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It’s a Small World

Tea Collection makes the foreign familiar for the little ones.

SLIDESHOW

On him: Checker slip-ons, $35.50, by Vans; badger graphic tee, $24.50, and side stripe sport pants, $29.50. On her: Glitter Mary Janes, $38, by Cienta; chambray dress, $45.50, striped tee, $19.50, thistle leggings, $24.50. All at Tea Collection.

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On her: Seabirds Might mini dress, $35.50. On him: Sail Away Happy hoodie, $29.50, Augustus graphic tee, $19.50, canvas explorer pants, $35.50. All at Tea Collection.

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Tea Collection cofounders, CEO Leigh Rawdon and Chief Creative Officer Emily Meyer.

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Long before conscious consumerism became a trend, Emily Meyer was hard at work creating Tea Collection, a travel-inspired children’s wear brand that aims to spread global awareness. Launched in 2002 with business partner Leigh Rawdon out of Meyer’s Palo Alto apartment, the idea for Tea grew out of Meyer’s own experiences having a multicultural family. “When I thought of my own kids growing up and their many aunts and cousins abroad, I could see how the world was a shrinking place,” says the 46-year-old, whose niece was born in Brussels and whose husband, Hilton, is of African-American, Russian and Taiwanese descent. “I thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there was a brand that celebrated cultures around the world, so you could start the conversation at the earliest of stages?’”

Meyer launched her fashion career designing menswear for Ralph Lauren and Perry Ellis after graduating from Parsons School of Design. A move west led to her foray into children’s apparel working for Bay Area brands Gymboree and Esprit. Eventually catching the Valley’s creative fever, she signed up for a 15-week course at the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center in San Francisco, where she penned the business plan for Tea—named for the cross-cultural ritual that Meyer connotes with warmth, wisdom and timelessness.

With 70 full-time employees at its Potrero Hill headquarters in San Francisco, the brand is sold on its web shop, in 250 brick-and-mortar boutiques and at all Nordstrom department stores. The pieces—like fall’s back-to-school line inspired by the design team’s travels last spring to Glasgow, Scotland—lean toward sophisticated color palettes and natural, high-quality fabrics. “We bring back thousands of pictures, garments, cultural costumes, items from national monuments and artist studios, and we put all of that inspiration into a beautiful, contemporary collection,” says Meyer.

Beyond creating what she calls “practical luxury,” Meyer has always aspired to contribute something with deeper meaning. Tea’s partnership with the Global Fund for Children has raised more than $500,000 for local children’s organizations. The brand also launched an eco-awareness campaign with National Geographic Kids for this summer’s Australia collection. “We’re all the same, even though we live lives in different ways and in different places,” says Meyer. “If I can make a product that has those same values—instead of just representing an ego—that’s my goal in life.”

 

Originally published in the July/August issue of Silicon Valley

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