Kinnari McDevitt grew up at a crossroads of cultures. She was born in India and lived there until she was 14 years old before her family immigrated to Chicago. She and her family adapted to life in the States, and McDevitt came to St. Louis to earn a master’s degree in engineering before going to work for a major corporation. During her time as an engineer, she longed for a creative outlet and began creating clothing for her two nieces. The girls wanted to wear dresses, but didn’t want to wear the traditional Indian garb McDevitt was often inspired by.
“I felt like there was a middle ground there that all kids could enjoy,” she says. “That’s where it all started.”
After she and her husband, Greg, got married in 2011, the pair took a trip to India the following year. McDevitt had always been inspired by the vibrant colors and textiles of her homeland and was interested in seeing the Indian culture from his American perspective.
“In America, people have tons of clothes and go buy new things every season,” she says. “It’s a very different way of consuming. In India, people have a lot of respect for types of fabric. They’re more aware of what they’re wearing – who made it, where they bought it. We have no idea where our clothes come from here.”
Inspired by what she’d seen on her trip and the desire to create “clothing that had soul in it,” McDevitt started Lali Kids in 2013. Lali means “little darling” in Hindi, and McDevitt has made it her mission to create fair-trade children’s clothes out of the company’s home base of St. Charles. She spent months developing the brand’s first collection: a small set of 15 pieces of little girls’ clothing that launched in 2015. Since then, McDevitt’s been developing new collections for each season – most recently, the fall 2018 line. She bases each collection around a memory or feeling, gathering images over time that capture that state in her mind. From there, she develops a color palette for the season. The current line, for example, is based around the Nordic concept of hygge – the feeling of coziness and comfort that comes with the colder weather.
“Hygge is the underlying theme of the entire collection,” McDevitt says. “We had a print designer design a print that looks like a watercolor painting of a magical forest. If you look closely at it, it give you the sense of a walk in the woods.”
Another piece from the collection is a double-layered dress that has two different fabrics layered together.
“It’s so unique in that there’s a playfulness to it,” McDevitt says. “There’s one pattern on one side, but if you roll up the sleeves, it’s another pattern. It’s very festive and fun for the season.”
New to the Lali Kids line is the boys’ collection, which recently launched. McDevitt notes the popularity of the collection’s arrow pants, which are garment-dyed. During the process, the garment is made first and then dyed, instead of vice versa, like most pieces.
“There’s some color variation there, and they’re a soft knit cotton,” she says. “They’re fun and interesting in the way they look. They check all the boxes I try to accomplish in my pieces.”
Nearly all Lali Kids pieces are made in India – aside from a set of fur vests that McDevitt made herself here in St. Louis and alpaca wool pieces from Peru. She says she chose to have her line manufactured in India because that’s where all the fabrics she wanted to use were, and she wanted to make a difference in the lives of the makers.
“I’ve seen the struggle of what women in India often go through,” she says. “They often lack education and don’t have autonomy to leave their [low-income] lives. It’s important for me to find people who would benefit from what I’m doing.”
McDevitt found a small factory in India that employs mainly women who are provided fair wages and have flexible hours to make her pieces. She designs the patterns for her fabrics herself and provides measurements to the weavers and printers in India, who turn around samples for her to review and photograph. Once adjustments are made, the pieces are manufactured and put out into 60 boutiques both nationally and internationally.
The line was picked up by notable national retailers like Anthropologie and Maisonette and can also be found in Ladue at City Sprouts. McDevitt says City Sprouts owner Molly Curlee has been a Lali Kids supporter “since the day we launched” and was so excited to carry the line and give feedback. Aside from City Sprouts, Lali Kids can be found at pop-up shops throughout the season, including a holiday one at the Saint Louis Galleria’s Anthropologie in early December.
These developments have led McDevitt’s once-small concept to take off more than she had anticipated. Luckily for McDevitt, each season and collection brings new opportunities to be creative.
“Creating is a reward in itself,” she says. “I love seeing children enjoying the clothes and getting comments on Instagram about ‘This is my daughter’s favorite dress!’ It’s fun to know the intentions are coming through in what we’re doing.”
One of the best parts of being the Lali Kids founder, though, is McDevitt’s chance to spend time with her 2½-year-old son, Aiden.
“We were able to keep him in our studio and work around his nap time,” she says. “It’s really rewarding because I’ve gotten to spend those two years with him. Even now, he only goes to school part time. I feel like I didn’t miss anything, and that’s the biggest reward for me on a personal level.”
Lali Kids, lalikids.com