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Baby steps to bigger things
Writer:Jeffrey Reed

London’s OS & OAKES puts the entire family’s effort into its ‘quirky, fun, different’ — and increasingly popular — children’s clothing and accessories.

Every new business takes small steps before branching out to new markets, but for London-based OS & OAKES apparel for toddlers, taking baby steps is a daily mantra. Launched in July 2016 by Londoners Erika Oakes and her brother, Michael Lipari, OS & OAKES offers children’s clothing made of soft, bamboo-blend fabric carrying an identifiable ostrich logo. The clothing is manufactured in Toronto, while accessories are handmade in London. The stars of the show are Oakes’ sons, Bennett, 3, and Noah, 4, who model the boys’ clothing and even have their own Instagram page @oakesbros. “They take their best photos when generously bribed with candy,” Oakes said. Born and raised in London, Oakes earned her master’s degree in teaching while living on Australia’s Gold Coast in 2008-09. Her husband, Kevin Oakes, is OS & OAKES’ accountant. OS stands for ostrich, the company logo, and “quirky, fun and different,” Oakes said. OAKES is borrowed from her surname, and represents her sons as the business’s recognizable faces. During high school, Oakes worked at a children’s clothing shop in Masonville Place. After teaching high school in Iroquois Falls, Ont., she worked for two years at Fanshawe College’s LEAP Junction, which offers student entrepreneurs one-on-one business analysis and mentorship. Oakes said she was “inspired by other local entrepreneurs to turn my own visions and ideas into our current business, OS & OAKES.” “Having two boys, I’ve always liked finding them cool, unique outfits, but I couldn’t find exactly what I had in mind. I wanted outfits that looked a bit more adult in style, as opposed to most of what you see on the market,” she said. Osandoakes.com, the fledgling company’s main retail space, attracts online shoppers from across North America. The company has just launched a wholesale division that supplies retailers across Canada. Oh Baby Boutique at Western Fair Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market also carries its clothing. After a successful showing at Toronto’s One of a Kind Show, and The Modern Mom Show in London, OS & OAKES will be featured at Vancouver Kids Fashion Week in September. Erika said she hopes the exposure will boost its West Coast sales. OS & OAKES produces a variety of children’s apparel, from accessories like $10 vintage headbands to a $46 bamboo cardigan that Oakes said was a top seller at the Toronto show this spring. Lipari, who works at the Apple Store in Masonville Place, designs the cloth - ing graphics — the ostrich logo is his handiwork. Patterns and samples are made for Oakes, who makes adjustments before sending measurements off to Toronto for production. “What makes us unique is having the male perspective in our clothing line. My brother brings that to the mix. He wants to design clothes that he would wear,” she said. “The biggest comment we get from people is, ‘When are you making this clothing in adult sizes?’ ” And the market response has been strong. “Since our launch, it has been a whirl - wind,” Oakes said. “There aren’t enough hours in the day to do all of the things we want to do, especially with me being a mom of two little boys. Keeping up with demand has been a challenge, but it’s a good problem to have.” As Bennett and Noah grow, so, too, will the clothing line as it expands to larger children’s sizes. OS & OAKES will eventually open a bricks-and-mortar shop in London, Oakes said, but for now, “taking baby steps” is how the business will grow.