New Children’s Line Leah + Rae Is a Chic Mom’s Dream Come True

by Ashley Baker

Brittany Peltz Buerstedde is elevating the world of American childrenswear with Leah + Rae, her new collection of luxurious but practical dresses, tunics, and trousers, which are beloved by kids and adults alike.

You’re a mother of two—how do your girls inspire your collection?
Eva is 3, and Lila is 18 months now, and being a mom is everything to me. They’re definitely the centerpieces of my whole world, and the line as well. It’s great to be a working mom and have them involved in what I do. They’re very much a part of the fittings and the photo shoots. They love coming to the office!

How do you balance fashion and function in your pieces?
In childrenswear, the pieces not only need to be beautiful, but they have to inspire movement and play as well. My girls are equal parts princess and tomboy. They want to look beautiful, but they also want to go down the slide and play on the playground. The collection really has to speak to both of those worlds.

Leah + Rae 2018 collection

What was your entrée into the world of design?
Growing up, I used to be a competitive figure skater, and I designed all my costumes. After that, I studied film and interned at Gagosian during college. I’ve always been involved in art somehow.

What was the starting point for your first Leah + Rae collection?
I was inspired by my travels and the summers I spent with my family in Saint-Tropez. I just loved the sense of classic beauty and timelessness, as well as the soft color palette. All the colors are largely based on bright whites, clean colors, and soft hues of blue. Even the bikini is named the Bardot!

Tell us about some of the key styles in the line.
The Eva blouse is one of our strongest styles. I love it because of the hand-embroidery and the stitching of the sleeve. In kids’ lines, it’s really hard to find handmade detail, as we’re producing everything in the U.S. The Coco dress has definitely been a favorite as well —  it’s named after my mom! My family is very involved in what I do, and I draw inspiration from them. I’ve also had great response to the Couture Dream dress, which we started out making in white. Then I took a trip to Paris, and I sourced some beautiful florals, so we made a few in a limited quantity.

How many pieces are in the collection?
It includes 14 styles, plus a straw bag. I really focus on quality over quantity. I don’t want the brand to be seen everywhere. I’m aligning with the right people who really understand what we’re about. Each piece is produced in limited quality, and I’ve been really excited to partner with two retailers — Saks Fifth Avenue and The Collective Child, which is a great online store.

What range of sizes do you offer?
I started off making clothes from size 1–3 months up to 4 years old, but a lot of moms asked me to make larger sizes, so for summer, we’ve gone up to a size 7.  In the fall, we will offer sizes up to 10.

Leah + Rae 2018 collection

What are some of the challenges of designing clothes on such a small scale?
I really want my designs to show off and fit the right way. It’s definitely a challenge, but I use my girls as fit models, and it’s so helpful to be able to fit everything on a real baby, toddler, or child, and go from there.

What’s some of the best feedback your 3-year-old has given you?
When she wears my styles and says, “Mommy, I love this — I never want to take it off,” it’s the most rewarding thing ever!

So many of the clothes targeted at toddlers are loud and sparkly!
When I first started shopping for my girls, I was drawn to a lot of the European brands, but I didn’t really find a lot of U.S. brands that resonated with my taste of a soft and beautiful look. Kids are naturally so beautiful and pure on their own. I don’t think they need these loud and bold statements on them. Their beauty speaks volumes.

How did you create a visual identity for your brand?
I wanted a whimsical and airy feel to our imagery, and it was important that the kids felt natural in their environment. When we do photo shoots, the kids should look like themselves — we are there only as observers. The more natural they are, the more beautiful the images will be. We shot the first campaign in Palm Beach, Florida. I had flowers and baskets on set, and the kids, especially the younger ones, loved interacting with them.

Did you use your daughters as models?
Yes, but some of our friends’ children are in the images as well. Now, I end up shooting a lot of siblings, and it’s really nice to capture that interaction on film. Some of the moms have said, “Well, I don’t know if they’re going to like shooting today,” and that’s totally fine. If they want to go out and play, great — I never want to pressure them. It’s like a whole big playdate.

Leah + Rae 2018 collection

How many collections are you planning to do in a given year?
Spring, Summer, and Fall, and then I want to drop in some pieces between seasons as well. I plan to do a really fun holiday collection, for example.

How do you include boys’ items in the range?
I started out with a limited amount of styles, including one look for boys. I definitely want to include them, but I want to make sure that the boys’ clothes are just as beautiful and important as any of the girls’ pieces. You’ll see a lot more boys’ pieces for the fall.

Which stylish women in your life inspired your fashion aesthetic?
Definitely my mom. She has a sense of simple elegance and effortless beauty. Her main goal was to find pieces that allowed her to be a mom and do that job, but then when she went out at night, she wore beautiful clothes.

What is your personal style like?
I’m only going to wear something if it’s comfortable — I’m not one of those girls who can wear a beautiful outfit all the time. I tend to be drawn to simple pieces — a great pair of jeans, a nice top. I love designers like Isabel Marant and Alexander Wang.

How do you balance your time between being with your family and working on your brand?
It’s a constant challenge to be a mom and a businesswoman. At the end of the day, it’s really key to make certain times nonnegotiable. In the morning, I have my routine with my girls — we do breakfast, we walk my oldest daughter, Eva, to school with Lila — and then my day starts from there. At night, I always try to be there for bath and bedtime. In the beginning when I started the brand, I was working from home, but it wasn’t working out for me, because it was hard to be productive. Now, I feel grateful to have an office where I can focus on the brand, and when I’m home, I’m all about the girls. That separation is really important. Growing up, my mom didn’t work, so I hesitated to do it. The greatest joy in life is being a mom, so I shied away from having my own career for awhile. Now my mom is so proud that I am doing that, and it is so important to have your own thing. You can be a great mom and have a business as well. I don’t think that you have to do one or another. It’s also really wonderful for your kids to see you doing work that you love. Eva is 3 years old and she will bring a dress to me and say, “Mommy, look how beautiful this fabric is.” I feel like I’m giving her something that she can carry on when she grows up as well.

Buerstedde with kids Lila Rae and Eva and husband Franz

Who has given you great advice about starting your own business and being
a working mom?
Definitely my family. My dad is in business, and he has been really wonderful in giving me advice. My husband as well. He is practical, and he’s taught me the importance of sticking to a budget. I also have my best friend, Katherine Thordarson, who has now joined the team of Leah + Rae, and she has been amazing. I feel so grateful to have somebody that believes in the brand and that I can trust with everything. I started this off on my own, and I decided I wanted to do everything on my own to make sure that the quality of everything was the highest level.

Who has given you great advice about starting your own business and being a working mom?
Definitely my family. My dad is in business, and he has been really wonderful in giving me advice. My husband as well. He is practical, and he’s taught me the importance of sticking to a budget. I also have my best friend, Katherine Thordarson, who has now joined the team of Leah + Rae, and she has been amazing. I feel so grateful to have somebody that believes in the brand and that I can trust with everything. I started this off on my own, and I decided I wanted to do everything on my own to make sure that the quality of everything was the highest level.

As a working mom, what are some of your rituals or self-care habits?
I cut out time during the week to work out with a trainer that I’ve been working with since I was pregnant with Eva. I was an athlete, so being physical is so important, not only for my body, but for feeling mentally clear and calm as well. Having those times to yourself is really important. I have an area where I have pictures of my family and I say a prayer every morning and state what I’m grateful for.

What do you have in store for this summer?
For myself, I’ll be spending a lot of time with my family in Westchester, and in August, we’ll go to France again for a family trip with the girls.

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