Heralded by such slogans as “your vibe attracts your tribe” and “seas the day”, to say Angelique Woodburn’s HOWI clothing line is a source of inspiration both style-wise and otherwise is a fashion understatement.
A former purveyor of primary school education, the Melbourne-based designer left her teaching post five years ago after the birth of her daughter. Fast forward to now and Woodburn has added two more children and a clothing line to her resume. Catching the fashion bug at an early age, the self-taught seamstress, who runs her business from home, recalls the moment it hit her: “I remember having to make a dress out of newspapers for a school camp competition and it was then that fashion design became a passion,” says Woodburn.
Putting on “fashion parades” for her family using odds and ends from around the house to construct her outfits, it was clear that the young Angelique was destined for the life of a maker. Of course those odds and ends have since been replaced by the natural fibres of wool and cotton as the designer strives to create a collection that offers breathable fabrics for children. “I would like to work with organic fabrics,” she adds, “as they are better for the environment and great for kids with sensitive skin.”
Starting a family of her own is what ignited Woodburn’s passion for childrenswear and like the inspirational words she sews into her designs, so too the name of her brand holds equal significance. “Howi is an American Indian boy’s name that means turtle doves,” she says. “Turtle Doves are a sign of friendship so I thought that was beautiful!” Launching her business over numerous cups of tea and Tim Tams as she worked away late into the night to fit around her young children, Woodburn states her motivation came from witnessing the hard work of her fellow mum makers. “After being inspired by so many other mums starting their own businesses on Instagram, my husband and I were talking over a cup of tea and Tim Tams and thought ‘why can’t I?!’.”
Why indeed. So it came to pass that Howi was born; a project entirely orchestrated by this talented woman, one I am quickly coming to realise is part of a superbreed of modern women striving to prove that traditional frameworks for balancing business and babies can be adapted to fit their dreams and realities and even leave a little wiggle room. Weaving her passion for creating clothing throughout collections that are brimming with relaxed, ocean-side vibes with pops of animal print and patterns punctuating a neutral colour palette, Woodburn explains her ethos for designing. “I am very passionate about producing clothes that kids want to wear, but also that are appropriate for them to wear.”
Launching her Seas the Day SS collection in September, which looked to the Scandinavian Coast for style inspiration with every shape representing a coastal image, Woodburn remarks that her ultimate starting point for every piece she designs comes from her own children. “Everything I design I would be happy for my children to wear, and this is where I start with all my designs. Looking at what my kids love and what I wish I had for them.”
Emphasising the appeal of Howi and its USP as a kids fashion label, Woodburn sums up her aesthetic simply, saying it’s “easy to wear and so comfortable”. From beautifully soft fabric to cool features like side pockets for filling with treasures and snap buttons to enable kids to dress themselves; it’s easy to see why her brand has amassed a social media following of over 20K on Instagram. “There is absolutely no way I would be able to survive in the industry without social media. It is the number one platform I use to advertise my brand,” says Woodburn. “It is a wonderful way to be able to connect with people from all over the world. It does however also make you very vulnerable. It is so easy for other brands or big companies to take a screen shot of what you have designed and replicate it.”
Appearing on an ABC special this year regarding the issue of copycats, Woodburn is very passionate about protecting small business brands like her own though she acknowledges how difficult the pace of the internet world makes it. “No matter how many shops I contact, both here and overseas, I can’t seem to stop the copying and more so the reselling of the copied items in Australian shops.”
A struggle her fellow makers will understand and something that no doubt will continue to be a hot topic until the necessary legal parameters are applied.
Arriving at Woodburn’s online shop, customers might be alarmed to notice that all but one or two of the Howi styles, including the designer’s favourite – the Mono Playsuit – are sold out. In news that will no doubt come as a shock to some, the originator of Howi clothing is hanging up her needle and thread and passing the reins to her business over to a brand new owner in the new year.
The currently anonymous new owner, only known as Tara, has said this about her impending step into Woodburn’s shoes as of January 2017: “Winter 2017 will be clothes that I myself would wear or buy for my husband, it is modern, minimalist streetwear, shrunk down into miniature form. Having one son and one daughter, I love unisex clothing that is great quality and can be worn by both my kids. Majority of the collection is unisex, it is predominately monochrome with a little denim thrown in, and for the girls there is a touch of vintage floral. This will be a surprise for long time Howi lovers, and I’m excited to see how they react to it as it’s an element that I love and hope to expand on in future collections.”
Though its creator is stepping aside, fresh from the thrill of November Kids Fest and even a sartorial cameo in an Indie flick, 2017 will undoubtedly be full of newly exciting developments for this fabulous brand.
So, as Woodburn prepares to depart the helm of Howi, she leaves us with some parting words of advice. “If you have an idea, just do it. I started from scratch with no help at all so I am extremely proud of what I have built from nothing. But the number one thing is you must have passion. Without passion, you will lose interest very quickly as roadblocks are inevitable. It’s the passion that gets you through them!” And one more thing, she says: “Believe in yourself and your ideas. If you love what you’re doing, someone else will too!”