The original leather overalls
I learned to walk, run, climb and ride a bike in ‘70s Finland, wearing the original Play is Work overalls, as made by my mom. With her keen design eye, my mom often made her own clothes and, as a mother in Scandinavia, she believed in freedom, nature and discovery through play. Which was exactly how I grew up - in a pair of leather overalls I wore for years.
When my daughter was born, my mother made a new pair in the softest leather, which were handed down to my son. As I watched the kids play — free and unencumbered — I saw how perfectly a maternal instinct to both guard and set children free had been realised.
Though these early overalls were wonderful, the leather wasn't perfect, and the zips weren't as robust as the hide. To ensure they would grow with each child, the shape and proportions needed looking at. Plus I wanted some new design touches that would make them less homespun and a little more modern. So, along with my team, I redesigned what my mother began, repeatedly testing (on lots of kids), simplifying and re-engineering. And, over time, we perfected the proportions, the fit and every fine detail — finishing it off with our signature Swiss zip.
One of the biggest early challenges was sourcing the perfect leather - soft enough for little ones, yet durable enough to last. In addition, we will only use leather that's an honest by-product, from farms practicing respectful animal husbandry. The hide then had to be treated in the most environmentally friendly way possible. This has been a tall order but, in time, we’ve got there. And, now, taking our inspiration from my mother’s original idea, we've created what we believe to be the best leather overalls possible.
Leather is a truly everyday material. Depending on the temperature, it can be layered over lightweight leggings and a t-shirt or woolly tights and a cosy jumper. Just zip it up and you're good to go. You'll feel safe in the knowledge that your child has a robust layer between little knees and the great outdoors, whether it's the branch of a tree or concrete pavement.
A tool for life
While we love our leather overalls, that's not all we make. During the development phase we've also been creating some other lovely leather pieces - tops and bottoms - as well as beautifully soft, brightly coloured linen, wool and denim clothing.
Our inspiration comes from many places. From tradesman's work wear to folk clothing - all functional, simple and robust. From Bauhaus philosophy and design to the Scandinavian aesthetic, Waldorf and Montessori beliefs to the ideas of modernist pioneers. It all feeds our eye and fuels our spirit.
Kaija VogelFounder, Play is Work
Born in Finland, raised in Canada and based in the UK, Kaija’s working life has spanned design, film and fashion. Educated at Queen’s University and Central Saint Martins, Kaija has applied her sense of narrative and space to projects ranging from feature films to exhibition design to experience design for hospitality brands. Becoming a mother gave Kaija the opportunity to construct a place for her family to grow, be curious and thrive – a scenography for everyday life.
'I saw a gap in the market for high quality, functional, yet iconic, everyday objects and I decided to make them myself - designing clothing, furniture and toys that marry simplicity with empathy and quality with whimsy.’
Play is Work is a platform for sharing every piece that has really worked in this process.