We absolutely LOVE what Emily Meyer has created with her company Tea Collection, a San Francisco based children’s clothing company. After spending time pouring over her culturally inspired clothing line, we were lucky enough to catch up with the woman herself to ask a few questions.
Tell us a little bit about your business and how you started it.
My vision for Tea began as many entrepreneurs begin—I saw a void in the marketplace and I hoped to create something to address it. In 2002, I went looking for a baby gift for my newborn niece and there were too many pink-bunny-themed items. I couldn't help but see a vision for a modern, sophisticated children’s brand with a cultural connection. Tea celebrates the beauty of world cultures through fashion and lifestyle products.
I started by designing sophisticated pima cotton baby sweaters and blankets—now iconic Tea pieces—inspired by cultural clothing of China and Japan. Today the collection continues to reflect those values, practical and luxurious pieces made of high quality fabrics and materials, easy to care for, that dress up any other favorite pieces in your wardrobe. Our everyday playwear styles are just as easy, all part of an authentic experience connecting with a faraway place.
You started Tea Collection before you had kids. How did becoming a mom influence your vision of the company?
There are so many parallels between parenting and creating a business—being mindful of the precedent and responsible for the longevity and future of the business. Also, knowing real-time how kids wear clothes; how fabrics, textures, zippers and buttons impact their day-to-day play. I have first-hand knowledge of the importance of product performance!
Over the past 12 years the brand values have become much more profound. My awareness of the global conversation is so real now. I am always dreaming of places to travel together as a family, introducing the world to my children, especially to our extended family's homeland in Asia and Europe.
What was the first piece of clothing you ever designed?
Hmmm…I started sewing at the machine when I was so young, making my first outfit of a skirt, shawl and knit t-shirt with lettuce leaf edging at the sleeves when I was 6-years-old! I continued my hobby, sewing from patterns throughout grade school. And then, in high school I literally drew a sketch of my prom dress and made the pattern. Just like Project Runway with a lot more time! At the time, I was infatuated with Parisian couture—it had a bubble skirt, shirred bodice and slightly off-shoulder draped straps, made in black taffeta. I was so proud…especially in small town Texas.
Your latest collection is inspired by your travels to China. How did this culture influence your designs?
The magnitude of our trip to China is difficult to put in words. China is electric. We went from charming alleys to chaotic city streets, ancient temples to modern art galleries. There are so many contrasts between the tradition of by-gone eras and the pulse of pop culture. You will see our interpretation of traditional blue-and-white porcelain, Yunnan embroidery, iconic graphics inspired by the 798 Art Zone and more anchoring this Fall's China collection.
Travel is at the core of your company’s mission. Why do you see travel as being important and what steps does Tea Collection do as a company to encourage and support employee travel?
Make the foreign familiar—that is something we live by at Tea. It represents the foundation of our company—through our bi-annual trips around the globe to the new collections we release that share our first-hand discovery of a new destination. It is equally important that every Tea employee is provided an annual travel allowance to “go there”—go abroad, learn and share. We want the importance of global connection to influence everyone who shepherds the growth of Tea just as much as we hope to create awareness for our “little citizens of the world.”
What do you believe makes a great article of clothing?
The story. Many of my favorite pieces have a story—either how I found it or a story behind the print by the designer who created it. That is what we strive to achieve at Tea. Everything we design is inspired by a piece of beauty and creativity in this world, every product has a story behind its creation, something greater than itself. We hope to draw attention to the story, to celebrate its importance, and increase love and awareness for all cultures.
You’ve designed several dresses for Aubrey Anderson-Emmons, who plays Lily on Modern Family. They recently won the 2013 Emmy for Best Comedy! Do tell.
I met Amy Anderson (Aubrey’s mom) at a conference last year and we just connected. I had so much fun designing the first “Emmy dress” in 2012 and I was thrilled that we had another opportunity to design Aubrey’s dress for this year’s Emmys. We drew sketches for her to choose from, found beautiful silk fabric and used couture pattern-making and sewing techniques. It was thrilling to watch her take the stage with her cast mates! She is such a delightful little girl and I wish her continued success.
What advice would you offer to other moms developing their products/ideas?
Know what you want. Be sure you are your own North Star while navigating all the choices before you. You may be pulled into many different directions with opportunities for and influences on the business, while you are working to keep it thriving. The company's core purpose and values are a guide in those choices. Knowing your vision for your company and for yourself is a source of strength.
As a mom and business owner, what is the one thing you can’t live without?
My family. They are truly my inspiration. My mother and grandmother taught me early that travel is the best education. My husband’s rich ethnic heritage is so beautiful and a way I see the global conversation at play. And, my children for the infinite possibilities that are before them.
Please share with our readers how you discovered Mamalode.
Jeannine Harvey of One.org introduced me to Elke Govertsen, founder of Mamalode. She insisted we are like personalities and would enjoy sharing stories. I love the authentic voice of Mamalode and I'm totally inspired by what Elke has created.