Melbourne based label Milk & Soda have taken the kids accessories world by storm. The last 12 months has seen the talented duo add world domination to their list of achievements with the label being stocked in the coolest of the cool stores right around the globe, from California to Japan. Leah Nelson & Dully Lee have set the bench mark for mumpreneurs all over, juggling motherhood and growing a global brand like it ain’t no thing. With Dully’s design pedigree and Leah’s extensive fashion background and marketing prowess, together they have built a global lifestyle brand recognized the world over. I had the pleasure of finding out more about the ladies behind the label, their inspiration, their stand-out moments and a first look at these images from the incredible AW 15 campaign.
Leah spent over a decade working in fashion retail management, Visual Merchandising and Marketing with brands like United Colors of Benetton, MARCS, Oroton Group, Seduce Group and DECJUBA. She was mentored by the “creme of the retail crop” MARCS founder Marc Keighery and Tania Austin (Creative Director of DECJUBA and Co-Founder of Cotton On), and credits these retail leaders in shaping her solid business acumen.
After studying Fashion Design at RMIT, Dully launched the couture jewellery line JUKO, which was stocked in department stores like Bloomingdales, TSUM, Henri Bendel’s & SAKS FIFTH. She has also produced women’s accessories for middle to high end designers like Alannah Hill, BCBG, Anna Sui and Collette Dinnigan. Katy Perry was once seen wearing the Daisy bracelet in one of her interviews.
With a double resume like that, I guess you could say they were destined for success.
Can you talk us through how Milk & Soda was born?
It started when Bax was 9 months old. I was desperate to find cool accessories for him to wear to a wedding, and frustrated with what was available. I was on maternity leave at Decjuba and working part-time as the Creative Concepts Manager, when I approached my business partner Dully about starting an online store selling boys accessories. After a month of planning, we got the ball rolling.
We started just selling boys accessories, but we quickly found there was a huge demand for girls accessories too. Since then, it’s been an unstoppable roller coaster ride of accessories and footwear, some imported apparel on the side and last year – womens wear with the launch of LTD STYLE- which you’ve modelled! (see HERE)
You have achieved much international success- what have been some of the key milestones or “wow” moments that have made you stop and realise just how far you’ve come?
Where do we start?! From supplying shopping mecca like Kids 21 in Singapore, renowned SoCal cool retailer Ron Robinson, uber chic dept store United Arrows in Japan, and now we’re about to be available at Rustan’s (the Philippines luxury dept store) – to meeting Hollywood celebrity David Burtka (Neil Patrick Harris’s husband) and being invited to his Brownstone home in NYC – sometimes we look at each other in disbelief and ask, “Is this really happening?!”
Take us through the latest AW 15 collection and campaign
For us, winter is always the time that we take stock of our kid’s wardrobe, reassess what they’ll be wearing and really break out of the usual style habits. This season the kids are finally growing up. Our focus shifts from the cute crown accessories that we’re known for, to more of a sophisticated and polished line of accessories with a grown up take.
What is your favourite item from this collection?
Dully- The metallic range in hair accessories and Pernille Cat Ear Beanie
Leah- The two- tone Mischka floppy hat in this year’s Pantone colour of the year marsala/navy; I’m also quite partial to the Binki mouse collection inspired by my trip to Disneyland late last year.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Everywhere! We draw the majority from our travels and seeing what kids are wearing on the streets. We also turn to movers and shakers of the Instagram community who we’ve all become friends with such like yourself and others such as Pete Fuentes @thedaddyfashionstylist (super stylist dad to Harlow), Renata Ferko @curated_by (children’s stylist and creative director) and Luisa Fere Espinosa @luisafere (stylist, creative consultant to Hollywood celebrities and contributor of Harper’s Bazaar) and Maya Vidulich @pics_missmaya (our incredibly talented photographer who shot our AW15 campaign). We’re also inspired by art, music and food – we love to eat!
I remember reading that you manufacture ethically in Korea, can you tell us more?
Yes! Our hair accessories and neck ties are handmade ethically by a team of passionate women in South Korea. Once samples are approved by us, production is contracted to various teams who work from home, enabling them to work around their children, grandchildren and supportive families. A balanced woman makes the best mother.
How do you balance your work life & travel with your family life?
We’re so blessed to have incredibly supportive husbands and families who allow us to travel frequently overseas. Without the help of our families, it wouldn’t be possible. And despite how busy we are, we make it a point to stop and hang out with our kids even for a few hours in the day; especially the younger ones as the years just fleet before our eyes!
Who would be the ultimate celeb kid that you would like to see wearing Milk & Soda?
To be honest, we’re not a brand that’s PR hungry for celebrities to be seen in our products. We take more pride in seeing an everyday kid with tons of personality and style rocking our gear like nobody’s business.
What advice would you offer to budding entrepreneurs?
Never forget your humble beginning and the people that helped elevate you. Be conscious and creative.
Your categories continue to expand and you now cover it all, from kids accessories to women’s apparel. What does the future hold for Milk & Soda?
Dully and I always ask each other, “What feels fresh and new? Is it undeniably cool? Is it Milk & Soda?”. We’re always challenging ourselves with newness and bringing excitement to the brand. All we hope for is that we remain true to this brand ethos.
The ladies behind the brand- Leah Nelson & Dully Lee. Campaign images by Maya Vidulich @pics_missmaya