On a rainy Thursday morning I picked up some orange and almond cakes and went to chat with a dynamic duo of ladies that make up a delightful handmade business called Bo & Co. Mother and daughter team, Julie Atkins and Bridget Perkins, create a range of vintage inspired clothing ‘for the little loves in your life’.
Julie has been an avid sewer all her life, sewing clothes for her children when they were young and also for others, which she sold under the label of Calico Creations.
For sixteen years of her working life Julie was a real estate agent. “I loved working in real estate,” Julie tells me, “but it just takes over your life,” she adds. “You have clients ringing you at all hours of the day. You don’t eat properly, you don’t sleep properly. It’s exhausting.”
Julie explains that many years of this lifestyle led to her suffering from burn-out. This exhaustion, combined with a diagnosis of skin cancer break from real estate.
During her recuperation she had time to stop and really think about what was important in her life.
“Whilst I had loved my career, I felt that my life balance was seriously compromised and the ongoing skin cancers may have been a warning,” Julie explains.
Eventually, she decided to leave the real estate profession. The arrival of her two adorable granddaughters, Bridget’s girls Esmé (nearly 4) and Sylvie (nearly 2), gave her a new surge of inspiration and she began sewing again, and, together with her daughter, Julie began Bo & Co.
“Life for me is so much more fulfilling now, without going at one hundred miles an hour!” Julie declares.
I was interested to know where the name Bo & Co came from and Bridget laughs as she hands me a very well-loved scrap of a bunny that Esmé has carried around since she was born.
“This is Bo,” she tells me, adding, “Esmé carries Bo and a number of other little soft toys everywhere with her, in a drawstring bag. She calls them her kiddies. We call them Bo & Co!”
Julie has a wonderful sense of style and her love of design and quality is evident in her beautifully decorated and furnished home.
It was exactly the way I hope my own home will look if we ever finish the endless renovations to our little country cottage. In fact, I so loved one of her wallpapers that I ordered some for my own dining room!
Julie’s passion for fabric, colour and design is the part she enjoys most about her new life with Bo & Co. “I do love to sew,” Julie says, “but more importantly, I love the fun of finding and using the perfect materials. I love to create.”
Julie and Bridget carefully select each individual fabric to ensure just the right look for their Bo & Co brand and the prints that they have chosen are just so lovely.
They feature polka dots, woodland animals, florals, stripes and swans. Julie uses embellishments such as ric-rac braid and tea-dyed re-purposed vintage doilies to add a special touch to her garments.
Julie also likes to dye her own fabric to use. I ask Julie to tell me the process she used in her latest dyeing project.
“Well the fabric needs to be 100% cotton, which I have to wash and dry first.” Julie explains. “Then I decide what pattern I would like, so in this case I cut a one metre length and hand folded it into long pleats and then tied it randomly with a binding tape. Then the fun and mess begins! I make up a dye mix and submerge the fabric. I mix it constantly in the water for about 15 mins and then just now and then stir it for another 45 mins. Then I remove all my binding and gently rinse it constantly in cold water. Onto the line in the shade to dry and voila! I am making boho tops, shorts and skirts with this batch.”
All Bo & Co’s pieces have a distinctively vintage style and are made predominantly with 100% cotton fabric, in classically simple and elegant, easy-to-wear designs.
The range includes twirly skirts, pinafore dresses, reversible dresses, summery shorts and more. All the pieces are made with ease of dressing wriggling little ones and their comfort in mind.
As well as the garments being absolutely gorgeous, I was impressed to learn that every style has a name. The ‘Esmé’ twirly skirt, ‘Clara’ bow skirts, ‘Clementine’ dress, ‘Tilly’ and ‘Ruby’.
‘Nina’ named after the bohemian character in the television series Offspring and ‘Sybil’, whose name was inspired from the youngest sister in Downton Abbey.
The latest addition to the range is a fully reversible dress, cleverly named ‘Anna’. “You can wear it either way, and say the name either way!” Julie explains.
Julie makes shorts as well and has also made some shoulder bags for grown-ups and some little girls’ tote bags.
I ask Bridget if she sews too. She tells me she did learn at school, but hasn’t really done much since, apart from a little hand sewing. Her mum teases her that her sewing teachers were in despair.
Bridget was a teacher herself, of six year olds, for eight years before becoming a full-time mum to Esmé and Sylvie.
Bridget may not be much of a sewer but she does enjoy being creative though, painting lovely designs and often creating handmade things for her girls.
She also undertakes the inspiration and marketing role in Bo & Co, sourcing new ideas on Pinterest, which Julie whips up in her designated sewing room.
It is obvious, that aside from a little light-hearted teasing, Julie and Bridget have a close relationship and work very well as a team.
Julie proudly tells me that Bridget is an excellent photographer, achieving high marks in the subject at school. Bridget takes beautiful photographs for Bo & Co which she uploads to Instagram, their favoured social media platform and also does a little on Facebook.
“We have sold a few things to friends and had great feedback, so now we are working towards having our first stall at the annual Christmas market on November 12th in Te Awamutu.
If you are local to Te Awamutu, pop down and check out Bo & Co’s lovely pieces on their stall or follow them on Instagram at www.instagram.com/boandco_nz