The Thomson family is about adventure, something reflected in their childrenswear brand Waddler. Philip, Marina and their three sons travelled extensively around South America, before discovering a wild tropical island off the coast of Brazil, which they have now made their home.
Philip & Marina met in Ireland when she was studying theatre and he, Politics and Philosophy. They lived in London for some years where both worked in documentary production. After the birth of their first son they quickly realized that city living was not so much fun with kids so they moved to Argentina with the intention of staying for a year or so and re-thinking their lives.
The experience was so exciting that it led them further into the continent of adventure to the Andean regions of Peru and Bolivia. Soon after, they decided not to return to Europe and instead start a business designing and selling beautiful hand made children’s clothes. Waddler was launched in 2011 and is about to launch it’s 7th collection.
Why South America/Argentina?
I had been to Argentina once to visit an Argentine friend I lived with at University. I loved it and thought it would be a good place to start exploring South America from (safe, infrastructure etc) and we were both keen to explore the wilds of South America!
What was the best part of the South American journey? Argentina, Uruguay, etc?
Wow, that’s a hard one! It’s been a long journey, eight years now. Perhaps because it was the first place we properly lived in South America I still have very fond memories of Salta in NW Argentina. Particularly a mountainous region called the Calchaquie Valleys. Stunningly beautiful and otherworldly, unlike anywhere else I have been.
Does the family live like total Robinson or do the boys go to school :-)
Maybe we’re boho robinson! We have internet and many of the comforts of modern life (movie nights, good food) but we really are in a remote and wild place and no, the boys don’t go to school. We have no objection to school (sometimes we crave it for some peace!) but the local school is extremely basic and they learn far more and faster at home. They still have their friends in the village and don’t miss out socially in any way. And it’s kind of fun teaching, you realise that you know (and don’t know) things you never thought you knew (or didn’t know!)
What are the main benefits from the adventure/having left London?
Ohh, lots. No commuting, no rush hour, no tube, no long cold winters, no being trapped in the house with children driving you crazy, no worries about finding babysitters, no rampant commercialism constantly forcing you to buy things you don’t need, no aggressive social problems, no worries about terrorism (many people mention that on visiting here ?!)
Describe a typical week end
We get up about 6am on Saturday, have a large breakfast of fruit, chickpea breads, beans, yoghurt etc and then depending on how busy we are I might spend the morning working on Waddler or working on things in the house and garden. Marina will do a few hours of work/play with the kids. We go once a week for lunch in a local restaurant on the beach where we always order Prawn Moqueca (a stew from coconut milk, lime, coriander and dende oil) with rice and beans. The rest of the afternoon we’ll spend swimming in the sea and playing with kids on the beach. Saturday night is film night so we’ll put something on the projector – a pixar film or a Charlie Chaplin or something. Bed at about 10pm. Sunday morning, we have an early breakfast and usually we try to have some plan for the day. We often get our horse Trovao (it means lightning!) and borrow a mule with two sambura (wicker panniers) and go on a trek with the kids. Finn the eldest can ride the mule with the younger ones in a pannier on either side – they love it. this way, we can travel for hours and sometimes go the the main village on the island or one of the outlying villages or beaches to swim and picnic. We pack some bread, cheese, tomatoes, beer, lemonade… We return at dusk, around 6pm, give the kids an early dinner, read them a story and put them to bed. Then maybe we’ll have our own projector night with a glass of wine ;)
How many sales points in how many countries?
We have about 40 stockists in 15 countries
What’s the sales breakdown between wholesale and direct online sales?
70% wholesale and 30% retail
Any stores that carry Waddler in South America?
Sadly no. Many stores would love to but South American countries are extremely protectionist and the import duty and process is prohibitilvely expensive and complicated. I think if we really tried we could have some stockists but business is a headache as is – without the hassle of government bureaucrats.
Plans for the future?
We gave up on making plans for the future about 2 years ago, it’s exhausting! We hope our family will continue to enjoy and explore this wonderful world and that Waddler will continue to play a part in that.
Extracts from Waddler’s blog
“In the four years since we launched Waddler, it has taken us across the continent of South America and allowed us to live a nomadic life of learning and adventure. While Waddler has taken us across the continent of South America it has also taken Waddler designs across the globe, to places as far apart as Kazakkstan and Korea. We truly hope that something of the wonder and excitement we gain from our work and lifestyle rubs off on our clothing. Or at least that they do the job they are designed for: keeping little ones clothed and beautiful”.
“Now we live far from my childhood home, in the southern hemisphere where even the seasons are reversed. Before coming here I often wondered at the banality of living in the season-less tropics. But I’ve discovered that it’s not the case. Though the light doesn’t change as much, both temperature and weather vary enormously from one season to another. In the last few weeks we have come out of months of rain and wind (with notable sunny exceptions) into a tropical Spring. The cashew trees are laden with fruit, the mangabueiras are in blossom, filling the air with a rich jasmine-like scent and the hot Brazilian sun has returned. Spring here is a far cry from the one I grew up with but I’ve learned that we constantly create and recreate our reality at every moment. And each one is as beautiful as the other.”
“In 2008 we left our London life behind and with our young son, went to seek adventure in South America. After much exploring we found ourselves living in remote foothills of the Andes mountains surrounded by rolling hillsides, vast forests with a warm sun overhead. Our time here inspired the Waddler lifestyle. Our son spent his first years picking avocadoes in a tropical garden, riding bareback with gauchos and feasting on empanadas baked in a clay-oven. He saw the forests come alive with Ceibo blossom in the winter, watched fireflies light up his bedroom in spring and clapped his hands at alligators lazing in the hot summer sun. Our clothes are inspired by the magic of this life”.