Interview with Tom and Teddy Founder – Michelle L’Huillier

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I recently featured Tom and Teddy swimwear on the blog; fresh and vibrant beachwear for boys and men. The founder Michelle L’Hullier has agreed to share some background on the brand, advice for entrepeneurs, fashion tips and trends and how to find that illusive work/life balance.

Tom and Teddy Swimwear Founder Michelle L’Huillier Interview

Interview with Tom and Teddy Swimwear Founder – Michelle L’Huillier

Tell us about the Tom and Teddy brand 

Tom & Teddy is all about providing that special moment between a father and his son, where a little boy is so proud to be just like his dad.  We have seen first-hand the real bond shared between a father and son when they wear the same swimmers, in fact our four-year-old son won’t go to the pool without checking what his dad is wearing.  And we’re now receiving photographs from our customers of people wearing them across three generations, which is wonderful to see.

In terms of our product, we are all about well-made swimmers for boys and men that are fun to wear, extremely durable and very comfy.  We appeal to the dad who is spending large amounts of time on the beach or by the pool, so feeling comfortable is a priority to them, as well as wearing something flattering.  They are also likely to appeal to men who are looking for an alternative to heavily branded, longer-length boardshorts.

What made you decide to launch Tom and Teddy Swimwear?

There were a number of reasons: when I lived in Sydney I found it surprisingly difficult to buy fun and colourful male swimwear that wasn’t heavily branded.  Brands were either aimed at the youth market or you could get standard blue, black or brown solid colours aimed at an older clientele with very little in between.

What also struck me when I first came to Australia was how core the beach was to people’s everyday lives but how difficult it was for people to change into their shorts after they’d had a swim – you had to be a contortionist to change without falling over or accumulating copious amounts of sand in your clean clothes – so to avoid this, having shorts that were shorter in length and quick drying seemed a very practical solution.

I then moved to Singapore and tried to buy matching swimmers for my husband and son but had difficulty finding designs that I really liked and were within my budget.

Tom and Teddy Swimwear Founder Michelle L’Huillier Interview

What is the best advice you would give a mumpreneur just starting out?

To make sure they either have a business partner or someone who can act as a good sounding board.  Don’t feel you’re going it alone; it’s ok in the early stages, but is more difficult when you are trying to run a profitable business. There are so many aspects to running a business, from the design of a product/concept to the financial aspects of its day to day running; having someone you trust to talk through all these things is imperative.

I ran a financial services marketing/pr firm some years ago, which I did on my own, and when I looked at launching  Tom & Teddy, having a partner was a huge consideration for me and this has really paid off.  We all have strengths that we should play to but having someone to help with things where we are not so well-versed really takes the weight off your shoulders.

Where do you draw your inspiration?

I am very much influenced by the natural beauty of Australia and having lived in Clovelly in Sydney, was overcome by the immediate beauty of my surroundings. Walking along the coast from Bondi to Coogee was something I did on a regular basis and I was always captured by the colours of the sea at different times of the day from the bright light blues to the dark aqua hues – colours that continue to influence our collections.

I’m also nostalgic at heart, so I love images that take me back to those carefree days and am particularly drawn to vintage images interjected with bright, vibrant colours.

Tom and Teddy Swimwear Founder Michelle L’Huillier Interview

How do you find work/life balance?

The work/life balance is clearly difficult when you have young children and you’re trying to get a business off the ground.  I’ve had many years where socialising with my friends had been high on my agenda but with the arrival of two children and the start of a business, my social life has certainly been put on hold.

I’m much happier when I’m not over-extending myself so I’m either at work or running after two highly energised boys, there’s not much in between.  I currently live in Singapore and I’m lucky to have a lot of help at home, so I’m able to spend lots of time with my children rather than using that time to do all those domestic chores.

What is your favourite part of owning your own business?

It is incredibly rewarding to come up with a concept and then execute it.  Having had a career in marketing, I was fascinated to see if we could grow a brand globally from scratch and, while we’re in the very early stages of our evolution, we do get online orders from people all over the world and have received orders from as far as Canada, Austria, Thailand and Bermuda.

Five years down the track, I’d love to think we could have a truly global brand. We often receive calls from our friends in Australia and South East Asia who have spotted people wearing a pair of Tom & Teddies and it’s always wonderful to hear.

Tom and Teddy Swimwear Founder Michelle L’Huillier Interview

What is your favourite shopping destination?

I lived in London for many years before moving to Sydney and initially lived near Westbourne Grove, an area sandwiched between Bayswater and Notting Hill.  I’ve been fascinated by its transformation over the years from an average shopping street to an amazing shopping mecca, full of boutiques and specialist shops.  It also borders the amazing Portobello Market, which opens on Saturdays, so it’s perfect for a weekend trip.

Describe your personal style 

I like items that are well designed, structured and fit like a glove.  I would love to have worked in the Mad Men era in the 1960s.

Who is your fave style icon? I’ve always admired the effortless chic of Juliette Binoche.

What is the one item you wear the most?

I love wearing bright, well-structured dresses.  I’ve recently returned from a trip to Hanoi where I bought a Chula dress.  It’s the first thing I go for when I get up in the morning.

Tom and Teddy Swimwear Founder Michelle L’Huillier Interview

What are some of the hot trends to look out for in swimwear?

The range of swimwear for men is definitely increasing so there are many more options to choose from.  The “beach to bar” concept has certainly gained in popularity so swimwear is increasingly designed for people to go seamlessly from the beach to the bar without having to change.

We’re also seeing a move in the length of shorts going from a traditional knee-length to a mid-thigh length or higher.  When we launched two years we were considering a longer length option but now we’re more likely to go for something shorter.

What does the future hold for Tom and Teddy?

We’re really excited to be launching our next collection in 2014 and we are currently designing a couple of rashies to accompany our range.

Our new designs are centered on vintage images such as mopeds and speedboats but are injected with our vibrant colours.  We’re also going into the US market which is a new territory for us so we’re expecting a very busy 2014.

Thank you so much for sharing with us Michelle! x

For more info on Tom and Teddy and to check out the range click here.

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