Mats & Jo Nilsson are the founders of the popular children’s brand Polarn O. Pyret in the UK. We talk to them about their experinec of setting up the company and how they combine work and family life.
Polarn O. Pyret started in 1976 with the desire to make clothes that let children be children. A Swedish children’s wear brand that makes and designs quality clothes to be loved, washed and worn; then handed down the next child and the next, they have an online store, four Polarn O. Pyret shops and are stocked in leading department stores around the UK.
Sustainability is at the heart of everything that we do and we are very proud to claim that 80 per cent of our range is made in a more sustainable way, be it from organic cotton, BCI cotton or from recycled materials. Look out for the Organic Cotton hangtags on their clothes, GOTS Organic hangtags (recognised as the world’s leading processing standard for organic textiles) and our Recycled Polyester and Polyamide labelling.
Our clothes are renowned for looking new wash after wash; they are made to last a long time and to be enjoyed and worn by many children. The Earth is a hand me down, so our clothes should be handed down too!
Our iconic stripe collection is made from soft organic cotton and is still going strong today. Choose from baby all-in-ones to leggings, tops and socks. To celebrate our iconic stripe we have played with the colour palette this season. We have designed a limited edition, multi stripe collection and added stripes in a dash of royal blue, pale blue, cornflower yellow and purple all on a background of dove grey. Made from organic cotton, our stripes range from newborn to adult so the whole family can enjoy PO.P.
Our best in class windproof and waterproof outerwear is made specifically for children with outdoor play in mind. Over the years we have been repeatedly voted the No.1 children’s outerwear brand in Sweden. Our overalls and jackets are designed for the coldest and rainiest of days as well as breezy summer days. We design our stylish and durable coats and jackets with superb functionality – easy movement, clever zips, chin guards, strong knees and elbows, detachable hoods and reflectors for all round visibility.
We make baby clothes in the softest organic cotton, which is so gentle on their delicate skin, kinder to the environment and made to last. We keep in mind how active baby is going to be once she/he starts crawling. Our babywear grows with baby thanks to our clever features, such as extendable bodysuits and signature roll down cuffs. All of our poppers, buttons and trims are of the highest standard and beautifully finished.
Our name Polarn O. Pyret, pronounced ‘Pole Arn Oh Pier Et’, means ‘Buddy and the Little One’ in Swedish and we’re often fondly known as PO.P!
Jo and Mats meet
After meeting at Durham University, Mats became a management consultant with Accenture and Jo worked in sales and marketing for Royal Selangor. They brought Polarn O. Pyret from Sweden to the UK and Ireland in 2006, on a mission to introduce sustainable, long lasting clothing and outdoor gear to other families.
Mats and Jo loved the timelessness of the smart classic stripes, the brand identifier. Also PO.P offered vibrant and playful colours, which made a refreshing change to what was being offered on the high street at the time. Mats grew up in Sweden, mainly wearing PO.P clothes, and Jo quickly realised that the quality was amazing, as the baby clothes still looked and fitted like new wash after wash. They know of many garments that have not only been passed between siblings but also through generations!
Starting the company
As Mats’ job was taking him away from home every week, there was a concern that he was going to miss out on family life, and those treasured early years. So the couple moved back to Jo’s hometown of Lincoln and formulated three business ideas. Polarn O. Pyret had just started international expansion, using franchise partners for each country, so this idea quickly gained traction, as the timing was right. It took 18 months from the initial idea to opening four concession stores and two solus stores in 2006. By 2011, they had launched their e-commerce store and tripled the number of branches. The Polarn O. Pyret brand has gone from strength to strength, and they’ve just opened their first shop in shop concept in John Lewis & Partners, Leeds.
Mats explains what makes him excited about his work: “I’m always so proud to be representing a Swedish brand with leading sustainability credentials. All of our baby cotton is organic and by 2020 all cotton used in the business will be GOTS labeled, so organic and processed in an environmentally sound way. All of our PO.P clothes are made to last for more than three children, so although it may seem counterintuitive for the retailer in me, seeing PO.P sold on or handed down again and again makes me feel so good.”
Jo adds: “I’m mindful of the benefits that well designed outdoor wear can bring to childhood. Our own children are 16 and 18 years old now and only the other day it came to light that they didn’t know what chilblains were. I sorely remember swapping soaking woolen mittens for cotton socks half way through a snowy day in the mid 1970s! So providing technical solutions to allow children to play outside all day long in any weather is important to me.”
Combining work and family life
How does the couple organise their work / life balance? It’s quite simple, Mats is the boss at work and Jo is the boss at home!
Jo says: “I have been lucky enough to have a flexible role in the business, and basing ourselves in Lincoln has meant that we have only ever been 10 minutes away from home, school, nursery or work.
What is their biggest indugence?
They’ll answer for each other here, then you’ll be sure of an honest answer!
Jo laughs: “Mats loves new technology, which is no bad thing as parts of our business such as the marketing and e-commerce functions change and move on so quickly.”
Mats says: “For Jo, it has to be our two year old dog Piper, who is rarely away from Jo’s side. We’ve never owned a dog before and Piper has brought many smiles to our home and also to our head office. We’re so lucky than we can bring her to work every day!”
Tips for ensuring working mummies get the best of both worlds?
Jo says: “I’m passionate about employers offering flexible working for everyone, parents or not. Unplanned demands on your time will always happen, so workplaces with clearly defined and executed flexible working policies are so important.”