Georgie Cleary, Wren and Mae

Today our Family columist Emma Eldridge talks with Georgie Cleary, Creative Director of Alpha60, and Mum to Wren (4 years) and Mae (20 months), together with her partner Pino.

We admire Georgie’s focus on community living, the importance of ‘pottering’, and wish we could emulate her first-up routine!


Emma Eldridge

Georgie Cleary pictured with her daughters Mae (20 months) and Wren (4 years), and partner Pino. Photo – Sarah Collins of Work + Co for The Design Files.

The creative director plans collection designing deadlines well in advance so she still has time to cater to the needs of her girls. Photo – Sarah Collins of Work + Co for The Design Files.

Georgie is the Creative Director of Alpha60, a Melbourne-based boutique fashion label. Photo – Sarah Collins of Work + Co for The Design Files.

‘If I’m not the first one up, my day feels messy,’ explains Georgie. Photo – Sarah Collins for The Design Files.

Georgie on the rooftop, where the family will often play in the garden and enjoy some takeaway for dinner! Photo – Sarah Collins for The Design Files.

‘It’s a funny thing to say, but I feel calmer since having kids – I’ve stopped rushing around as much,’ mentions Georgie. Photo – Sarah Collins for The Design Files.

Georgie and Pino are really embracing the concept of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Photo – Sarah Collins for The Design Files.

In each of the girls’ first year they joined Georgie at work. Nowadays they spend Wednesday and weekends with their mum, a couple of days per week at child care, and others with family. Photo – Sarah Collins for The Design Files.

Georgie Cleary pictured with her daughters Mae (20 months) and Wren (4 years), and partner Pino. Photo – Sarah Collins of Work + Co for The Design Files.

Mojo is a funny word, and one I would never have associated with family life until recently, when Ashley Bullie Koch put me onto a podcast (my first ever – yes, late to the game) called Your Parenting Mojo. Presenting research-based ideas to help kids thrive, it’s both brilliant and real – just like Georgie Cleary, Creative Director of Alpha60, and mum to Wren and Mae. Today we talk villages, pottering and more with Georgie, who’s well and truly found her mojo – respectfully integrating her lives as a mother, designer and individual.

Georgie, our 2012 feature on your Westgarth home (shared with your brother Alex and partner – now husband, congrats! – Pino, of Local Peoples) remains one of the most popular in our Australian Homes series, but has since been sold. Can you tell us a bit about your temporary digs, the community you’ll move into next year, and the central role of family to both spaces?

At the moment, we’re living in an apartment block in Northcote. Pino’s 94-year-old grandmother, GG, lives across the hall (Mae’s first word was GG – the girls love her and will chant ‘GG! GG!’ when keen for a visit); his aunt and uncle are on top of us, with his parents two floors up; and close friends are scattered throughout the block. There’s a lovely sense of kinship, but also enough space. My parents live 12-minutes away on foot; Wren and Mae love playing in their garden.

 Next year, we’ll move into a development Pino and his partners at Assemble have created in Clifton Hill. We are so excited about living there! My brother, our friends, Wren’s friends – all living together in this amazing community. It will be like an inner-city The Wonder Years. We’re really embracing the concept of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ – it adds so much richness to their lives.

‘Brother-sister duo’ is a well-worn cliché when it comes to you and Alex, but it’s true in the sense that you’ve been together forever – making potpourri and tea towels to sell from your family’s farm outside Canberra aged 10, and sharing the helm of Alpha60 today (12 years, 11 stores, accolades galore). How are you working to nurture that closeness and creativity in Wren and Mae?

Yes, Al and I have been in business for 31 years! He was 11 and I was nine when we first started setting up stalls in Mum and Dad’s nursery – we figured out it was more profitable and fun than working for Dad for five bucks an hour.

We grew up on a rose farm just outside Canberra. It was wonderful because we had the calm and space of the country, but it took just 10 minutes to drive into the centre of town; now that I live in the city, I realise I took all that for granted. Al and I would just potter around on the farm – there was so much left to the imagination.

Pottering is so important, and that’s something I want to nurture with Wren and Mae.

What I am most passionate about right now when it comes to parenting is bringing calmness to this busy world. We have Pino’s family farm not far away, which we visit often. I notice how quickly the girls stop looking for things to do and start pottering around. Watching them play together is the coolest thing in life for me, it’s magic.

You stopped travelling for work when Wren was born, but I imagine your role as creative director can still pull you every-which-way, particularly with such a small team. How have you managed to meld your mum and work lives?

Family and flexibility are key to me being able to do what I do. The main part of my job is designing collections, and the deadlines are known far in advance. When I was pregnant, I designed collections early so I could take some time when the babies arrived.

Then for the first year of my girls’ lives, I took them to work with me – I just popped them in the Ergo and off we went. I would be there for an hour or half a day, whatever suited Wren and Mae. It helped me to get out of the house, to keep a sense of self.

The girls are now in child care a couple of days a week – the other days they are with family, and I have Wednesdays off to be a mum. I love, love, love going to work, being with the team and creating stuff. Before having kids, I used to work all the time, never taking a break. Now they make me take time out, and when I return to the studio the ideas flow much easier. It’s a funny thing to say, but I feel calmer since having kids – I’ve stopped rushing around as much.

A duck is a good description of me these days: calm above the water, but still a lot of hard work unseen below the surface!

Your early morning routine is the stuff of Melbourne legend! Can you tell us a bit about this, and any other ways you carve out space to feel yourself?

I am indeed an early riser, and have been since a kid. Before dawn is my time of day to have some peace and quiet – to recharge, plan and shop for groceries (YourGrocer is a lifesaver!) It’s also when I’m most creative; if I’m not the first one up, my day feels messy.

I’ve usually done a couple of hours of work before anyone else in the house murmurs. Wren is always the next to get up – she walks out of her room half-asleep and falls into my arms, then we sit on the couch together while she wakes up.

I love being a Mum, more than I ever imagined. It has taught me patience and extreme love, and to be grateful for things I used to take for granted – like going to the movies and travelling. But at the same time, I don’t really miss those things as they’ve been replaced with so much laughter; I had no idea little ones were so funny as they weave their way through the first years of life.

Can you give us a glimpse into how your day ends with Wren and Mae?

As the day goes on, I so look forward to picking the girls up and heading home to play, dance, and eat. Sometimes things go bonkers, but I have learned to embrace the chaos – it’s a force greater than me! We read books, then Mae goes to bed at 7pm, and Wren soon after that. Once they’re asleep, Pino and I take some time to eat dinner and hang out.

Moving across time, what kind of adults might you like Wren and Mae to grow into?

We hope to teach our girls so much: politeness, gratitude, and good nutrition. The importance of imagination and curiosity, and how to make good decisions in this crazy world. That the simple things in life are often the best. To unconditionally love.

I’m a big believer in practicing what you preach. If I am teaching them to be polite, I must be polite; if I am showing them how to be kind, I too should act with kindness.

I’d be happy if they remembered me as strong but kind – that’s how I think of my Mum, as well as Pino’s Mum and GG.

My personal motto is to keep your feet on the ground, and your head in the clouds; that’s a good one to pass on. Dream big, why not?

Family Favourites

Clothing brand

It’s not really a brand, but the Napier Street Opportunity Shop sells local nursing home knitted jumpers and blankets for babies and little kids. My girls live in them – they cost four to six dollars!

Bedroom item

We recently bought these super cool prints from Violet Eyes, as well as some Halcyon Nights bed linen.

Activity or outing

Collingwood Children’s Farm is the closest thing to country life in the city. We also love visiting the National Gallery of Victoria; Wren loves the Garden and The Tea Room’s macaroons and I love the galleries so it’s a win-win.

Dinner destination

We love grabbing takeaway pizza from Bar Nonno and eating it on the rooftop at home.

Book or show

Marc Martin’s A Forest, Jo Witek’s In My Heart: A Book of Feelings, Dallas Clayton’s An Awesome Book!, and Aina Bestard’s What’s Hidden in the Woods?.

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