Belle Savransky and LaTonya Staubs are making sustainable clothes for the city kid in every kid.
When you have a new baby, the Instagram universe beckons; it’s somehow comforting to see the familiar faces you follow during those nights when there’s nobody but a tiny (crying) little human to talk to. That’s how we found two of our favorite NYC bloggers, Belle Savransky and LaTonya Staubs, whose covetable style and picturesque lives offer endless online inspiration. It turns out that these two mamas are equally stunning in real life...not to mention sweet, smart and incredibly savvy. In between bringing up their brood (Belle has a daughter Biet, 3, and son Lucien, 1; and LaTonya has a little girl River, 3, with one on the way), the duo has launched a kids’ line, Welkin NYC, whose identity is as distinctly downtown as the mamas who created it. Just about every item from the debut fall collection made us say, “I wish they made that in my size,” and we’re expecting to have a similar reaction to their summer line. We recently wandered the East Village with Belle and LaTonya -- with one of our fave photographers Lindsey Belle in tow -- to find out more about their burgeoning brand, growing families and love for NYC. What makes Welkin NYC different from other kids brands? We approach childrenswear with a really unique point of view when it comes to color and gender stereotypes. We try to honor and respect the child as an individual, while adding a bit of sophistication and humor into the clothes. The fact that most of our pieces are gender neutral is important to us. Don’t get us wrong, we love a frilly dress and little bow ties as much as the next mom, but we want to add some more diverse and edgy options to the world of children’s clothing. As two New Yorkers raising broods of little New Yorkers, we identify with and are proud of our city’s spirit and past. Our clothes are meant to be worn by city kids: adventuresome, diverse, creative outspoken, proud, ambitious, and playful kids. And we think there’s a bit of “city kid” in every kid. What inspires you while designing? We gain a lot of inspiration from cultural movements of the past and present that took place in New York City, as well as from the extensive diversity of culture and art that exists here. I find the idea of each person having their "own” New York very romantic. Everyone “belongs” in NYC, everyone can find their tribe here, and when people get together, amazing cultural phenomenons happen here. So many groups of people throughout history found or created “their” NYC: the beat poets, Warhol and his superstars, the Coney Island circus folk, the musicians and dancers of the Harlem renaissance, the Nuyorican poets of Alphabet City, the punks of the 70’s on the Bowery, the hip hop artists of the 90’s in the LES, and the list goes on and on. And it will continue to go on forever. Each of these groups had “their own" NYC for a spell of time. And then they change and the city changes, and somebody else finds a new NYC and creates something new. And yet everyone who makes anything ends up contributing the city’s constant and perpetual evolution. Tell us about the next collection. For our summer capsule collection, we are really gathering inspiration from NYC in the 1970’s: Coney Island, urban beaches, rollerskating and street performers. It’s just a capsule collection, so it will be just a couple summer staples. We’re keeping the designs really streamlined and functional, and are having a bit of fun with pattern and volume. The exact details and launch date are under wraps for now. How do you complement each other as partners? Our partnership is always evolving. Originally I (Belle) was more design-minded and LaTonya did most of the styling, but as we work together, we each take on more and more roles and sometimes flip roles completely. We are lucky in that we really complement each other when it comes to business and creativity. We keep each other in check design-wise, usually either toning down or encouraging the development of new ideas. We bounce ideas around a lot until they turn into full-fledged plans for new pieces. We also work together on each step of developing and growing our pieces. It’s really a 50/50 partnership when it comes to design, styling, PR and behind-the-scenes business work. How is the line sustainable and why is that so important to the DNA of the Welkin? Our model of sustainability is based on three really important concepts. The first is sustainable sourcing. We source much of our fabrics from sustainable mills, and use mostly recycled and organic textiles. Any crash course in what textile crop pesticides are doing to our earth will show you why its so important to us. We’re also huge fans of using leftover deadstock fabric, which would normally head to a landfill. We use it in small production runs for one-of-a-kind small runs. We use a more sustainable non-toxic printing process for our tees, and keep much of our paper packaging products recycled as well. We know that being mindful of what goes into our products can make a big difference in the world. The second concept is local manufacturing. We produce everything in NYC. We never, ever outsource overseas, which helps keep our company’s carbon footprint to a minimum. It feels good to work within NYC’s historic garment district and to help it to thrive, and it allows us to also check in at every level of manufacturing for superior quality control. We print all of our shirts in Brooklyn at a family-run printer. We try to work with other small businesses as much as possible. And third, we make sure everything is fairly made. The seamstress and workers who manufacture for us abide by fair labor laws. The team that we use is actually like a tight-knit family. They hug us when we walk in the door. They know our kids. It feels really good to work with people who love what they do, who love the city as much as we do, and who work with us face to face. What's it been like being moms and launching a business? It’s definitely a roller coaster. It’s amazingly gratifying to work in a career that is not only centered around fashion, which we love, but also, in a way, centered around motherhood, since we’re designing children’s clothes. Since we’re on similar life trajectories, we can truly relate to one another and can bring a lot of flexibility to our start-up. It’s almost as if we’re creating a brand new way of running a company -- one that works on a mom’s schedule. Some days it’s insanity. There are kids running around our feet with fabric samples as I’m (Belle) nursing a baby with one hand and finalizing pattern details with another, or we’re schlepping everyone all over midtown searching for a perfect fabric. And some days it’s just us in the studio catching up on emails and dreaming about the future. We definitely don’t run the business in a conventional way, but it works for us. It’s nice to be able to make up the rules as we go along, and it’s even nicer to have a superstar partner to do it with. How do you balance work and parenting...and life in general? Any tips? We definitely feel like we’re still figuring this one out. We have set times that are “work times” each week, and no matter what’s going on, we know that during those times we are accountable to each other and to the business. That helps a lot. We’re still shipping out orders on the way to ballet and staying up until ungodly hours emailing and editing product shots, but somehow it works. We’re navigating the infant stages of a business, and parenting our kids through their the early childhood stages, so a bit of mayhem is to be expected. It’s a lot of work, but we’re grateful to be able to do it -- all of it. What are some baby/children's brands you love and buy for your own kids? Kallio has a great vision and design. They recycle old clothing into really gorgeous streamlined designs. Nico Nico has a really understated, textural quality to their clothes. Talc makes those Parisian-style separates. Goatmilk is a go-to for basics with amazing integrity behind the brand. Dagmar Daley makes gorgeous storybook-esque pieces. Atsuyo et Akiko makes great tees. Soft Gallery has great geometric lines and collaborates with artists for one-of-a-kind capsule collections. Miller London -- gah! Even if pretty preppy isn’t your thing, you have to love everything they make. What are you fave shops around NYC for the kids? We adore the designer collaborations for the kids collections of Opening Ceremony. Darling Clementine and Sweet William are always immaculately curated. Miniluu, which is based in Manhattan, has gorgeous sustainable everything. Village Kids Footwear on First Ave. seems so unassuming, but it’s never failed for great shoes for the kids. Babesta Threads is always spot on with trendy brands. Jane’s Exchange in the East Village -- it’s all consignment and it’s great! What's ahead for Welkin NYC? For the time being, we’re sticking to toddler clothes, and will continue to release small collections as we develop them. We’ll also be rotating in a couple of new tee designs soon, as well as releasing a few limited edition accessories. With LaTonya’s new bundle arriving soon, we’ve been dreaming of dressing babies, so we’ll see where that takes us. Photography by Lindsey Belle. LINDSEYBELLE is shooting mini sessions in Central Park from May 4-10, right in time for Mother’s Day & Father’s Day. There's limited sessions available, so email [email protected] to schedule.