Debs and Bex, the founders of tongue-in-cheek clothing label Parent Apparel, discuss work-life balance, collaborating with Mother Pukka and their ideal weekends (hint: one involves gin, the other involves vodka)…
Debs, 40, lives in Farnborough in Hampshire with her husband Dale and their kids: James, six, Alex, three. Becks, 39, lives in a town called Wendover in Buckinghamshire with her husband Myles, their children: Matilda, seven, Beatrix, three, and Stan the cat.
What’s your home like?
B: It’s a cosy Grade II listed cottage. We have low ceilings (luckily we are quite short) and glorious beams. It’s very charming and 600 years old.
D: A 1930s house that I love but it’s freezing cold because I insisted on white floorboards throughout. It’s very white and filled with a lot of furniture that I have up-cycled or is waiting to be up-cycled.
What time are you up in the morning?
B: I wake at 6.30 every morning without fail and I am always the first up.
D: As late as I can possibly push it – everyone is up before me… I have to press the snooze button at least three times!
What wakes you up?
B: Most of the time, Stan the cat if not the radio.
D: My son asking if it’s breakfast time yet… everyday.
How do you feel?
B: I’m an early riser and fairly good in the mornings, my husband works away a lot so I’m often in charge. Once I am up and dressed I’m fine.
D: I don’t do mornings – I’m much better and more productive at night so guess that’s why I don’t do mornings so well.
What do you do first thing?
B: I have breakfast as soon as possible and a coffee (made by me or for me if the other half is around). I usually have a quick glance at emails and Instagram before the kids wake up then I grab the girls’ breakfast, which they have in our room usually and in bed, and we chat about the day ahead.
D: Start the cycle of ‘Please get dressed… please brush your teeth… please eat your breakfast… please put your shoes on.’ I repeat this at least five times and am lucky if I get myself breakfast. I get no chance to do anything else apart from get two boys to school and nursery.
In three words, describe mornings in your home?
B: Relaxed, sleepy and sometimes a bit shouty.
D: Tense (only me), noisy and rushed.
Tea or coffee?
B: Coffee. Always Coffee.
D: Always Coffee.
How might the rest of your day pan out?
B: I work from home most days if I’m not in London or at meetings. If Myles is around he will do the school run first thing otherwise I do. Once the kids have been dropped off I usually head home, clear the dishes and do any other jobs that need doing before cracking on until about 2pm.
D: If both boys are at school or nursery then I head back to my office (at home) and flit between doing jobs around the house and working. I spend a lot of time at my Mac doing design work or managing Parent Apparel production. There’s never enough time before I have to start collecting the boys.
What’s your workspace like?
B: I have a small office space now (converted utility room) with a lab stool and small desk. I like to be orderly and remove clutter. We have storage in our production house in Surrey so I don’t have much stock around me. I do however have a washing machine by my desk, which is often on.
D: In my head (and on my Pinterest board ‘Office’) it’s clean, minimal and uncluttered – basically a designer’s dream. In reality my office is cluttered with all sorts: cameras, paperwork, Parent Apparel samples and lots of creative magazines and books. (Oh and my husband has a stash of his old records in my bookcase all adding to the chaos).
Where are the kids when you’re working?
B: Matilda is at school full time and Beatrix (Beabs) goes to pre-school a couple of days a week. My mum helps out a day a week and the rest of the time I just manage. Often if there is something important to go to (meeting or event) I will tag team with Myles. His work is flexible so we are very lucky. I don’t work on Fridays as a rule. Haven’t done for years, this is my day to hang and catch up on life, though I’m not sure that happens as much as it should!
D: James is at school in Year 2 and Alex is at nursery three mornings a week just round the corner. I do grab snippets of time when they’re home to answer emails but it’s hard because they both demand so much of my attention. I have to give in and go with it.
Tell us about your business…
B: We met a few years ago, introduced by a mutual friend. We hit it off straight away as we are both from advertising/ marketing/ PR backgrounds, both had kids similar age, both were struggling a bit with the whole thing and were both quite ambitious. We were both working on other things (I had a business prior to this) and started doing a few bits together. Last summer we were thinking about producing some products specifically for parents but a few things got in the way, so we finally took the plunge together in early 2016. The school run had become a central point of our day (and for me a fairly tedious process) and one day we got talking about the ups and downs of parenthood and off we went.
We began to send each other quips and slogans representing the trials and tribulations of our day and then thought we should try our hands at sharing it. We had also been in talks with Anna Farquarson (Mother Pukka) to do something together. She was making waves and is lovely, so we talked about a design based on her ‘Parenting the shit out of life’ mantra. It was the perfect collaboration to launch. Both of our brands sat really nicely together so we popped the first designs on pre order and we haven’t looked back. She has been a great supporter of us and we adore her.
What’s the greatest challenge when running your own business?
B: Time and knowing when to risk things and when to not. You have to be disciplined with the time you have and subsequently make very quick decisions and be as productive as you can. We don’t procrastinate that much any more but we did in the early days before Parent Apparel.
The struggle is real, it’s a constant balancing act but I wouldn’t have it any other way – it’s the way I’m programmed
Luckily Debs and I work really well together and we both have exactly the same work ethic, which helps massively. We are both used to working hard and have done our graft over the years working in various advertising and marketing agencies. I can honestly say we are a solid team and it’s an amazingly unique working relationship. I call her my fucked buddy. She gets the ups and down of motherhood, mumbossing, whatever you want to call it. Usually if one of us is down the other is up, so it works really well (apart from certain days of the month but lets not talk about that!).
What makes it all worthwhile?
B: You have to appreciate the highs and lows. Workwise we’ve had loads of learning curves, been forced to deal with loads of tricky situations, but with each and every one we’ve made it through and we are still standing, which counts for a lot. It’s also nice to be able to be there for the kids at the end of the day and not have to be rushing to get back for nursery pick up. I watched Motherland recently and it was actually quite painful to watch, as it’s so true to life. When we see people wearing our stuff, it still tickles.
I have a poster in my office from Anthony Burrill, which says ‘Work Hard & Be Nice To People’ – never was a truer word said
Are there aspects of the production that you delegate to others; do you enjoy, for instance, the creative side but not the accounts?
B: We are very lucky as we have set the business model up to incorporate a production house, so Debs oversees the design, and a lot of the logistics and fulfilment but we have some help now, which is amazing.
We’ve tried to delegate as much as possible, where possible and have good people in the background (on the accountancy side for example). We are awesome at marketing and PR, but sometimes you have to let some things go and appreciate that you can’t control everything. This is a skill in itself.
Are you a happy lone worker, or do you enjoy the buzz of a shared workspace?
B: I miss an office for sure. I miss the banter and the afterwork drinks, but Debs and I meet at least once a week or every two weeks and speak pretty much all day every day (even when cooking dinner). We also have a good friend with a big office in town so often hot desk from there when we need to.
What’s the secret to career success?
B: Happiness. If you’re not feeling it you can’t and shouldn’t do it.
D: I have a poster in my office from Anthony Burrill, which says ‘Work Hard & Be Nice To People’ – never was a truer word said. I use this mantra in everything: work, motherhood, life… that should, I think, bring you happiness and success.
Is the juggle real for you… do you find it difficult balancing parenting/relationship/me-time/time for friends/career?
B: Yes, anyone who says they don’t find it difficult is lying. Holidays are tricky but we have learnt to roll with the punches. My husband also runs his own business (we must be mad) so sometimes it is a nightmare, but luckily we both have good family around us. I think I’ve also come to realise that the older you get, the less people you need around you – you do need to make sure you are surrounded by good ones though.
D: The struggle is real, it’s a constant balancing act but I wouldn’t have it any other way – it’s the way I’m programmed. I thrive on stress probably from years working in the advertising industry. But I have, like Becks, an amazing support system and a husband who totally gets me and encourages me all the time.
Describe an ideal weekend?
B: Family, friends, wine or gin.
D: Same but with vodka.
If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be?
B: I love New York. I’ve spent a lot of time there and one of my best friends lives there. So I would like to wake up and spend the day with him.
D: Los Angeles, Santa Monica. I have family over there and I love the vibe, the sun and the style. I’ve been many times on my own and with my husband but not yet with my kids and I’d love to take them for a stroll down Venice Beach – one of my favourite places. (And then a cheeky trip to Vegas with my cousins while my auntie looks after the kids… got to be done).