California Dreamin’

Brooklyn-born children’s store Sweet William finds a new home in Los Angeles— proving that Owner Bronagh Staley’s sense of style knows no boundaries.

It makes sense that a neighborhood known for its fashion-forward inhabitants would be the birthplace of a trendsetting children’s store. But when Bronagh Staley first opened Sweet William in 2007 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, she had no idea the boutique would become a bellwether for kids’ fashion. She just filled it with collections she liked, items that were tough to find in the more traditional-minded world of children’s apparel. Soon enough, designers from companies as diverse as Carter’s and Ikea were stopping by to soak up a bit of inspiration.

Today, it’s hard to imagine the stylish store without thinking of its well-known locale, and though Staley is committed to maintaining a brick-and-mortar presence in Williamsburg, the Sweet William brand has branched far beyond its Brooklyn roots. In 2010, she opened a second location in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood, and just last year the store made its biggest move yet, to the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles.

So how did an East Coast retail staple fare with West Coast shoppers? “It’s surpassing my expectations,” Staley shares. It was especially gratifying since the same products are stocked in all three stores, she adds. Too short on time to adjust her merchandise for the California climate—the shop opened in November of last year—she was relieved to note that, aside from a few heavy jackets and fabrications, her Los Angeles customers snapped up the very same items as the store’s New York devotees.

Then again, the success of the new Los Angeles location can probably be attributed in large part to the success of the Sweet William brand itself. The first to carry quirky European labels like Mini Rodini and Bobo Choses, as well as Brooklyn-based toys and décor by Coral & Tusk, the shop quickly developed a reputation as a harbinger of market trends—due in large part to the discerning eye of Staley herself, who handles all the buying. 

The Sweet William brand has become so well known, in fact, that Staley is launching a private children’s clothing label, called Fort William, sometime in 2015. Working side by side with a designer to pick out the collection’s fabrics and silhouettes, she describes Fort William as a “natural evolution of the business” that will complement the lines in the store without competing with them—a truly original brand, much like the labels on the stores’ shelves.

dIMG_5774-copy2-copyTHE BEGINNING

Staley was a fashion editor at Cookie magazine when she left her job to spend more time with her newborn son. Instead, she decided to employ her knowledge of kids’ fashion and open a boutique filled with a few of her favorite brands. Little did she know she would spend the next four years working six days a week, but all the hard work paid dividends in the end, she acknowledges: “I really got to know my customer, which I continue to think is fundamental.” Her typical shoppers are “people with their own vision”—in other words, parents who appreciate her relaxed and eclectic approach to kids’ fashion.

“I’m very intuitive about it,” she says of her overall approach to buying, “If I respond to something and I like it, I’ll get behind it. I never look at other people’s websites or other stores. I don’t look at blogs. I just stick to my knitting and buy what I like.”

Though she was a retail novice when she opened her first location, she made sure to protect herself from competitors, since the store concept was based on offering one-of-a-kind merchandise. “I make sure we have exclusive distribution rights,” she shares. “I’ve always done that. I honestly feel like it has served both the store and the vendors well.”

She also picked the perfect location. A Williamsburg resident since 1999, and an artist by training, she was part of the first wave of residents who helped transform the locale from an industrial outpost to an enclave for artists, musicians and other dapperly dressed members of the creative class. But shortly before opening the store, she began noticing a new development on Williamsburg’s sidewalks: strollers. Not to mention, she had firsthand knowledge that many of the area’s residents were starting to have kids, since Staley and her husband, Peter, had just become parents themselves. She suspected the neighborhood’s new moms and dads would appreciate the same designs she loved—and she was right.

Today, Sweet William’s shelves are stocked with a wide range of brands, from hidden gems like Soor Ploom to popular picks by Winter Water Factory. In addition to a diverse mix of gifts, toys and apparel, she also makes sure to offer a wide range of price points. “I could sell a really special cashmere sweater for $280, but I also like to have a $38 long-sleeve T-shirt, or an $18 necklace that could be presented as a gift. I am very conscious about making sure everything is covered,” she explains.

Sweet William is unusual in another way, as well: Half of the store’s merchandise is devoted to boys. “Luckily enough, we’ve always been able to sell boys’ clothes, which a lot of stores struggle with. That’s one of the reasons I called the boutique Sweet William—I wanted a boys’ name in there because I never wanted to abandon the boys’ side of the business,” she says. As for why the store has been so successful in a tricky market segment, she chalks it up to her love of casual, comfortable looks that veer a bit off the traditional route. (One of her rules? “I never buy collared shirts for boys.”)

“Often, many mainstream stores aren’t very open-minded when it comes to boys. I understand why: A lot of women will come in and say, ‘Oh my husband would never want my son to wear this,’ even when the item is very neutral and unisex,” she continues. “Our boys’ looks probably appeal to our customer because our customer wouldn’t want to dress their boy in what’s offered in every store.”


Although Staley, born and raised in Ireland, and her husband Peter, a native New Yorker, loved their Brooklyn abode, they also felt the call of the California coast. As she puts it, “It was always in our minds: What would it be like to move there and open a store?” So last summer, they set off on a cross-country road trip with their son, now 7, and their 3-year-old daughter. Serendipitously, Staley received a call around that time from a couple of retailers in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, to let her know that a local children’s store, Tomboy Kids, was closing. Would she be interested in taking over the spot?

“It all happened very organically,” she recalls. “We went to see it, we couldn’t say no and we signed the lease in August. We drove back to New York City, put our house up for sale, packed everything up, moved out there in September and opened in November.”

Peter, an artist, designed and constructed the Los Angeles store by hand, just as he did for both the Brooklyn and Manhattan locations. Natural wood paneling lines the walls at all of the stores, and shelves propped up by tree branches are adorned with a plethora of Hansa’s realistic plush animals. And no Sweet William store would be complete without its signature dioramas filled with woodland creatures—a feature that customers have replicated in their kids’ bedrooms.

The new home base, however, does include one unique feature: a private office where Staley can juggle the demands of overseeing three brick-and-mortar boutiques, a busy website and the store’s new private line. And if the feedback she’s received at the Silver Lake location is any indication, she may be even busier in the next few years. “A lot of people are coming in and saying, “‘Thank goodness you finally opened here. When are you opening on the west side of LA?’”


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