Their Nibs offers a nostalgic take on children’s fashion. Yvette Huddleston talks to the brand’s Bingley-born founder, Fiona Bell.
Traditional children’s clothing has made something of a comeback over the past few years with a number of companies – online and on the High Street – offering an appealingly nostalgic approach to dressing little ones.
One such company is Their Nibs which has been around for over a decade, providing a great range of traditional clothing for boys and girls, with a modern twist. Set up in 2003, Their Nibs was founded by Fiona Bell who was born and brought up in Bingley. Now based in London, she began her career as a buyer with Top Man in the late 1980s and then spent 15 years working for various companies including River Island and Laura Ashley where she was head of buying.
“I set up Their Nibs really because I was doing a lot of travelling and had a small child,” says Bell. “I had always dabbled in doing design and I knew there was a gap in the market for a more eclectic children’s brand. There were only a handful back then and also I was the target mum so I knew how I was going to formulate the collection. I knew the right ingredients because a lot my friends of a similar age were looking for a middle market collection that wasn’t a glitzy brand.”
With its beginnings in a shop in Notting Hill in west London, the business enjoyed early success and soon branched out into the wholesale sector.
“As the collection has progressed over the years it’s become a bit more commercial,” explains Bell. “We needed to have a broader spectrum. As time has gone on we have introduced pyjamas and they have become a staple part of the collection – we sell to Harrods and Selfridges. If you have a commodity item like nightwear you have more people to sell it to and it’s also a non-seasonal item.”
Their Nibs did its first show in Birmingham in 2004 which boosted its profile and helped it to capture a sizeable chunk of the market. “We got a very good reception because there weren’t really very many other collections like ours at the time,” says Bell. “There were other boutique brands but there weren’t so many doing the vintage look. We got into Harrods a couple of years later with our pyjamas and then that opened other doors. In 2008 I opened another shop in Kensal Rise in north London which is an up-and-coming area and about that time I did a collection for Mothercare.”
The retail shops closed two years ago when new investors decided they wanted to concentrate on the international side of the business. “We had a pop-up shop in Westfield shopping centre in London from December to March in 2013 and then again for a couple of months last summer,” says Bell. “British retail is still quite challenging and that’s why they were looking to expand the brand overseas – we are a British brand and have been endorsed by people like Kate Moss and Sienna Miller, which is great and has made a big difference to us. In terms of where the brand is going, it’s really concentrating on these overseas markets and niche retailers like Harrods and Selfridges.”
The company’s design process is quite unique with signature shapes, using vintage children’s patterns that return season after season. “On the High Street there is still a degree of following the trends and we don’t do that,” explains Bell. “We adapt very traditional shapes and do our own prints which are painted up by freelancers – I provide them with mood boards. It’s not so much that we do two seasons a year – it’s an ongoing design process with smaller ranges that we bring in four times a year rather than twice a year. We need to offer the customers something new. I have found over the years that it’s better to bring in more designs a year – it seems to be a better formula for a smaller brand.”
The current collection features a good mixture of smart clothes for special occasions and everyday wear with a practical edge. “For girls we have a party dress collection with lovely vintage laces and also a more outdoor functional collection for winter with soft fabrics and layering pieces,” says Bell.
“For the boys it’s lots of hand knits and flannel shirts and tank tops. We have also done some wool blazers with interesting buttons. It’s the attention to detail that gives us that point of difference.
“In the nightwear we have introduced dressing gowns with a soft terry towelling lining and some traditional prints to the main collection – the pyjama prints always reflect the prints within the main collection.”
As for the future, Bell says Their Nibs is looking to expand into other areas in addition to clothing, using its signature prints. “We have dabbled in bedding which was successful and at the moment we are looking at doing wallpaper,” she says. “So, it’s not a dedicated fashion brand it’s a heritage look. We have very loyal customers. It is a case of making things more fluid and offering them something different.”
• To see the full range of clothes available visit www.theirnibs.com