Anybody who has seen my Instagram will know I’m a huge fan of Tobias & the Bear leggings for Boo, so when founders Leanne and Ruth agreed to talk to me about their creative venture I was over the moon.
You started your business with a focus on boys fashion; do you feel your business has changed with the popularity of unisex leggings?
When we launched Tobias & the Bear it was as a leggings-only brand for boys as we’d found it almost impossible to find cool comfy bottoms for our own boys, Toby and Arlo. Our designs were never obviously boyish though and we quickly discovered that girls loved them too. Unisex dressing is such a phenomenon. It’s been amazing to see how popular leggings have become and it’s nice to think that we recognised that gap and have helped to fill it. They’re our brand signature but you could say that Tobias & the Bear is really about the unique prints – it’s what makes the leggings that little bit different. They’re either designed by us or we collaborate with artists and illustrators and they’re all exclusive to the brand. That’s why our move into bedding made such sense. It’s another underserved area that works so well with gender neutral prints – perfect for creating inspiring nurseries and cool kids’ rooms. It’s exciting to working at a time when unisex styling is still so new. There are so many possibilities.
How would you describe your style?
Modern, graphic, cool, cute (but not cutesy) and with just the right dose of personality.
Where do you get your influences from?
The fox and the bear prints were inspired by our boys’ names, Toby Fox and Arlo Bear. It was a simple starting point but it had the right sentiment and has really influenced everything else. Bold, graphic animals and objects, like our Storm Boy print for example, which parents can fall for just as much as their little ones are the key. We put a lot of thought into our kids’ wardrobes now and parents are very discerning, as they should be, so every design should feel special.
You found designer Emma Bone through Instagram, do you find social media is important in developing your business?
Absolutely. It helps to communicate a brand’s DNA with real personality and it’s a great and instant way of communicating with our customers. The Instagram community is especially receptive to building relationships and those relationships feel very genuine. It’s actually one of our favourite parts of the business. There’s a real kidswear community on social media. It’s very inclusive and that’s so positive.
Do you involve Toby and Arlo in the creative processes of your business?
They’re still a little young at 3 and not yet 3 and a half to be too involved but they do inspire us every day. Our new Robot print was inspired by Arlo and his fascination with robots and Toby loves penguins – Penguin Beach is always our first stop at London Zoo. They’re great little ambassadors for us – they genuinely LOVE the leggings.
Can you tell us a bit about the manufacturing process?
We have everything manufactured in the UK – it’s not only important to us to support British industry but it also means we can be confident that we’re offering the very best standard of product. We work with a lovely factory run by three women and a team of seamstresses and they all work tirelessly on the collection. We also have our screens cut in the UK. Even our labels are sewn here.
What advice can you give on balancing parenting with owning your own business?
That’s a tough one – we’re all trying to master the great balancing act aren’t we. We both work 3 full-time days and then have our boys the rest of the time, squeezing anything urgent between play dates and errands. Running your own business can be very hectic but it does allow for a flexibility that parents aren’t often given in the normal workplace and for that, we feel very lucky. If we haven’t seen each other during the day, we spend a lot of time catching up with each other in the evening – thank goodness for WhatsApp, the saviour of the small business! It’s easy to pick up emails and work on new designs after the kids’ bedtimes too but you have to be able to switch off and have some time to yourself too. It’s very important to clear your mind. Netflix and Amazon Prime – they’re modern day essentials aren’t they?! Our respective partners are both glad we can relax in the evening with a box set. Phones are sometimes confiscated!
What can we expect from Tobias and the Bear in the future?
We’re just launching our final drop of the season with the new Robot and Penguin prints on leggings and three new sweatshirts. Due to popular demand, we also have a limited edition line of Just Call Me Fox leggings for adults across five sizes. We’re hoping to see lots of twinning pics! For SS16 we have more collaborations with illustrators, some incredible prints and more bedding. We’re just working on AW16 too. Time flies!