This month, on the back of Mother’s Day and to mark World Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, we turn our focus to the modern-day hero – mothers. Paying tribute to mothers in all shapes and forms, we celebrate real and raw stories of women who are on their journey of motherhood.
The transition for most women as they enter motherhood is an underlying pressure to fully focus on their children, but mothers need an opportunity to feel like themselves, rather than being a “mum” 24/7. What does this new identity look like and how can mothers make space for mental wellness while they reshape their identity?
We speak with our close friend, Summer, who is the founder of KAISO, a leather accessories brand, as she opens up about the challenges of being a stay-at-home mother and how that has redefined her identity and perspectives.
Above: Summer wears the Merino Embrace Cardigan and High Waist Linen Shorts with Origami Belt.
Left to right: Summer wears the Working Classic Romper, Silk-Cashmere Scoop Neck Blouse and Japanese Denim Trousers. Zuri wears the for Pepi Modern Gypsy Blouse and for Pepi Drawstring Capri.
Hi Summer! Tell us more about yourself.
Hi! I am a Bajan- Kiwi, currently based in Auckland. I was born and raised in Barbados and moved to New Zealand 13 years ago. My background is in Fine arts, so I gravitate towards making and the creative process. I love cooking and baking. I’ve explored a variety of odd jobs in the past including personal training, cake sculpting, & working as a projectionist. I am the founder of the leather accessories label, KAISO, but my current gig is full-time mum.
We met at a pop-up when Esse was just being launched in New Zealand, and we immediately fell in love with your accessories label, KAISO. Tell us more about what inspired you to create KAISO.
First off, the admiration is mutual! When I decided to get involved in fashion, I knew I wanted to create something rooted in an authentic Caribbean identity, but not defined by a stereotype. I wanted to stay away from palm trees and beaches. Kaiso is the original music form that eventually became modern-day Calypso - It's rich in rhythm and narrative, it’s classy, clever and understated and it is undeniably Caribbean - so it felt like the perfect fit. From a design perspective, form and function have equal footing for me, so handbags seemed like the perfect confluence of those two ideals.
You’re a self-taught machinist and leather worker – what was the process of learning and making your first prototype like?
Slow, tedious and at times very frustrating at the beginning. But practice makes perfect, right? Many Youtube videos were watched; many questions were asked. It took a while to feel comfortable on a sewing machine and then learn the specifics that then apply to sewing leather. It's notoriously unforgiving - one wrong stitch and you’ve created a permanent flaw in the hide, so I tried to practice as much as possible on scraps and other materials before I took the leap. I learn best by doing, a lot of the time I need to physically make/see something to understand it. And the Griot (KAISO’s signature bag) is quite a deceptively complex design. So let’s just say there were A LOT of prototypes.
During that time, you were also expecting your first child, Zuri. Wasn’t that just a whirlwind of a year?
Yes! It was a very unique and exciting time! I was nurturing two babies - putting KAISO out into the world and exposing more people to the brand, while at the same time preparing for a very different, life-changing experience in the months to come.
Zuri wears the for Pepi Modern Gypsy Blouse and for Pepi Drawstring Capri.
What are some aspects of your Bajan heritage and culture that you’d like to pass on to Zuri?
Ah, there’s so much! There are the obvious things like the dialect, the food, Soca & Kaiso music, our history and cultural celebrations like the Crop over Festival. But then there are all of the more intangible ones, like the feel of a place and the nature of the people, that are much harder to pass on when you’re not in the country itself. I sometimes feel a sense of pressure to incorporate as much of my Bajan-ness as possible into her day-to-day without it feeling didactic or performative. My ultimate wish is that she will feel like she knows Barbados intimately and that it won’t feel like a foreign entity to her. I want her to be able to claim that part of who she is.
After Zuri’s birth, you put KAISO on hold. Was that a conscious decision?
It wasn’t, to be honest. I was a bit nervous about the idea of becoming a mother, even though it was a conscious decision. I lost my own mum several years ago and I didn’t have many close friends with kids at the time, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. On the other hand, it felt like KAISO was just starting to pick up momentum and being a very hands-on, one-woman show, I didn’t know what having a baby would mean for my business. I decided to resign myself to go with the flow - which was a big challenge for someone like me who’s naturally a bit of an anxious person. My mum was a working mum, so the idea of staying home with a baby hadn’t really occurred to me as an option. Turns out I’m better at it than I expected. So that’s what I’m doing at the moment. I will return to KAISO when the time is right.
With motherhood, there’s an underlying pressure to give up everything to fully focus on your children. How have you rediscovered and reshaped your identity as ‘Summer’ and ‘mum’ during this transition? And how have you made space for your interests, hobbies, desires and creative outlets?
I’d say that’s still a process. It’s much easier now that she’s older and I’m not breastfeeding anymore - she doesn’t have to be with me all of the time. Some days I can get some of my own little projects done while she’s napping. However, there are days that I still feel like my identity as ‘Summer’ has gotten a bit swamped by me being ‘Mum’. On those occasions, I try to be more purposeful in making time for myself. I’m lucky to have a very supportive partner and family who help make that possible.
Walk us through a day of a full-time stay-home mum.
After a restful night’s sleep (ha) we’re up anytime from 6 am, and it's straight into breakfast and prepping for the day ahead. We’ll read or colour or she’ll ride her bike. On a good day, I will try to sneak a little workout in, if I can keep her entertained for that long and then shower and change. There’s the usual amount of negotiation that goes into getting her to wear items of clothing or brush her teeth. We try to do our main activities in the morning. If it’s a Playgroup day I’ll make up her lunchbox and we’ll head there for a couple of hours of play, songs, art and activities. It’s a great opportunity for her to interact with other kids and have a chat with some other local mums. Then it's home again for lunch and naptime. During naptime I get a chance to have lunch, tidy up and do anything around the house that needs doing. Once she’s up, I’ll make her a snack and then we’ll either run some errands or head to the playground. Back home to get her dinner ready for around 5 pm, then it’s bath, books and bed. My partner will usually take over the bathtime routine and I’ll get started on our dinner. Over dinner, we’ll catch up on our days, maybe watch something on TV, and then read a bit before bed.
What do you enjoy the most about being a stay-home mum?
I love watching her development and her little personality emerge. It blows my mind how quickly she learns new things and it’s incredibly special to be there to witness it.
What is the most surprising thing about motherhood that you didn’t expect going into it?
I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I do. I was never a 'kids person' beforehand and I was unsure how well I would cope with having kids. It is not without its very hard days. But all in all, it brings me so much joy and is probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. All the clichés are true.
There are lots of unspoken truths about being a stay-home mum, like the loneliness and validation of self in this new phase of life. Yet mothers have to show up every single day – on the good days and the not-so-good ones. Are there any challenges that you personally face and how do you cope with that?
I definitely experienced feelings of isolation and loneliness at the beginning of my time at home with her, after my partner went back to work. It got a lot better when I started to schedule things into our days and weeks - just little things to look forward to that helped create a sense of structure to the day. Now that she's older I think what I struggle with is validating that what I’m doing is worthy and important and a job in its own right. When you’ve spent so long in a society that values careers so much, that's constantly defining you by what you do, it’s easy to feel unmoored when suddenly all that changes. When you don’t have the same work projects or touchstones to chat about in adult company, it's easy to start to feel like you're somehow less interesting or intelligent than you were. At times like that, I try to remind myself of all that I get to experience with her, and how precious this time is. All of that other stuff will still be there when she's ready for more independence.
Summer wears the Silk-Cashmere Scoop Neck Blouse and Japanese Denim Trousers. Zuri wears the for Pepi Modern Gypsy Blouse and for Pepi Drawstring Capri.
What’s a piece of advice you’d give to full-time stay home mothers?
No matter what it feels like, you are doing a great job. Not all days will be perfect and that’s alright. Your house may be a mess, and you might feel like you’ve gotten nothing done, but it's okay. You got this.
How would you like to redefine motherhood or add to how we understand and define it today, if at all?
It takes so many forms. There is no one size fits all. It is what you make it.
Finally, one last question – I’m a huge fan of your style and would love to know what your wardrobe heroes are?
I practically live in my black patent leather Doc Marten Chelsea boots, and I love a great pair of high waisted, wide-legged or mom jeans (particularly vintage) and a crisp oversized button-down shirt.
Special thanks to Summer for being a part of this interview. Learn more about KAISO here.
Portraits captured by Cindy Leong.