Within one minute of chatting to Hilary Duff, via transatlantic Google Hangout, I feel like I’ve known her all my life.
Of course, like many women my age, I kind of have.
The 33-year-old grew up in the limelight—first, as the face of one of Disney’s most successful franchises, and then, as a singer-cum-designer-cum-producer-cum-just about anything else she set her mind to.
As we sit down to chat through her latest venture, a mom-and-child collection with slow fashion brand Smash + Tess, it becomes clear that Lizzie McGuire—and the estimated $100 million she earned through filming and franchising—was truly just the beginning. Even with two children and a third on the way.
“When Ashley [Freeborn, founder of Smash+Tess] reached out about the collaboration, right when quarantine was happening, I had been a second grade teacher to my oldest son Luca for about 11 or 12 weeks and I was desperate for something else to focus on,” Duff laughs.
“I started taking guitar lessons via Zoom and then this came up and I was like, ‘yes, I want to do it!‘,” she says with mock desperation. “I just needed a moment to step away from my kids, use my brain and be creative.”
Before their first meeting, Duff spent weeks pulling together clippings from fashion and interior magazines, Pinterest boards, and items for her own closet that she loved the fit and feel of.
“Then we just ‘hung’ in my backyard for three hours, socially-distanced,” she says. “She’s amazing. She had just had a baby, who was in the NICU, and she had a three year old at home. She was like, Superwoman, and I was so inspired by it; pumping on the drive over, then having a business meeting with me? Amazing. I was like, ‘you’re a bad bitch, you know?‘. I love being around her energy.”
The result of their quarantined efforts, and bond and mothers, launches today in the form of an ultra-size-inclusive (XXS-P – XXXL) romper collection for parents and kids, all of which are made in Smash + Tess’ signature bamboo rayon blend.
“She has her whole business totally carved out; she knows what she’s doing and she knows what works for her die-hard Smash + Tess fans,” says Duff. “I got to just come in there and add elements of things that I wanted to see in my wardrobe—a little bit of shoulder pad action, some flattering front ties, a really cute 70s daisy print, and then a couple of staples that I feel like women can just take through like spring, summer and Fall. They’re very versatile.”
One of the first things that attracted Duff to the Smash + Tess, long before she was approached by Freeborn, was the fact that it was a Canadian business producing its clothes, sustainably, in Canada.
“My intention is always to support the small business, the female business, the black-owned business, the ethical business—we’ve been so educated this year about making different choices, and applying that to our shopping is definitely going to help people and our economy,” says Duff. “I think that we all can practice that a little bit more.”
That’s not to say she’s figured it all out, of course. After swiping through Instagram recently, she fell down a rabbit hole of ‘zero waste’ fashion accounts repurposing unusual materials for clothes and other household items. “I just impulse bought all of these reusable paper towels, that are so cute, but made me realize how many times I go for the paper towel and I’m now like, ‘No, no, no, go to the drawer!‘,” she laughs. “It’s not just fashion or house changes, it’s life. ”
One of the most frustrating aspects of becoming so conscious, particularly now she’s in the late stages pregnancy, has been the lack of accessible maternity options.
“When I shop for it, there’s nothing that I really, really want. Ever. Usually I’m not so stoked on the quality, either, and I end up just buying bigger sizes of regular clothes…and that doesn’t always work for me either, because I’m five two. It just ends up making me look bigger instead of pregnant!” she says.
“This has been a very convenient time, because quarantine brought on this whole ‘movement’ where it’s totally acceptable to move throughout your whole life in sweatpants and Dad sneakers,” she giggles. “Also, bike shorts! I haven’t worn bike shorts since like, 1997, at camp.”
Around the same time, oddly enough, Duff’s success in the entertainment industry led her to her first venture in the fashion industry, a clothing line called ‘Stuff by Hilary Duff’, distributed by Target
“I was obviously a baby and I got to be involved with a lot of the design but my fashion taste was definitely nowhere near—” she stops herself, “you know, I don’t even know if we can call it fashion, it was like kids clothes.
“That was really fun for me because I’ve always cared about clothes, but I don’t know how much I learned about the ins and outs of that industry, you know?”
By 2009, however, she was ready to take a stronger stab; this time, with Femme for DKNY, a multi-functional, limited-edition jeans collection targeted at her young adult fans.
“With DKNY, that was another time where I got to step into an already well-oiled machine and just be creative,” says Duff. “I constantly want to learn from other people that have figured it out. Stepping in and doing capsules here and there is great for me because things move so fast in my life, if I’m filming something or making a record, there’s I always have like a million things up in the air.”
Since 2015, Duff has starred as Kelsey Peters on TV Land’s Younger, its longest-running original comedy-drama series, for which she’s received multiple award nominations.
“I think maybe down the line somewhere there’s a bigger fashion story to be had, but I’m not ready to like take it on myself yet. There’s so many formats and different things that could work, so I’m dipping my toes in first.”
Spinning every plate imaginable—motherhood, a new children’s book, an organic diaper line and acting career, to name but a few—means it won’t be for some time, of course.
“I’m obviously having a baby. So that’s, like, I don’t know, a wash of a year,” she laugh, “breastfeeding and figuring out how to juggle and have a new human being around in our already chaotic life.
“I’m going to be literally in labour, Zoom-promoting things, so for now I’m just so happy to be home, in Mom Mode.”