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January 7, 2022 —

Meet the Maker: Sarah Birchall of Cub & Pudding

A latent urge for a more creative life led Sarah Birchall away from a corporate career to establish her playful unisex childrenswear brand, Cub & Pudding…
Shelley Welti
91 Magazine online content editor,
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Hi Sarah, how would you describe your work to someone discovering it for the first time?

Playful, and happily inexact.

What inspired the idea of setting up Cub & Pudding? 

It developed from a huge creative void in my working life. I found joy in dressing my children (a boy and a girl) in unique and non-gender prints, but found it harder and harder to find interesting choices once my son passed toddler age. I knew what I wanted to dress him in, so I thought, why not design for him myself?

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Close up of Maker Sarah Birchall of Cub and Pudding wearing graphic sweatshirt in her studio

What did you do before setting up your business?

I had two careers before Cub & Pudding. I left uni early, not quite knowing what to do. I ended up working in admin roles before landing as PA to the marketing director at Paramount film, which was the perfect place to be in my twenties. But I had always harboured a passion for magazine writing. I took a weekend course over a couple of months and started writing for free in my spare time on my local newspaper in Kingston. When a full-time features writer job came up there, I pounced on it and left PA work behind. It all came full circle – after five years spent writing on local then national magazines, I was made redundant and needed a change (and a better salary) – so I took a maternity cover PA role at a bank, and ten years later, I was still there.

Where do you find creative inspiration?

My main pools of inspiration are from illustrators and graphic designers. I adore children’s books and they were definitely my first source of design influence when I began to draw for Cub & Pudding. I find typography and print design very covetable, especially using bold big blocks of colour.

Inside the maker's studio of Sarah Birchall of Cub and Pudding
Two child models wear Cub and Pudding red stripe children's t-shirts

How would you describe your style?

Quirky, imperfect, naive. I’m not a perfectionist by any stretch and am quick to move onto the next thing. I’ve been working with risograph printing recently and find it the perfect medium for me as each print is different and there’s an uneven quality with an element of surprise – that suits me.

Are there themes that run through your work?

I’m a fan of lines, colour blocks and simple shapes. Geometric patterns always draw my eye and I’ve found myself coming back to those themes more and more. I’m not a trained artist and there’s a big element of ‘imposter syndrome’ in my work, so I find the simplicity of shapes and loose doodling to be my comfort zone.

Maker Sarah Birchall of Cub and Pudding wearing graphic sweatshirt in her studio
Child model crosses eyes with four Cub and Pudding hats layered on her head

Describe a typical working day…

I walk from our house to our studio every morning and arrive around 9am. No two days are ever quite the same, which was a huge draw for me after years of repetitive admin work. I like to write a ‘to-do’ list for the following day, before I leave each day, as I find my brain resets once I’m home with the kids at night going through the bedtime routines.

I tend to reply to overnight Instagram messages first thing (my phone apps now shut down at 8.30pm after I found myself talking to customers and on Instagram late into my evening), and post a couple of stories, chatting about what my day holds. Depending on where I am in a production cycle I may be back and forth on email to my factory, approving changes to a design, looking for fabric choices, getting patterns graded. I’ll schedule a weekly email in Klaviyo for my newsletter gang, and I check in every day to my fulfilment team in Manchester who are absolute stars – moving all my stock from London up north for someone organised to pack and post was the best decision I ever made – freeing up my time and energy for the nitty gritty of the business.

What are the values behind your business?

Transparency is everything to me. I probably over-share on social media but it’s my instinct to want to chat through what goes on behind the scenes and talk about things such as costs and processes. It’s so important to me that my customers understand how the clothes landed on my website and who was involved in that besides me. Working with other small businesses is crucial – I really believe in supporting each other however we can. Working towards a circular economy where all my clothes are passed on and given new life for years to come is crucial too. I’m well aware I’m contributing to the fashion market and some of the perils that brings, so using sustainable fabrics and making consumers aware of how they can upcycle, reuse and repair is vital.

Maker Sarah Birchall of Cub and Pudding wearing graphic sweatshirt in her creative
Maker Sarah Birchall of Cub and Pudding wearing oversize gingham smock dress in her studio

Tell us about your work process…

I initially worked with pen or directly in Illustrator, but recently I’ve been exploring other mediums such as paints and ink. I tend to bank ideas in my head from visuals I’ve seen – often shapes or textures – and I’ll play around on paper until snippets and corners of my drawing stand out. In terms of the actual clothing design, I work with my factory direct in Portugal and London (where I work with a freelance pattern designer) to discuss product ideas, and back and forth with fabric and fit sampling. The best part is taking a few hours away from a screen just to create and draw and see what ideas come. They then become the all-over print that covers my kids’ clothes, or for my adult-wear collection (The Custard Troop) it can be as simple as a flourish screenprint embellishment – but a piece is never finished unless it has an element of hand-drawn print somewhere.

What sort of space do you work in?

I share a studio with my husband, who’s a graphic designer.  It’s our first shared space together and I’m so thankful for the wonderful natural light we have (previously we worked at home in our living room, where the light is poor, and I found that really affects both my mood and my output). It overlooks a cemetery, which I love as it’s so peaceful (and somewhere I like to walk at lunchtime). From my desk I have a view of all the trees – something I don’t take for granted considering we’re in London.

Maker Sarah Birchall of Cub and Pudding wears graphic sweatshirt in her studio
Two women models wear Cub and Pudding linen blouse and women's red stripe t-shirt

Tell us about your location…

My studio is in West Dulwich, South East London. It has a really friendly community – not too busy but with the right amount of people noise – it’s a leafy, beautiful part of London. I take my time walking there from home every day, eyeing all the gorgeous period properties that are scattered in the area.

How valuable is the online community to your work?

My online community is everything – both for my customers and for a support network as a solo small business owner. I rely heavily on my brand’s visibility baton being passed along online – without a bricks and mortar shop for people to stumble upon or pop in, the online world of Cub & Pudding is absolutely everything.

Maker Sarah Birchall of Cub and Pudding wearing oversize gingham smock dress in her studio
Female model wears Cub and Pudding oversize smock dress in creative studio

Working as an independent maker – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?

The joys are most certainly the creative freedom to do exactly as I like – seeing an idea grow from inception through to the final product and being part of every step of that journey is hugely rewarding. The challenges come when I reach a point where a product I want to develop is prohibited by cost – not buying in huge volumes can make some products I’d love to see a reality, totally unviable to produce sadly.

What has been the greatest hurdle in starting your own business?

Trying to be master of it all. There’s a naivety driven by passion and a new lease of life when you first start your own business, but you begin to realise there are so many hidden bends to navigate. For me, realising that it was ok to delegate tasks I found too overwhelming or unproductive was a big relief (the best thing I did was outsource my order fulfilment). There was a sense I had to do it all, both from a financial and pride perspective, but as a one-woman band pushing all the buttons it’s just common sense that you can’t do everything to the best output.

Mature female model wears Cub and Pudding's sweatshirt
Maker Sarah Birchall of Cub and Pudding wearing graphic sweatshirt in her studio

How do you approach marketing and PR?

I’ve tried a few different options – Instagram is my main source of marketing and PR, primarily through showing up daily on stories to talk about life behind the brand. I spend too many hours than is healthy promoting and sharing, it’s mostly been a valuable area of exposure for Cub & Pudding but it can also be energy-zapping and unpredictable, so I’m trying to rely less heavily upon it. I value my customer email base hugely as these are the people who have specifically said ‘yes’ to wanting to know more about Cub & Pudding, so I aim to send out weekly emails to them.

What have been your business highlights so far?

Firstly, it was seeing a celebrity’s child in my designs – more so, celebrities that I actually like. Reaching someone’s audience that has such scale and seeing your work in the spotlight is surreal. Dawn O’Porter has been very gracious in supporting Cub & Pudding and that brings a huge, albeit short-lived, buzz. More recently though, I felt honoured that my print designs were included in an annual trend publication featuring many other artists and distributed to buyers and retailers. Not only is it beautifully curated, it was a huge sense of validation for me that I am allowed to take myself seriously as a textile print designer, because miraculously, someone else has.

Child model wears Cub and Pudding dungarees
Maker Sarah Birchall of Cub and Pudding wearing oversize gingham smock dress in her studio

Do you have any creative pastimes or hobbies?

I love reading (fiction mainly, Persephone Books are some of my faves), and going to the cinema. I was genuinely worried that the cinemas may not come back from the lockdown but was elated they made it through. We’re spoilt by a plush Everyman close to our house and a Picturehouse near our studio. I try to get to one or both of them at least once a month. Film is my escape.

Any good advice for makers who are just starting out?

Find your tribe of fellow makers and small business owners. I’ve found the one drawback of leaving my employed life behind is missing the daily camaraderie of colleagues. There are endless decisions to make and ideas to share, so finding a solid group of supportive fellow makers who are working in a similar way to you, is invaluable when it comes to seeking advice, testing a concept and of course, sharing the highs (and lows).

What does the next year hold for you?

It’s taken me two years of running the business to finally sit down with someone properly to plan my year ahead. I’m excited to look ahead to developing some new clothing ideas and also work on a few one-off collaborations with other small businesses, which I’ve been longing to do for a while. Part of me is always hesitant to plan too far ahead though – firstly as I’m hasty with new ideas and I may well change my mind in a few months’ time, but mostly (as life has taught us more than ever in the past two years), you can never foresee what’s around the corner…

QUICK-FIRE QUESTIONS

Describe your work in three words? Playful, happily-clumsy, cheery.

Night owl or early bird? Neither in all honesty – I adore sleep too much for either… but if I had to choose one, I’d rather be up at dawn when the city is still sleeping and I have the whole day ahead of me. Post 10pm, my bed is calling.

What are your making rituals?  Gather all my paints, brushes and pencils – put on some upbeat music (nothing too intrusive – Charlotte Day Wilson is my go-to for all moods), turn off my phone and email and just see what ideas unravel. I can usually tell if it’s going to be a successful print-making session or if I sense nothing is working, I end it quickly as I can feel myself getting uptight about the process and know I need to step away and come back to it later.

I wish someone had told me… The hot chocolate in my studio building cafe is the best tasting you’ll find (and trust me, excellent hot chocolate is hard to find…). I would have started a savings fund years ago to fund the habit!

Find Cub & Pudding at cubandpudding.com and on Instagram.

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