Womenswear designer Jo Norton takes part in our brand snapchat, sharing her thoughts on leotards, Brexit and manufacturing in the U.K.
Jo, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to launching a womenswear brand?
I studied fashion at Kingston University and originally had no plans for my own label but life changes and so do plans! I had some health problems and being able to work my hours around that definitely made me consider my own business.
What inspires you when you are designing your collections?
Once I began designing the first Mille Saisons’ collection, I found movement and ballet to be key influences in my inspiration which is when I decided to take up ballet again as an adult. Mille Saisons is based on designing clothing for living and movement, and several pieces have made it to a ballet class for a test run!
What have been the greatest challenges you have experienced and overcome in launching your own brand and running your own business?
Having confidence in myself and the brand has been difficult, especially starting out. Only having myself as a sounding board can be tough. Balancing my sleep and work with my sleep disorder has been one of my biggest personal challenges. However, I love what I do, which makes it easier to get up and get working.
You proudly use British manufacturers and source most of your materials from the UK too. Can you give a few tips to others that might be thinking of doing the same?
I always try to find UK suppliers – whether it’s boxes, fabric or factories, but I have other concerns such as the amount of water used in the dyeing process. I’m very interested in the manufacturer’s eco credentials, commitment to fair wages and fabric choice. I buy buttons, threads, labels and tissue paper from British companies because in the quantities I use it is more economical to do so. I’ve found it’s important with manufacturers to research them as much as possible. I also tend to get a sample made before I visit to see how well my spec pack is followed and how good communication is before I decide to use them.
Long term, what are your hopes for Mille Saisons? How would you like your brand to grow?
Just having my own label is already quite exciting. However, the Chloe playsuit is named after my little cousin who lives in Spain so I made her the playsuit in her size for a Christmas present. I think she was actually the first person to wear the collection. So a mini Mille Saisons collection for children wouldn’t be unimaginable. I’d also really love to do something with ballet wear, maybe something aimed at adult beginners. Leotards can be more intimidating when you are a bit older!
How do you feel about the UK’s decision to leave the EU, and do you believe this will be a positive thing for British brands?
On the one hand I think trading with Europe and imports may be more difficult due to the impact of the falling pound, but on the other hand we could see a growth in British suppliers and factories. The weaker pound is already attracting more retail sales from abroad. If leaving the EU means that fashion skills education grows and we’ll see an increase in skilled machinists then that would be great. I’d also like to see more support for small UK businesses.
British personality (alive or dead) that you would most like to meet?
Any of the Royal Ballet ballerinas. I have woman crushes on Lauren Cuthbertson, Olivia Grace Cowley and Yuhui Choe.
Most-loved place in the UK?
Lewes where my studio is based. It’s a weird, lovely blend of liberal and traditional. There’s a castle, more pubs than you can visit in one night and some beautiful independent shops. The local brewery Harveys delivers with a horse and trap on Tuesdays and I’m going to visit my favourite chocolate shop, Bonne Bouche later today.
British drink that you most enjoy?
I should probably say Harveys, right? But I’m not a beer person so it has to be Babycham. I have Babycham glasses and it is impossible not to smile at the little deer logo.
Favourite British-made brand?
I’m probably biased because they are based in the studio next to me, but I love Alexis Dove jewellery. I wear my lion pendant everyday because I am a creature of habit!
Most inspiring British maker or manufacturer?
Charlotte Elizabeth (handbag designer) is hugely inspiring as a brand. Her honesty and openness about her health is really refreshing and I’m working on trying to be that open too.
I’d also say my factory who do not work for profit and run loads of educational courses especially to get students learning about manufacturing and to create the next generation of skilled workers in British clothing manufacturing.