When friends and colleagues Ruth Cozens and Leanne McKeever were made redundant from their glamorous jobs in luxury fashion, it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to their careers.
Ruth, 41, from Barnet in London, and Leanne, 39, from Essex, met while working together at mywardrobe.com, and found themselves facing uncertain futures following cutbacks when they returned from their respective maternity leaves.
But the setback proved to be just the motivation the two women needed to strike out on their own.
Having bemoaned the lack of stylish kidswear on the market since becoming mothers – and specifically having to dress their little boys in ‘uncomfortable’ chinos and jeans – the budding mumpreneurs hatched a plan for their own range over a glass of wine in the pub.
Art director Ruth and Leanne, a former head of editorial at the e-commerce website, used their fashion nous and desire for fun and comfy clothes for boys to launch Tobias & the Bear – named for their own now five-year-old sons, Tobias Fox and Arlo Bear.
Three years on, Ruth and Leanne have gone from working from their kitchens and dispatching orders themselves at the local post office, to supplying 150 stockists around the world.
Not to mention the fact their signature fox print leggings have been snapped up by everyone from Jools Oliver to Giovanna Fletcher for their little ones.
Lauren McKeever, seen left with son Tobias, and Ruth Cozens with her little boy Arlo Bear, right
New mum Cheryl Cole, who gave birth to her first child – a son with partner Liam Payne – in 2017, is a fan of the brand
And they’re not resting on their laurels just yet. Having quickly built up a high-profile fan base, they’re now expanding beyond childrenswear into bedding with a view to making their mark on the interiors world, too.
Leanne says of the idea that started it all: ‘The initial lightbulb moment for the business was, quite simply, baby leggings for boys.’
Both women were unimpressed by the existing offering of jeans and chinos for boys, which ‘just seemed so grown up and uncomfortable for little babies’.
‘Girls had leggings and tights,’ says Leanne, adding that both she and Ruth tended to order their kids’ clothes from as far afield as Australia.
‘Even that was limited,’ she points out. ‘Leggings were comfy and, with the right prints, really cool too.
‘We knew we could create something great for an under-served market.’
Their instinct was proved right; as their list of customers – which includes Jools Oliver, Tom and Giovanna Fletcher, Cheryl, and super-vlogger Zoella – demonstrates.
And they’ve long since expanded beyond their initial pair of fox print leggings to offer an entire range of kidswear.
Ruth, 41 and Leanne, 39, worked together in the fashion industry before founding their own kidswear brand
Ruth and Leanne’s fans include Jools and Jamie Oliver, seen in 2016 with their youngest child, River Rocket, who dress their brood in Tobias & the Bear
Like the cherished names that inspired the whole line, all of the designs are inspired by nature – and feature plenty of foliage and wild woodland creatures.
‘We’ve had lots of exciting celebrity customers including some who have then shared on social media – some have found us on Instagram, others via our stockists,’ says Leanne.
‘Of course it’s nice to see pieces on high profile children but it’s really not about that. That said, the Clooney twins would be cool,’ she jokes.
The idea originally came from the lack of comfortable clothing, like leggings, for little boys
Jools Oliver shared this sweet snap of her son getting cosy in a duvet set designed by the women
Having gone from fitting in their work with Tobias & the Bear around part-time jobs and raising their sons, they’ve now been able to throw themselves fully behind the brand.
‘It was quite organic really,’ says Ruth, who also has a little girl, Iris, of their journey from a chat in the pub to a rapidly expanding brand.
‘Though I’d be lying if there weren’t moments when the worry of not having the security of a traditional job crept in’
The range has since teamed up with Peanuts cartoon with their new range of designs
Even adults like to wear their fox print leggings – including Rolling Stones rocker Ronnie Wood’s son Tyrone
And though thrilled at their initial success, both women admit to the occasional pang for the glittering world of luxury labels.
Ruth says it didn’t always feel glamorous at the time, but adds: ‘Looking back, there are definitely elements of glamour that I miss, namely my generous wardrobe allowance, the parties and fashion shows. And working daily with male models was a high point.
‘But the childrenswear industry brings with it its own glamour – for example, we travel a lot more than we ever did for the trade shows’.
Leanne explains that while the friends’ background in fashion did give them a head-start in terms of establishing their brand, there were plenty of areas where they had to learn as they went.
‘With our luxury fashion backgrounds we knew how to build a brand,’ she says, adding that they were au fait with running a website, marketing and even trade shows.
‘What we didn’t have any experience of was manufacturing and production. That was all learnt as we went along. The collection is so much bigger than leggings now, but leggings remain a customer favourite,’ she says.
Next up for Tobias & the Bear, which saw 500 per cent growth in its first year of trading and 200 per cent in year two, and now employs two further members of staff, are trips to New York and Florence to showcase the brand’s A/W 18 collection.
‘The kidswear industry is really competitive now,’ says Ruth, ‘no brand can rest on its laurels.’