i recently visited the studio of kim woods, designer and owner of the children's clothier, willaby. located just down the street from my own studio, kim's space is in an old general store near downtown and is a sunny spot, full of her lovingly-made pieces, works in-progress, sketches, & simple toys for her young son. kim, her husband and young son, henry, recently moved to athens from atlanta, and have quickly settled in as one of the many creative businesses that makes athens so unique. during our visit, i took a few photographs of kim's space while she worked, and later i asked her a few questions about her company, running a small creative business, and being a mom...enjoy!
Where did the name willaby come from?
When I was a child, I had a favorite book called Willaby. It's not very well-known, but it's a sweet story about childhood innocence in the form of a girl who loves to draw. I connected with the character and loved the illustrations. After I asked to read the story over and over again, my dad started to call me Willaby. When I was creating my brand, it came to mind as another name for myself, as well as a symbol for the spirit that I wanted to convey. I made my logo lowercase and cursive, like a little girl who is perfecting her signature.
Tell us a little bit about your background...it is in art, yes? How does that influence your work?
Yes, I went to school for fine art, mostly drawing and painting. Prior to that I was a law student who left for art school. And prior to that I got a B.A. in political science. It's a been a process of unpeeling layers to get back to my core and the things to which I'm most devoted. I went to SMFA, which is a multi-disciplinary fine arts program. My teachers encouraged to see the connections between all forms of art and design, and to dabble in everything. I tend towards that way of working anyhow, so it suited me well. Alongside my classes I sewed at home, which I've done since my early teens. There wasn't a fashion design program at SMFA, and I wasn't thinking seriously about that, anyhow. However, once I graduated and my interests shifted to having a family, I started looking at children's fashion and sewing children's things.
I definitely think that being trained in fine art influences my work. I'm oriented towards color, and gained a solid understanding of it in art school. I was the student who happily mixed paint for hours. Now that I work with fabrics, color is of the same importance. And honestly, everything is transferrable. The basic principles of shape, color, line, value, texture, and composition carry the same importance in painting as they do in fashion. And having a vision is as equally vital whether you're a painter or designer. Mine has been one of simplicity, and I transferred that vision over when I started designing.
If one thing was impressed upon me in art school, it's this: not being formally trained in a task should never prevent you from trying it. This became a mantra that was repeated to me over and over again. I'm sure that I subconsciously carry it with me whenever I enter into uncharted territory. It becomes part of the fun, not knowing exactly what I'm doing, because that means that I'm learning. And if I can learn it, that means that I can do it.
Did the inspiration for willaby come from your experience as a mother? Or, had you thought about designing children's clothing before you had your son?
It was a little bit of both. Prior to Henry's birth, I'd been designing and sewing baby toys and accessories under my current brand name, but with a different logo and identity. This was all out of personal interest; I was fascinated with things for little ones. Then the clothing took off after I had my son. That is when I changed my branding and went in a completely new direction. I'd been looking at children's fashion for a few years and knew what I wanted to contribute in terms of philosophy. I'd sewn some clothing for him while I was pregnant, but strongly felt that I needed to have firsthand experience with sizing and functionality. Once Henry was born, I learned all of that, and I felt much more confident to delve into clothing. I knew exactly what I liked and why, why certain pieces worked and others didn't. Aside from all of these reasons is the simple fact that birth changed me. I became a stronger person with a clearer vision, with an intent focus on what I wanted to do.
What is your favorite part (or parts) of the designing process?
Oh, definitely the start of something new. It's the excitement of gathering all the fabrics for a new season and freely sketching designs, then honing everything down to a balanced collection. I love the honing process equally as much, probably more. Making decisions about what will be the very best designs and fabric selections, and the "why" of it all, is well-suited to my analytical nature.
You are one of the many creative working mothers we know...do you have anything to share about finding balance?
Well, first, I challenge myself not to think in terms of separate categories of life that all need their appropriate time and energy. Instead, living in a way that acknowledges these categories as fluid changes the whole equation. It helps to free me from the guilt that I'm neglecting one thing for another. For me, this takes the form of including my child as much as possible in my process. Sometimes I need to work alone, and this is deeply beneficial to me, but sometimes he can be there. I've taken him to business meetings, he comes along to my office, he helps me mail packages. He's starting to help me sort and count stock, and he loves it. The fact that I don't always have to exclude him is one of the reasons why I enjoy my work so much. Because I create my own schedule, 9 times out of 10, I can usually drop something I'm doing to be with him or answer a need. Is this always convenient? No. But it's my first responsibility, and it's an exercise in patience. I want to be there for him, and for him to know that he's more important than my business. At the same time I want him to value living into your purpose and working hard. I see my work as an example to him, and as something that he should be a part of, so that he can learn these values. I remember being alongside my parents' work as a child. It made me feel useful and proud of myself, and I hope it does the same for him. I want him to remember me as a woman who was led by her deep desires: to be a good mom, wife, friend, and businessperson. If I achieve these goals, I put him closer to achieving his.
thank you, kim, for sharing your time with us!
words & photographs by rinne allen