ava, Elodie, Alice and Charlie.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Our 'Made in Britain' Christmas wish list

All Grubbies clothes are made in Britain. In fact, as we have said before, that's one of the first things we like to tell people about Grubbies.

This year, one of our team announced her plan to have a 'Made in Britain' theme to her present buying. (You'll be relieved to know that the theme only extends to gift buying and not all imported traditions - even the most patriotic Christmas would fall a bit flat without cranberries, stollen, Elf and Father Christmas.)

We suspect she won't be the only one buying homegrown this Christmas. It just seems the thing to do in 2012, the year of all things British. And so to help things along in these last few shopping days, we've been on a hunt for some of the unique, imaginative gifts being produced by designers and small companies up and down Britain. Here's our wish list:

Ben handmade rag doll by The Sheppard's Flock (£22 from Rain Starts Play)
We don't really understand the controversy about dolls for boys. And anyway, don't girls need boy dolls in their play too?

This handsome rag doll from wonderful The Sheppard's Flock would surely appeal to all children. He's made with considerable love by one woman and her sewing machine in Birmingham. You will notice, as well, that Ben has a very fine pair of dungarees.

My little Pony Dress by Rosablue (£21 from Rosablue)

A perfect little dress for playdates and parties. We love the ponies, but what we really like about Rosablue is that they design and print their own fabrics in a workshop in Cheltenham, so if you really like this dress, you can go ahead and order it in any (or all) of their fabrics.

Moose doll (£15 from Lucy Moose)

Lots of kids, including ours, love crazy, technicolour soft toys rather than traditional teddies. These brilliantly bonkers moose (mooses? meese?) from Lucy Moose would brighten up their beds no end. Oh and 'hoofmade' in Scotland - fantastic.

Paperpod airplane (£21.95 from Pobshop)

All children like cardboard boxes and, in our experience, all children, girls and boys, spend an inordinate amount of time tearing around making aeroplane noises. We think this cardboard propeller plane would be great fun to decorate and brilliant to run around in.

Red Riding Hood dressing-up cape (£14.99 by Sarah Fry from Folksy)

Our favourite dressing-up costumes are simple, beautifully made and leave something to the imagination. This handmade Red Riding Hood cape sold through fabulous Folksy is all you need for some scary, exciting fairytale fun in the garden.

Rudy Reindeer (£20 from This is Wiss)

At This is Wiss everything is handmade, clever and quirky, just like this Rudy Reindeer. We can definitely see him poking out the top of a s-t-o-c-k-i-n-g or two.

Grubbies Originals (£40 from Grubbies)

We're a little biased obviously, but we were very proud to find Grubbies on The Guardian's list of the Top 10 Presents for Children this year. They said "Lovely design, robustly made and brilliantly practical, these unisex dungarees...should prove a favourite for kids and parents sick of camouflage print and/or princesses". We couldn't agree more.

Grubbies kerchiefs (£14 from Grubbies)

Finally, our Grubbies kerchiefs, which Bambino Goodies included in their guide to the perfect stocking fillers. It made us feel just like Santa.

The Coyote kerchief has a cheeky coyote and stars and scrolls inspired by cowboy boots. The Wild Horses kerchief has a spirited wild horse, cowprint (and just a hint of pink). Both tick every Made in Britain box imaginable - they are designed by fabulous children's illustrator and all round super-talented lady, Marion Lindsay. They are printed in London and they are hand sewn round the corner in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. Lovely.

So, have you brought any British made presents this year? And what is your favourite purchase?

Happy shopping!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

An anatomy of….the Gummies

The Gummies are one of our best selling garments. It is also a garment we get a lot of ‘really happy customer’ emails about.  (An aside, but we have been hugely humbled and surprised by the amount of ‘really happy customer’ emails we receive. This is because, and it is shameful to admit it, it had never occurred to most of the Grubbies team to send a ‘really happy customer’ email to a company – despite having been made very happy indeed by many purchases over the years.  Sorry about that.)

It’s very heartening to be able to report that our Gummies seem to appeal in equal measure to boys and girls and to babies of all sizes.  Without being all smug about it, the Gummies are a bit of a crowd-pleaser. Here’s why we think that is.

1           Gummies are an all-in-together sort of garment. In the summer they look good and feel good over bare bodies; in winter they zip up perfectly over a vest or t-shirt. They don’t fall down, they don’t come unpopped (more of that later), they don’t gape or roll up. They are designed for some people who spend a lot of time laying or sitting down and some slightly bigger people who do a lot of crawling.  All have limited patience for getting dressed and undressed in the morning.

2           Gummies are unfussy:  When designing the Gummies, we spent a lot of time discussing detailing and adornment and ended up designing pretty much everything out. Out went the piping, out went the embroidery and out went the belt loops. This was partly aesthetics – we’re just not into fuss when it comes to children’s clothing – but also because someone who spends much of the day lazing on their back or front does not appreciate lumps, bumps, bows, belts and seams digging in to their baby skin.

3           Gummies have a very, very long zip:  Our decision not to put poppers on the Gummies legs was not uncontroversial. Some customers (and almost, but not quite) customers told us they’d like poppers. But, after testing and surveying and changing our mind many times, we decided poppers were out. We had concerns about the lie of the fabric, about the possibility of draughts and about whether our poppers, like so many other brands, would be a devil to keep popped. Instead we made the zip very long indeed. When a pit stop is required, the Gummies can be unzipped and tucked behind baby without having to take off the whole thing – clever heh?

Oh, and the chunky zips are very jolly colours indeed, just in case anyone is of the ‘less is bore’, rather than ‘less is more’, persuasion.

4           Gummies are very soft inside and out: For baby: the Gummies are lined in British-knitted jersey that is super-cosy and super-soft. They have a long and wide chambray zip guard – designed to ensure that the zip won’t rub against a baby’s tummy or against their neck.

For cuddlers of baby: the Gummies are made of wonderfully soft 100% cotton chambray. The chambray we use is very strokeable when it’s on a roll, but just to make sure, we also ask our Midlands factory to enzyme wash all of our Gummies to make them even softer.  You will find (we say with some confidence) that the more you wash them at home, the softer they become.

5           Gummies make babies look very cute: And in case you don’t believe us, here’s some of our tiniest customers to prove the point.

Oh, one other good thing whilst we remember. Like all of our clothes, Gummies are designed in Great Britain.

So that’s why we think you like our Gummies. Do we have it right?

Photo credits:  Baby with bare arms by Antakee Armoo;  Customer photos with thanks to Betsy, Finley and Hugo.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

We're sold on...the Clothkits doll

Despite appearances, this isn’t a 1980s advertisement for British Gas. It's a photo of my brother and I proudly showing off some of our 1980 Christmas hoard. And very nicely we did that year too.

Do you recognise the doll stuffed under my left arm? Her name is Mary and she is a Clothkits doll.

Just in case you don’t remember, Clothkits was a home-sewing-made-easy business that became absurdly popular in the seventies and eighties. It was based around the truly innovative idea of printing clothing patterns directly onto cheery, folksy patterned fabrics. Thanks to Clothkits, young mothers, like my own, somewhat shorter on sewing skills, free time and patience than their own mothers, had the satisfaction of filling their homes with homemade clothes, toys and tea cosies.

Mary was one of the original Clothkits ‘Kitty’ rag dolls. There was no Chinese plastic moulding factory for Mary. She started her life as a pre-printed pattern on a large sheet of cotton, her stuffing being sold as an optional extra. My mother would have cut along the dotted lines and followed the simple instructions to sew Mary together using the needles, thread and stuffing provided. She then made Mary’s vast array of Clothkits outfits, along with a few extra pieces she (amazingly) knitted herself and bundled it all together for my fifth Christmas present.

One of Mary's best assets was her impressive wardrobe, much of which is still intact. For bedtime, she has her cute (printed) vest and knickers, a pretty floral nightie with matching bedding and a rather more exotic kimono for the weekends.


Her daytime outfits (as you would expect from a Clothkits doll), are folksy, timeless and slightly hippie. My daughter loves dressing Mary in a printed cotton brown and blue long-sleeved number that she calls her ‘Russia’ dress (where that particular cultural reference came from I don’t know).

Personally, my favourite has always been Mary’s burgundy needlecord pinafore with a small patch pocket. It is near identical to one I wore as a child – Clothkits had the inspired idea of including doll-sized versions with their patterns for children's dresses. Mary usually wears the pinafore over her classic white blouse which has a peter pan collar and gathered cuffs.  Like her underwear, Mary likes to keep her red sandals and her rather smart watch on at all times.

Mary has received a whole lot of love over the years. I was rarely separated from her as a child and spent hours mixing and matching her outfits.  More than thirty years later, here she is again, in much coveted pride of place in my four-year-old’s bed. Mary has spent almost every night there for the last two years.

And it’s not just our house that showers Mary with love and affection. The wonderful thing about Mary is that she frequently gets recognised when we’re out and about. Sometimes by other daughters of the seventies, but even more often by new grandmothers of my mother's generation. They come over to hold Mary and share their genuine delight at being suddenly reminded of lovingly sewing a ‘Kitty’ doll themselves.

Poor Mary is starting to show signs of all this love but, for such an old girl, she’s not looking too bad. In this post-Toy Story era, I am genuinely relieved that Mary was one of only two or three childhood toys I instructed my parents to store in the loft, just in case she was needed again. 

And so, the Clothkits doll, made by one generation and loved by (at least) two more, is firmly on the ‘Grubbies loves…’ list.

Oh, did I mention, Mary came with a fabulous pair of dungarees?

After 17 sad years of hibernation, Clothkits was wonderfully resurrected in 2008 and the ‘Kitty’ doll kits are selling once again. Kay Mawer, who brought the brand back to life has also orchestrated some fabulous collaborations with designers such as Rob Ryan and Jane Foster. We particularly love that all of the Clothkits ‘kits’ are designed and printed in Great Britain.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Perfect places No. 1: Leigh Beach

This is the beach at Leigh-on-Sea. Its official name, apparently, is Bell Wharf Beach, but most people just call it Leigh Beach.  It’s not somewhere you’ll be familiar with unless you (a) live in Leigh-on-Sea which is a small town just outside Southend, Essex and (b) you have young children. If you tick both of those boxes, you’ll probably think of Leigh Beach as one of the most perfect places in the world.

There are days, admittedly, like this past weekend, when Leigh Beach can look a bit like this, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

But on the other 364 days of the year, Leigh Beach is forgotten by most people and looks a lot more like this.

There is the ideal mix of stones for collecting and sand for sand castling.  There is a salt pool for paddling and catching crabs.  There is a sea wall with railings for climbing and jumping off into the sand.  There is the glorious, if somewhat acquired, smell of the local cockles and, when the tide is out, the wonderful Estuary mud.

There are cockle boats to watch as they motor in and out and, on the other side of the Estuary, you can see the factory chimneys and guess how long it would take to swim there.

It is difficult for those who live in Leigh-on-Sea, like many of the Grubbies team, to imagine anywhere in the world that is so perfectly suited to spending a few hours with your children.  Which is presumably why it is utterly unchanged since we ourselves played there two or three decades ago.

Theme parks, interactive museums, 3D cinemas - they all have their place of course.  And the children are crazy about the deafening and garish surrounds of the soft play centres, even if they seem designed to crush the spirits of the supervising grown-ups.

But, it’s places like Leigh Beach that childhood memories are made of. Unsung and unassuming spots up and down Britain - parks, commons, cafes, duck ponds, woods, village halls, library gardens – all within a mile or two buggy or scooter ride of our homes.

Tell us about your family’s perfect place.  We think it’s about time we started celebrating these local gems and putting them on the map.

Photo credits:  Crowded beach by Discombobulatedd;  Grubbies photos by Skin and Blister

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

This year, we've mostly been making Union Jack bunting!

What a funny old year 2012 has turned out to be. The last time we had a 'theme' year like this was probably the millennium but even then everyone was too busy stockpiling canned goods and bottled water to embrace the theme wholeheartedly.

But this year has had us in a tailspin of flag-waving, patriotism from the get-go. Kate and William, Mary Portas, HRH, Andy Murray, Wiggo, Jess and MoFa – 2012 has been one giant street party and only the most ardent republicans and cynics have been able to resist the celebrations (your thoughts were noted thank you, Morrissey). Even the not-at-all-Great British weather, which drenched our Queen, our bunting and our torches, failed to dampen the collective enthusiasm for our green and soggy Land.

In the first ever Grubbies board meeting, convened on a picnic rug in a back garden in South East Essex, we discussed the sort of company we wanted to be. We knew we'd sleep happier if our company trod lightly on the world and that a fundamental part of this would be sourcing materials and labour in an ethical, responsible way. We didn’t though write down ‘Make the dungarees in Britain’ on the page marked ‘Brand Ethos’.

But a little over a year later, the fact that all of our clothes are designed and made in Britain is one of the first things about Grubbies we like people to know.  We’ll be honest about it. It started as a pragmatic decision, rather than an ethical one.  We began sourcing partners for sampling and product development in the UK and found specialist denim suppliers who were (much more than) qualified to take us all the way through to production. And then, once we began working with these people, with whom we could talk every day and visit every week if the mood took us, where we could see at first hand the crafting of our clothes and the working conditions of the people who make them, it became clear how much we suited this way of working and how much more British it made Grubbies feel as a brand.

And so in 2012, we've been making an awful lot of Union Jack bunting and, along with the rest of the country, have rather surprised ourselves at feeling so darn proud to be British.  Whether this spirited sense of pride will endure into 2013 and beyond is anyone’s guess. We suspect it will rather depend on Mary’s knicker sales, Andy Murray and the weather.

One thing’s for sure, like all good birthday parties, having a theme has made this year a lot more fun. Ideas for 2013 on a postcard please.
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