Marle on Fundamental Ideals of Calmness
Juliet Souter is the Founder and creative mind behind the thoughtfully designed and consciously made womenswear label Marle. Speaking over Zoom from New Zealand’s Mount Maunganui, we discuss how Juliet’s discreetness, determination and adaptable nature contribute to Marle’s singular vision. We’ll learn about the positive change brought on by the brand’s decision to switch to using only natural fibres and the resourcefulness that drives New Zealand’s creative scene.
Advance Copy: Juliet, you were born and bred in Auckland, New Zealand and relocated to Mount Maunganui, a beach town on the North Island. How do these two locations influence you and your brand, Marle?
Juliet Souter: New Zealand is an industrious country which comes through in how I am as a person. Being on the other side of the world, we find ways to do what we need to do and to get what we need. We are very quick to support our people so starting here has been a wonderful experience. Brands are supportive of each other and are happy to help whenever they can. Many wonderful things have come out of New Zealand and I think that stems from needing to find solutions.
Moving to the beach town Mount Maunganui has been a wonderful experience, I like to have a calm environment and I feel like Marle reflects that. There is a calmness to what we do which intrinsically stems from me. I feel supported in Mount Maunganui, it is an entrepreneurial town with a lot of fashion, footwear and graphic designers as well as artists. There is a young and growing scene.
“I made the decision to switch to natural fibres and everything has flown from there.”
AC: What was your introduction to fashion and your reasons for choosing this career?
Juliet: This may sound cliche, but from a young age I have always known that fashion would be my path, it has always fascinated me. I remember learning how to knit and making my own clothes quite freely with no structure. My mother owned a second-hand clothing store so I was always around clothes and both of my grandmothers are exceptional seamstress. Growing up I would often do work experience for different fashion companies, including lingerie and childrenswear. At university, I studied fashion design and specialised in knitwear, I’ve always loved knitwear and it not being constrictive – it’s almost anti-tradition. After graduating I worked in different parts of the industry from fashion PR to cosmetics.
AC: You mentioned that knitwear can be anti-tradition, why is that?
Juliet: If you look back in time, knitwear was always something that was worn in a very casual way, it wasn’t worn out and about. It was part of a home wardrobe and I love the idea of bringing it out. In that sense, it’s anti-tradition as you’re not adhering to the constraints of fashion.
“I never haggle on prices with our makers. The price is the price, we can either afford to make it or we can’t.”
AC: How did you decide to start Marle, did it feel like a big leap of faith?
Juliet: The instant I had my child something changed and I decided that this was the time to start a brand. My husband, Justin, was already working in the industry and wanted to create his own sales agency so we started organically around the same time. His angle with Marle is focused on logistics, planning and finance.
AC: Having gained a wide range of industry experience how did you envision Marle, it being your own brand and aesthetic? Would you say this vision’s changed since 2014?
Juliet: So much has changed and developed from that starting point. The whole primus of the brand was purely knitwear as I noticed that particularly in New Zealand there was an opportunity for a modern take on this category. However, I quickly learnt that knitwear is quite hard to sell in the summer so the collections have grown organically. From our third collection, I made the decision to switch to natural fibres and everything has flown from there. It was the best decision I’ve made for the brand and something we are very proud of to this day.
In terms of what I put out into the world, I think I’m not one of the more directional designers – it’s not something I would call myself. It’s more intrinsic, a feeling in terms of what women want to wear in their everyday life with elements that reflect Marle. I’m interested in the psychology of the human mind: how we work, how that comes through in what we wear and reflects how we feel. I love that fashion can do that, it can make you feel a certain way or reflect your character in the world.
“Consumerism…has created a side of our industry which is a very dark place.”
AC: Were there any industry practices that didn’t fit with Marle’s concept?
Juliet: Yes, for example, I never haggle on prices with our makers. The price is the price, we can either afford to make it or we can’t and if we can’t then we just don’t make it. In previous companies, we were bringing out new collections every six weeks and that side of the industry, the high-street side of fashion, just doesn’t sit right with me. Consumerism, putting things out into the world that people don’t need, has created a side of our industry which is a very dark place. It’s definitely taught me to slow down and to create pieces which have longevity and are not based on trends: pieces that will have a place in your wardrobe for many years to come.
AC: And what positive practices did you carry forward to instil in Marle?
Juliet: I’ve learnt that company culture is extremely important, knowing that we are all human and have different needs. I’ve always wanted to nurture the people that are with us for the best part of their day.
“I rest easy at night knowing that my garments won’t end up taking 200 – 300 years to break down.”
AC: Did you find it challenging to find the staff with necessary skills in Mount Maunganui?
Juliet: Mount Maunganui is such an entrepreneurial place and we’ve been fortunate with our staff. The people we’ve hired we also know socially, everyone is connected through friends or family and that makes for a fun environment. We hire based on the person, not the role, some experience helps but it’s more about that person being passionate and a good fit with Marle’s fundamental ideals of calmness.
AC: Could you explain where and how Marle’s collections are produced?
Juliet: We make everything offshore in China. Our linen and cotton wovens are produced in Guangzhou and in Hangzhou Province where the majority of the world’s silk is made. We work with three factories but our yarns are sourced from many different places. One of my favourite yarns is Perino, it’s made in New Zealand from a possum, Merino and mulberry silk blend – it’s second to none. Knitwear production in New Zealand is expensive and we don’t have the technology of our makers in China. Offering natural fibres at an attainable price is something that I love about our brand.
“There is no such thing as a purely sustainable fashion business – by nature, producing is not sustainable.”
AC: Marle is a sustainably-minded brand, what does this mean to you?
Juliet: It’s a very important aspect of the business, not only from a customer perspective but for me personally. I didn’t want to put garments out into the world that would contribute to the problems with plastic and synthetic fibres. One of the keywords in our business is ‘thoughtful’ and looking beyond clothing – it’s what we give back to this the planet. I rest easy at night knowing that my garments won’t end up taking 200 – 300 years to break down. At the same time, it’s something that I find challenging and don’t want to scream about it from the rooftops because there is no such thing as a purely sustainable fashion business – by nature, producing is not sustainable.
AC: As an independent brand owner, how do you envision ‘growth’ and what words of encouragement do you have for others?
Juliet: Marle is set in terms of the ‘now’, trying not to project as things evolve and I don’t want to be limited by parameters that I’ve put on myself. Go out there and strive for what you believe in: there is always room in our industry for another voice and another way of doing things.