Even as a little girl Keely Deininger knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life. ‘I want to be a fashion designer and travel the world,’ she’d announce proudly.
She got her first manual Singer sewing machine when she was just eight years old, and by the age of 12 her tiny bedroom was crammed full with an industrial sewing machine and overlocker, and an ironing board that she’d fold away so she could cut out her patterns on the floor.
Uninspired at a grammar school that didn’t truly recognise or cater for her dyslexia, she left school with just two O-Levels. It wasn’t enough to get her into art college (despite having a portfolio overflowing with her own original designs), so she spent a year completing a business and computing course to make up her qualifications, before she could finally study fashion and textiles at Medway Collage of Art and Design.
The same week she graduated, Keely moved to London and started creating designs for H&M and Topshop. By 30 she was design director of one of Marks and Spencer’s main suppliers, and was travelling around the world – just like she always said she would.
Even after her eldest two children, William and Charlie, were born Keely continued to juggle family and career, but once daughter Trinity came along, something had to give. ‘The juggling act just became too much – it’s hard to organise a baby, a three-year-old and a six-year-old AND plan a range worth £75 million,’ she explains.
Which is lucky for us, since that quest for a better balance eventually led to Keely setting up ANGEL’S FACE in 2007. She began producing a quality range of super-soft, full-ruffle girls’ tutus, packaged into distinctive, stripy hat boxes.
The girls’ tutus were an instant success (they’re now featured in over 400 stores worldwide) and Angel’s Face has now expanded into a full and delightful girls’ wear collection – from t-shirts to UV swim wear – and is just about to launch a range of stunning wool coats.
As a working mum myself, it’s my absolute pleasure to interview Keely about how she maintains that balance between heading up an international kids’ fashion company, and quality time with her husband and children, now aged 19, 16 and 13.
What first gave you the idea to design your own range of girls’ tutus, and how did this progress to setting up Angel’s Face?
I already had a children’ s wear brand called Little Linens that was very pure and clean; I wanted to come up with a range that was fun. Trinity really was the inspiration behind the brand; having had two boys I wanted to indulge her sense of crazy.
What was your biggest challenge setting up Angel’s Face?
Having trained as a designer and been in the industry for 20 years there were no real challenges in producing Angel’s Face; the only challenge was making the brand stand out.
How did you overcome this?
I realised that sticking to one item with a strong identity was the way to be noticed. I decided that Angel’s Face should be packaged so that it would look fantastic in stores and would make it a great gift; our packaging (a stunning hat box, with a ribbon handle) has built our brand.
What time does a typical day begin?
A typical day starts at 6am with me reading and replying to my emails in bed. Then I do the school run and walk my dog in the woods; this give me time to think about what needs doing. Once I arrive in the office the replies to the mornings emails are in.
What time does a typical day end?
I usually swim or sit with one of my kids before going back into my office at home in the evening, I never go to bed before 12 pm, and can often work up until 2am. It depends on how I am feeling – if I am designing I find it impossible to break off.
Do you have a favourite piece in your range?
This season we have introduced woollen coats. I am extremely proud of the way they have turned out. It’s so rare to find a classic girls’ coat that has a contemporary edge.
Lack of time is an issue most mums battle with – how do you maximise your efficiency and/or make the very most of your time?
I work early in the morning and late at night; I get more done if I am left alone. My day in the office is taken up with the running of the business, so I cannot design there. I try to maximise my time with my husband and my children from when I get home until around 9 pm – they then all slope off to do their own thing and I can retreat to my office. They know I am working so generally leave me to it.
What sacrifices have you had to make?
I do not feel I have sacrificed anything – when I worked for someone else I missed out on the school run and the chats that occur when you are in the car. I felt guilty working, and guilty when I was off. Setting up my own business removed all that guilt; I work very long hours but I am happy with my balance.
Is there a working mother that you particularly admire? If yes, why?
All working mothers are trying their best.
What kind of example are you hoping to be for your children?
Work hard and be kind to people, have fun and if you are not having fun, do something else.
Every mum can relate to feeling totally in control on some days, and completely out of control on others – how do you cope with those bad days, when everything seems so overwhelming?
I swim, I walk my dog in the country, I have a huge garden and green house, I grow my own veg. If I am in the greenhouse no one comes near, as they know I am trying to solve something!
Is it important to you to keep work and family time separate?
I am always thinking about work – yes probably addicted to what I do – but I love my family and make a point of family days out (which everyone hates until we get there). We all get on really well so we do not need separate time, we just gel.
Describe your perfect day at work:
When samples come in and are perfect the first time (very rare).
Describe your perfect day out of work:
Going to Whitstable to see a friend: we take our dogs on the beach and laugh about the problems we are having as our lives, families and bodies change. For both of us it is such a tonic to see the funny side of these situations.
What are your future goals for life and business?
Remain being happy, keep growing, keep learning and let’s see where the business goes.
What’s your best piece of advice for working mums, or mums wanting to set up a new business?
If you say you are going to do something, do it. I get really irritated by people who keep saying they are going to do something and never do it. Don’t let the fear of failure get in the way. Sure, you will fail at some things but you may win at others.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
For me it’s the journey that counts not the destination, most businesses are set up now to sell on as quickly as possible. I set up Angel’s Face so that I could have the best of both worlds: I have had the most wonderful time bringing up my family and having my own life as a business woman. I went into this because I was passionate about it, and I am still passionate about it. Maybe I never had a destination in the first place…