“To grow out of, not wear out.” One maker’s vision for sustainable children’s clothing

For Cate Mitchell, the creator behind Wanganui sustainable children’s clothing label Wilding Co., her business started with a desire to dress one special little person in clothes that were not only environmentally and ethically sustainable, but also let his personality shine through while he explored his world. Now she’s making her beautiful range of vintage-inspired Wilding organic clothing for newborns to age five.


 

 

 
What do you make?
I hand make clothing and accessories for babies and children from beautiful organic linen fabrics.

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
When my partner was in intermediate, he made a pin cushion in sewing class from scrap fabric that you wear on your wrist. I use it everyday and it would have to be hands down my one of my favourite and most used items in the workshop! We were also lucky enough to be given a beautiful old industrial Singer sewing machine. It was so heavy that when we got her, we have to reinforce the floor! It’s a little temperamental but sews like a dream!

My favourite material to work with – linen, of course! It’s such a beautiful fabric to handle, let alone wear. It sews easily, always has a lovely relaxed way of hanging. I love linen not just because of how easy it is to work with, or how it breathes, or how easily it is to wash and wear (don’t be afraid – good quality linen can be washed and worn much like cotton can, AND it ages better too!) but also because of how the linen plant can be grown and harvested with such little impact on our environment.

Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces
Sewing is much like cooking in the sense that if you can follow a recipe then you can sew. But the devil’s in the details, so they say. A piece can often look simple but it’s the little details that can make it special – the French seams (which I love!) the double stitching on a hem, the contrasting fabric lining that is often not seen, the hand stitching on the bias binding.


 

 

 
What inspires you?
I love music, and colour (especially colour!) and travelling, but I think we often forget that all the fast, all the big things can be a little daunting for kids. Childhood should be slow, and simple and fun, and I hope that I can replicate that in Wilding & Co. So my children definitely inspire me, everyday. And my partner, without whose creativity, support and humour, life would be very boring.

What motivates you?
Humanity. Nature. The hope of leaving something better than when I found it. And of course my family. My children are the reason I started Wilding & Co, they inspire me everyday, and the love and support and humour of my amazing partner.

“I like the thought that someone somewhere is doing a happy dance because you saw the beauty, skill and passion in something they’ve made.”

Is there a philosophy behind your work?
Sustainability is a key word that is always present for me. This is so important to my work – it motivates me and inspires me everyday. I started making clothing because I wanted quality over quantity – I wanted my children to wear clothing that they grew out of, rather than it being worn out, I wanted to be able to pass clothing onto other siblings and friends. But I also wanted to wrap them in something that was beneficial to them, society and to the environment. Organically produced, ethically sourced, slow fashion that is as individual as your wild ones, yet sets them apart at the same time.

Describe your creative process:
Ideas for pieces usually come about from seeing something that doesn’t quite function the way it ought too. From there the design process usually consists of many cups of coffee and lots of scribbled notes.


 

 

 
Describe your workspace:
Messy most days, inspiring some days, creative others. Eclectic and full of music!

Five words that describe your mind:
Creative, busy, resourceful, eclectic, spirited.

“I wanted my children to wear clothing that they grew out of, rather than it being worn out, I wanted to be able to pass clothing onto other siblings and friends. But I also wanted to wrap them in something that was beneficial to them, society and to the environment.”

What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
There are so many – Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, The Borrowers by Mary Norton, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett – all because they have adventure and imagination, creativity and escapism.

What are you reading now?
Re-reading The Septimus Heap Series by Angie Sage with my eldest. It’s light, fun, full of imagination and adventure.

A favourite quote:
Life is good because I decided to make it that way.


 

 
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Do it because you love it, because there is nothing else you would rather be doing. Do it because it makes your soul happy! And keep going, even if you think it’s not good enough. Get out and talk to people (because crafting can often be super lonely) who share your joy.

Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
There’s something truly unique about buying something handmade or from a local maker. A higher quality of product, a personal touch that you miss with big box stores, and supporting the little guy! I like the thought that someone somewhere is doing a happy dance because you saw the beauty, skill and passion in something they’ve made.

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
The last handmade item I bought was from a local business here in Wanganui called Light and Vessel. They make beautiful handmade pottery and beauty products. What I love about them is the simple elegance of their pieces, combined with practicality. They’re made by two amazingly talented local women, so it’s a win-win for everyone keeping it local.

What’s in store for 2019?
I would love to start dyeing our own fabrics with natural dyes, and I would love to expand our range to include wool come winter. So many ideas, so few hours in the day!


 

 

 
Prize draw!
Cate has kindly offered a gorgeous prize for one lucky Felt reader (and child!) of an adorable Wilding organic linen bonnet/helmet (see below). This sweet rust-coloured bonnet is a fresh look with a classic cut and brim. It’s completely reversible, with a neutral ecru organic linen reverse, and it’s also available in five sizes. If you would like a chance to win this lovely prize, just leave a comment below, telling us what you like about Cate’s story and her creations. The draw closes at 5pm on Monday 4 March and is open to New Zealand residents only.


 

4 thoughts on ““To grow out of, not wear out.” One maker’s vision for sustainable children’s clothing

  1. I love that Cate is creating long lasting, beautiful items that can be handed on to family and friends. As a mother of three I so appreciate and love the hand-me-downs we receive and can hand on. There is something so special about a quality piece of clothing bringing joy to multiple children.

  2. All of it, we sing the same tune. I have only bought awesome long-lived bits like this for #1, and #2 due any day will be the same. Reusing almost everything and giving everything else to bestie who has a size 1 five-month-old.

    People should embrace quality and passing on loved items way more than most do. Bestie is a convert now, and our stuff will be passed on as her #2 outgrows.

    Also <3 the practicality and neutrality of this stuff, makes it so much more useful!

  3. Such forward thinking sustainable conscious garments. Made from a love for her child and and the help of her husbands pin cushion. These beautiful children’s clothes were destined.

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