Like most parents, Michael Jarvela fought with his young children over clothes. He favored practical and easy-to-put on stuff. They preferred clothes that were comfortable.
Unlike most parents, Michael could do more than win or lose daily battles.
A graduate of the Parsons School of Design, he could create clothes that satisfy kids and their parents.
And that cost far less than a designer dress or bespoke suit.
But don’t take my word for it. (I sure as hell wouldn’t.) See for yourself.
Michael and his business partner Jonas Shapiro have just opened their 1st store — right here in Westport. Frank & Lu sells outerwear, sweaters, pants, denim, knits, tees, skirts and for boys and girls ages 2 to 14 on Post Road West (Nash’s Plaza, next to Andiamo’s Deli).
The space is funky and airy. Fittingly, large windows look out on the King’s Highway Elementary School playground, and athletic fields beyond.
The walls are filled with photos of cute kids wearing Frank & Lu clothes. All the shots were taken in Westport — and all the “models” are Westporters.
Michael grew up in Seattle. But his wife — the former Kerry Keenan — is a Westport native. And it’s Michael who describes the town in loving terms.
Biking, the beach, a “slow tempo” (honest!) — all attracted Michael here, beginning in 1995.
But as he looked around, he thought Westport could support another kids’ clothing store. Particularly one with “taste and sophistication.”
When his son Francis was born in 2005, Michael realized exactly what was missing.
“I saw that toddler lines for boys were really thin,” he says.
“Both boys and girls needed stylish clothes. But they had to be comfortable clothes you wouldn’t have to fight with your kids to put on.”
As Francis (“Frank”) grew older, he insisted on living in shorts and sweatpants. Everything else, he said, felt too heavy.
Since he was old enough to have an opinion, Frank refused to wear scratchy, stiff t-shirts with monster trucks and dinosaurs on them. If a big person wouldn’t wear them, why should a kid have to?
And though Lucy (“Lu”) likes pink ruffles, sparkles and tulle, if she’s not comfortable she’ll change outfits several times a day.
“It’s not rocket science,” Michael says. “I just went after a void in the marketplace.”
Having worked at big box retailers like Gap and J. Crew, Michael knew that good clothes did not have to be expensive. “Designer boutique at ‘Crew-cut’ prices,” he says cleverly.
The store fits Michael and Jonas’ vision of what kids like. There’s a chalkboard to draw on. A henna artist and guitarist will appear soon (not together). All the merchandise is at kids’ eye level.
Reaction has been swift — and great. “People are posting photos of their kids wearing our stuff on Facebook,” he says. “And they’ll buy one thing, then come back the next day for more.”
Even better: “Parents say their kids are wearing our clothes to bed!”
Without, I’m betting, any battles at all.