I met Kyla over a year ago now at one of the Bump to Baby Shows and when we chatted for the first time it felt like we’d known each other forever. The conversation came easy and we seemed to speak the same language when it came to not only motherhood but our creative passion projects too. As we continued to talk, we realized just how much we had in common, our boys are about the same age difference (very young still and super close in age) and our experiences in motherhood had so many parallels.
Kyla is the creative mind behind Row Row Apparel, a playful and whimsical children’s company that designs and produces custom play tents and play crows for kids. Developing out of an imaginative gift she dreamed up for her eldest son Rowan’s first birthday, Row Row Apparel was born! Kyla one of the most easy-going and down-to-earth people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, and her creative passion, eye for design and more importantly, emphasis on what really matters are truly inspirational.
Kyla’s designs are absolutely beautiful, catering to every style you could imagine and beyond. The play tent truly brings our boy’s playroom alive, giving the boys (and mommy sometimes) room to play together inside and speaks to their imaginative spirit!
I am so thrilled to introduce Kyla Howlett as this month’s Creative Career Mom!
- Ok these play tents are absolutely beautiful! I love the craftsmanship and the added details to make each one special. Can you tell us a little bit about the story behind Row Row Apparel and how your shop came to be?
Thank You! Each play tent truly is made special for each new little owner. When I was pregnant with my first baby ‘Rowan’, I attended a talk by a Canadian eco-leader and a whole new world opened up for me. I came to realize where I wanted my kids to grow up: in a natural; safe; kind; and most of all, happy world. The realization led me to discover great things about myself, as well as what type of products were out there for my kids.
Throughout my first year of being a mom, I researched the best products I wanted to use with Rowan – from bottles, to bathing, to toys. I was looking for eco-friendly, safe, sustainable, Canadian made items. I realized there was a huge community out there supporting the local movement, supporting safe natural options for children, and I wanted to be a part of it.
So, Rowan’s first birthday was my opportunity to create something very special for him, something he could cherish for a long time. My husband and I wanted something that would inspire creativity, feed his imagination and create fun. I wanted to ensure it was eco-friendly and sustainable. I looked to my background in fashion design and business, as well as my experience working for one of Canada’s greatest retail brands and developed our very first play tent.
- The name, Row Row Apparel is adorable! My toddler loves to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” all the time. What was the inspiration behind the name of your shop?
Well, not only did Rowan get a play tent for his first birthday, but he also got a little company named after him! We called (and still do) call Rowan ‘Row Row’. He called himself that for a while and it was the sweetest, and now his little brother calls him ‘Row Row’. And so, ‘Row Row Apparel & Play’ was born. The magic for us was giving him something he could cherish forever: a proud space to call his own, where we could watch him laugh and think in, hide away in, imagine in, feel safe in, rest in, welcome his friends in, and of course, play in.
The fact that ‘Row Row Row your boat’ is also a cherished song for children helps! It is a song that inspires dreaming and relaxing merrily along a stream…sounds so peaceful! The whimsical song adds a little extra meaning behind our brand and play tents.
- Custom anything is awesome! Can you tell us a bit more about the custom tents and how this works?
We want our play tents to inspire creativity, imagination, and fun in kid’s lives, and having a custom tent makes each one unique to its owner. We offer prints that are fun and whimsical, and we also offer accessories (bunting and garland) to match your kiddos personality or favourite colours. I often see how proud Rowan gets when he sees something in his favourite colours: blue and orange. He feels like he needs to have it. Like it’s actually for him. Colour is a universal way to express something about who you are and what you like.
I think when any kiddo sees something in their favourite colour, they often feel proud, like that object is meant for them, made for them even, and in our case, it is exactly that. That being said…our play tents are pretty cute looking, so it’s also common for parents to customize based on their style and décor. By customizing, our play tents work in any setting from living rooms, playrooms, bedrooms and even backyards.
- I am a huge fan of supporting small shops, especially Canadian ones! Creating one of these play tents must take a lot of time. How long does it take to make one and what are some of the steps involved in the creative process?
They can take quite a while to make! We make them in our home, and 99% of the time my little guys are home with me while I am working on them, so sometimes they take really long! Lol.
A big part of the creative process is sourcing natural sustainable materials, like our 100% natural un-dyed canvas and bamboo poles. Then it’s finding fabrics that speak to our brand: fun and whimsical. A large part of the process is done thanks to my husband and partner.
When I first starting making our play tents, I was pregnant with our second, and couldn’t get up and down very easily! My husband took on the task of cutting all the fabric, and to this day is still doing it. He rolls out the giant ‘red’ canvas carpet (as we call it) and goes to town!
I am always thinking of new designs and new looks. I get inspired by many things, especially colour. It can express such a great feeling of fun and happiness.
- As a mom of two and an entrepreneur your days must be pretty busy! What does a regular workday look like for you?
Many days it feels like I get nothing done! Yet the day still feels so busy. I’m not much of a routine person, so everyday looks different. When I really need to accomplish work, the T.V. is a good friend of mine. I don’t feel guilty about that. Often times, a show they are watching will bring an idea to mind of what I can further teach them, activities we can do, etc. My little sewing space is right next to them, so we are always together no matter what I’m working on.
If my kids are busy and happy playing, I also try to use that time to get something done: sewing, planning or applying for shows, responding to emails, or even just posting on social media. Every little piece can be so time consuming. It’s a real struggle, because I always want to choose them, my kids. And often, I do, but there are some times when there are deadlines and I have no choice, it always works out though. The boys stand beside me as I sew, they watch the machine, and play with bobbins and threads. I know that time of them watching and helping me work on play tents will be very valuable to all of us in the long run.
Everything is always a work in progress. I seldom get something done from start to finish in one go. Sometimes it frustrating, but I’m pretty accepting of it at this point! And let’s not forget housework! It takes so much time as well, and I never feel like my house is totally organized or clean. But, like my mom always says to me: “Enjoy the mess and the toys everywhere. One day, the toys will be gone, it will be quiet, and you’ll miss it”. And she is so right.
- Balancing kids, work, and family life can become pretty tricky when you’re a mom boss. What advice would you offer a new mom starting her own business?
I think the advice I would offer, is to be easy on yourself, and confident with your decisions. Being a mom and parent is THE hardest job. You are responsible for these little lives, and they count on you for everything. It’s so easy to get caught up watching other mom bosses, thinking they have it figured out, posting on social media constantly, blogging, wearing makeup, all while spending quality time with their kids. I’m not her! I made a choice when we started Row Row Apparel and Play, that I would always be a mom first, that I wouldn’t feel guilty if I missed a day posting, or if I didn’t get anything done some days, because spending time with my kids is the most important thing to me, and I don’t want to document it all the time. Sometimes I get caught up in it, and think I need to do more if I want to be more successful, but then I remember that that’s not how I want to live or run a business, at least not while my kids are small and home with me.
There are times too, when you may get so excited by new ideas or opportunities, and you think you have to jump on all of them, because that’s the only way to be successful, and to show it to the world. For some, this is very important and that’s totally fine. Of course, getting orders and recognition is a great feeling. It is a wonderful accomplishment considering everything else you have to do! But at the end of the day, my true success isn’t measured by the number of orders or revenue I’ve received that day, it’s measured by the smile on my boys faces, by their happiness, by their telling me that they love me so so much. It’s truly the best accomplishment in the world.
- Row Row Apparel is such a beautiful brand, I love the unique designs and that it was inspired by your little ones. What are your hopes for the future of Row Row?
Thank you so much! I hope Row Row grows into much more at the right time. Originally, I wanted to design boys clothing, as I’ve always felt boys clothes could use a ‘pick me up’ so hopefully one day, we will add a line of comfortable organic unisex play clothes.
Currently, we are exploring more ways to incorporate imaginative play with other fun sustainable products- so stay tuned!
My big picture hopes for Row Row is that we will continue to inspire kiddos and families to play simply, to encourage them to seek out products that are sustainable and eco-conscious, to think about the world their kiddos are inheriting, and how they can help make it better. I hope we are always around to inspire imaginative play, and to make kiddos truly happy, and proud in the space that surrounds them.
xx Row Row
I am so excited to be partnering with Row Row Apparel to offer all of you a fantastic giveaway just in time for Christmas! Head on over to my Instagram page for more details.