She is the creator of Sweet William, a children’s boutique with a cult following that just opened in Los Angeles and a longtime friend and former colleague of ours. We first fell in love with Bronagh and her style when she worked with us as the fashion market editor at Cookie. She always had a rare ability to balance an impeccable taste level with a sense of innocence and wonder. This is of course key for children’s clothing–you want it to beautiful but not so precious that it can’t be tumbled around in. She opened her first store in Williamsburg, a second in lower Manhattan and when she and her family up and moved to L.A. recently, she opened her third in Silver Lake. Once again, Sweet William is not just a clothing store, it is a mecca for a certain kind of creative parent.
It was a fairly spontaneous decision to leave NY, a thriving business, and lots of roots in New York. What made you jump?
The move has been something we have been thinking about for a while. Peter has always wanted to live on the West Coast, being born and bred in Manhattan. We also have a strong customer base out here that we ship to from our website. It has been a little bit of a fantasy to open an LA store. This summer we did a road trip across the country to LA with the kids ( was relatively easy and lots of fun). When here, we were thinking about where we would open if we lived in LA. Then I was contacted by neighboring stores of the location we took in Silverlake, telling me this space was becoming available and I should really take it. It was all very organic, we met the landlord, signed the lease, drove back to NY, put our house up for sale and moved in September.
My stores in Brooklyn and Manhattan, are up and running and I am lucky to have really good staff, so we decided to take a leap of faith and go. I continue to micromanage my NY stores, and the girls make little videos every week so I can see exactly how everything is merchandised, and tell them what to tweak / change etc. We have many phone conversations throughout the day. I will also go back every two months to make sure everything is in order.
It has felt very liberating to do this, and discover a whole new world that funnily enough feels very connected to our lives in New York. Silverlake does anyway.
What would you say you look for in the products/designers/artists you buy from?
I think my buying is very intuitive, always has been. I buy what I like, because I know if I like it I can sell it. If it was a twig and I liked it I swear I could sell it, and some things are not unlike twigs! I just try to stick to my knitting and not get sidetracked. For this reason I really don’t look at other websites / stores etc. People come to me and I will look at everything. If I like what I see in images, I will pursue it further.
How has motherhood changed the way you curate the store?
Well, I actually opened the store when I had a 4 month old so I was a new mother. But I really think to be either designing or buying for a children’s store you have to be a mother, I really do. As a mother, you know where the buttons should be, how the neckline should be cut, what kind of trousers a two year old needs ( usually none). Being a mother, it also really helps me relate to my customers and be able to answer their questions / concerns about products from an honest place. I also have gotten much better at it, as my life evolves with my own children and my stores evolve & grow.
What’s an average day for you? And how as it changed with the move?
I get up at 7am get the kids to school by 8.30am. Check my emails for 15 minutes then go running for 90 minutes. Then I come home change and go to work. I work on the floor helping customers but I also have to work in the office area to deal with the back end, day to day operations, and delivery line ups etc. Then I pick up my kids from school, come home, make dinner, read, bath & bed. it hasn’t changed an inch since the move seriously, other than the location and more glorious runs in Griffith park.
What are you best at as a parent?
Cuddling, I’ve got that one down pretty well.
Worst/wish you were better at?
I wish I was better at playing board games. I really struggle with this as I never played board games as a kid, and I have some fear around it! I am pretty hard on myself about this one. As a child we swung around lamp posts on rope, and dodged plastic bullets. I grew up in Belfast in the 70’s in a very Catholic neighborhood.
How important is it for you as a small business owner (and perhaps as a parent?) to create a community around your store? It seems like a self-selection bunch that shops at your store: people who care about quality, beauty, about where things come from. I imagine your clients/shoppers are a like-minded set.
Yes, that is true. I think this happened in the beginning because I really threw myself into the store, and I worked 6 days a week, including weekends for the first four and a half years of being opened. I really got to know my customers and I made a lot of friends too, which was really nice. I would not have made so many friends had I not opened the store. It helped me develop my social skills which I admit were a little rusty. I have a natural inclination to be introverted, and opening the store forced me to open up quite a bit. I drew people to me that were like minded, and developed strong relationships with many customers. I never held back though and was always myself, which only happens when you are your own boss.
I know your husband does a lot for the business. What does the division of labor look like at work? At home?
Peter is fundamental to Sweet William. He both designs and physically builds out the stores, which are truly beautiful ~ like a children’s wonderland / Scandinavian tree house feel. He is an artist and and does all the branding / illustrations etc. I almost see the stores as an installation, and definitely an environment that is comfortable for children and adults. We always have a sofa, or comfortable seating area in the stores as people do like to hang out. He also developed the website but as we grow we have to farm out more and more. In the beginning, we had a hard time separating store talk when at home, but I think we have gotten much better at it, as we become more and more accustomed to being store owners and the growth. In the domestic areas of life, we really do both pull our weight.
How has the move been for the kids? And would you ever move back?
The kids really seem to love it here, and I think for a 7 year old and a 3 year old it is not so hard. It was heartbreaking at the beginning putting my son in a new school, and tears all around, but now he is totally settled and well adjusted.
I love New York and could see us moving back maybe in ten years. We really are tied to it as we have every intention of keeping our businesses going as they are thriving there, and also more importantly my husbands parents live in Manhattan. We will be back very often.
How do you feel Sweet William differentiates itself. It’s a bit of a cult in the kid fashion world, as you must know!
I really think we have managed to stay original by again really sticking to our knitting. I think what Peter creates with the build outs is so original and cannot be copied. I also think the way I buy is a little quirky and eclectic. Not everyone is comfortable doing that in a children’s store so we really set ourselves apart from what existed prior to us opening Sweet William, simply by following our intuition and also coming from Fine Art backgrounds.
What’s your go-to family dinner during the week?
Every week, without fail I make a whole chicken cut up in a pot, with butter, rice and peas or corn. It is based on a recipe from one if the Canal House Cookbooks but I tweaked it a little and added the rice and corn. It is all cooked in one big pot and everyone loves it. The secret is Irish Kerrygold salted butter, the best butter on earth.