As a parent, it can be very easy to feel that as our world moves on, the way we consume for our kids remains mired in the past.
From highly-gendered toy aisles to kids clothing options – pretty in pink for the girls, rough and tumble-friendly superhero tees for the boys – many parents find themselves struggling to fight back against stereotype from day one.
It’s a dilemma that felt even more acute for Yuki Oshima, a London-based, Japanese designer whose pre-motherhood career had taken her from the pages of Harper’s Bazaar to the studios of some of Europe’s biggest brands.
“While I was pregnant, I started, for the first time, looking at childrenswear more and noticed that a lot of things were quite similar, and very gender-specific.
“It felt strange to me. I’d come from a womenswear background and there we have such variety of offerings, from the feminine to the edgy and all sorts in between. Childrenswear just seemed like it had stayed the same.”
After Oshima’s daughter Honor was born, she also began to notice significant differences between her own Japanese upbringing and her daughter’s environment in London.
“The Japanese way of living teaches the importance of being present, of paying attention to nature and your surroundings, and of always being grateful for the things and people around you. I realised that approach is something I felt very passionate about and want to cultivate in my daughter’s life as she grows up.
“Kids today are constantly exposed to technology, from schooling to social media. And with that background, I believe it’s more important than ever to go back to our roots and look for ways to inspire children through simple and playful activities, such as crafts and exploration.”
“I wished to share some of those values I learned from the Japanese culture, from mindfulness and craftsmanship to finding beauty in simplicity and stimulating our senses.
“But at the same time, I also see great worth in encouraging creativity, individuality and freedom of expression, something that is highly promoted in the West but can be lacking in Japan sometimes. I wanted to create a brand that could merge the beauty of both cultures through carefully-crafted, comfortable and modern design seeking to push the boundaries of children’s clothing.”
Creative clothes for kids
The result is Owa Yurika, a childrenswear and lifestyle brand that Oshima runs in partnership with her Japan-based mother, Yuriko. The company creates clothing designed to encourage freedom and play, while also focussing on messages of sustainability and ethics.
“I’m very close to my mother, but have lived away from her for a long time. So, working on a project together has been a true gift, providing us the precious opportunity to share our ideas and excitement. She has written several best-selling books on colour theory and is fantastic with colour combinations, as well as paying attention to details for practicality and quality” Oshima smiles.
“She has always been a great inspiration to me – with her pretty avant-garde fashion choices, she would dress me as a child in clothes from brands like Comme des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto. At that time, I felt a bit self-conscious, especially in Japan where uniformity is emphasised, but it has helped me to find confidence in expressing originality and establishing my own sense of style.
“For us, designing a garment means paying attention to the way a child will wear and cherish it. Our clothing is versatile, timeless and durable, and while they grow out of them in terms of size, is made to be passed down between siblings and generations.”
But the focus on sustainability doesn’t end with designing for durability. “We source our materials close to where we manufacture, primarily in Japan. Japan offers a variety of sustainable fabrics from tencel, lyocell, cupro and linen to organic cotton. We try to choose these natural fibre options as much as possible – our collections currently use on average around 80 to 90 per cent of these fibres, but I’m thrilled we’ll be increasing to 100 per cent for all our new products by next season.
“We manufacture with small, family-run factories with which we create close relationships to ensure our values are aligned around wastage and workers’ welfare. We also make sure all our fabric offcuts are recycled into sampling materials and special gifts, or donated to students so that we can keep waste to a minimum.”
Intriguingly for a childrenswear designer, Oshima says she is very keen to steer away from having separate boys and girls ranges. While the brand does make dresses, the focus is largely on clothing that is gender-neutral – not only so that it can be passed on between siblings, but also in recognition of changing attitudes.
“I imagine gender-fluidity becoming the norm of our kids’ societies in future. I know still there’s a balance, and some people will always want pink dresses, but interestingly, we see a higher interest in neutral colours such as mint among our customers already.”
Her other passion, Oshima says, lies in the brand’s core message of merging eastern and western cultures, both in aesthetic and ethos. The origami detailing that features in so much of the clothing tips over into the brand’s community focus, and throughout lockdown, she has been creating small crafting tutorials for families, covering everything from nature exploration to origami itself.
“When I was growing up, I loved simple games like origami and cat’s cradle, as well as after school classes of calligraphy and traditional tea ceremony. I’ve started doing some of these activities with my daughter which she really does enjoy,” she smiles. “We hope to inspire wonder and mindfulness, not only through our clothing but also with the activities we encourage children to try out, whether it’s taking them into the wilderness of their local park, or showing them the fine details of folding paper corners into an origami creation.
“We feel enthusiastic about stimulating the children of tomorrow to connect with their environment and natural senses. Our motto is ‘what buds now will blossom later’, and we hope that message can start a ripple effect for people to explore ideas and create a world where we can thrive in peaceful harmony with the planet.”
Find out more about Owa Yurika, or shop the collection, here
Full Disclosure: Owa Yurika was invited to feature in The Flock’s Conscious Christmas gift guide. Every brand contained within the guide was selected by The Flock and invited to feature on account of their sustainable, ethical and/or charitable credentials. The for-profit brands included each made a small payment to help fund the cost of researching and producing the guide. No affiliate links have been used, and The Flock will receive no income for any sales made as a result of inclusion.