Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Focus on Jodi Muter Hamilton - Founder of Other Day and Lab 2030

 

    
 

I first met Jodi at a Fashion Roundtable event. She has had an interesting multi-faceted career from Fashion Designer, where she took her love of the outdoors and the sea and turned that into a swimwear brand. However, her career does not follow a linear path. Her story is one of resilience and strength which she now uses to help others navigate Ethical and Sustainable Fashion.

 

D: Where did you grow up Jodi?

 

J: I grew up in a place called Seghill which is near Whitley Bay and Newcastle. I know Mum used to push me along the sea front which helped put me to sleep, and I think that's what’s instilled my love of the sea.

 

Water is very important to me and increasingly so. I have been a keen swimmer for years and I feel that full submersion changes my entire being, even a small connexion like having a shower. I pretty much wash my hair everyday as I feel the need to be completely submerged in the water.

 

In 1988 my Aunt and Uncle bought a lake in Durham, it had been an old quarry and they converted it into a lake. They then had a caravan and stayed on the land till they got permission to build a house and clubhouse and went on to become the first ever importers and promoters of windsurfing in the UK. I used to go and swim in their lake even when it was cold, which it was most of the time.

 

So, I have always had that water element around me and a love of swimming even though actually I wasn't the greatest swimmer at school that came later. I also kept my horse at my Aunts and was able to ride the horse in the lake too.

 

As my Aunt had the business I was always around business people. But going further back, in 18, I think it was 1883 my family, on Dads side, founded a soft drinks business called Muters Soft Drinks, in Bedlington near Newcastle. It was still in operation when I was born and Mum would go in and do all the accounts. Dad used to work in the business too but….well in a nutshell he was a bit of a rogue, enjoyed things like fast cars, and eventually drove the business into the ground so that was the end of the era for that. As a family overall, we've never really worked for anyone else, we worked for ourselves but worked hard. Dads side were a bit more well to do. My grandma was always impeccably dressed and had mink stoles she was the most stylish woman ever. On the other side, my mum's parents, never owned the house they lived in, which was pretty normal at the time. It was a very nice, spacious council house, they paid rent and had a very simple life. For example the meat van came round on Friday and they would buy two chicken legs and that was their meat for the week. A very frugal very simple life. My grandma on Mums side worked in the mills in Haworth in Yorkshire when she was young. My grandpa worked in the Navy as plumber, so services. Dads side were all in the RAF, grandma an officer in the Wrens so it is a dual aspect.

 

 


D: How did your parents meet?

 

J:  Just going out in Newcastle Mum was then and still is quite an attractive woman. I think they met when they were about 16 but didn't get married until a lot later. Mum went to London to work and on her return they met again she would have been in her late 20s then. Quite funny characters together, two different worlds. I think she really appreciated that difference in a sense. Her life was very different to his. He went to private school. His Mother was quite extravagant. A different life, a meeting of the two.

 

D: I would usually ask here what your early influences and you've explained that all beautifully.

 

J: Definitely my paternal grandma was incredible, but even looking back at the simple things that my maternal grandma had, she had this 1950s leather or pleather sofa that was this really odd lemon colour, it was beautiful but was a really random purchase for someone with a frugal mindset. Certain other things she did too make me reflect and think she was a lot bolder than she seemed. For example, she replaced the picture of the Queen in the hallway with an insane plastic head of Tutankhamun. I can just imagine what my grandpa's reaction to that would have been. However, Mum has had a lifelong obsession with Egypt, probably because of that.

Mum was born in Haworth, which was known for worsted yarn and cloth. Worstred is a fine cloth made from fine fibre wool. The family were all keen knitters and with my grandma being in the mills, Mum subsequently is the most incredible knitter. She then went on to own a haberdashery and wool shop. That craft element particularly around wool has always been really strong with us.

 

D: So your mum was entrepreneurial to the point where she owned her own shop.

 

J: Yes, she owned the shop in the 80s or 90s. It's interesting, there's a running theme, particularly for the women in our family, of never entirely reaching their full potential for whatever circumstances we find ourselves in as women. Because of this, it’s been one of my personal quests to support other female business owners, help them navigate things, because it is tougher, it is tough as a woman.

 

D: Totally which is why we're still talking even now about breaking glass ceilings and pushing for equality.

 

J: And childcare and all that stuff and equal bank balance and it just goes on and on and on.

 

 

 



D: So, you took all your fashion influences and entrepreneurial influences and went to university to study fashion.

 

J: Kingston, yes, I went there in 1998. It was quite an influential time for fashion, it was all about Alexander McQueen. We were very heavily influenced by Comme des Garcons and Yoji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake mainly, a lot of Japanese designers and their approach. Looking back it was elegant in a very modern way. But also looking back at traditional crafts and again the wool elements which meant my final graduate collection was sponsored by John Smedley. Mum helped me with a lot of the knitting on Dubied industrial knitting machines.

Although all my Uni friends have split up internationally, we remain a tight close group because the course was really intense. I don't think any other Uni’s at that time were like Kingston. It was very particular. You had to be in 9 to 5 every single day and if you weren't, they would ring your halls of residents and make you come in. A lot of other Uni’s even at that time like Saint Martins, for example, didn’t  have a campus and they didn't get as much tuition, we literally were all together in that classroom everyday. We even napped under the desks in the rolls of fabric, you know like disco naps. As a result, there is still a really tight bond with most of us. We've all gone on to do really interesting things, two went to Max Mara one is currently at Margiela one was at YSL, three at Burberry, plus a lot of created our own independent brands.

I guess it solidified our work ethic that as a student you don't necessarily have, or you are encouraged to be free spirited.

 

D: On my photography course we were in everyday without fail we didn't have to be but we would. We had to be there because we had to use the equipment, the studios and the dark rooms. You would go out and take pictures and come back but, we were there.

 

J: For us we were physically making, we were pattern cutting we were making toiles, we were fitting, we were designing, we're in the library, we didn't have computers, we were physically doing work with our hands, in the knit rooms, booking time to do everything. We had two technical machinists and the tutors and everything was super hands on which I think, since then has been lost. The fashion schools are not like that anymore.

 

D: Do you think that maybe that's because most of the manufacturing from the UK moved offshore?

 

J: We've lost that connexion haven't we. That understanding of how things are technically made and being able to make them ourselves. I think that needs to happen again. I know some universities are definitely focusing on making that happen more. Fashion education is a whole other discussion. There have been a lot of changes because of digital and not all of them have been beneficial. I think it is a case of needing to reassess what’s beneficial and what's not and coming back to what we're actually trying to achieve craft wise. Obviously that's a big thread for me personally.

 

D: After University – actually before that, your final your final show, was it swimwear?

 

J: It wasn’t. I did do a specialist Lingerie project but my final show was inspired by a Salvador Dali and Lewis Brunel's film ‘Un Chien Andalou’ I really enjoyed it and then I read the book. It really absorbed my mind. So for the final collection I looked at men’s tailoring, deconstructing and really playing with form and shape, Predominantly it was black and grey and white because of the film and it was quite dark, interesting, powerful.

After Uni I needed a break. So, I went and did a snowboarding season in Colorado and worked in the mountain restaurant and stuff there, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

During Uni I had been working in skate and snowboard shops which appealed to my outdoors side and influenced the season in the Mountains of Colorado. When I came back to the UK I worked in retail again in a snowboarding and skate shop. At the same time doing a year as a PR intern. However, I made sure I wasn’t doing normal internee stuff. The PR I interned with had the account for Burton snowboard shoe brand, so it was a good match for me. I created product placement and events and things around that. I then went in and managed 4 stores across Covent Garden Dials area which carried similar streetwear. Gradually I moved my way up to head office, into what would now be called brand management. I ensured that what was being projected by the brand and their brand ethos was presented to consumers and connected in the right way.

 


 

D: So you were very much business orientated immediately after university.

J: Because I've always had to work. My first job was with Mum. She used to do alterations for a lady who had a shop selling, Joseph Ribkoff and Frank Usher slightly formal wear, wedding guest, type wear. Mum used to do alterations for the women who bought these garments and I worked in the fitting rooms. Doing the odd sewing jobs that was from the age of 14. I have literally worked since then, I have always had to pay my rent etc. I turned down interviews and jobs if they were not going pay me enough. I had to follow a more stable path financially.

I have always wanted to be in charge my own destiny and to have my own brand. I knew from the start it had to be activewear, not just a standard fashion brand. However, I didn't have experience in swimwear design at the time.

 

D: Swimwear makes sense with everything that you said so far, with your love of the sea

and being active. When you set up your swimwear brand Black Neon you were working in parallel, creating the brand and doing other work at the same time.

 

J: Exactly. What is really important here was that I didn't have any experience in swimwear and swimwear is really technical. So, I had to go and find that experience. At the time there were only about 3 companies making swimwear in the UK.

Amazingly a friend found an ad on a job board, and sent it to me as a joke in an email and said “this is your dream job, maybe you should go for it”. We were both laughing and then I thought, “no, actually, I am going to go for this job”.

It was head of design sampling at a factory in Mauritius. I badgered them and badgered them to take me, even though I didn't have experience. Bhavnita, who I met out there and I'm still dear friends with was out there already. That gave me the experience I needed even though I couldn't speak Creole. My common language with the workers was around the language of sewing. I used to literally go sit on the machine and show and turn and they would understand, and then do it. Had I not already had that technical experience that would never have happened.

 

D: Exactly, right back to when you were 14 and all that learning right through university stood you in good stead for this.

 

J: They did want me to stay a lot longer. But then Bhavnita left, I stayed for a few more months then left too. Mauritius is funny place to be as a western person working. It's fine if you're a tourist, it's an interesting place, a melting pot of loads of cultures, I really enjoyed it, but I didn't want to stay there five years. When I came back I found a factory in Wales that used to be Agent Provocateurs old factory before they outsourced to China, to make the swimwear as I needed it to be really high end. However, the long and short of that was, because I was a small, unknown, new brand, my production wasn't a priority for them. I had worked really hard to set up stockists. In UK we don't have that many swimwear stockists but the ones we do have a very high end like Selfridges. However, I didn't get the deliveries from the factory in time so I couldn't sell them to Selfridges even though they were receptive.

This happened two years running, and I ended up with loads of stock I had to sell somehow.

So, I went to Ibiza to sell it. I went round all the shops and their feedback was you are not Eres or Dolce & Gabbana, so I sold the swimwear direct, to the public on the beach. Not ideal but I needed to get some money back on my investment.

 

I believe Black Neon was one of the first ever independent fashion E commerce platforms. Because of all my digital knowledge I designed it with a friend. At that time it was really expensive. Everything was custom build and we had to set it all up with world pay. I remember being on the phone to their agent going “okay can you please explain to me how I set this up?” and then as they told me I had to programme it in.

 

D: Of course it’s all much easier now.

 

J: Yes you just click on it, and its £20 a month and it zooms off, all done. But it definitely wasn't like that 2008, 2009. Then we had the financial crash, so not ideal for a luxury swimwear product from an unknown brand.

So I went and worked for the Financial Conduct Authority as an EA for 4 years to pay back the debt I had acquired building the swimwear brand.

 


D: How did it feel to have to walk away from it?

 

J: It was disheartening for sure. But I still kept things going. I made a couple more collections and made jewellery to go with it. And slowly started selling in really nice little boutiques.

Also what was quite successful at the time was the content I used write. I used to interview people and blogspot.

 

D: I still have my blog there.

 

J: I love it I think it's really cool for the time. I could see from the backend of the blog I was getting a lot of traction and remember thinking, that’s interesting.

Then I thought OK well the blogging is really successful what can I do that's the next step on from that? I noticed people in America are listening to podcasts and thought that’s it.

 

D: Yes, you were a very early adopter of that in 2017.

 

J: I decided I am going to do what I used to do, which was interview and talk to people but audio. So, I taught myself to do that, how edit and how to set it all up.

 

At the same time I'm really good at working with founders, start-up founders and helping them scale up. I go in get them up and running and move on. In 2014 l helped launch the world's first ever fashion styling app with founder Douglas Orr. I then went on to work with another comparable company called Proximity Insight which is a styling platform that Matches Fashion, and other large well known luxury retailers use. The solution is white label which means it easily adapts to the different companies brands and helps them to create a high level of personal service for their customers..

So by that point I really started to understand data, what it can do and how you can change people's behaviour. That's kind of been a building theme for me. By working for small companies I would be very hands on and spend time doing a lot of the HTML coding for them. From 2010 onwards my work also encompassed the systems and workings of platforms and companies.

 

D: So that's given you a huge, rounded foundation for everything that you're that you are doing now.

 

J: It’s a toolkit for sure that helps me, but also allows me to help start ups use the toolkit too. The sustainability element in my work came – when I join the dots back, its right back to the wool mills in Yorkshire. It’s my love of swimming, the outdoors and horse riding. It’s always been there with me. It’s what I said about female equality and balancing workforce against brand.

Black Neon Digital Podcast was the start of interviewing everyone so I could find in the fashion space. That is which is how I came to speak to Tamara from Fashion Roundtable.

 

D: Where did the name Black Neon Digital come from?

 

J: My swimwear brand was called Black Neon. Black Neon is a fish so that was a good starting point for building the brand. And 12 years ago it was quite punchy. It was simple it, looked nice together. Design wise I was very sure that I wanted predominantly black swimwear with neon pops and it really worked. Adding digital to the end created a differentiator between the swimwear and tech sides of the business. I launched that on the 20th of June four years ago, 10 days before Raf my second child was born. I knew I had to get it done, before he arrived. I spent at least four months building the website. Early starts, 5.15am every morning. For me at that time becoming Black Neon Digital was the easiest way to move forward.

 

 


 

D: You changed the name recently to Other Day.

 

J: I'm so happy to have done that. After 12 years it was time for change. Life changes, you change and things change. I was very happy to have worked on the new branding with two really good friends of mine. Charlotte was a year below me at Kingston and went on to work with Wolff Ollins for 10 years. She recently founded a design studio called The Modern Studio with a woman called Ruth who happens to live near me too. Our work took about 2 years, because they, like me, were doing it on the side of other jobs.

 

D: As we are talking about names, where has the name Other Day come from?

 

J: I wanted it to be set in the daytime. With Black Neon it was quite dualistic like yin and yang and had that feeling. For Other Day the Day part is because I am very sun sign driven around daylight, early mornings, bright sunshine and swimming. So it had to be something to do with time and space and daytime and that kind of element. ‘Other’ is, something I have found I say a lot when I am connecting people, I say “oh you should speak to Dvora, I was speaking to her the ‘other day’….. The word ‘Other’ I felt also was a nice way to be an alternative, a different option, a different element, another way of looking at things.

 

D: How do you help people with their strategy and communications?

 

J: I think one of the things I am good at is distilling what people want for themselves, out of life and their business. So, I help them to align with that and with external factors happening in the world and with their intentions. For example working with Suzi Delaney from R.Planet and Tamara from Fashion Roundtable, they all want to achieve huge things but it's got to be one step at a time. I think I'm quite good at understanding what drives and individual, the outside world and the business opportunity. What it is that makes something attractive to people and then being able to communicate that, in, not a simplistic way, but in a way that's digestible understandable and positive.

I do not believe that negativity supports any sort of positive action.

I do my best to help promote that to whoever I'm speaking with. For someone like Fashion Roundtable for example, who’s work can be really dark at times, and very, very sticky and actually exhaustingly so, you can't always communicate that in a beautiful positive way, so it's give and take. But it's ultimately supporting, predominantly female founders, to shine in their roles and support them in a really rounded way even though my role is communication strategy and business development.

 

 


 

D: Alongside it being female facing it’s also helping people navigate sustainability and ethical production and more.

 

J: 100% from the supply chain to looking after themselves and their own well being. And being aware of policies around climate change. There is so much happening at the minute that even the work that we do through Lab2030. There is so much happening in the sustainability space, the dial at the minute is so high, the noise level – I figure out how to help people cut through that noise. Because, it's loud it makes it harder to find your way. I feel like a lot of founders, particularly, feel they've got to be everywhere. I am able to say ‘no, you're really good at this’ or ‘this is really about you’. For example, in discussions about sustainability with one client – who is a very well regarded fifth generation family business - I suggested to think about the heart of the business. Which is essentially all about longevity and legacy. Therefore, it makes sense for their sustainability practices to be centered around family and people and community. With the aim of leaving the world in a better place than when you set out. For all the love in the world, you can't tackle every single element of sustainability at once and do it amazingly. So, pick one, focus on that, get it right then move on to the next. Be pragmatic about things.

 

D: Taking it step by step. We're all guilty of this. You see the overview and want to do it all, but then you sit down and try and do it all at once it can actually stop you moving forward.

 

 

D: You've just touched Lab 2030 tell us more about it? What are your aims?

 

J: Initially I came up with an idea that I wanted to create a traffic light system for clothing in a similar way to what we have on food so we can understand exactly what we are buying and how good or bad it is. There are five scope elements which are Material, Manufacture, Carbon Footprint, Impact and Design. We wanted to look at all those areas and give them a rating. Laura Gibson joined me about three years ago, we met and at a APPG event and she liked the sound of the project. She loves the nitty gritty, going deep and working things out. More recently we brought together a fascinating Advisory Council together whose names I will release soon, they span from arts, tech, consumer behaviour and of course sustainability. They have all been trying to tackle this exact thing throughout their more recent career. We’ve carried out some really interesting research around consumer behaviour in partnership with an amazing person, Shaunie Brett. We are now seeking funding to expand the research, as it brought up some really intriguing finds that are not exactly in line with the current narrative of sustainable consumer habits. We were initially called Project 2030 because the idea was to create a project that made the traffic light system but have now broadened that a bit and changed the name to Lab 2030. Essentially, we are exploring and discovering insights for the fashion industry around what we're calling the most timely questions. These come back to the 2030 global goals, that help accelerate as fast as we can the desired outcomes towards those goals. So it's more of a research lab that's, not for profit, that's less determined around a very focused outcome. Because with a business head on you kind of look for a predetermined answer to prove your case so that you can validate an idea, a market or prove to funders that your idea is valid. Instead we flip that to be, ‘this is the question that needs a real answer, this is what we are looking at. Now lets’ do the research’. That way if the result doesn't line up it’s OK. It's there to support industry to battle through some of these tough questions. 

 

 

D: So you are team building at the moment.

 

J: Yes and trying to find money, not for profit funding for that.

 

D: There was something you mentioned you are doing called ‘Radical Collaboration’ which sounded really interesting because as you say the Fashion industry is traditionally secretive.

 

J: Very much so.

 

D: And they need to be sharing now.

 

J: We must, I think it’s the only way. The different ways of collaborating and sharing information is really fascinating. We are trying to get funding to create an open-source knowledge base, so that all this information and all the things we find can be presented, so that industry can use it for free. As things are quite secretive, even a lot of academic information is behind paywalls, or you only get access if you are at university. We are certainly far off ‘open to all’ but hopefully we can change that.

 

D: It's the smaller more ethical brands and sustainable brands who are actually sharing, with each other like for example Phoebe English and Maggie Marylin who are saying I'll share all my information with you. 

 

J: Exactly and I think the more ethical and sustainable players in the field, really want to push the industry forward and SME’s need to have scale so maybe something that we could achieve with that, is to pool resources and work more as a unit. Yet always remaining independent in our designs. The Trampery are really good at that they really help and support it. Also LCF, CFS (Centre for Sustainable Fashion) are fostering sustainable practises, work that they've done with all the SME’s. Their report is pretty incredible. It's very long 200 pages but it's good. 

 


D: What do you think drives you?

 

J: Good question, what I really enjoy, that makes my heart sing is connecting, connecting the dots between things. When I can see something on say a systems level in a creative company that I think could be utilised at a tech firm. Or when I see someone's doing something and then find someone in another corner of the world doing something that would fit with it, I just love bringing that together. Having the vision to think well that could work in this way, I think that's what we'd excites me. Particularly with Lab 2030, what I've enjoyed with that is that although it started as an idea around the traffic light system and that I had an extremely clear vision of how it would come to life and be presented instore, it has already evolved. Though right now industries are talking about this very idea and there have been a lot of articles and discussion around it, but I'm already no, no, we've moved on from that look there are better ways of doing it. I like the initial very early adopter exploration of things, but also then handing it over too. I enjoy helping people to really use their skill set and passions in the places they want it to be.

 

D: How do you see the future?

 

J: A really interesting question, because, different to how I would have perhaps guessed it to be say 5 years ago. Even when I think about moving away from London, which I am just about to do, I've been here since 1998 and its 20 years since I graduated this year. That's quite a milestone and I think a lot of people are thinking a similar thing. I almost feel like fashion has changed so much in 20 years it's insane. Chatting on our uni chat group the other day I asked had anyone actually watched London Fashion Week in July? The answer was no, where previously we would have said, did you see this or did you see that, what the collections were like, what the designers are up to, who has moved house, what are we interested in and so on. I have to say it just doesn’t feel relevant to us anymore. Even though we still work in fashion. I'm sure it still is to other people but everything's changing, everything is up for grabs, and I personally want more,…. who said it the other day? Someone said something like, “put your focus where it makes you happy”. Or, you know that old saying, on the We Work badge “do what you love”…..all very good but how are you going to get paid? I don’t have that privilege of doing what I like everyday thanks. But I have started to think about that a little bit more and I've been more confident, in the past five years, of really understanding and leaning into my own, whether you want to call it spirituality, or whatever you want to call it, but my own belief systems, and allowing things to be a bit more, in line with myself.

On a really basic level, now that we've switched from being ‘Black Neon’ to ‘Other Day’ has given me the confidence that I can really, project that. More people are aware of these things now, it's not as taboo, everyone's manifesting now. I think so much has changed that I feel less, even though I'm actually a really competitive person, I'm a Leo, I'm from a family of entrepreneurs, but I feel less competitive with myself now. I feel more, well, we're moving, I wanna be by the sea, and I just wanna see what happens for a little bit. I want a bit of space, but at the same time still work on things that are important like Fashion Roundtable and helping other people and their clients. I've even managed to turn down clients which has been quite novel for me. A big step and say no to things that don't 100% feel right. To say no to money is always a big one. But not all money feels the same.

 

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