The parenting experts at Everymom chatted with our founder about introducing kids to the world, and how Tea designers are inspired by their travels. Each season, we interpret a different destination then respectfully translate it into a collection, creating an easily digestible opportunity for kids and their families.
Introduce yourself and give a little background info!
I’m Leigh Rawdon, founder of the globally-inspired children’s clothing line Tea Collection. I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee in a family that rarely traveled but I had an adventurous aunt and was always enchanted by stories of her trips abroad and the gifts she would bring back. She nurtured my desire to see the world. At 16, I got my first passport and traveled to Paris with my high school French class. I could finally see that the world was a much bigger place than Tennessee, but somehow, I still felt at home.
Meanwhile, I also discovered an innate love of entrepreneurship. Maybe it comes from my granddaddy who owned a grocery store in rural Mississippi! I am that cliche of a kid who ran lemonade stands and started little businesses including a helium-filled balloon delivery company.
Combined, my love of travel and my inclination for entrepreneurship led me to Tea. I get to do both! I love building a company and introducing families to the beauty of the world through our collections. My goal is to build a brand that is sustainable, customer-focused, design-driven, and devoted to corporate social responsibility.
What’s the story behind Tea Collection?
We chose the name Tea Collection because tea, the drink, is universal – it’s shared and celebrated in what seems like nearly every culture around the world. There’s something about sharing a cup of tea – it’s timeless. You feel present, connection, warmth, and at home – and we want to bring that feeling to life for our customers. Twice a year, we explore a new region of the world and transform our discoveries into a collection of heirloom-quality, modern clothing for children designed to spark curiosity and connection. We commit to giving back to these inspiring communities, donating 10% of Tea’s profits to ensure a better world for kids everywhere. Our company has donated over $1.5M to local grassroots organizations primarily through our ongoing partnership with The Global Fund for Children.
How has traveling impacted the design philosophy of Tea Collection? Why do you feel traveling with kids is so important?
We look at clothing as a conversation starter. Each season, we interpret a different destination then respectfully translate this interpretation into an apparel collection, which creates an easily digestible opportunity for kids and their families to “make the foreign familiar.” If young children are introduced to a graphic tee with kanji on it or a dress inspired by a regional art form, it subtly creates a connection with a foreign concept. Parents can introduce their children to travel to show kids (and ourselves) that we are more alike than we are different – we have common ground and a shared humanity. Childhood is when we learn how to see the world and interact with others. It’s important from a young age to create a perspective that we can be at home in this very big, very foreign world. If you establish this ethos at an early age, that’s something that will be carried your whole life. This foundation encourages children to grow into contributing citizens and creates habits that last a lifetime.
Why is celebrating other cultures and countries important to you and the brand?
We want to make the foreign more familiar, one t-shirt, one dress, one romper, and one catalog at a time. I think it is a great success to touch families and reach kids in such a way.
Explain the process of designing your new collection. How does Tea Collection take inspiration from other cultures respectfully?
We choose the destination of the season in a very organic way – we don’t follow data, analytics, or trends, we just look for what resonates with our design team. Once we arrive in a country, we explore the general aesthetics then try to completely immerse ourselves in the culture. We visit museums, eat the food, go dancing, listen to music, meet with local artists, walk shops and bazaars, and take lots and lots of pictures. We look at doors, tiles, animals – anything and everything that makes up the essence of the place. Our team then returns to our homebase of San Francisco and translates these experiences into their designs. It’s important to note that none of these translations are literal – we don’t do costumes. Oftentimes, we also collaborate with local craftsmen and artists to introduce their work to the Tea Collection community which is great for awareness of their work and for the compensation for the artist.
What spoke to you about the Oaxaca culture?
We went to Oaxaca with the hope of learning about the culture, the bright colors, and the amazing artisan crafts. Once we got there, we discovered it was so much more! We met the artists, saw their workshops and homes, and spent time with them. We learned that it’s not just about the art, it’s about the connections we make with people. The people we met in Oaxaca have big hearts and are proud of their families, traditions, and heritage. They continue to keep their culture alive, generation after generation. What we loved most about our trip was the love and kindness of the people. They opened their homes to us and treated us like family. We will always treasure this experience.
How do you give back to the communities that inspire your collections?
We’ve had the privilege of working and growing with The Global Fund for Children for the last 20-years. We share the same mission of celebrating local initiatives and finding on-the-ground leaders that best know the needs of their respective communities. With GFC’s help, we select a new local charity for our seasonal give-back initiative to ensure we can make the biggest difference for the specific location. It’s our way to thank these beautiful communities for welcoming us and sharing their culture. For Oaxaca, we partnered with The Cosa Buena Foundation: a local nonprofit organization that collaborates with a diverse network of grassroots community leaders to develop and support social impact programs that address community-identified needs. In the past, we donated to Mariposa DR Foundation in honor of our Caribbean-inspired collection and Kids Earth Fund for our Japan-inspired collection.
What’s your ethical sourcing process?
Ethical sourcing is at our foundation. We invest in ethical sourcing through, of course, legal agreements outlining our fair trade and ethical sourcing standards that are best in class. As important, if not more so, is our commitment to the families and craftspeople who are an extension of our Tea team. Our clothes are not made by automated machines! Our clothes are made by hand by skilled craftspeople who work with our high quality fabric and sewing machines to make heirloom quality goods. The sewers work for family businesses that have been dedicated to their work for generations. Our partners in Vietnam and Thailand are now run by the newest generation who were just children when we started working together!
Any tips for traveling with little ones?
My teenagers would roll their eyes if they heard me tell you, “every family is different,” but they also know it’s true. It applies to rules, manners, and expenses – and it definitely applies to travel. I am in awe of some of the traveling families I see on Instagram, globe-trotting with tots in tow! My family took it a little more gradually – we started with a few days at a VRBO near San Miguel where our toddlers could go from nap to a dip in the pool, munching on fruit and quesadillas in between. Our family definitely needed naps more than we needed to zip through a list of sights to see. Next up was Costa Rica which offered easy access to naps and the pools like before but layered on adventures including surf lessons, a boat safari tour, monkeys, short waterfall hikes and volcano sightings. Since these early days, we have been to China, Thailand, Vietnam and several countries in Europe. Our family’s keys to success include mixing it up with activities and interests for everyone: professional soccer games, museums (always better with a professional guide!), bike tours (even better if there are ebikes), and tons of good food. We have memories to last a lifetime, exploring the world while feeling right at home.
What’s your favorite piece in the new Spring collection?
The Icon Cardigan is always a favorite of mine in every collection. We love taking a classic Tea staple then recreating it with a fun, one-of-a-kind print that is unique to the country of the season. For this Spring collection, we have the adorable Sol Solecito and Friendly Fresas cardigans – bright, warm, cheerful, and fresh – truly capturing the essence of Mexico.