“She has such a sweet, loving energy. It just comes naturally to her to reach out and want to connect with other women. When I think of someone who is effortlessly selfless and caring—it’s Kelly.”
Kelly McKee Zajfen is the owner and creative director of little minis, a children’s clothing line that uses mostly deadstock fabric in its designs. She lives and works in Los Angeles with her husband and her twin children, Lily and George. She is a fierce admirer of California and all of its brightness and warmth. She talks proudly of her commitment to sustainability, to supporting women, and to being the mother of a little superhero. No day is a “typical” day for her, but the variety in her routine helps keep things interesting—and when life feels tough or overwhelming, she turns to a Dalai Lama quote to help keep things in perspective.
Can you tell us a little bit about what deadstock fabric is, and why it's important to you that you use it to make your clothes?
Absolutely! Deadstock is fabric that is basically leftover bolts of fabric from past seasons from any given brand. For brands that are making their own fabrics, it’s often the case that your textile supplier places a high minimum on the order, which means that you end up not using fabric and it ends up sitting there. Instead of going to the landfill, I repurpose the fabric and create beautiful dresses that are limited edition! My main reasons are it’s eco-friendly, it reduces the waste, it conserves energy and decreases the carbon footprint that would have otherwise been used in new production. And it allows me to create really beautiful pieces that are limited. So you won’t see the same dresses and pieces everywhere.
What is your dream for the future of little minis? And what has been your favorite thing so far about owning your own company?
My dream for my company is to grow and thrive in Los Angeles. To meet more of the community. One of my favorite parts about little minis is the customers and their littles. I get to watch them grow. I hope to continue to grow with them. I just started making bigger sizing and this way I can continue being a part of their families. We have created something pretty special.
I know little minis is no stranger to collaborations, and you’ve even collaborated with Christy Dawn! What was that like?
I only do a few collaborations a year but I think they are so incredibly important. Supporting other brands and other businesses, especially women-run small companies is one of my favorite parts of my job.
Two years ago Christy and I started one of my favorite collaborations yet. A mommy/daughter dress for Mother’s Day!! The collaboration was really organic as both of us use deadstock fabric and produce pieces in Los Angeles. But also because I fell in love with Christy and her signature Dawn dress when we first met at her very first trunk show. So making a mini version was a dream! And being able to dress in my all-time favorite Dawn dress and having my daughter in a little Dawn was perfect.
Working with Christy has been such a highlight and given me a beautiful friendship. What more can you ask for!
What is a typical day like for you, managing your business and your two children?
The day typically starts around 6. I try so hard to sneak downstairs before the kids wake but George always beats me to it. I make a cup of coffee and get the kiddos ready for school. My day really begins when I get back home from drop off and gather what needs to happen. It’s never really a typical day. Because I manage production, design, marketing, social media and shipping, all on my own, it makes for an interesting day. I try to do production times between 9 and noon, so I head to the factory during those times and then I can ship and fill in spaces in between. Otherwise, I focus on design, marketing, customer service and social media stuff other days. However every afternoon at 3 when I pick up the kiddos I become Mom again! That’s when I spend my time with the kiddos with their after school activities and have family time.
I read your incredibly moving article for Healthline about your daughter Lily's heart condition. How does it feel knowing you're raising an actual superhero?
It’s pretty spectacular!!! To know someone with endless courage, a fighting spirit, and this endurance to fight this evil that is this heart condition and not give up leaves me in awe. She understands so much of what is going on. But can you imagine what she can do when she really grows up to fully understand and she has this incredible support system behind her to do something great?
I CAN imagine, and it sounds so amazing.
Oh man. I can’t wait to see who she will become. How lucky I am to be her mom.
I love how you talk about Lily with such empowerment. Has her heart condition shaped and changed you as a person?
It has changed me completely. First and foremost it has taught me the definition of beauty and strength. I grew up in the modeling industry and it was so much about the outside perspective. It gave me a false reality. When your daughter is given something that will not only change how and who she will be, but her physical attributes, it certainly shines this beautiful light on imperfections as these gifts and powerful messages of community and understanding. I am much more patient, more adventurous, more knowledgeable, more understanding, and more open. I have become very much a part of this incredible heart community, not only for her but also for our family.
Do you think it’s important for Lily to engage with that community, and to find and know others who are fighting similar battles?
Absolutely. I want her to know she isn’t alone. Not only in this one particular condition but also in being different. Her heart warriors she will find, but it’s also important for her to know that being different is beautiful. And she can find support in others who are finding their way too. George is her greatest support and friend. And teaching him to treat everyone with respect and love will make for the greatest support system.
I was actually wondering about that—how understanding is George about his sister's condition? Are they close? They definitely seem like it based on the adorable pictures you share on Instagram!
I think he is very understanding. As a family we communicate very openly about it and he understands some of the limitations and also how extraordinary she is. I have taken him to her heart appointments so he can better understand and so she has him as support, too. When he’s not with her on them, she always brings him a little gift from the gift shop at CHLA and tells him all about her doctors. He’s really protective of her and they are beyond close. I look at them in awe that they have each other.
When things get overwhelming or stressful, is there any quote or mantra you try and live your life by? Any tidbits of wisdom or inspiration you repeat to yourself on hard days?
The Dalai Lama said something that was so perfect. “Everyday think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive. I have precious human life. I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself. To expand my heart out to others. To achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others. I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
That is such a beautiful sentiment.
I know. On hard days I allow myself one full day to be upset, or angry, or cry. And then I move on and let go. I don’t have it in me to hold on to the tough days. We have too many good days and good days ahead.
I think letting yourself feel those harder emotions—to be upset, to cry—is so important. But then, exactly, you have to learn when to let those feelings go and concentrate again on all the good in your life. So speaking of good things, what is your favorite part of the day?
My favorite part of the day is picking up the kids from school. After the rush of the day I miss them. I look forward to them peeking their heads out and waiting for me. I have to say the second we get home and the kids start going crazy it’s madness all over again, but for that moment of driving home, it’s simple and fulfilling, and sweet.
What do you do to relax after a particularly stressful day?
I find stress in different parts of my day. And because much of the day is so full I find moments to relieve stress. Music is important to me. Turning on music all over the house calms me. I rub essentials oils on my wrists often. I keep them in my car and my purse. And if I really need a moment, I go out back and lie on the grass and put headphones on and zone out for a few songs. That keeps me away from the computer and phone and gives me some time to myself.
It must help that you live in Los Angeles and the weather allows you to go outside for pretty much the entire year! How long have you lived in LA, and how does the city inform your creativity in regards to your business and your clothing designs? Why is it important for you to have little minis here specifically?
I have been in Los Angeles for about 18 years already! I am so in love with Los Angeles and all the creativity. I am in these amazing fashion and entrepreneurial women groups that inspire me everyday. It is very much Los Angeles centered and we create and push each other. It is in Los Angeles that I fabric source, manufacture and design. The people and the community are incredibly important to me. Being able to generate business here creates local jobs, personal relationships, and builds community within all aspects of my business.
Los Angeles lends itself to the sunshine and the brights and the florals. I am a sucker for all of those things and so I always incorporate those into my fabric choices. I want a story and a feeling and I want the little girl to feel fun and adventurous. Similar to how I feel about this beautiful city.
Before we say goodbye, do you have any advice for people who might be interested in breaking into the fashion industry? Is there something you were told before starting little minis that really resonated with you and helped you in your journey?
The best advice I was given is “If you’re not scared, you’re not doing it right.” It is so true. I get scared all the time. In new chapters, new designs, new stages. And it all works out. And if it doesn’t, that’s okay too. Your motivation and determination and hard work will set you apart.