Emma Jane Adam and Cat Pharo, founders of Smalls
Smalls is the brainchild of Cat Pharo and EJ Adam, British-New Zealanders who have made their homes and families in the UK for the past twenty years (and counting).
The co-founders tell us more about their British brand in our Q&A….
Aroha Baby Onesie by Smalls
How did you meet?
We met at a playgroup on Crawford Street in Marylebone London, back when our now 16 -year -old babies were 10months, so not that long ago really! Cat liked my Karen Walker T-shirt and we both discovered we were ‘Kiwis’. We have been great friends ever since and now live around the corner form each other, acting as surrogate aunties for our respective offspring.
What is the best thing about working together?
Usually choosing to go into business with your friend or partner is fraught with drama and can often mean you do not remain as close friends, that has been the opposite for us. Possibly because Cat is very patient and can put up with my occasional meltdowns, but mostly because we balance each other with our complimentary skill sets. We naturally think the same and have the same value systems, so the collaborative process is always enjoyable and results in great things. We are able to rationally discuss any issues and reach an outcome we are both happy with. Unusual!!
Great name, how did Smalls begin?
It all started in Cats (very cosy) kitchen, we were having a glass of wine and discussing how we couldn’t find any well-made stylish merino base layers for our own children that would work under their school uniforms, when I piped up why don’t we just do it ourselves, at which point Cat replied she had been thinking the same and had a name in mind…. Smalls, for our small people and because Smalls is the British euphemism for your underwear! Don’t forget your smalls!
Why Wool and Merino?
Merino Wool is an inherent part of growing up in New Zealand. When I had my first baby the Kiwi in me instinctively sought out some woolly jumpers and socks from my local John Lewis, Selfridges, I looked everywhere (this was 15 years ago so pre online search!) I was pretty horrified to find only cotton and acrylic. This is not logical to someone who grows up in a country that uses wool for just about everything… including housing insulation.
Five years ago, we just decided we needed the product so developed one we were happy with. Given the similar climates to the UK we were surprised there were not more wool clothing options available! It is changing though, thank goodness, with more awareness about the environment and sustainable fibres.
What about ethics and aesthetics – are your sheep happy?
They are THE happiest sheep. There is this brilliant quote from ZQ who we work with to source our wool which explains perfectly why we will only use traceable wool from ZQ assured farms.
“Back in the day, wool was wool. Growers harvested fibre, not knowing who or what it would be for. Brands bought fibre, not knowing who or how it was produced. Customers used fibre, not knowing how the animals were treated, with no consistency in quality. ZQ was formed to differentiate and innovate.”
Not only from an animal welfare point of view, but also an environmental and social perspective. KNOWING YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN is crucial, it does make life more complicated when it comes to production. It’s clearly a hot topic now, but for us it’s just common sense and has been since we started. I grew up on a dairy farm surrounded by animals, I had so many adopted pets, that the thought of NOT knowing how the animals have been treated to me would seem somewhat irresponsible.
Alternative’s Rug Wool Pebble in Bridling rug with a Jot Biscotti border Birdling
What does slow mean to you?
Well I am very SLOW to make decisions which means I am often late with production! For us slow means, not madly devouring “on trend items’ each season, buying what you need, knowing yourself and your personal style so you really can “buy less and choose well’’ to quote the great style icon that is Vivienne Westwood.
I think people throw around “sustainable” terms hoping consumers will buy into whatever seasonal thing they are offering. I do hope people are wising up, but I’m not so sure.
How many pieces in the collection?
This season we have concentrated our collection around the key pieces that work the hardest for our clients. Adding our softer than soft knee-high socks for Men, Women and children has been a brilliant way to extend the range and still stay true to our concept of “smalls” next to skin essentials.
My personal favourite pieces would have to be the women’s camisole, and the Charcoal 24/7 trouser…namely because I don’t seem to ever take them off. I have started sleeping in the camisole and wear it every day under my outfit of the day (from dog walking to charity balls at the V&A), it’s the hardest working piece of clothing in my wardrobe!
Alternative’s Wool Berber Omani Carpet
Describe your style.
Ooh, that’s a tricky one! “On trend with the occasional retro (70s) twist?”. I had to ask Cat what she thought my style was…. we kind of dress the same, so I was hoping she would say something good! I do like to tune in to seasonal trends using what I have, maybe buying one or two things from independent brands, or recycling what I have. I always ask myself when I buy something, ‘will I still wear this when I’m 90?’ If the answer is yes, then it gets the green light! Mostly I’m a fan of good fabrics. You’ll find me on the shop floor reading the labels!
We are looking to improve our supply chain even further, making sure our story is connected from the farm to the shop floor. I have had a great new product idea, so just need to work out how to make them! Again, we never make our lives easy because we are so detail obsessed, also garment production is not our background, so we have been learning every, single, day!
Next big thing?
I’m super excited about our next Winter season. We have switched up our colours and I love the direction Cat has taken us with her AW20 colour palette. We are also collaborating with a well know beautiful British brand, she has created some exceptionally gorgeous pieces in more classical shades… a perfect partnership for AW20.
We have two pairs of the softest merino wool socks to give away. One for him and one for her in beautiful Grey and Pink shades that look as good as they feel.
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