You gotta love Way Cool Kid! Why? Because the clothing line is just genius. Smart, button cute comfy jumpers that make me smile from ear to ear. And made out of winter friendly machine washable wool that has been upcycled from used clothing. Swoon! You had me at “machine washable”. And the fellow behind it, Thomas is just a peach of a guy to boot! File him under cool daddios, for sure!
It’s not just that the dresses are wonderful. But the stories behind them. For example this wonderful piece:
The MINE dress is a double tribute to honor not only his little girl, Matilday’s favorite word (MINE), but it is also a tribute to one of his favorite textile designers, Tula Pink in the aftermath of a recent bit of textile plagiarism. The two ideas seemed like a match made in some heaven or another, and just perfect for a child’s dress.
I sat down for some online hot chocolate and cider donuts with Thomas to chat about Way Cool Kid! Here’s a bit of our convo:
MK: Tell, me Thomas, what inspired you to do this line?
WAY COOL KID: That is actually a complicated question. I am relatively new to the sewing world. I had been hand sewing stuffed animals for quite a while now — just now and then — but only just started using a sewing machine this summer. My mother came to visit the family and gave me a few lessons on the sewing machine and the next thing I knew I was making dresses for my two-year-old daughter. After the first dress I was absolutely addicted. I made quite a few dresses for Matilda just to figure out what I was doing. After a dozen or so dresses I decided to actually get serious about sewing.
This line had a few inspirations. The first was Matilda of course. As a designer and design professor (until health issues forced me to leave academia) I was perpetually dismayed by the clothing I could find for Matilda. surely designing clothing for kids that was both fun and cool couldn’t be too hard.
Part of it came from reading a blog post by one of my favorite fabric designers about a ridiculous skirt she had found. A couple of days later I had finished my response: The Big Mousie Dress. I think I described it at one point as a blend of Little House on the Prairie and Swiss Modernism. That idea kind of stuck with me.
MK: Anyone who can reference Little House on the Prairie and Swiss Modernism can sit next to me any day of the week! I look forward to your take on Nellie Olson and Sweden. But tell me more, Thomas–particularly about how design plays into your dresses.
WCK: Well, I loved the idea of applying some good old design principles to toddler dresses. I had come to loathe nicely proportioned applique smack dab in the middle the torso. Monotonous colors were the bane of my existence. So, everything just got really big, as close to too big as I could get without getting unwieldy. And then it was time to play with color. And of course there needed to be the dress equivalent page run-off. I am still absolutely in love with the Big Bunny Dress, that granny suiting weave with the Heather Bailey floral print just makes be happy with how wrong it is, and how right it turned out.
But when I first started making these I had very little idea where it was going to take me. I am trying to let Matilda’s interests guide my ideas and let the clothes come from what she is doing and what she is interested in rather than what I think a toddler should be interested in. She is far more sophisticated in her interests and tastes than one would probably expect, as is true for all kids. The goal is to not condescend to kids with these pieces; I think most kids can tell when their stuff is lame.
The best thing ever is when Matilda runs about showing people her dress yelling — she hasn’t yet learned volume modulation — “This is my princess dress. I love it” (She currently calls all of her dresses her princess dress; I don’t think she actually knows what a princess is though.) Stuff should matter, be loved and enjoyed, not just be a disposable thing; I hope that comes across in these pieces.
MK: Matilda sounds like my kinda girl. And I love that she thinks all of her dresses are fit for a princess. Because they are! You mentioned your love of the upcycleâ€“where do you find fabric to recycle?
WCK: At the moment I get most of my upcycling materials either from my closet of from the Salvation Army. I had a long debate with friends about buying clothes to epicycle them, whether there were some sort of ethical tangle there. Eventually I was persuaded that there is actually more stuff than there were people who actually needed that stuff from the Salvation Army, that the main goal of thrift stores was actually to raise funds, not to distribute stuff through those outlets. So, after that debate I started weekly trips to the Salvation Army and got to work upcycling.
After a bit of trial and error I have developed an upcycled dress pattern that I love to work with, and am currently finalizing designs for upcycled pants made from old tee-shirts (the funky the screen-printed design the better) and from felted wool sweaters. Actually I kinda wish I still lived in Des Moines when it comes to upcycling (I was a Design Prof. at Drake University for five years before moving to New York to actually live with my wife and start a family). That was one heck of a thrift store town.
MK: I hear you! The Mid-West is a treasure trove of thift awesomeness. Don’t even get me started on Akron, Ohio. But, letâ€™s talk about Oli, the elephant.. Sheâ€™s adorable! What was the story with Oli?
WCK: Oli has become an essential part of our family. I made the original Oli for my wife for her birthday just over eight years ago. Oli was the first stuffed animal I ever made. He’s about twelve inches tall and we love him. The next year I actually made a silly little flash game for my wife’s birthday featuring Oli.
Ever since then Oli has shown up in one form or another in our house: one year it was a Xmas card, another in all of our vacation photos. Well, when I started making big animal dresses it was an absolute certainty that Oli was going to make an appearance. There is already a new Oli stuffed animal/pillow in the works for Matilda’s Xmas.
MK: Well, I’m so glad she ended up on a dress and I have a feeling Oli will be a welcome addition to someone’s wardrobe very soon.
Thanks so much Thomas for chatting with me about Way Cool Kid and I hope everyone has a chance to check out the awesomeness that is Thomas’s Etsy shop, Way Cool Kid!