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Wool Lovers Series - Africa Daley-Clarke

I'm Africa, a self employed consultant and Art Director that recently relocated to the coast with my husband and 3 young children.
 
My top tips for dressing with wool would be to keep in mind the comfort of your child. In cooler months, I like to put the kids in SISKIN silk/merino blend base-layers. Merino wool is naturally anti-bacterial and highly resistant to odours caused by normal body perspiration. In addition to all the great properties of normal wool, it has a high resistance to stains, good durability and when combined with silk is just like a second skin. Layering lightweight wool traps in more warmth than a giant jumper, so I love to add lots of layers that my kids can easily remove when necessary. I absolutely love ribbed wool because it's magic in the sense that it just grows with your child and returns to its natural form after being washed. My eldest wore her 12-24 months Disana wool ribbed leggings for 2.5 years and of course all 3 children got to wear them with my youngest now enjoying at least another year in them.
 
We were raised on second-hand goods and hand-me downs - out of necessity but we all had a really strong appreciation for it. My parents and my grandma collectively -always stressed the importance of buying good quality and so now as an adult, I've learned the skills to seek out the best quality even when working to a modest budget. Growing up, my mum ran a stall on Portobello Rd on the weekend, selling customised and vintage clothing. Cost per use was always the primary factor behind any buying decision -invest in good quality, look after it well, mend and repair and as a result be able to pass it down through all the children before finally being sold off with reasonable resale value.
 
Once a year my mum would take us to Tunisia for her work -we'd spend a month there each December and spend the weekends trawling the huge sprawling flea markets, each pitching in to dig out treasures and hand them over to my mum to verify if they'd made the cut. These "buys" would go on to form the basis of what she would repair and sell on at the market back in Portobello. The charity cycle would mean it wasn't unheard of to come across really high value items like old Burberry trenches and we'd watch my mum painstakingly repair any damages or pass onto a tailor for things that were out of her scope- to make sure she was able to get a good sale.
 
From as early my teens, I'd pride myself on investing in natural fibres to build up my own stape wardrobe. Silks, cottons, linen and leather formed the basis of my wardrobe and it didn't take long before I realised sticking to a muted colour palette meant that everything worked together well and I could actually buy less and still have great variety. My love affair with wool in particular began soon after giving birth to eldest. Having a winter baby was a great excuse to bundle her up and it wasn't long until I was introduced into the world of beautiful, small, wool led childrens brands. Well out of my reach financially, I discovered the hashtag #VideDressing or Open closet in English. A concept where French parents sold off all of their children's high quality clothing at the end of each season and bought the next sizes up etc. I was hooked and the great prices meant I was being introduced to all these fantastic brands at a fraction of the price -setting up my own resale account and selling items off again full circle at the end of the "season". As my account grew, I began to establish unpaid working relationships with some really covetable wool brands. Essentially free clothing in exchange for some advertising images -it seemed like a fair exchange at the time and some of these brands were so out of our reach financially that it was such a treat to be able to receive such beautiful items.
 
I would describe my children's style as relatively unisex, child-led and almost utilitarian at times. I choose silhouettes that encourage free play rather than inhibit it and the fibres need to be hard wearing enough stand the test of a hard day's play. We're often recognised for wearing quite a limited colour palette. Growing up, I recall a good friend, Ella, coming into school in a pastel blue Gap hoody with a pale pink letter G on it. She was blonde, blue eyed and very fair and I will never forget thinking just how amazing those colours looked against her skin! It didn't take me long to experiment with what colours I thought worked for our own complexion and it brings me a lot of joy to dress the kids in colours that complement and celebrate their skin tones. We're so used to accepting this from white parents whether it's something we are ready to acknowledge or not. Parents of blonde children, red haired children, tanned children etc all favouring certain clothing tones because they appreciate how lovely they look on their children. It's no different in this instance but I think it's something that society is just less used to seeing.
 
Anything that I buy for the children is bought with intention. I like to plan any purchase well in advance and there are a few things I take into consideration before committing. Functionality, durability, versatility, cost per wear, social impact and overall aesthetic. It's a relatively new concept to me that functional can also be beautiful and I'm so grateful to discover new brands such as Monty & Co, Bisgaard and Konges Slojd that work to create functional staple items in a beautiful way. Durability generally takes into consideration fibre content, but also I love to find hidden features reminiscent of older practices in textile making. I love French seams for children, for example -no rough edges on the inside, less likely to split at the seams and generally just a beautiful way to finish a garment. One of the reasons I tend to stick to a colour palette is that I've found I'm less prone to saving items for best, and all items are versatile and can work together.
 
Cost per wear is a big one for me -because cost alone is just so subjective. My mum and grandma always made a point of investing in coats and well fitting shoes because as the saying goes "Buy Cheap, Buy Twice". I like to offset more expensive pieces by considering how much they would average at per wear, especially when I know it will last all three children -of course I also love to off set this by sourcing a good bargain too! Lastly, Social Impact has become an increasing factor for me recently and it's something I constantly grapple with. I don't beat myself up when I opt for more affordable options in mainstream shopping environments, but I do make sure that it's a last resort (after vintage and ethically sourced clothing) and that if it's a must, I ensure its functional, durable, versatile etc in the knowledge the garment will be well loved and used and won't end up in landfill at the end of the season.
 
It's hard to name a favourite MamaOwl brand as most of my now staple brands were discovered via this lovely boutique! For footwear, my two favourite brands are Angulus and Bisgaard -I especially love that Angulus follows the true form of a child's foot which is so important. For wool essentials, I really love SISKIN, Disana and Esencia and for wool heirloom pieces, I don't think any brand comes close to the quality and design of Misha & Puff! We feel so fortunate to be able to have worked with them for 2 years -in that time we were able to build up a core wardrobe for the children that will stand the test of time and now that we're able to choose these items new for my eldest -they are my go-to brands without hesitation.
 
If you're feeling a little apprehensive about adding wool to your children' wardrobe, I would definitely recommend investing in some super soft base layers. You don't need to be precious about matchy, matchy -we're a 'pile-it-all-on' kind of family and the best way to discover if a brand is a great fit for you or not is by buying it first either second hand or at one of Mama Owls fantastic sample sales! Good quality wool is really easy to retain it's resale value so you'll rarely be caught short when the item has come to the end of it's lifespan in your family and if like me - mending isn't your forte- there is such a wonderful online community where I've been able to offer services at my disposal in exchange for a quick mend on a jumper etc. 

Finally, my top piece of kit to keep in your arsenal if you love wool as much as us? A cashmere comb (not just for cashmere) and great for debobbling. They retail at around £5 and it's a great way to destress of an evening!
All photos Kezi Photography