Why celebs can’t get enough of Wild Things Dresses from Brinscall

PUBLISHED: 21:45 27 March 2015 | UPDATED: 21:45 27 March 2015

A selection of Kirstys designs

A selection of Kirstys designs

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Designer Kirsty Hartley’s funky children’s clothing is must-have play wear with a celebrity following, and now her new book means you can make it yourself. Gillian Hook reports

Kirsty Hartley has a worldwide following (picture from her book Wild Things published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson)Kirsty Hartley has a worldwide following (picture from her book Wild Things published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

If to you children’s play clothes mean smaller versions of adult outfits, then feast your eyes on the colourful and exciting range from Wild Things Dresses, created by designer Kirsty Hartley at her home in the Lancashire hills.

There are rabbits, foxes, bears and dragons appliqued on to pinafores, dungarees and jackets plus colourful print dresses and animal hats and tails for instant fun. After three short years, her online business is booming. And it all started with a mouse.

After the birth of her third child, Kirsty decided to take time out from her job as a fashion lecturer at Manchester School of Art and began sewing again, something she had always loved but which had taken a back seat to her family and career.

She began making outfits for her children from home in Brinscall, near Chorley, where she lives with husband Gary, 52, and their children Ewan, 12, Silva, eight, and Lila, now five. She then sold some of the clothes at craft fairs, and in 2011 set up an online store on Etsy, an international website selling handmade items.

Kirstys children Silva is on the left, Lila at the front and Ewan on the right modelling her play clothes.Kirstys children Silva is on the left, Lila at the front and Ewan on the right modelling her play clothes.

‘It was quite slow to start with. I thought I’d like to start up a children’s brand but I was really just playing at it,’ she recalls. ‘Then a picture of Silva in a mouse dress, taken on her first day at school, went viral through Pinterest and social media, and suddenly I had a big surge of orders, and it just took off from there.’

Now she sells her children’s outfits around the world and celebrity fans include Lily Allen, Charlotte Church, Frances Bean Cobain (Kurt Cobain’s daughter), Jamie Oliver’s wife Jules and the Duchess of Cornwall’s niece.

‘I’ve tried to keep the clothes simple, really bold and quite direct. The colour and patterns really stand out. I use really simple colour and shapes that I think children relate to and which is almost Scandinavian. It’s not vintage, but it’s a little bit nostalgic because I use 60s/70s styles such as short A-line dresses.’

Originally from Blackpool, Kirsty got her first sewing machine for Christmas when she was ten. ‘My mum sewed, as did my grandmother who also had wardrobes full of amazing clothes, which got me into fashion. I started making my own clothes as a teenager – it was the time of the New Romantics and fashion was a bit out there – and I’ve been making things ever since.’

After studying fashion and textiles at Manchester Polytechnic – now MMU – she stayed in the city and ran her own small women’s wear label, then freelanced for a number of design companies and eventually returned to MMU to teach fashion – stepping into the shoes of the lecturer who had taught her.

But now Wild Things Dresses is her full-time occupation, run from her home on the edge of the West Pennine moors. ‘There are open spaces and woodland all around where we live – it’s beautiful,’ said 46-year-old Kirsty. ‘I don’t commute to work any more, I just go for a walk in the morning with our dog, Mellow, and at weekends with my own three wild things!’

She aims to source as much as she can from the UK, and her latest printed dress designs are produced in Lancaster by Standfast & Barracks. She designs, cuts, sources and markets from her home, which is a former Victorian chandlers. When her business first took off, she used the services of two local sample makers, and although now the clothes are made in Scotland, it is by a small workshop of local makers.

‘I think there is a big movement of people wanting to buy from smaller artisan businesses and wanting items with a bit more history, moving back to more regionally produced and sourced goods,’ she says. ‘I had offers to produce my clothes in bulk, but I didn’t want to go down that route. The business is growing steadily and I’m very happy with the way it’s going.’

Having been shortlisted for a number of awards already – by Junior magazine, Not On The High Street and Lancashire’s BIBAs – she’s obviously doing something right! She now has her own website, wildthingsdresses.com, and this month her first book, Wild Things: Funky Little Clothes To Sew, will hit the shelves, featuring instructions to recreate many of her signature designs. ‘The opportunity to do the book was fantastic. I want to encourage people to make their own fun kids’ clothing.’

As well as the book and new printed outfits, Kirsty is branching out into craft kits, teepees, a puppet theatre plus children’s textiles such as cushions, all done in her inimitable style. And book number two is also in the pipeline.

‘I do feel proud of the Lancashire area, of getting involved in regional things. Although I’m selling my clothes on a global scale, I still like to keep things local,’ she said.

Wild Things: Funky Little Clothes To Sew by Kirsty Hartley (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20 hardback, £10.99 eBook) is published in April.

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