U&I is an Australian indi surfwear brand for ocean warriors created by two daring women themselves: Emma Bäcklund (Creative Director) and Jodie Hayes (Head of Design). These creative souls started U&I in Torquay, not far from the renowned Bells Beach (home of the world’s longest-running surfing competition) with the core value to empower women. U&I are the ocean dweller and the wave rider.
I want you to feel as inspired as I felt when I first met Emma in 2015 while I was living in Australia and heard her talk about U&I. I fired her with 10 Questions that will take you into the heart of fashion, entrepreneurship and empowering women (and will provide you with some great tips too!). Don’t forget to scroll down to check out U&I‘s amazing last collection “Storm”.
#1 Did you always know you wanted to work in fashion? How did you get there?
Jodie studied Fashion Design at RMIT, so she knew she wanted to work with fashion, but I (Emma) have a background in Advertising and Photography, and a passion for surfing. I always new I wanted to start my own business, but not necessarily in fashion. When Jodie and I first met, I was shooting her final swimwear collection for university, and I thought her product was very clever and something I had been missing in the surfwear market: designs for being active in and around the ocean.
#2 How did you get started with U&I?
We participated in an online competition on Skillshare, for which we had to create a fashion label including branding, designs, etc. We had a lot of fun and got to know each other’s style and commitment during the process. And we thought we had a great product so, at the end, we kept rolling with it.
#3 What do you think makes U&I unique? How do you achieve it?
We design our product to empower women of the ocean, women like ourselves who have a need for a product that they can trust (and has their asses covered). We are our own target market and we are both very passionate about women’s rights and looking after our sisterhood. No corporation can compare with the way we care for our tribe.
#4 What does a typical day at U&I look like?
Well, to be honest we literally work our asses off, Jodie being employed full-time as a denim developer for Cotton On and me as a part-time Art Director at Patagonia, while being a full-time student to boost my business skills so that I can back our company. And then we spend our evenings, weekends and every minute in-between on our label. We love it passionately, so in the future we hope that it supports ourselves and we work on it full-time. But there is always time to surf and go for a run.
#5 Which do you think are the best qualities to work in fashion or own a fashion label?
I think it’s essential to have a large toolbox of skills, be practical and good at problem solving. But it is equally important to know your limitations and get help from experts who can cover your weaknesses. You must be able to take criticism to grow and improve, but at the same time have pride in your trade. The famous balance.
#6 Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere: society, the ocean, magazines, people-watching in big cities, fearless women around us…
#7 What is your creative process?
We talk about where we want to be heading next and what product we think we should focus on. And then we collaborate on the creation of the concept, depending on our brief. We both wear so many different hats in the one day, from designer to sales person, to photographer, to accountant, that it’s difficult to pin our process down.
#8 What is the most exciting part of your job?
For me (Emma) it’s probably during a photoshoot, that’s when I feel I can be the most creative. For Jodie, it’s the whole design process of a new range.
#9 What is the most challenging part of your job?
Cash flow. There’s never lack of creativity, but you need capital to be able to produce and grow. It has been an organic growth so far, which allows us to learn a lot during the way.
#10 What advice would you give to someone wishing to follow a creative path or a dream career?
Give it a shot! What’s the worst that can happen? And also find a great partner with a different set of skills to team up with. You will need each other’s support and someone to remember to buy the bottle of wine when you have forgotten. Stay curious and work hard.
Have a look at U&I Storm Collection:
Images: Model Patchula Thompson (@yogapatch), photographed by U&I.
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