Inspiration, passion and creativity are driving forces behind leading children’s clothing brand, Tea Collection. Emily Meyer, Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder of Tea Collection, effortlessly brings contemporary design and international culture to children’s fashion. She does this by travelling the world twice a year with co-founder, Leigh Rawdon, exploring new ways to bring unique, global designs to the American market.
Meeting Emily for the first time in San Francisco during ROAD: Retail Design Show, we were truly inspired by her vision and commitment to bring a globally infused clothing line to the US. MiND Magazine sat down with Emily for an inside look into Tea Collection’s successful evolution over the last 12 years.
We strive to create awareness for our “little citizens of the world.”
ou have designed for major brands such as Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis, Gymboree and Esprit. What made you want to branch out and start your own brand?
EMILY MEYER: I had a vision to create a brand that inspires – one with global context and a cultural connection. I also saw the need for a modern, more sophisticated aesthetic for the children’s market – a departure from the traditional pink and blue. I called it Tea, because tea the drink is something shared by all cultures. It evokes warmth, wisdom and timelessness—values that I wanted for the clothing and the brand. Above all, I see Tea as an opportunity to educate “little citizens of the world” interpreting the beauty of these cultures through the creation of our collection—making the foreign familiar.
Tea Collection is inspired by many different cultures and places around the world, choosing different locations for each season’s collection. How do you decide what destination/inspiration trip will be next?
EMILY MEYER: We choose destinations that are standalone and distinct from the most previous collection to provide our customers with a burst of freshness and excitement each season. At this point in time, we also factor in which countries we haven’t yet visited. As the years pass, the actual travelers change and we’re confident that we’ll never exhaust the beauty found – even previously visited countries may be re-interpreted in a new light.
Do you have a favorite destination that inspired one of your collections?
EMILY MEYER: It’s hard to choose a favorite. Every destination has such rich cultural history and tradition that we explore during our travels and interpret into a collection of clothes that both parents and kids will love. I am particularly drawn to the beauty and elegance of East Asian culture and you’ll see that influence in several of our signature styles, for example, our bestselling wrap dress that is introduced in new prints each season based on our latest destination.
What has the evolution of your brand been like over the last 12 years?
EMILY MEYER: In the beginning, when the collection was so small, the “cultural connection” details were subtle yet potent. Now our collection is huge and growing! We always have our over-arching themes for color, print and pattern, but we supplement with more neutral parings like basic stripes, dots and some solids.
Tea Collection is featured in small boutiques as well as larger stores such as Nordstom. How do you stay true to your brand, while being showcased in such different stores?
EMILY MEYER: Our product is distinctive and really comes to life when merchandised in store. Every style has a story behind its creation – whether it is a camel graphic tee inspired by the day we met a roadside herd of camels between Fes and Marrakech, or a print from an extraordinary ombre tiled wall we found at the estate of artist Jean-Francois Fourtou. Because of the breadth of story and the bold use of prints, graphics and color innate to our brand, we’re able to renew that inspiration across all destination stores (boutiques) as well as larger department stores such as Nordstrom.
We want the importance of global connection to influence everyone who touches the growth of Tea just as much as we strive to create awareness for our “little citizens of the world.” For employees at Tea we provide an annual travel allowance to “go there” – use your passport, see and share. We view our retailers as partners and maintain close relationships. We provide this same travel allowance for our retailers because we want them to share the vision of Tea and relay our brand purpose to all of the individuals they touch.
Does Tea Collection look the same in each destination store? Do you have a standard store design you use or are they all unique?
EMILY MEYER: Each of our destination stores represent a blend of each store’s individual personality with branded elements that are distinctly Tea. For example, nearly all of our destination stores have a dedicated wall in their store painted in our signature chocolate color and easily-executable wall system for merchandising. We also provide large scale lifestyle imagery that showcases the look and feel of the current season’s collection. From each trip we bring back culturally significant “artifacts” or props to bring the cultural experience to life. We share these tokens with our retailers with suggestions of how they might create the magic behind each story for their customers through visual displays, which are aligned.
We host a bi-annual Tea Retailer Workshop, an event that brings together all our retailers from across the country to share, network and discover what’s new at Tea as well as business building strategies. Most recently, we invited D-I-Y craft and design blogger, Rachel Faucett of Handmade Charlotte to share Moroccan-inspired crafts for visual merchandising. It was a great opportunity to show retailers how they could be creative with visual displays using everyday materials. For example, colorful tassels made from old t-shirts, tile-patterned garland from construction paper and cultural textiles mocked up from shag yarn creations. Some retailers enjoyed the projects so much they were inspired to create in-store events for kids to complete similar craft projects!
Are there any interesting kid’s fashion trends right now?
EMILY MEYER: The “character” aspect of kids apparel is always a winner, it’s easy for kids to recognize and relate to.
While you won’t see any fairytale princesses, comic book superheroes, or fantastical animals from Tea, we do see it as an opportunity to share those themes from other cultures. Last fall, we designed a zip-up hoodie for boys with a dragon’s head graphic printed on the hood – it was totally fun and we also see it as a conversation with kids on the significance of dragons in Chinese culture, a learning moment.
What is the next step for Tea Collection? Any new stores, new destinations/trips in the works?
EMILY MEYER: We’re beginning to plan our next design trip for the Fall/Winter 2015 collection. I won’t say where we’re going next yet since the collection is not yet complete. I will give you a hint – there will be lots of beautiful prints and bold graphics that inspire families to see the world!
We’re excited to introduce our partnership with Art.com this year – giving customers a different way to bring our original art into their homes, decorating their walls.
And we’re proud of our support of the Global Fund for Children, a partnership for over 8 years now, in which we have created a community that enriches the lives of children within these beautiful countries and cultures.