Playful by Design

A Duxbury mother-turned-clothing-designer captures the magic of childhood.

By Noelle Barbosa | Photography by Rosemary Tufankjian

A blend of whimsical and quintessential New England style greets you as soon as you step through the door of the children’s clothing boutique Petit Peony. Dresses and tunics adorned with mythical mermaids, enchanting unicorns and graceful swans hang in front of navy and white horizontal striped walls. Leggings are arranged methodically on a white center table. Patriotic seersucker boat shorts pay homage to summertime adventures while gold birthday crowns call for a royal celebration. Kate Bowen is the visionary behind the business and her designs bring stories to life.

“We want all of our prints and collections to evoke emotion and stimulate imaginative play,” says Bowen, who opened her brick-and-mortar shop at 495 Washington Street in Duxbury last year, after two years as an online-only business.

Bowen taught herself how to sew in early 2013. She and her husband, Ryan, were planning a trip to Mexico when the then mother of two decided she wanted her daughters to wear coordinating outfits. Bowen purchased sewing patterns from Etsy and fabric from a local shop, and designed sundresses and bloomers for her girls.

Making clothing came easily to Bowen and she continued to hone her craft after she and her family moved from Boston to rural Vermont in October of 2013. During a family reunion weekend the following summer, Bowen sewed matching outfits for her children and her cousin’s children. Impressed by her artistry, relatives encouraged Bowen to sell her designs. She was skeptical at first because she didn’t think her hobby could yield a profit.

“It happened organically,” says Bowen, who launched Petit Peony in August of 2014 with an Etsy shop. The business name stems from her love of peonies and alliteration. Her logo, which pictures an elephant holding a peony, pulled everything together. “The elephant signifies something playful, youthful and elegant,” adds Bowen.

As Petit Peony gained momentum online, Bowen began sending pictures of her designs to high-end children’s boutiques in Massachusetts. Shop owners responded quickly and wanted to do business. Inspired by their interest, Bowen embarked on a boutique roadshow, visiting shops on Cape Cod, Nantucket and in Boston.

“I sold nearly 1,000 pieces on that trip and it was confirmation that I really needed to take things seriously,” says Bowen. Her next steps were to hire a production facility and establish an e-commerce website.

Bowen draws inspiration from her three children, Kendal, Scarlett and Jack, and the experiences they share as a family. “I write down every event we want to attend seasonally, like birthday parties, lobster bakes, strawberry picking and visits to the farm,” explains Bowen. “These are the memorable childhood moments I want to capture in pictures, so I design based on what I want my children to wear.”

Bowen made headlines earlier this year when Ivanka Trump’s children wore her designs during the Presidential Inauguration Weekend. A former colleague introduced Bowen to Trump and she and her daughter, Arabella, grew fond of Petit Peony’s cotton dresses. In fact, last summer Arabella was photographed wearing the brand’s Swedish fish dress on two occasions. “It appeared to be her favorite piece,” says Bowen.

Last September, Bowen was invited to participate in Trump’s Women Who Work campaign, which celebrates multidimensional, modern women. When asked to select one word that best described her day-to-day life, the business owner and mother of three chose “multitask” and her photo was shared on Trump’s personal Instagram page. “Ivanka inspires me in a non-political way,” says Bowen. “She really believes in women in the workplace.”

Bowen didn’t think to contact Trump about designing clothing for the inauguration because, at the time, she didn’t specialize in formalwear. So it came as a complete surprise when she received an email asking if she would design pieces for the occasion.

Trump sent Bowen inspirational photos and color schemes and said she wanted a classic look. The designer traveled to Trump’s Manhattan home three times (coupling each visit with other business) for fittings and to personally deliver the finished products.

Bowen designed the navy wool coat and velvet dress Arabella wore to travel from New York to Washington D.C. and later at the wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. She also designed the ivory wool coat, velvet dress and satin blouse Arabella wore at the National Prayer Service. For the boys, Joseph and Theodore, Bowen designed matching charcoal wool coats with double welt pockets and navy velvet rompers.

Bowen works with Massachusetts-based manufacturer Good Clothing Company (their Mashpee facility produced the inauguration garments for Ivanka Trump’s children). Although this year’s spring/summer collection was made in the United States, Bowen will begin producing some pieces from this year’s fall/winter line overseas as part of Petit Peony’s philanthropic efforts. She will be working with a U.S.-based nonprofit in Honduras called Mi Esperanza.

“We’re impacting the lives of the women producing our clothing,” says Bowen, whose mission is to elevate women and give them the tools necessary to break the cycle of poverty. Bowen traveled to Honduras on a mission trip earlier this year, delivering food and clothing. “We’re always committed to supporting jobs and manufacturing in the United States, but as we scale up, we’re developing partnerships with manufacturing facilities overseas.”

Bowen, who loves the Fourth of July, designed each piece in her Independence Day collection to fit the various events children will attend during the holiday. “The Fourth of July is magical in New England,” says Bowen, whose patriotic apparel consists of seersucker patterns and nautical prints. This season, the designer paired coral and white seersucker with navy and white stars to produce coordinating pieces for women and children. Other items in the collection include a blue and white seersucker tunic embellished with a red and white lobster collar, and a dress and matching shorts for boys in a grand sailboat motif. “Boutique owners have told me my designs are like candy,” says Bowen. “You can’t leave the store without buying one piece.”

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For more Petit Peony fashions,

visit 459 Washington St., Duxbury,

or petitpeony.com

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