Natalie Keeler meets Pepa Gonzalez, designer and founder of Pepa & Co to talk childhood inspiration, pop-up fun and the royal family
As a child, Pepa Gonzalez was never really interested in learning how to make clothes.
“I was always a bit of a rebel,” she says, with a wry smile. “My mother specialised in creating very delicate garments like christening gowns, using all these amazing, intricate techniques that she had learned as a little girl.
“But I had four older brothers and I just wanted to do whatever they were doing. It made sense to me that if they weren’t being told they had to sew or iron, then I shouldn’t be doing any of those things either!”
Of course, the 36-year-old Malaga native’s outlook has since changed somewhat – now the face of a hugely successful childrenswear business, Pepa’s love and talent for design came to a head five years ago when she established Pepa & Co; a brand that’s famed for bringing vintage-inspired, traditional children’s clothing back to the fore. Even Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, is among her many fans.
“It’s obviously wonderful that the Duke and Duchess are admirers of Pepa & Co,” she tells me. “I’m truly honoured that they like our clothing. But there’s also so much more to us than that – the brand would still exist even if the Royal Family weren’t interested in us. And we’d never want people to assume we’re using the children to market our clothing.”
The brand began its life as a passion project in 2013 when, after three years of living in the UK (working for both the Spanish Embassy and as a nanny), Pepa spotted a gap in the market – a demand for classic, traditional baby and children’s clothing that’s sweet, well made and still affordable.
She began by handpicking her favourite childrenswear brands from Spain and selling their clothes via her own online boutique. However, it wasn’t long before she was keen to start bringing her own beautiful designs to the table; and so, Pepa & Co was born. These days, her small team of five is based in Hammersmith, while the manufacturing side of the business is located in Spain.
“Designing new pieces is definitely the best part of my job,” she explains. “I love finding inspiration in old family albums, reading books or watching an old movie. I think the best ideas always come to you when you least expect them.”
Pepa sets aside 10 to 15 days each month to work on her designs, “locking” herself away so she can’t be interrupted. Even adult fashion inspires her, she tells me, and she sometimes takes different cuts, prints and materials to devise how they might work for children.
Soft colours, delicate materials and cute traditional prints feature heavily in her pieces, exuding a sense of innocence and nostalgia – “kids have plenty of time to wear jeans,” Pepa says. “One of the sayings we have at Pepa & Co is that ‘we enjoy seeing our children look like children’.”
“We’re currently living in a world where everything has to be fast, including the speed at which our kids are growing up. Then we end up looking back and think ‘I wish I’d dressed my children in these sweet and innocent outfits when they were young enough to enjoy it.
“My mother used to dress my brothers and me in very traditional clothing. Cute little coats, shirts, shorts, dresses and rompers, some with Peter Pan collars or tartan patterns – so I get a lot of my ideas from my childhood, too.”
“Spanish clothes in those days were made to perfection, even better than a machine could manage. Every stitch was identical and so carefully placed – it’s amazing, really.”
So, is this why Pepa is so keen to keep the production side of the business in Spain?
“Absolutely. We want to maintain those handmade standards and values from 40 to 50 years ago,” she says. “At Pepa & Co, each stage of manufacture is controlled by a person – it’s never just left for the machines to do. Even though I can’t put them together myself, I can always tell whether a garment has been properly made or not.”
Creating clothes that look as good as they feel is quite clearly paramount to the business owner, who admits that it’s her dream to create “pieces that people want to keep forever.” Pepa wants children to feel special wearing the dresses, pinafores, jumpers and bonnets she designs, which is why she travels all over Spain to source the finest, high-quality fabrics – to guarantee longevity.
This goes some way to explaining the popularity of the label’s pop-up stores, which are held in different locations throughout the capital for a few days at a time. Pepa’s designs, after all, are made to be touched, and the photographs on her website often just don’t do them justice.
Families can browse the brand’s beautifully-soft pieces, plus the new collection for newborns coming this winter, in the Belgravia pop-up shop until 15 January.
“The pop-ups are always a lot of fun – we get to meet so many people,” Pepa says. “It just makes your business so much more accessible and gives it a human side. I think there should always be a person behind a brand, rather than just a big investment.”
Alongside the pop-ups, Pepa tells me her main focus for next year is developing new designs and working out how they can produce their clothes more sustainably. But at the end of the day, the designer admits she is just so happy to be doing something she loves, regardless of what comes next.
“I just feel so lucky that I can bring my roots and culture to the UK – it’s almost like people are admiring my country and where I come from. My husband jokes that I’m a little too obsessed with my work, but I have so much invested in it – not just financially but emotionally, too. The brand is part of my identity now, and even though it’s hard work, I’m having so much fun.”
With another royal baby on the horizon, Pepa may have her work cut out if her previous clientele is anything to go by. Could Meghan Markle and Prince Harry be pining for Pepa & Co’s cute cotton rompers and baby bonnets by next spring? We’ll just have to watch this space…