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Los Angeles designer Christine Chang's laid back, surfer-esque children's line boy+girl is so cool, shoppers demanded that she make clothes in adult sizes. That's actually how Chang expanded boy+girl from just kids' designs into menswear and womenswear, through popular request by customers and store owners at Steven Alan and TenOverSix.
"It wasn't my goal," Chang said. Instead, the fashion industry veteran started boy+girl because she saw a need for children's clothing that wasn't frilly or prissy—that was minimal but still fun. Because kids' clothes should be fun, after all. "It's funny and it's easy, and it's not as serious as real fashion, but you also have an opportunity to make it kind of fashionable," she said.
The design sensibility behind boy+girl fuses a California skater aesthetic—hello baby baja sweatshirts—with European sensibility, quality fabrics, and a sustainable ethos, creating classic looks that appeal to both kids and grownups. Chang chatted with Racked about her design journey, from the adorable challenges of shooting lookbooks with elementary schoolers to dealing with a customer who is quite literally growing up.
What made you want to start your own line after working for other fashion companies?
I used to be a buyer before I was at Ralph Lauren, and ABC Home, and Nike. And I bought for the kids department for a little bit. I thought it was such a cool market, and there was kind of a big opportunity to do something in a style that I like to dress in, and clothes that I like to wear, but do it for kids. There's a lot of great American designers and European contemporary designers who do that clean, minimalist, not-so-frilly look, with great quality and great fabrics. I wanted to take something like that and interpret it for kids.
What do you think about kids dressing like little adults? Do people have opinions about that?
Yeah, honestly, people have so many opinions. I mean, they're kids. So whatever. Be comfortable, have fun; there are no rules. They get to be a lot more whimsical and dress depending on the mood of their day, which I totally support. That's honestly another reason why I wanted to do this category. It's just fun.
And as my own personal opinion, I don't like it when it's a completely adult outfit in miniature. I like it a little more kids-adapted. You're only a kid once. You want to let them be young and silly when they can.
Is shooting the kids lookbook the most fun thing ever?
It's really, really funny. It's always my nieces and cousins and friends of friends. It's super laid back and easy, and we kind of just let the kids do what they want. Actually, they're running around and then you put the camera on them and they stand still. As soon as you turn the camera off, they're being silly.
They always have something to say about what they have on. They'll look at it and then they give you some comments. They're just so funny.
I think it was Spring 2013, we had two little boys and they're wearing these shirts called the Other Crew tee, where it's a blue shirt with a red pocket and then a red shirt with a blue pocket. It's that contrast. And in the picture they could not stop pointing at each other and saying, "You have on my pocket! You have on my pocket!" They thought the contrast was so funny. So we took a series of probably 200 shots of them pointing to each others' pockets and trying to figure it out.
What did you dress like as a kid?
I'm the youngest of four girls and my mom is an artist. She loves to be crafty and sew and cook and paint, so she used to take us to the fabric store. You could pick out one really great fabric, and then she would make you a dress out of that. And then I would literally wear that the entire summer, every day.
That's probably where you get your creativity from.
Totally! And also all our stuff is made locally here in Los Angeles. The fabrics we use are American, organic, Japanese, great European linen. It's kind of a nod to the opposite of fast fashion. My mom would literally make a dress and then I would wear it. It's not like I would wear it once and throw it away. I would wear it forever. And my niece, the other day I saw her in one of the dresses my mom made. The quality is so good, you can wear it, wear it, wear it, do whatever you want, play in it, and pass it down, which I just love.
And sustainability is really important to you too.
That's always been something that's close to my heart. I wanted to create a brand that has a soul. It's important to me that everything is made locally to lessen our carbon footprint. We just make sustainable decisions where we can, so we use a lot of organic fabric. Our woven labels are all made locally, and the hang tag is made of recycled paper.
Do you ever see kids around LA wearing the clothes?
I do. I live in Venice, and I sometimes I see them in the Whole Foods or Abbot Kinney. I just came back from New York, and once in a while, I'll get a glimpse on the street and it's so fun and so exciting. I just saw this little girl wearing the lagoon dress—it's a simple, spaghetti strap dress that goes to the knees. She was older, and she was wearing it as a tunic top. It was so cool. Her mom had probably gotten it for her last season and she just wore it until it became a top. I love that.
That's so cute. Your customers grow up.
Our customers literally grow up. People always say for brands, "Oh, you grow with your customers." But our customers shoot up every year.
And how did you get into menswear from children's clothes?
Steven Alan was one of our accounts. They actually asked me if I would do something for grownups. And I said, 'Yeah, I would love to do some menswear for you.' We started out Spring 2014, so it's in stores now. It's kind of the first endeavor.
It's made in the same ethos as kids: it's all about the quality of the materials we're using, a lot of Japanese fabrics, good craftsmanship. It's the same production team, so it's made here in L.A. It's doing really well. We'll deliver fall next month, and fall holiday will be exclusive to them as well, and then spring 2015 will open up to other doors.
Is there any crossover in your design thinking between the two ages groups?
I think the biggest thing as a designer is to kind of create a visual identity for your brand, so I would love for someone to look at it—whether its men's or kids' or women's or whatever project we're working on—and say, 'That's boy+girl.' I definitely see that in the men's. It's not a literal button-down for him and his little boy, but there's a lot of design crossover in terms of thinking about use and utility. For kids it has to be that he's going to run around all day, and for men, it's similar, but it's different. We want it to be wearable. I love classic American sportswear, but we're trying to put in some of that Japanese sensibility, and I live in Venice, so I want it to feel surfy. The inspiration is the same, so that's where you get the cross-over.
And you did a women's line for TenOverSix?
Yes, it's in the works now. They have been carrying kids since the first season, and they said their moms and other women have been asking for a long time for the adult version. So we just picked a few styles that we thought would translate well for women. I'm doing a little women's capsule collection for them, and it will sit next to the kids collection. There's a harem pant, a signature dress that we do, a top, and a little jacket.
The growth has been so organic from the beginning; we've been so fortunate in all these projects. I love Steven Alan, I love TenOverSix, they're great stores to work with. You just do what you love and you hope that people like it and it resonates with them, and then it's great that people you respect ask you to do something else. It's all been really exciting.
· boy+girl [Official Site]
· How Asking for An Apprenticeship Launched this Cult Denim Line [Racked]
· All Racked Young Guns posts [Racked]