Jane Mow on the reinvention of Willa & Mae

Designer and Stylist Jane Mow from Willa & Mae. Image supplied.

Jane Mow lives and breathes sleepwear, as creative director and designer of luxe sleepwear brand Willa & Mae, she’s passionate about wearing it every day and is encouraging other women to do the same. More than a passing trend, Mow sees it as an unexpected but fashion-forward look that any woman can pull off and her new collection for the brand is created with every day wear in mind.

It’s a sweltering summer day in Sydney when I catch up with Mow over Skype from the city that’s been her new hometown for over a year now. The freelance fashion editor and stylist relocated to Australia to chase big dreams not realising that her most exciting collaboration to date would follow her there and become her new job. But she’s relishing the challenge of redefining Willa & Mae while positioning the sleepwear brand to take on the world, with the likes of Vogue, Man Repeller and Harper’s Bazaar singing praises of her new collection (Season Four) that was launched in March this year.

It’s been an interesting journey for Willa & Mae in the two short years it’s been in business so far. The brand was originally founded by Mount Maunganui sisters Emma Clark and Rana Reuther after they couldn’t find the luxurious silk sleepwear they were after anywhere so they created their ideal pieces with French silk and produced their first collection in China. That collection was launched in late 2014 and was well received in New Zealand. A second collection in winter 2015 followed and their third collection saw the sisters collaborate with Mow on their first New Zealand Fashion Week Show in 2015. It won rave reviews from the media in attendance.

Clark had pursued the stylist relentlessly to get her to work with Willa & Mae and the success of the NZFW show made it clear that this working relationship would be incredibly beneficial for all of them going forward. Fast forward nine months and Mow couldn’t be happier about her role as creative director and designer at the helm of the brand that she and the founders have big plans for.

 

Looks from Willa & Mae’s current Season Four collection.

It’s important to Mow that the brand is manufactured ethically and entirely in New Zealand. Although the previous collections that were manufactured in China were of a high standard and properly produced, Mow had come from a background in high-end fashion and wanted to elevate the production to the next level. “That was their struggle in the beginning when they were making in China, they didn’t have right contacts to make in New Zealand,” adds Mow. “I only had the contacts from having worked in the industry and with Sherie Muijs. I used to visit all these manufacturing plants so I knew they existed.”

Mow was determined to manufacture Willa & Mae in New Zealand and an industry conversation led her to Stephen Blase at The Pattern Table, a renowned clothing manufacturer in Mt Eden who works with the likes of Trelise Cooper, Maggie Marilyn and Ingrid Starnes among many other local labels. She struck up a good working relationship with the manufacturer and was impressed with their impeccable quality which set the bar for the brand.

There has certainly been a renaissance of buying locally made products over the past few years with consumers now more aware than ever before about supporting local producers and paying a fair price for their goods. It’s something the fashion industry is also actively promoting and brands are using it in their favour to quite rightly encourage customers to shop with them rather than overseas brands. “People are more aware of buying quality that is locally made and they are willing to spend,” says Mow. “Since the launch (in March) there have been people buying three items per sale because it’s made in New Zealand. You come onto the website it’s right there and if you go further down you see why. They know that they are going to get what they’re paying for and it’s so important to have that integrity with people.”

While they may manufacture in New Zealand it was important to Mow that she based herself in Sydney to help the brand reach an international audience. Auckland has plenty of PR firms and was a good place for the brand to start, but Mow already had plans to move to Australia before she started working with Willa & Mae and it was obvious to her that she would be better placed to get the brand more attention in Sydney. Signing with PR company OMG Five who also represent several other NZ brands such as Lonely, Kate Sylvester, Trelise Cooper and Penny Sage, was a turning point for Willa & Mae and saw the brand beginning to build momentum for their first collection under Mow’s creative direction.

Looks from Willa & Mae’s current Season Four collection.

Under OMG Five’s wing Willa & Mae’s new range was shown to buyers and media at Paris Fashion Week in late 2016 which began building exciting buzz for the brand. Mow’s debut is a refined collection featuring burgundy and navy striped silk pieces in classic shapes that have an unmistakable elegance about them. Perfectly finished and French seamed for longevity they are the kind of garments you will buy and wear for seasons to come. She also specifically designed the pieces to be worn every day, hiding buttons etc. so that people can easily wear them to the office or out in the evening.

With the new collection also comes a new website and it’s something that had been underway since late last year with Mow bringing on an experienced digital team. Together the team worked on developing the online look and feel of the brand with Mow insistent that they tick all the boxes from the beginning so that things were done right and the site came to life as planned. Aside from the website it was also important for the brand to redefine who they are and create a brand strategy across the business which solidified a strong visual identity.

There are certainly lots of conversations happening about Willa & Mae now with Mow’s first collection garnering lots of media attention and her second range recently made the trip to Paris to show top international buyers and media. “It’s definitely really exciting,” she enthuses.” It’s one thing being in your little studio drawing away but then when the press takes it and gets so excited it’s great. It has been a massive confidence boost for me that we are on the right track and that we’ve got a good thing going and are hitting a niche in the market.”

While the brand’s previous showing at NZFW was a success and resulted in great sell-through of the collection that was shown, the changing nature of fashion and technology as well as the huge expense of producing a runway show means another fashion week show isn’t in the brand’s immediate future.

Looks from Willa & Mae’s current Season Four collection.

However, social media is an area where Mow, like many other designers, is experimenting with investing as it allows brands to reach consumers in a more direct and conversational way than anything previously available. “I was just chatting to someone who found us on Instagram I think through Man Repeller and she wanted to buy from us but she wanted to know more about the fabric, whether it was silk satin or silk sateen,” adds Mow. “I had a look at her Instagram and she’s from Spain. So there’s this incredible reach you can have over the internet and I would rather invest in that that in a runway show. We’ve shifted our marketing strategy now, we’re investing more into social media than we ever had before because it definitely has more reach.”

That international reach is also noticeable with online stores as it’s no longer a requirement for brands to have physical stores anymore as they can have global reach on the internet. While Willa & Mae have had New Zealand and Australian shoppers on their site, one of their first orders was to the US and the brand is happy to offer worldwide shipping.

It’s that international accessibility which has opened up New Zealand designers to the world with younger brands able to find success more quickly by being available online and marketing themselves to the world. It’s an exciting time and one that Mow finds constantly inspiring. “There are a bunch of us that are slowly making waves globally, Maggie Marilyn is one of them,” she enthuses. “She manufactures with the same people that we use in New Zealand and she seems to be doing really well. Georgia Alice seems to be doing really well too.”

For Mow every day is a busy but stimulating one with Willa & Mae’s success. While the online focus is about selling the current collection that has been well received so far, Mow’s second collection, which has more ready to wear pieces will be arriving in a few months’ time as the fashion cycle changes and continues.

If Willa & Mae’s sanguine new look is anything to go by, we’re sure Mow’s confidence is definitely well-placed. This swiftly rising star is going to go a very long way.

Images supplied.

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