At home with Atelier/Child co-founder Jessica Baird Walsh
“Everyone knows how important mothering is, but most people’s eyes glaze over when you tell them you are at home with a baby. It’s easy to feel like you’ve become invisible overnight when you become a mother, and that is an incredibly isolating feeling. On the flipside, the bonds I’ve formed with other women going through the same thing are very strong and you come out the other side much better for it,” says Jessica Baird Walsh. While she might have grown up on a farm in a remote part of NSW, the talented co-founder of new luxury knitwear line Atelier/Child now lives in Hong Kong. A mother of three beautiful girls – Winter, 4, Arella, 2, and new baby girl Paloma – Baird Walsh launched her other baby Atelier/Child back in July. “The brand is cool, fresh and modern. We have updated classic fashion prints with a distinctly contemporary edge, hence our description of the line as ‘mini classics for the modern child’. We are uncompromising about quality and use only luxurious all-natural yarns, with a particular focus on cashmere,” she says.
“I have always wanted to have my own business and Hong Kong has the second-highest level of female entrepreneurship in the world,” she says. “Despite having three degrees, speaking two languages, and having worked for some amazing organisations, I realised about two years ago that I was terrified of not being perceived as a serious entrepreneur. Acknowledging this to myself was a very liberating feeling, because it made me realise two things: firstly that I was the only person holding myself back; and secondly that I needed to get over my own fear to try and be the best role model I can for my girls,” she says.
How does she make it all work? “I’d love to be able to say that I am one of those working mothers who can focus completely on being in the moment. Whether that be absorbed in play with my girls or totally focused on my work. However the truth is that at this stage I am often trying to answer an email while colouring-in, or mentally adding things to my to-do list at bath time. It’s not perfect and every day is a different challenge but that’s how it is for now,” she says. “Working from home is not the utopia some people might imagine, but I love being hands-on with my girls and I am so grateful that I am able to be around while they are small.” We visited Baird Walsh and her girls at home to find out more…
Artwork by Jessie Breakwell
“Motherhood has taught me…
My strengths, my weaknesses and to try to focus on the important things. I think becoming a mother has also taught me to be more empathetic, and less judgmental. My own mother taught me everything about motherhood. She was, and still is, extremely devoted and loving. I think the most important lessons I take from her are the importance of loving your children with a huge, open heart, and the importance of being present and available for them. She has always been there for my brother and I, and to this day I know she would drop everything to be there for us, or for her grandchildren.
Until I was eight, we grew up on a beautiful farm in a remote part of NSW…
It was isolated but idyllic, and my mother gave us a freedom to explore that I don’t know I would be brave enough to give my own children. It was very special. My mum has always been a force to be reckoned with, and holds strong opinions. She was strict with us as children and lioness-like when she thought we needed protecting. I have always respected that. Our parents separated when we were very young, so things weren’t always rosy, however they were both very focused on making sure we knew how much we were loved and that has really stayed with me. One of my favourite memories is of waking up on the weekends to the sound of music and the smell of food coming from the kitchen. My mother is a fantastic cook, and these days a successful restaurateur. She has always had an extremely strong work ethic, which I am proud to say that both my brother and I have inherited from her.
Atelier/Child sweaters and scarf
My children gain a great deal of security…
From knowing what is coming next, and routines have certainly helped me navigate the first few years of motherhood from a practical point of view (ie knowing what to do next!). The 7pm bedtime is non-negotiable in our family and I am so thankful I put that in place from the beginning. Having said that, my view on the importance of strict routines with young babies has definitely changed since Winter was born, when we followed Save our Sleep religiously. Arella, who didn’t sleep until 18 months, taught me that every child is different and there really isn’t a one size fits all approach. With number three arriving in September I know that they are small for such a short period of time so I’ll probably just try to enjoy the cuddles.
I have always wanted to have my own business…
Without being sure of what form it would take. After graduating from university I worked in various roles for the ABC, ACP Magazines (now Bauer Media) and News, before taking a job doing Public Affairs for Amnesty International. Working for Amnesty was a defining experience for me because while I’d enjoyed my work previously, it was the first time I really felt passionate about what I was doing. This was a very empowering feeling, and after having children I knew that I couldn’t go back to a job that didn’t give me the same sense of drive every day. Georgie and I have always talked about starting a business together. We share a love of design and beautiful quality, as well as a very strong drive. We started talking more seriously about what form the business would take after Arella arrived, while Georgie was pregnant with Lottie, and so Atelier/Child was born. Launching a children’s brand is a total departure from everything I’ve done previously, but it is gratifying to realise that all the seemingly disparate skills and pieces of knowledge I picked up over the years have been preparing me for what I am doing now.
Winter and Arella wear Velveteen
I love our signature Camo print…
I think our range of cashmere blend baby blankets make the ultimate heirloom-quality gift for a someone special. I’m also thrilled about the basics line we have in the works, as I’ve really struggled to find a place I can reliably go to buy beautiful basic knits for every day. The inclusion of cashmere gives a beautiful feel, but the price is right.
Having established a new business while raising my little people is certainly up there with career highlights…
Between us Georgie and I have four (soon to be five!) children aged four and under. Add to that the fact that we live on different continents and it’s safe to say it’s been a juggle. I am extremely proud of what we have created. Speaking of my pre-children working life, the experience I have been most impacted by, although I don’t think it would be classified as a ‘highlight’, was visiting asylum seekers and refugees in Australia’s remote detention centers on Christmas Island, in Darwin, and in remote Western Australia as part of Amnesty International’s inspections of the conditions there. I was given an insight that most Australians never get into what life is like for people who come to Australia by boat seeking our protection, as is their legal right. I am so ashamed of the way our government treats these people, the rhetoric in the public debate, and the misinformation that continues in our media.
Hong Kong is a busy and crazy town and I love the energy that comes with that…
It’s very multicultural and the food is amazing. Because it’s so densely populated, most things are very efficient and convenient which makes some aspects of life very easy. On the flipside, the vast majority of the territory is parkland with amazing hiking, which provides a great escape. As a working mother, one of the best things about being in Hong Kong with a young family is undoubtedly the affordability of amazing live-in help. I think the fact that Hong Kong has the second-highest level of female entrepreneurship in the world is testament to this. Our amazing nanny Tess has been living with us since we moved to Hong Kong and there is no way I could do what I am doing without her support. She is an absolute godsend. Domestic helpers are the unacknowledged backbone of the economy in Hong Kong, where the dominant industries are finance and law. There is no way professionals in these industries would be able to work the hours they do, and have families, without such significant support at home.
I would be lying if I said that being super organised comes naturally to me…
However I have learned over time that it is much easier to keep a tidy home without a lot of clutter. I don’t have a lot of trinkets and we don’t overdo it on toys. I regularly donate things I don’t wear or use, and I store children’s items not in use by age range so I can gradually give them away once they are no longer needed for our last baby (due in September). A good filing cabinet is essential for anyone who wants to keep on top of personal admin, and a critical item for anyone trying to work from home.
I love to cook with my children…
Sunday has been renamed ‘Pancake Day’ by my four year-old, and we bake together a couple of times a week which is messy and fun. Impromptu dance parties are also a regular thing and always end up in some hilarious moves and big laughs. No-one tells you before you become a mother that sitting on the floor doing Play Doh for hours doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and it’s easy to feel guilty about not always wanting to do that. I’ve come to realize that when we are at home I find it much easier and more enjoyable to engage in a fun task activity with them.”
Jessica’s little list of loves:
Time with family and close friends. The longer I am away from them, the more I value each of these people in my life and the time I get with them.
Watching the beautiful relationship that is developing between my little girls.
Time with my husband. He works extremely hard and our weekends are all about the kids, so time alone is cherished.
My work. I love it and I know how fortunate I am to be in a position to launch a new business with a young family.
Exercise. I’ve struggled with depression at a few junctures in my life and exercise has always been the thing to get me back on track. These days it definitely makes me a better mother and all round much nicer person to be around.
Fresh air. You really take it for granted until you live somewhere like Hong Kong.
Meeting other entrepreneurs and talking to them about their businesses. My biggest learning from talking to others is that success never happens magically or overnight for anyone.
Spotify. It has come to the rescue on many occasions to lighten the mood when my girls are having toddler meltdowns.
Photography: Jenna Potter Words: Georgie Abay