Au Lait makes gorgeous nursing clothing and they are the kind of ideal garments that you would have designed in your head yourself. Form really celebrates function here with smart fabric, clean lines and usability. I reached out to Emily Hsu, founder of Au Lait, and she graciously agreed to be part of the blog's interview series about the intersection of parenthood and creative pursuits. Our Q&A follows below.
on fabric and garment construction
In a very old-fashioned kind of way, I was born into my profession. My family has been in the textiles and garment construction industry for three generations and when we were growing up, certain school holidays were spent running wild in my parents' office where we were sometimes asked to help prepare swatches, measure samples, or help with spreadsheets just to stop us from being so destructive. Our niche market is highly technical performance athletic wear - think clothing and sports bras designed specially for marathon runners, jackets for the guy who is going to be in -20F weather climbing some mountain. I was trained with a traditional and vertical mind set where I need to be able to tell fabric weight/composition from touch, recommending best fabrics based on need, help designers with how patterns should be laid out to maximize fabric usage, what kind of seams/finishing to use to ensure quality/strength of bond, and even how to pack their garments in shipping for cost efficiency. For the past decade, my focus has been on seamless technology that is employed to make compression wear and chaff-free gear.
Although I am the designer of Au Lait, I am not a designer by trade and is uncomfortable with that title. Au Lait came to be because I had a specific issue to address and I created the soft technology as a solution to the problems I had during the time I breastfed my both children. I dress very simply because I used to travel for work sometimes 6 days a week and I wanted Au Lait styles to have the same timelessness and ease that classic silhouettes offer. Most moms don't have the time or resources after having children to be always chasing trends so I needed to make investment-worthy pieces that can work with almost any wardrobe.
How do you pick fabric?
Breastmilk is an organic protein so it narrowed down my choices already in terms of fabrication since you cannot use cotton or silk. Once you get breastmilk on a protein-based fabric, the two proteins will bond and you will never be able to wash it out. This helped narrow my choices to the world of synthetics so I was then out on a mission to find the finest yarn size I can because I didn't want to add any extra chemicals onto the fabrics for my moms but I need the fabric to perform certain functions. Breastfeeding is messy and leaky. No one will show you that but it's true no matter how hard you try and how many gadgets you buy - they will get on your clothes. I needed a fabric that can be washed out quickly and dry in the minimal amount of time so that my moms can return to taking care of their babies AND still feel human.
My daughter had weaned by the time I formed the company and I still remember holding a vial of my best friend's wife's breastmilk at 3am, and using a dropper to test breastmilk spread and drying time on about 50 different quantities on the bathroom floor. Our signature cloud-weight poly can be dried in about 15 seconds under a hand dryer after rinsing off with cold water. (NEVER HOT WATER!)
Other than our high-performing Cloud-weight and Waterfall-weight Poly, we have two types of jerseys that we use. I know there are tons of moms in the media that seemingly bounce back to their lives before kids in no time but most moms that I know, myself included, tend to be a lot more home bound than we used to be, especially while we are breastfeeding. So my two criteria for finding a good jersey is that we need a heavy quality that does not pill and another jersey that is so soft, it rivals most sleep wear. The guiding philosophy behind all decisions made for Au Lait is simply "compassion". What can we do for our moms so that her days might be just a little easier, so that she feels a little better about herself, so that she realizes that she is not just a milk machine but an actual human being with her own wants and needs, which might be on hold but they are not lost forever. How do I give her the most in the least amount of time?
My first idea, I made a prototype with paper and a stapler! It was a ridiculous little paper doll dress.
on being an entrepreneur and a mother
The biggest challenge I have even now is simply the allocation of my time. My daughter is 3 and so she is at home with me and my son all afternoon. This gives me about 3 hours to work every morning when I have help with my son. Three hours is not really enough time to achieve all that I think the brand can accomplish. However, I wouldn't trade this for anything in the world...
Starting Au Lait has really forced me to examine and identify my own weaknesses. Even though I am used to doing everything myself, it simply became impossible once I had my son. With two kids, the business suffered as my energy was so scattered since I was still trying to do everything myself. Identifying what I am not good at and then delegating that part of the business to someone else has made a huge difference in the growth of the company.
the growth of au lait
I get tingles when I talk about this because I feel like my customers gave me the only thing I ever wanted - which was to create a high quality product that is useful.
I am proud to say that in the 2 years that we've been in existence, we have a crazy low return rate and a very high rate of repeat customers.
After I had my son in 2015, the line took a little hiatus because I chose to prioritize childcare over my career. We are launching about 10 new styles in April so I'm very excited about that as this new line comes from my direct experience and testing while nursing my son. We are also introducing two more new fabrics, which I'm really excited about. Au Lait is growing and expanding everyday. I truly hope that with my focus on making the products great, I will be able to make the fabrics more mass market and therefore, lowering the price point a little so we can benefit more nursing mothers.
nyc and little ones
Museum of Natural History - we are there all the time!!!
Park at Pier 25
South Street Seaport
The Ice Cream cart outside of Odeon
Crepes at Le District - Avery's favorite: Sugar and Raspberry
Sunrise Mart - for all the cute Japanese snacks and Avery is obsessed with Octopus and Salmon Roe
Zara - clothes for both kiddos