What do you get when true craftsmanship meets beach-inspired threads? BrownSugarBeach, of course! For this month’s Vendor of the Month, we had the pleasure of chatting with Kelsey Hodge, the designer (and mama!) behind BrownSugarBeach. Hodge not only dreams up, designs, and sews everything in her Santa Barbara-based studio, but she also manages to do it with her two little ones by her side. Read on and get inspired!
How did Brown Sugar Beach come about?
I've always loved sewing, and when my daughter was born in 2010, I became obsessed with making her the perfect pair of baby pants. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs and makers so it was a natural transition for me to start my own company. I found a really cool black and white graphic tribal print, made a harem pant pattern, and started listing on Etsy.
Your pieces are hand-made and hand-sewn in your Santa Barbara studio. Tell us a little about the process.
I work from home in a small studio down the hall from my kitchen. It's great because it allows me to have a super flexible schedule and get lots of work done at all hours of the day and night. I design and create all of the patterns and samples for my line. Production sewing is a team effort between myself and two local women who do cut and sew work from their homes.
You sell primarily on Etsy. Do you think you'll eventually launch your own retail site?
I love Etsy because the built-in worldwide exposure and marketing is awesome. But yes, a website that will launch in a couple months is in the works. I'm excited for Brown Sugar Beach to have a home that I have full creative control over.
How did you come up with such a cute name?
Aw, thanks. Brown Sugar Beach is a literary reference to a Santa Barbara beach by our most famous local author, T.C. Boyle.
Any advice for aspiring designers?
Just start making stuff. It takes a lot of time and effort to really figure out your niche so follow your gut and make lots of stuff while you figure out what makes you excited. Success comes from being authentic and true to your own vision, so feel free to make your own version of things. Oh, and don’t ever copy ☺
Did you have experience in the industry beforehand?
I did not. My background is in Interior Design, which is very similar yet so very different. I love interiors and still take on projects, but fashion is a much better fit for me. Brown Sugar Beach is 100% my own vision and successful interior design is about making someone else's vision come to life.
What inspires your designs?
I'm inspired by the Santa Barbara beach lifestyle. My husband is an avid surfer and we are a big beach family. I'm inspired by the idea of letting kids be messy, wild and free. There is no better place for that to happen than at the beach.
How do you get inspired?
I'm constantly inspired by my two girls. I’m a very visual person and I often will buy fabric with no idea what it will become. I'm always inspired by up and coming high fashion designers and love following along on Instagram (right now I'm obsessed with Gypsy Sport and Baja East). Watching what the insanely creative and talented at the top of the field are doing, and imagining how it could translate to kids wear is super fun!
What's been your biggest best-seller?
The same silhouette that got my business going is still my biggest seller, the Classic Harem Pant. I would say the Black & White stripe is still the most popular print.
Tell us a little about your company culture.
The Sly & The Family Stone song "It's a Family Affair" is the motto around here. My husband and kids are all totally involved in the business from pattern testing, fabric shopping, modeling to shipping. Everybody lends a hand and has a say. This ethos spills over to my relationships with the seamstresses. We all really care about each other and the brand.
Who is the Brown Sugar Beach kid?
An active kid with a big imagination and a sense of adventure. My goal is that your kid will choose to wear their Brown Sugar Beach clothes because they are comfortable and fun to wear.
Who is the Brown Sugar Beach parent?
The BSB parent is drawn to unique clothing that's also un-fussy, and they are interested in where their clothes are coming from. 90% of the fabric I use is dead-stock and I work very hard to keep my costs low while paying a generous wage.
What's next for the brand?
The business woman in me tends toward "grow, grow, grow" but I also truly love having personal relationships with my customers and growing with their children. This year we will be growing the wholesale arm of the brand and the local manufacturing team. I'm excited to get the website going and really start pushing myself to do the things that don't come as naturally to me like figuring out SEO and tackling my marketing plan. But mostly I'm going to continue to carve out every moment I can to design and create modern, unique kid’s clothes.