bees and boats, ships and narwahls

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What treasures do your daughters hoard in their pockets? Would it be exquisite sea-shells, pine cones, sweets or unmentionable smelly things? When I met Bread and Jam founder Sofia Dyson I really wanted to know the answer to this question.

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I first saw these simple, gorgeously retro little girls dresses several years ago and it was the pockets I was drawn to. I couldn’t resist buying one as a birthday present for my niece at the time, and knew my daughter would love them. But I think there’s something about the gloriously nostalgic feel of Bread and Jam that also transports me back to a time when I would’ve loved to climb trees in a comfy yet pretty dress like this myself.

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So it was great to meet with Sofia and talk about what led her to design dresses featuring teacups and bees, ships and narwahls.

Sofia created Bread and Jam with her best friend from university, Lisa Swerling. Both wanted to create pretty but robust dresses that would wear well and wash well for their own daughters. They studied engineering and economics at university, but Sofia says, “We’ve been discussing how to find the loveliest clothes,” ever since their student days. Years later, the discussions turned to clothes for their children; they both loved sourcing gorgeous fabrics and had an idea for a shape of a girl’s dress, so decided to get a few made.

This is where I was a little reassured. I have memories of lovely smocked dresses that my Mum made for my sister and me when we were little. In an ideal world, where I could actually sew, the beautifully simple ‘A’ line style Bread and Jam dresses are the sort I’d love to make for my own daughter. I keep lusting after haberdashery too. If you look at the lovely selection of buttons and trimmings at bedecked, an enticing little shop in Hay on Wye you may understand my fixation. But I know I would ruin copious amounts of gorgeous fabric if I attempted such a thing.

So it was quite comforting to hear Sofia admit that, “we always shared a love of fabrics and had lots of ideas for the clothes we wanted, but we’re both hopeless at sewing.”

Sofia and Lisa designed their pretty, cotton runaway dress and pick-a-pocket dress (needlecord, roomier and great for layering with long-sleeved t-shirts in the winter) sourced beautiful materials and had two or three dresses made in each fabric. A friend let them use her flat in London for a  ‘tupperware” type party but with dresses and a washing line. The pretty dresses hung from the washing line and as friends arrived they soon started discussing who was going to buy which one, worried that their favourite prints had already sold. Sofia says that “it got us thinking about the limited edition thing” and even when they’d launched a website and had many loyal customers, they kept production small.

This suits Sofia’s aspirations to keep her business a cottage industry while her own daughters, Matilda (9) and Alice (8) are young: “I’m intentionally unambitious. I don’t have time to do any more, I work during school hours and in the evenings when the girls are in bed, but I really enjoy being able to have time with them too.”

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Sofia works from home sourcing materials and working out what goes together. She often gets her daughters involved in the final shortlisting of fabrics for each season, as she’s found from experience that their choices often turn out to be bestsellers. Keen to have her dresses made in the UK, Sofia found “some lovely ladies in Wales to make them” and runs are small.

So these are everyday dresses that you’re unlikely to see other children in. Unless you live in the Oxfordshire countryside near to Sofia. As it seems Matilda and Alice wear their Bread and Jam dresses all the time and Sofia says she’s often accosted at swimming classes and the supermarket by Mums asking where her daughter’s dresses are from.

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The Runaway dresses for Spring/Summer 2013 are now on sale and are a really fresh, colourful collection featuring teacups and barbecues, narwahls and boats as well as a smattering of retro florals. Sofia is clearly pleased with them; in fact it’s difficult to know who’s more excited about the new dresses, Mum or daughters. Matilda and Alice are allowed to choose two dresses each but making a decision is proving tough. There have apparently been tears at bedtime.

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When I ask if any of the dresses are kept as party dresses, for best, Sofia immediately answers with conviction that she’s “anti keeping children’s clothes for best!”

I totally agree, knowing how frustrating it is when children grow out of clothes before they’ve been worn lots. Great to see that these beautiful dresses are robust and are clearly made for climbing trees, running across fields and having adventures in.


And I did get an answer to the pocket question. Apparently the breadandjammers often visit the Isles of Scilly where the girls love wearing their dresses for beachcombing: the pockets are where all the shells go. Generally though, Sofia says that, “One daughter has interesting smooth stones in her pocket. The other has unidentified smelly stuff.”


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4 thoughts on “bees and boats, ships and narwahls

  1. Those dresses are just gorgeous, makes me wish I had a little girl! I was out shopping with my Mum earlier today and we both agreed that there just aren’t enough dresses with big pockets about for grown ups. I wonder if ilovebreadandjam will bring out a range for grown up little girls who still like to fill their pockets with bits and bobs, I’ll be first in line for one!

  2. I know, I’d like a comfy, pretty dress with a pocket just like this. They have done a dress for grown-up girls too but with more shape. Same idea that it’s well-made, simple, the sort of dress you would wear and wear for everything – which really appeals to me.

  3. Lovely dresses, and so nice to see girl’s clothes that are designed for girls – not small versions of teenage or adult clothes. My daughter loved wearing dresses when she was younger, but now wouldn’t even consider putting one on… hoping it’s just a ‘stage’

  4. Totally agree, my daughter’s only 5 and so many clothes in the shops in her age range are already like mini adult’s fashions. Need to enjoy her wearing clothes like this for the next few years while she still will!

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