Designer and creative director of Marle on new season, sustainable fashion and launching in David Jones

24 February 2020

WORDS BY Fashion Quarterly New Zealand

Mount Maunganui based Marle approaches the new season in a different way to most, breaking down the constructs of a traditional seasonal collection by curating a timeless capsule of seasonless essentials for the modern woman who wants to feel stylish and effortless.

For Autumn Winter 2020, Marle’s Juliet Souter has designed a collection of simple, considered designs made with integrity using  natural fabrics and fibres. Working closely with sustainable fashion consultant Celeste Tesoriero who also works with Kowtow and numerous Australian designers. Together they continue to strengthen Marle’s mindful operation, implementing new ways to produce fashion without leaving a footprint. As the brand grows, Into My Arms marks the first season that Marle will be stocked in David Jones stores throughout Australia and New Zealand as part of the conscious fashion offering.

We caught up with the woman behind it all to find out more…

FQ: Tell us a little bit about your career path and what lead you to creating Marle?

Juliet: I started Marle after a number of years working in different areas of the fashion industry here in New Zealand, this ranged from roles in PR to buying.  From a young age I always knew that clothing would be my path – I used to make a lot of my own and was bought up in a very creative family who always encouraged and helped me towards this goal.  I left school early and studied fashion design majoring in knitwear at AUT with the plan of starting my own business after gaining experience in different facets of the industry.  The time was right when I left a more corporate job to have my little girl, Vita.  The brand Marle came about by recognising a gap in the market for a more modern take on knitwear. From that initial starting point of ten sweaters and cardigans, the brand has expanded to include all aspects of a wardrobe.

Marle is founded on the vision of creating considered, luxurious pieces that offer low impact, wardrobe staples for women of all ages. Can you talk about the journey of creating a sustainable fashion brand and some of the challenges you have faced?

When I started Marle we didn’t exclusively use natural fibres, this decision came after a couple of seasons of working with materials that didn’t offer the handfeel and level of texture I was hoping to achieve – and also the benefits to the skin when worn.  Changing the business to only use natural fibres and fabrics was relatively easy. Once we made the decision not to compromise, we just had to find fabrics that fit our vision. It has also become such a strong focus for us due to the effects fabric and yarn production have on the environment.  It is important for me as a designer to know that my pieces won’t take hundreds of years to break down.  Another important aspect is the benefits using natural fabrics has on our skin. It’s breathable, antimicrobial, warming or cooling and the feeling and texture that can be created is second to none.  The challenges we face is the increasing cost of natural fibres – as a lot of the world still use synthetic there isn’t the same amount of options in terms of sourcing, but for us it works in our favour as it works as a design brief as well.

What are some of the ways that you have or are overcoming these challenges?

It hasn’t posed as too much of a challenge, we just adapt when needed. For example if a floor length, full dress is too expensive to make in 100% silk, I’ll amend the design and adapt it to be suited to a linen or cotton.  The fact that I’m uncompromising in using high quality natural fibres can pose a challenge as the sourcing pool for these is limited, but it just means I have to be agile with my designs.


Customers, readers and consumers are becoming more and more invested in brands as a whole especially with conversations around sustainability being at the forefront. What are some of the conscious practices you have incorporated into your day-to-day processes to reduce your carbon footprint that people might not really know about?

Sustainability is hugely important now and I feel that we can all make a difference in what we are putting out into the world.  We moved to home compostable packaging a few seasons ago, these bags are what our garments arrive in from our factory and then go to our stockists.  We also use recyclable packaging for our online orders and compostable courier bags.  The tissue paper we use is FSC certified and with every purchase of tissue we make the company plants trees to support the environment.  Over the past few seasons we have simplified all of our labelling so we only have one swingtag, reducing unnecessary paper usage and also changed our care labels to cotton.  In the office, we actively recycle our packaging reducing our footprint in that way.  We have started to explore recycled natural fibres and in our new season collection, Into My Arms, we have a few pieces using recycled cotton and recycled wool.  All of our yarn carries Oeko-Tex certification with the exception of Perino which is made here in New Zealand and carries its own certification being ZQ certification and sustainable sourcing of the possum fibre used.  The majority of our silk pieces also carry Oeko-Tex certification, this ensures the limitation of potentially harmful chemicals being used in the production of our yarn and fabric.

Marle’s AW20 ‘Into My Arms’ collection consists of only natural fabrics and fibres. What goes into selecting the right fabric to create these pieces?

That is mostly instinctual now as the brand is five years old. It comes with what we’ve learnt and how that resonates with our customers.  The yarn we use has to have a soft lofty handfeel but must wear well and must be 100% natural.  As with all seasons, I start my design process by pulling out all of our fabric and yarn swatches and working through which I want to work with. The actual design comes later, if I don’t have what I want on hand our makers are incredible at finding just the right thing.  The drape each fabric, texture and yarn gives is the biggest consideration with each piece, sometimes after seeing a sample we have to completely change the weight or type of fibre to achieve that right level for the garment.

You’ve incorporated sustainable manufacturing practices such as Oeko-Tex certified fabric and yarn and recycled fibres – can you tell us more about this and why your customers should know about them?

We have been using Oeko-Tex certified yarn and silk for a couple of years now, all of our knitwear comes with that seal of approval and majority of our silk pieces also hold this.  We are starting to use recycled fibres and fabrics where available too – sustainability for us is such an important area of the business but it isn’t a destination, it’s a journey that we are constantly developing and improving on.  Along with these initiatives, we are working on a GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified capsule collection, again an area we are really excited about but one that has taken a long time to find the right people to partner with.  For our customers it is important that they know and trust that we’re doing the work to ensure our footprint is lighter and that they know and are aware that our garments can break down and return to the earth at the end of their long life.  We are trying to educate our women about the importance of wearing and purchasing natural fibres and fabrics.

This season also marks the first that Marle will be stocked in David Jones stores throughout Australia and New Zealand as part of their conscious fashion offering. How did this partnership come to be? And what does it mean for the brand?

This is a very exciting step for Marle and something that we have worked hard to be ready for as it is a big step forward.  We have a lovely team of women in Australia who handle our sales over there and they introduced David Jones to our collection at the right time – they were looking for brands that stood for something in the conscious area.  For us it has meant a lot of planning and prep work amongst our team and our incredible makers.  As they are a large stockist for us there are other logistical things that come along with it such as each piece being steamed and hung before arrival in store.  There a lot more steps from design to store, but it is an exciting partnership that I am very proud of.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the inspiration behind ‘Into My Arms’?

A lot of my design is instinctual, based on the natural fibres and fabrics I source along with our design ethos that each Marle garment must be designed to be worn for seasons to come.  I love working with simple silhouettes and letting the fabric or yarn texture carry the piece.  However, design details did mostly come about from historical references, gathers, ties, fullness and I was also looking to old world Japanese finishing techniques.  The print in our second drop was inspired by a vintage silk kimono that my mum gave to me a while ago which I adore and can’t wait to introduce.

What’s your favourite piece from the collection?

There’s too many…The Carly Dress (silk/linen), the Hana Print Hunter Shirt (silk/cotton), the Asta Dress (silk), the ivory Jo Jumper (Perino), the Bryley cardigan (silk/mohair) to name a few.  This collection, like all before, encapsulates my intention for Marle – beautiful natural fibres in pieces that can be pared back with anything in your wardrobe or with Marle seasons gone past.

What is 2020 looking like for Marle?

2020 is going to be a big year for us, we will continue to support our lovely stockists here and in Australia and continue on our path with conscious business decisions for Marle and helping educate our Marle women on our reasons for using exclusively natural fibres and fabrics.

Interview: Ruby Hamilton
Photos: Supplied

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