Caroline Leed is 23, but the Smiling Button dresses she designs for children are inspired by her former self, the 5-year-old girl who grew up in Andover playing tag in her favorite mint dress and a mismatched pair of sneakers.
“It’s sort of a throwback — a little girl running around in dirt in a dress. I like to think [the dresses are] timeless,” said Leed, who opened a showroom for Smiling Button last month in the South End.
Beautiful, but not precious, the made-in-Massachusetts cotton dresses are meant to see serious playtime. Available in five silhouettes, they fit a size range 6 months to girls size 5, but Leed plans to expand the line — from size 3 months to girls size 10 — in the spring.
“Bows and frills are not my thing,” she said. “These are just silly, fun prints. I want a 5-year-old to look like a 5-year-old.”
Leed, who grew up in Andover watching her family run a jewelry shop, uses whimsical prints such as strawberries, spaceships, bicycles, balloons, and the alphabet. There are also gingham checks and dots, but most popular is a sunwashed solid fabric made from oxford shirting. In the 10 months since Leed launched the e-commerce company (www.smilingbutton.com), she has gone from word-of-mouth success to trunk shows in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Texas, Palm Beach, Fla., and Nantucket. In the 16 Clarendon St. location, she hopes to connect the $72 dresses with wholesale customers and stylists as well as the hundreds of moms who walk by daily taking their children across the street to Boston Ballet for dance class.
“This mom wants her child in a brand, but it’s not baby Gucci or baby Armani. This is a baby brand,” said Leed, who plans to accessorize the collection with toys she loved as a kid. “We will probably launch a kazoo soon.”