Master and Apprentice: Trelise Cooper and Kayla Jurlina

13 September 2016
By Fashion Quarterly

Kayla Jurlina Trelise Cooper

In Fashion Quarterly’s spring issue, we spoke to three fashion industry protégés and the industry leaders who showed them the ropes.

The third pair we profiled was Dame Trelise Cooper and Kayla Jurlina. Kayla began interning for celebrated New Zealand fashion designer, Dame Trelise, while she was studying fashion design at university. Dame Trelise appointed Kayla her design assistant in 2013, and since 2015, Kayla has had full control of Trelise Cooper’s millennial brand extension, Coop. This is Dame Trelise and Kayla in their own words.


When/where/how did Kayla get on your radar?
My sister Dellwyn has a retail store selling designer seconds, and Kayla worked for her after school and in the weekends. When Kayla left school she went to Auckland University to study fashion. Dellwyn knew Kayla needed some relevant fashion experience and asked me if Kayla could do work experience in our workroom. I remembered her as a cute little fashionista girl!

What impression did she make on you initially?
My first (and lasting) impression of Kayla was/is her sense of style. She has personal flair in the way she dresses that reflects her passion for fashion, and this extends to her make-up (including a lipstick colour that changes every day), her shoes, her hair and her nail shape and colour. She is the ultimate fashionista.

When did you know that Kayla would play a significant role in your business?
She had been doing work experience for about three years in a truly dedicated and consistent way – up ladders hanging stock, stomping cartons in her high heels, always with her signature red lips. I was looking for an assistant in the design room to work directly with me and I identified her as someone I wanted to work with. We had great chemistry from the get go.

What are the specific qualities that made her stand out to you?
Kayla is Awesome! I could tell she lived and breathed fashion, as expressed every day in her fresh approach and presentation. She was also a hard worker – no job was too menial, if it needed to be done she did it. She made herself indispensable. And she’s fun! She brought a great attitude, a sunny, happy personality and a hugely generous spirit. She made it easy for me to choose her.

Do you see something of yourself in Kayla? 
Yes, definitely. I saw in her the huge love of fashion that I have always had. She loves the detail, the colour, the romance, the girliness combined with the edge. She also has a willingness to roll up her sleeves and muck in to get a job done, an open mindedness to learning, and courage – even if she doesn’t feel brave. A determined and hardworking pocket rocket, she is able to take guidance without taking it personally. And we both love Versailles!

In what ways are you different?
I can spell much better! One of the main differences is our age, but I think it’s important to maintain a generational diversity to keep the TC brands relevant. Kayla is confident and has chutzpah that is funny and refreshing. Her confidence and maturity has expanded as her success has grown and been recognized. I find her a very impressive 23 year old.

To what extent do your differences pose a challenge, and to what extent are they conducive to the best result for your brand(s)?
The challenge is to direct her without impinging on her creative flair. I have a lifetime of experience and Kayla is eager to learn. This creates discussion and poses questions from a younger perspective, which adds another dimension to the end result. She is confident standing her ground when it comes to her choice in fabrics etc., and she challenges me with her more edgy design ideas – they make me question my choices, in a good way.


In what ways have you supported and nurtured Kayla and how has this enabled her to grow both professionally and as a person since she started at TC?
My philosophy in life and work is to trust your instincts, have courage, when out in front, lead, be kind and when it all turns to custard, remember, everything happens for our highest good. Kayla and I share this view which enables us to support one another. I enjoy supporting and listening to her ideas. I have guided her towards making design decisions that will mean a garment will sell more, without losing its fashion edge (this is sometimes hard as her natural talent wants to be really out there, fashion wise). I have purposely stepped aside and guided and encouraged her to grow in her role as Coop designer and brand communicator, to the point where she now designs Coop, and travels extensively with me to fabric fairs in Europe and Asia to choose fabric for all the TC labels. She directs and styles all the Coop shows and is responsible for all the styling and art direction on photo shoots, as well as the look and feel of Coop’s social media channels. She fronts the Coop brand in media and television interviews and she is regularly invited to speak at events and judge fashion competitions. She visits with all Coop stockists and does in-store events for our retailers and their VIP customers. She is the ‘Girl Boss’ and leader on all design issues when I am overseas or away from the design room. She has my utmost trust in all of this

In what ways has Kayla supported you and enabled you to achieve your own professional goals?
Kayla has been 100% supportive to me from the beginning. She and I share a camaraderie, a friendship, a passion, a design aesthetic, a great rapport and chemistry. I trust her judgement. She is a great sounding board for me when it comes to my design ideas, fabric choices, imagery, and general design direction. She has an opinion without being opinionated and I rely on her to give her opinion truthfully. As well as designing Coop, she works alongside me every day on the other TC brands including Trelise Cooper, Cooper, Curate, TC Eyewear, and TC Home. Kayla gets on with making sure the samples and prototypes are in production while I’m off on non-design related company business. She has a tireless work ethic. She takes great care of me throughout the day, always popping a glass of iced water into my hand or a coffee on my desk when I arrive in the morning. She is very loyal and dedicated.

What do you think is the best advice you have ever given Kayla?
Recognise the unique opportunity you have to express yourself as a fashion designer and to establish a name for yourself and a design reputation whilst working under the Trelise Cooper umbrella and using the financial resources, staff and infrastructure of the TC Group

What have you learnt from her?
To be bold, be sassy, and have fun (we do!). She has also taught me to take more design risks, and that I can rely on her to make a design call on my behalf and it would be the same one I would make.

What does the future hold for Kayla?
As the Coop designer and as a designer for Trelise Cooper Brands, she has built and is growing the ‘Kayla Jurlina’ brand in her own right. Kayla has a great future on front of her. One day I can see her sitting in my seat – girl boss extraordinaire!



What did you know about Trelise before you started working for her?
I knew Trelise was a household name in the fashion industry. I remember seeing her clothes in fashion magazines as a teenager and thinking to myself, one day, I’m going to buy these and wear them to business meetings. I worked for Trelise’s sister, Dellwyn, in her designer seconds store out in Huapai so I had some great insight into what happened behind the scenes at Trelise Cooper, before I plucked up the courage to ask Dellwyn if I could do an internship at the head office.

What was it that made you want to work for her?
Trelise is a New Zealand icon. Everything she produced, even though I was young, I aspired to wear it. I loved that she was not afraid of colour, print and texture. I would check her website before the start of each season and keep refreshing until the latest look book had been uploaded.

What happened the first time you met – was Trelise everything you expected?
I was interning in the Trelise Cooper warehouse, unpacking boxes, when I heard a rumor around the office that Trelise had come back from overseas. Before I knew it she was downstairs checking with the QC manager on when the next shipment of the collection was due. I so badly wanted to speak to her I answered a question without her even asking me. I didn’t know if the answer was right or wrong, I just wanted to be noticed. People had said that Trelise was intimidating but I just found her fascinating. Most fascinating to me was Trelise’s style – each outfit matched with a different shoe. This was something I loved to keep an eye on.

When did things start happening for you at TC and what was the catalyst for this? How do you think you proved yourself to Trelise?
In my third year of university I had a paper that was based on work placement. I wanted to do this at Trelise Cooper seeing as I had already spent three years interning in the warehouse, working in the stores and helping in the design room and online. One morning before class I headed in to get my work placement paper signed off: high heels on, hair curled, red lipstick and wearing a white pencil skirt. I pulled up next to Trelise’s brand new Mercedes in my Toyota Starlet and stepped out with a box of cupcakes for the team. Trelise wound down her window and said ‘You look amazing, pop into my office for a chat.’ The rest is history. Trelise always says I made myself indispensible. No matter what the job was, I made sure I gave everything a go.

What is the scariest thing she has ever asked you to do?
In 2015, Coop opened our Trelise Cooper ‘Theatre of Fashion’ show. We showed for three nights which meant I had to walk down the runway three times. I remember standing backstage, terrified, trying to remember to keep my head up, smile and wave. I am thankful that Trelise pushed me to walk each time because as the nights went on, it grew from being terrifying to a real adrenaline rush. For ‘Theatre of Fashion’ in 2016, I didn’t even think twice about walking out. The more I am challenged, the more I can do, Trelise is great at giving me a challenge.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made at TC and how did you work through it? How did Trelise help you come out the other side, whether directly or indirectly?
Trelise and I designed our last, second winter collection before flying to Tokyo. We had done a couple of late nights to ensure the production team had enough to work on while we were away, and the night before the flight I photocopied all the design pages complete with notes for the team. When we arrived back we had most prototypes of the collection, but there was a chunk missing, which we discovered I hadn’t photocopied in the rush. There was a small panic but Trelise always says “everything happens for your highest good”. In the end we redesigned these styles, making them better than they were before.

What tools and support has Trelise given you that have enabled you to grow both professionally and as a person since you started at TC?
Trelise has enabled me to make decisions on my own and under pressure. I know I can rely on my gut feeling and having confidence in my own decisions. Trelise has also taught me how to delegate and lead a team, which I do frequently when she is away travelling. I have learnt to be brave in business and in life because I see bravery in Trelise in everything she touches. Watching Trelise speak publicly and in interviews has been especially great training for me in terms of public speaking.

What is the best advice she has ever given you?
Trelise is so wise. Whether it’s helping me with life’s challenges or advising me on something as simple as what to wear to an event or what handbag to buy, she is like my fairy godmother! She introduced me to visualisation and goal setting after doing it herself for years, so now I write myself challenges and goals for the year ahead, and I name each year with a motto like ‘the year of learning’ or, ‘the year to expect the unexpected’. This has always worked for Trelise and it’s working great for me too – I’ve already ticked off over half of my list for this year.

What have you learnt from watching Trelise do business?
To be brave and trust your gut. Running a large company also requires you to delegate, and to have faith that people will handle the tasks you give them. Trelise and I are both very particular and like her, I would love to do everything myself, but to grow you need to trust others.

How do you think you and Trelise are alike?
If we didn’t have a couple of years of age difference between us, I think we would have been the best of friends growing up. We are very much alike in our design sense, our style, taste and humor. We have a great rhythm going when we are designing; it’s a flowing conversation of ideas and imagination.

What qualities does she have that you hope to emulate?
I admire Trelise’s confidence. With every decision she makes, no matter what part of the business it falls under – it could be anything from colour-matching fabrics, to cancelling a fabric, or dealing with a customer complaint – Trelise knows how to act, holding herself with courage and confidence. I’m always calling TC a boss woman when I see her make a decision and hold her ground, or walk into a room – even if she doesn’t know anyone – and make the best of the situation. I also aspire to touch people’s hearts as she does. I have been to so many events and just watched Trelise interact with her customers or fans. She cares about what people have to say and for a quick conversation, she will make you feel important. One day I hope to have this quality.

How would you describe your relationship with Trelise?
Trelise and I share an outlook on life that we bring back into the business. We have the same morals, expectations and quality standards. I look to Trelise as a mentor and style inspiration in my work and in my life. And we sure do know how to have fun. From our desks, to the alleys in Tokyo, to the avenues of Paris, we are constantly having a laugh. I always tell Trelise, ‘you keep changing my life!’

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