Designer Interview: Juliet Souter Founder of Marle

The UNDONE | Marle Designer Interview | Juliet Souter

We can always rely on New Zealand brand Marle to create exactly what we want to wear season after season. We chat to founder and designer Juliet Souter on how she landed on her minimalist palette, why creating a brand using 100% natural material is so important to her, and how starting her family was a pivotal point in Marle's creation. 

 

Marle and The UNDONE share so many similarities in terms of our ethos around wearability and a muted palette, I would love to hear the story about how you found your personal style and how this then translated into starting your own label. 

My personal aesthetic has definitely become more refined and minimal. Over the years I have experimented with all sorts of colours, trends and looks but always felt my best in a simpler silhouette and subdued colour palette that shied away from said trends- in which I actually felt like an imposter.  

In saying that, the constant in my wardrobe has been appreciating the value of investing in natural fibres. I am also attracted to a pared back elegance when dressing which in turn has formed the basis of design for Marle.  I had dreams of building an aspirational yet achievable brand where women could experience beautiful natural fibres that were still at an accessible price point, so the ideation quickly became a reality when I noticed a gap in the market for a new take on fits and fabrics that epitomise simplicity in the modern form. The vision for Marle has been clear from the beginning; to be effortlessly wearable. 

 

Was the brand always focused on using natural fibres exclusively, or did it become more of a priority over time? 

 I have always been drawn to the diversity of texture and the beneficial factors natural yarns have on the skin. Over the years, I have learnt about the effects that synthetic fabrics, whether virgin or recycled, have on the environment. This became the driving force behind our decision to design with only natural fibres which is synonymous with how we identify in the market now.

 

What’s your advice for brands and businesses that want to be more sustainable? 

My advice is to stand by something you believe in, not only from a business sense but from a strong personal stand point too. Sustainability has no fixed end; it’s a journey and one that is constantly evolving as the industry advances. It’s important for people to understand that it takes commitment to be responsible and that every brand, whether they’re founded on the concept of sustainability or not, can do things to improve their business. A big one for me was to eradicate single-use and multi-use plastics. We worked hard on developing our compostable bags a couple of years ago, they’re TUV certified and we can proudly say that they break down within a few weeks – tried and tested by our team in the office.  These bags are used from our factory to us then sent to stores.  We use compostable packaging for all online purchases and made the switch to cotton care labels as an example of just a couple of changes within the business. 

 

It feels like the brand really understands what women actually want to wear. Who do you think about when you design your pieces? 

As a woman, I have a deep understanding of the importance of curating a wardrobe that supports the ever-changing female form along with reflecting the wearer’s personality and lifestyle. I personally, always want to feel comfortable with a modern elegance in the clothes I choose to wear, so this is instilled in our design philosophy and exemplified with our thoughtful fits and fabrics. I am so proud to have a broad mix of women who choose to wear our pieces, and this in itself nods to our beliefs that Marle is designed to grow and develop with the wearer, far beyond the season.  

 

Before starting your own label, you worked in PR and as a buyer, what were the biggest takeaways from these roles that you put into practice in your own business?

I wasn’t trained in communications; I landed a role through a placement I had to complete for my design degree so there was a lot of learning on the job.  The biggest learning from that experience was the importance of building a brand and connecting with your audience organically, not only through the traditional forms of marketing and not just creating clothing. 

My time in the corporate world taught me that in order to keep the cogs turning, a business should be treated as a business and not as my whimsical ideals of fashion. However, in saying that, that time also taught me how I wanted to run our business and the values that are important to us to adhere to.

 

Having a family was a pivotal point in your decision to start the label, how do you balance the business now and being a mum of two, and what’s your advice for other mums who want to work while raising a young family?

From the moment my daughter was born I knew that I wanted to be available to her and with her whenever she needed or wanted me.  The idea of starting a brand had long been my vision for my career but that moment cemented that it was the right time to start building it.  I needed to be responsible for my time and have flexibility for our family.  As the business has grown we are fortunate to have built an incredible team who know the juggle too well (some are part time working mothers, others in different stages but family and personal life is of prime importance and we understand that personal life always comes first), so we feel very supported. My advice for others would be to ensure you have a great support network around you, and to be completely open to ‘the juggle’ and the challenges that come with it; it’s a constant learning curve and one that you can only figure out as you go. 

 

I love that you work with your husband running Marle, what’s your advice for those that work with their partners? 

I love working alongside Justin, we wouldn’t be where we are today without him. We have clear roles within the business, which is helpful. I am fully aware that I have a creative mind and Justin has a more analytical mind, so I trust him implicitly when it comes to the ever present ‘numbers’.  In terms of advice; trust, respect and patience are paramount when working together, if you don’t have that, I’m sure it would make for a tricky work/life balance.

 

Marle’s head office is located in the beautiful coastal town of Mount Maunganui in the north island of New Zealand, just under 3 hours’ drive from Auckland. Do you believe being based in a smaller town is helpful in your process? 

Definitely – our design philosophy and overall businesses approach has always been conscious and considered, and I feel being based in a small-town certainly influences the way I create our collections. The lifestyle here is inherently more relaxed and I feel that our brand reflects that notion. 

 

With the understanding that no brand is 100% sustainable and we’re all on a journey towards better practices, I would love to hear what’s in the pipeline for Marle. 

We will continue to welcome an array of silhouettes and designs built upon natural fibres, I would love to work with some of the more obscure natural fibres such as Banana Fibre, Coconut Fibre and Pineapple Silk in the future. As we near the warmer months, we will be introducing a GOTS certified organic cotton basics range which to me, are essential pieces for building a wardrobe such as the classic white tee. It’s been a long time coming but finding the perfect cloth has taken time and consideration, I’m excited to see these pieces launch.

 

2020 wasn’t what anyone expected, but what have been the biggest blessings and takeaways you’ve learned so far? 

Just like the majority of the planet, we have experienced the ups and downs 2020 has provided, and at times, felt that as though these events were difficult to navigate as a business and personally. Albeit, so far the year has solidified the fact that women are continuing to strive for high-quality, low-impact pieces to add to their wardrobes that are designed to instil comfort and ease into their lifestyles. If anything, we have experienced an uplift in community spirit and cemented that we’re on our right path with what we’re creating for our women. 

 

 All Images by Cam Neate

 

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