Meet Alice Whiteley, founder of Yawn, your new favourite Pyjama brand
Alice Whiteley is founder of Yawn, the London-based pyjama brand that she ‘wants to feel like a hug.’ For Alice, it’s the details that matter—the team hand-paints and draws all their prints in London and their sleepwear is made of a bespoke luxury cotton with a 284-thread count. Designed with meticulous attention to detail, you’ll find a collar button, deep pockets, generous hems and hidden messages, all wrapped up in a brand we guarantee will be high on your next gift list.
We catch up with Alice to talk inspiration and all things travel, from gallivanting around New York to why Salzburg is her favourite European city break.
Tell us about how and why you founded Yawn.
I was an exhausted working mum. I was spending too much time on the road and away from my children as a management consultant and was finding it really tough. I dreamt of creating a colourful, characterful pyjama brand that focused on helping women to feel good and relax more, so I decided to put my energy and business experience into building a business that I could be proud of and that would enable me to prioritise time with my children. It’s been hard work but extremely satisfying. And most importantly for me, I am in control of my time.
What has been one of your proudest moments for Yawn so far?
It’s always just talking to customers that love Yawn or receiving their lovely emails. I still sometimes can’t believe that our products have gained a following. It gives me a real buzz and pride in our team.
Can you tell us about the design process and how your ideas come to life?
The print process is one that is always hilariously hard to predict, which is what makes it exciting. For someone with a business background like mine, you have to let go and just trust in the creative process. We start with broad mood boards and inspiration—they are often memories, places or things that make us happy. We move on to mark making, then prints, and finally colour selection. The colour is the most laborious part to get right—the critical process is testing fabric swatches from our mill in India. We trust our instinct and it’s a very collaborative process. I’ve always thought that one day we’ll have to share the prints that didn’t make it and see if our customers agree!
Who or what inspires you?
Those closest to home. My husband, children, and our big and close extended family. Right now however, it would be the amazing key workers who are keeping things going for us all. And in our own business, I’ve been very inspired by the attitude of the team at dealing with our new situation.
How has travel influenced you, both personally and professionally?
It’s influenced me hugely. I got the travel bug from my adventurous parents. They took me and my three brothers out of school, and with my older cousin we travelled around New Zealand and the US. Time in a campervan as a family of seven – with my brother sleeping on the front seat – remains one of the happiest times in my life.
Later on I wanted to create similar opportunities for myself. From volunteering in Bosnia and travelling through South America to time working in New York, Dublin and Stockholm, I’ve tried to embrace adventure.
Since being a mum the travel has calmed down but with Yawn I personally found our factories, and go to India and Portugal on sourcing trips. I love experiencing different cultures and am happiest when exploring the world with people I love.
Where in the world are you happiest?
Salcombe in Devon. My father’s dad was a GP in Bristol and as a family it was where they went for their holidays, and we have continued the tradition ever since. Salcombe is a really beautiful place. From Cranch’s sweet shop (which could explain my sweet tooth) to the walk up to Gara Rock Hotel (for cream teas), or fish and chips on the seafront (from Plaice’s on the high street), as soon as I arrive in Salcombe my heart rate falls.
What’s your favourite photograph that you’ve taken whilst travelling?
When I was younger, I worked for management consultancy firm McKinsey, and back in those days it was a very good time for graduates. We were offered a sign on bonus and I spent it on a photography course in New York. I slept in a double bed with one of my best friends who was working there, and I got immersed in the world of contemporary photography. I took quite a few photos at the time (forever not digital, thankfully!) that I now cherish.
I posed for one of the tutors who was a photographer, and gallivanted around town in a way that I can’t imagine doing now. I love to think of that time because I fell in love with the energy and can-do vibe of New York. I wanted to live that way myself.
Where is the first place you’ll travel to when the current restrictions are lifted?
Wales or Scotland. We had a family caravan trip to Wales when the children were little and it was one of the happiest times of our lives.
Favourite UK hotel?
The Park Kenmare Hotel though I’m not sure if that counts because it’s in Ireland! I went there for a treat for my 40th with my family and we had an amazing week. The countryside is incredibly beautiful and my dad is Irish so I have lots of relatives in the area.
Favourite European city break?
Salzburg. My sons have sung as choristers in our local church – Ealing Abbey – and as a result we have gone with them on tour. The last one was to Salzburg and it was breathtaking.
What’s the most unusual thing you pack in your hand luggage?
The most unusual thing is probably how little there is. I don’t need much to travel.
What do you never travel without?
A good book
Quick fire questions
Podcast or paperback?
Both. I’m in a book club which I really enjoy. Podcasts are great too – one of my friends just introduced me to ‘Conversations of Inspiration’.
Train or plane?
Train. We have used the fantastic Ffestiniog Travel to travel through Europe. Very economical and great fun.
Cut it fine or leave plenty of time?
Always cut it fine.
Sightseeing or sun lounger?
Early start or slowly but surely?
Slowly but surely – and always in Yawn pyjamas of course.
Plan every detail or wing it on arrival?
Pack heavy or pack light?
Super light – we notoriously once went away with best friends and our baby, without baby food, nappies or anything.