Estelle Lee catches up with Little Bird founder Jools Oliver to talk boys, motherhood and Instagram
In a a social-media obsessed world where self-promotion seems to be king, it’s hard not to be cynical about the non-stop hashtags and oh-so-casual composition of posts synonymous with Instagram and its many brand influencers. Heck, I do it myself. But amongst all the noise and chatter and artfully curated handbag contents, the real stories cut through. The people who aren’t necessarily always promoting, just sharing.
Jools Oliver has always appeared that way to me; a mother who takes immense pride in family life. A woman who has quietly but surely grown her family headcount at the same time as developing the Little Bird fashion brand, in partnership with Mothercare. There’s no precious ‘I’m an artist’ nonsense with Jools. Having spent years watching her husband, Jamie, arguably take centre stage in his career, fighting child obesity, managing an empire of sustainable eateries in between writing numerous bestseller cookbooks (I can never thank him enough for the gravy knowhow), she seems to understand implicitly what’s important in life.
Jools humbly says of the social media platform (on which she has 466K followers): “I love the small businesses run by women. The amount of people you make friends with on Instagram is amazing. It’s wrong, but so right.” It’s thanks to her style and refreshing lack of airs and graces that she seems so approachable. Quite rightly pointing out: “I like what I like, it never occurred to me to appeal to a certain kind of audience.”
She describes the arrival of baby River as “completely exhausting”, but ultimately chuffed to have another boy for Buddy (her older son). “I still feel in shock that I have boys. I’m so used to having girls,” she says. I get the sense that her love of motherhood would keep Jools producing Oliver babies were energy and time not finite resources. She instantly bats off any notion that she has a particular talent in managing a large family and the demands of a lifestyle brand, and that it’s the fluidity between home and work that makes it possible for them all. She says: “I certainly can’t complain – the brand makes it very easy and works around me. It’s more challenging having school and children.”
Whatever their childcare arrangements, Little Bird has consistently broken the mould in creating a uniquely retro and playful look, which stands apart from the saturated childrenswear market. It taps into the innocence of childhood and harks back to Jools’ own younger years and the things her mother would dress all her sisters in. Little Bird biannual collections have grown in confidence, expanding from clothing into other categories too. Interiors are a big hit, with rainbow rugs and nursery furniture in primary hues at sensible Mothercare prices that don’t discriminate. “We’re beginning to push the boundaries slightly,” she says. “It could be too much for people. I’d like to get a bit more vintage and a bit more ’70s.”
For someone who has made such a mark in parenting on both sides of the fence, Jools is incredibly self-effacing, characteristically playing down her achievement. Her proudest moment, she says, remains to be: “Seeing my children wearing my own designs. I can’t believe we’re still going. I know I’m lucky. It’s not an easy thing to get into.” Unsurprisingly, Jools is passionate about giving back and is partnering Tommy’s charity campaign to raise money for baby loss. “Tragically, it has happened to a few friends and I decided it was something I really wanted to do,” she says.
Has having boys changed her perception of the brand? She thinks for a moment. “I always say to the team: ‘What do you think Buddy would like?’ I like to add a sneaky piece in here and there…” she laughs. We discuss the need for infinite pairs of pyjamas where boys are concerned and the backing down on the toy gun debate. “Whatever keeps them quiet basically!” she says.
I ask one last question. Does she bounce work stuff off Jamie? “No, not really,” she laughs. “I mean, I would never feedback on his risotto!”
Jools’ top 3 parenting tips
Stay calm. Take lots of deep breaths.
Keep baby wipes and muslin squares everywhere.
Go to the loo a lot – you’ll get 10 minutes to yourself!