What is the winning formula to running a successful kid’s fashion label? According to Kat Klug, creator of innovative concept brand Skittle and Mouse, coffee is a key component. “I love: Coffee, fashion, coffee, dogs, coffee, the snow, coffee, ummm did I mention coffee?” Of course, her diploma in fashion industry studies and experience spanning bridal and corporate uniform design helps, though it’s quite removed from the patterns she’s currently drafting and grading. “Childrenswear is [certainly] a fun change from gowns and suits,” says the Brisbane-born designer.
Dubbed “Skittles” by her husband, tenuously derived from her full name, Kathleen “it changed gradually from Kat to Kitty to Kittles to Skittles, so Australian!” the name for her brand evolved from this moniker, complemented by the addition of her daughter’s nickname Miss Mouse. Though Kat is quick to point out that Grace, 4, is anything but mouse-like “she is the least mousy little girl you are likely to meet! She is tall, loud and she certainly knows how to fill a room.”
“I started Skittle and Mouse while on maternity leave after the birth of my daughter in 2012,” says Kat. “It really started as a hobby. I made my baby girl a couple of pairs of crawl-pants because she has really sensitive skin. Her knees were getting scraped and bruised from crawling around on our tiles.” That maternal instinct to protect her daughter and cushion her from falls and hurts is what led Kat to create the design aesthetic fundamental to her crawlers and fallers concept that has become the signature look of her brand. From word-of-mouth sales to reaching a wider audience at the local markets, it wasn’t until after the birth of her son, Samson, in 2014 that her business really began to take off. “In 2015 the early market mornings no-longer appealed so I shifted my focus away from the markets and set up a website,” says Kat.
2016 is set to see Skittle and Mouse usher in a new era with a fabulous new range, which launched this month, and a manufacturer coming on board to take some of the pressure off. “This will free me up to pack orders, respond to your e-mails on time, and finally do some bookkeeping. It also means I am finally able to wholesale my range, something I have been looking forward too from the outset,” says Kat.
From Mummy and Me dates with her children to scheduled visits to the supermarket, Kat confesses she has become a creature of habit in order to negotiate life as a working mother, and she keeps a clear divide between family and work …well for the most part; “I try not to let my work spread into my living areas, except for when a sale is on then all bets are off and every clean surface gets covered in orders!” she says. Inspired by fellow Australian Mums who have carved out their place in the industry, Kat attributes her drive and tenacity to Babes in the Shade maker, Ali, and the design duo behind Brisbane-based fashion and accessories label Louenhide in particular. “These ladies are the real deal, hard-working, kind and down-to-earth. They showed me what can be achieved with hard work and determination, while still having a fulfilling home life,” she says.
Of her current range, Kat asserts that Grace and Samson are the sole inspiration behind it and her previous lines, “These are the clothes that I want to dress my kids in. Easy-wear clothing that lasts and can be styled in so many different ways,” she says. “With the addition of knee-pads to all the pants and grow-suits I have less skinned knees, tears, and ripped clothing!” On that note, Kat asserts that the inclusion of knee-pads are not for show, “they have a layer of padding and non-slip grips so they protect your little one from some of life’s rough and tumbles, because we can’t be there to watch them all the time,” she says. “They are also long-wearing and durable; they won’t stain or wear-out over the knees.”
In the beginning, those crawl pants would be joined by cute dress designs and other styles until Kat saw the need to focus her offering in order to satisfy her clientele and equally importantly take the pressure of herself. “I realised how much time and energy was going into each piece and that I couldn’t keep it up,” she says. “Crawl-pants were always my best-sellers so I decided to focus on that and leave the pretty dresses to all the other fabulous mummy makers out there!” Kat has confessed however, that the dresses are sprung from dreams to craft an entire line just for Grace, the designer’s ultimate muse.
Kat’s love for fashion feeds into her work so clearly as she has created a brand that isn’t just about external beauty but considers the needs of the individual she is dressing. “I want all my pieces to be able to work into your existing wardrobe,” says Kat. From a neutral colour palette of pink, grey, black and white to design features intended to grow with your child, you can see the thought, attention and care that has gone into every single piece bearing the Skittle and Mouse insignia. “This is why my leggings come with a long (or double) cuff. It is designed to be worn folded then unfolded when your baby has a growth spurt,” she says. Keeping her designs in line with the mantra she swears by when shopping for her own children ‘Buy Less, Buy Well’, Kat is an advocate of quality over quantity “instead of filling up your child’s wardrobe with junk that falls apart after a few washes, buy items that you love, that they will wear all the time,” says the designer.
Looking ahead to her fashion future, Kat asserts that fashion has always been one of her great loves. “As early as I can remember I have always loved fashion,” she says. “I adored dress-ups as a child and was always draping myself in tablecloths or raiding my mother’s wardrobe. We didn’t have much money growing up so new clothes were a treat, and I can remember like it was yesterday the feelings of joy, and the confidence it gave me wearing something new that I loved.”
So what would grown-up Kat tell her child-self given the opportunity? “Be Brave. You can’t please everyone so sometimes you have to put yourself first,” she answers. “Oh and don’t date that boy, and some people think freckles are cute!” she adds, perhaps in anticipation of the emotional falls her children may encounter later in life. Dating and peer pressure are some way off however, so for now Grace and Samson and all the other children lucky enough to have Skittle and Mouse in their sartorial armory are as well protected and well-dressed as they’re going to get.