Getting to Know Joslin's Founder and Designer, Elinor McInnes

Getting to know Joslin's Founder

Founded in early 2018 by designer Elinor McInnes, Joslin is an independent fashion brand based in Melbourne. Joslin's design aesthetic is described as ‘romantic styling for the minimalist woman’ and collections are designed with a philosophy that centres around sustainable practices, enduring design, seasonless collections and natural fabrications. 

We spoke with Elinor about her journey to get Joslin to where it is today and what the future looks like, the measures she is taking to ensure the business is operating as ethically and sustainably as possible, and her top items for her dream capsule wardrobe.

You started Joslin in 2018, what was your career path prior to this point and was starting your own label always something, you wanted to do?

I spent ten years in the Melbourne Fashion Industry before launching Joslin in 2018.

For the first few years, I studied a Bachelor of Design at RMIT University while interning and undertaking work experience at the same time. Once I graduated from university, I was keen to experience the industry and learn about the supply chain from behind the scenes. Experience in retail and business is essential to be able to manage a fashion label, so I worked for multiple retailers and brands across different womenswear markets before launching Joslin.

Starting my label was something I always wanted, but I never thought I would have the capacity to achieve it. In late 2017, I had recently quit a role I wasn't enjoying anymore and thought I would move to buying instead of design. I took a few months off to relax and readjust, and I found myself in a creative place, in a comfortable position, and with just enough finance to start my label Joslin. Everything fell into place very quickly, it was like it was meant to be.

What had your prior experiences taught you about what you wanted and didn’t want to do when creating your own label?

I have previously worked for a few large-scale retailers where I have seen vast volumes of clothing being manufactured in petroleum-based compositions and non-organic cotton. Crazy units, option plans, financial planning, and relentless lead times.

It has made me consider and question the end use of each product I design. During the inception stage of Joslin, I knew I wanted to create small runs of clothing and designs that hold onto their value for many years, and almost four years later we have stayed true to this concept.

I've also witnessed the 'hidden' side of clothing manufacturing overseas, including terrible working conditions such as no sunlight and unsanitary facilities. I have seen extreme amounts of fabric waste (factory floors full of fabric rolls from overruns) and unnatural coloured and dirty rivers. Because of this, I am very particular with what makers I work with, and the dye houses we use at Joslin are all OEKO-TEX® certified.

Getting to Know Joslin's Founder and Designer Elinor McInness

What did that early start up phase look like for you?

It was everything but glamourous. I made so many sacrifices to launch Joslin, and my partner covered our living costs for the first eighteen months. I am very privileged to have such a supportive partner and family.

I lived in a Joslin bubble for quite a while, it was crazy! I was not just the designer; I was also the bookkeeper, the production manager, the garment technician, the pattern maker, the logistics manager, the warehouse manager, the social media manager, the wholesale manager, and the online manager. All just realities of being a small business owner and a start-up! I remember a few times it was so busy that I woke up at 4.00 am some days to have enough time to pick and pack wholesale orders! My biggest mistake during this period was not providing myself with a little more self-care.

When you first launch a label, you have to learn to strategise cash flow very quickly, Joslin grew a lot faster than I initially anticipated, and I made so many mistakes, but I learned from them. Before paying myself a wage, I invested in a few part-time employees to support me, and once I had technical and sales support, the business became a lot easier to manage.

You have described your designs ‘Romantic styling for the Minimalist Woman’ and are influenced by Victorian and Edwardian fashion. What is it about these details you like and how do you balance them with minimalism?

I love the fashion details from these times, they are so much fun to design with! There is something so timeless about ruffles, pin tucking and lace inserts, particularly in black or white. Trends come and go, but these details transcend time, and you can always explore new designs.

My personal style is a lot more minimalist than Joslin. I have a very neutral wardrobe, and I don't wear any prints or bright colours, as I don't feel comfortable in them. A lot of the garments I wear, I have owned for five or more years, and they mix and match with the newer pieces I own from Joslin.

I think it is my personal style that has balanced out the very ornate details of Joslin. I design with mostly a neutral colour palette and offer bright colour in solid form only. This is where 'romantic styling for the minimalist woman' came from; I wanted to wear something a little more feminine and fun while still feeling like myself.

I’ve read that your parents are artists, what kind of art do they produce and what kind of art are you drawn to in your home and office? Who are some of your favourite artists you’re drawn to?

Art and design were such a big part of my life growing up; not only was I surrounded by it in my home, but my parents sent me to private art classes every Saturday, where I learned to draw.

My father produces surrealist landscapes using oil paint and mixed media, and my mother creates surrealist and abstract still-life paintings using oil paint and watercolor.

I love postmodernist art and abstract art, and I am also very drawn to colour and repetition. I also like to paint, but I never get the chance. I have so many artists I love, but I would have to say my favourite artists are Henri Matisse and Emily Kam Kngwarreye.

Getting to Know Joslin's Founder and Designer Elinor McInness

We love to watch brands, especially in their early years, evolve as they respond and connect with their customers. Where do you see the brand’s direction moving in the future?

I would love to grow retail here in Australia and overseas; having more stand-alone stores in key locations would allow our customers the option to browse the entire collection properly.

We are expanding categories over the next year by developing a small range of accessories, including sandals and bags that work back with our apparel. I also wish to establish a small capsule of childrenswear during the warmer months in Australia; our mini smock dresses would work perfectly in little 'mini me' versions!

Lastly, I hope to re-launch Joslin Bridal post-pandemic. The concept we had at market in 2019 was to create outfits for all the festivities surrounding a wedding. We designed and developed casual bridal dresses, bridesmaid’s dresses, hen’s party dresses, and mix and match separates, all in white linen. This concept removed the 'single use' of these outfits into looks you can continue to wear after your wedding. Joslin’s Francis Silk Maxi Dress in Sandwash Oyster and Optical White (available on The Undone Store this season) is very much in line with this concept, a beautiful option for a casual wedding dress that can be worn again and again afterwards.

You recently went through a scary Instagram hack on the Joslin account and thankfully were able to secure your account again. What advice do you have for businesses and their social accounts?

It was terrifying! It put into perspective how vital social media is for marketing, branding, customer communication, collection launches, and online sales. The impacts on our online sales were very severe. They lasted approximately seven weeks post hack; it has been incredibly challenging on top of the ongoing retail closures in Australia.

Instagram only introduced Two Factor Authentication in 2018, so it is not an obvious security measure for Instagram account holders who have had their accounts around for a lot longer than this; make sure you have Two Factor turned on for both your business account and personal account. Ensure that all emails connected with your website (such as customer service) are not connected to the brand's social media channels. Use entirely separate emails. All employees should have security training that reflect your business's digital needs.

The team at Facebook Australia who helped me retrieve my account explained that if a 'hacker is going to hack you,' they almost always will. Be diligent with everything online, check the domain of every email you receive for authenticity, and automatically block and delete any illicit messages you receive through social media.

Most importantly, have your business prepped for disruption. Companies and business owners can face so many challenges, and you need to ensure your business can still run smoothly if you, the business owner, need to focus elsewhere for a few weeks.

What measures do you take to ensure Joslin is operating as ethically and sustainably responsible as possible, and what are you working on in the future to build on this?

We are committed to improving our practices with every collection. We work within our capacity; no brand can tick every box, and we don't as yet have the resources to create progress reports, but they are in the pipeline.

My design philosophy is to create timeless pieces and seasonless collections; our forever designs are well worn and well-loved by our customers. Designing for longevity is essential, and it ensures the raw materials used to create each garment are respected and honoured. I use textile compositions that can go back into the earth once disposed of, this is why Joslin's collections are almost entirely produced in linen and organic cotton.

At Joslin, the word 'ethical' doesn't just cover the assembly of our clothing. We trace our raw materials and trims and research our textile/yarn mills and dye houses. It isn't a straightforward process; a chain of custody is not always an option. Our order quantities are small, so we receive certifications from our makers and mills. For example, GOTS® certified cotton, European Flax® or Belgium Linen™ certified linen, and OEKO-TEX® accredited dye houses; with this information, you can investigate the farm listings on the certifications and further trace as necessary.

Our makers and factories who assemble our products are audited regularly. Audits are the most accurate measure a brand or label can take to ensure ethical practices are maintained. Audits are through external and independent/neutral bodies. The reports are incredibly detailed and include everything from occupational health and safety to payroll and working hours.

When I first launched Joslin, our critical path was all over the place because I was learning to balance sales markets (for wholesale) with deliveries to Australia and our International 3PLs. Our first few collections were all airfreighted to Australia at great expense. Now we have enough buffer in our critical path (even with the COVID-19 disruptions) to ship all Joslin products to Australia, greatly reducing our carbon emissions. Our linen flax that is grown in Normandy (France) is shipped to the PRC before it is woven. There are so many hidden environmental issues in product development and clothing production, you must be very cautious of every parcel’s movement and combine everything as often as you can.

I could honestly write about this forever, but you may read further on our website about our environmental and ethical business practices.

Getting to Know Joslin's Founder and Designer Elinor McInness

Your latest campaign for the new season ‘Reverence’ collection is beautiful. How important is investing in content for you and for the brand and what advice do you have for small business that feel like they can’t afford to invest in content?

Investing in content is imperative for Joslin’s success each season. We deliver four collections a year, and our campaigns are designed to tell a story. I work hard on the creative direction with each photographer I collaborate with, ensuring there is flow from the last campaign and consistency with our branding (like using different natural landscapes).

As my brand has grown, our budgets have increased. We work with brand partners to create unique content for our social media platforms; in some cases, we request the imagery to connect to our latest campaign.

When I was starting out, we didn't have any budget at all for content or paid posts; it was and still is challenging to find the right balance, particularly with the importance of digital marketing. My advice is to create your own, work back with the branding and aesthetics you have already developed for your brand.

For the first two years of Joslin, I photographed products on my friends using my iPhone. I waited for a sunny day, hung up a linen sheet, and took styled photos and detail shots, and I played around with the shadow and desaturation tools. This is still some of our most successful content and my team has been asking me to bring it back!

What does your dream capsule wardrobe look like?

Items that you know you will wear time and time again that can be mixed and matched to create a range of different looks.

A dream capsule wardrobe for me would include: one midi or maxi length black dress that can be dressed up or down, one midi or mini casual white dress, a white tee, a black denim jean in a classic fit, a crisp cotton white shirt, a neutral-toned trouser that suits my figure (I prefer slim-line), one or two slouchy knits in marled yarns, a black silk camisole, a black slip skirt to layer everything with and a camel or beige coloured coat or blazer. I would opt to have one of the knits in a classic colour like navy or khaki.

What (if anything) are you looking to add to your personal wardrobe?

I am currently shopping around for a silk slip skirt in a midi length that I can layer back with my current wardrobe. I have one coming out in October for Joslin in a beautiful sand-wash black silk, but I want to find one in the market in a neutral colour like beige or olive.

What does a successful fashion brand look like for you?

A successful fashion brand has a design aesthetic that is recognisable to everyone, a product that fills a gap in the market, and ensures to keep up with the ever changing times and market shifts.

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