NZ Designer Spotlight: Felina of Isle of Eden
Tell us about Isle of Eden, what is your role?
Isle of Eden is our independent Eyewear brand based in Auckland that was founded by my partner Nelson and I almost 5 years ago. I wear many hats, but my main roles are looking after all our wholesale accounts (around 60-70 stores in NZ, Australia and the UK). I also look after customer service, repairs/trade-ins, the day to day running of the studio/store and project managing our shoots. I also help out when it comes time to finalise creative and design decisions on our eyewear, marketing, and production to name a few.
What were you doing before you started your journey with Isle of Eden and what did that look like crossing over into something new?
We were in the UK and knew we wanted to head back to NZ eventually. We both loved collecting interesting eyewear, and Nelson has always worked in design and branding. After many trips home we were always surprised by the price of sunnies in NZ (given the absolute necessity), but the lack of choice of NZ brands. We knew we wanted to start our own brand and something meaningful on our return home, so on a whim we randomly booked a trip to Milan to visit one of the world's most largest eyewear expos to see if anything piqued our interest. It was super inspiring, with thousands of brands and manufacturers from all over the world, and everything kind of fell into place. That's where Isle of Eden was born and 6 months later we moved back to Auckland, launched the business on Kickstarter, as well as having our first born child. Busy times!
Previous to this, we were both based in London for a long time. The last 4 years of being there I worked for a tech company; I was the Executive Assistant to the Managing Director, and ran the office, board meetings, staff events etc. It’s a world away from what I’m doing now, but it was a super busy (but fun) job where everyday was different.
During my time there, I had some amazing opportunities to run events of all sizes at some really cool places in London, as well as working with an awesome bunch of smart people.
As I’ve always loved fashion and clothes, I did think maybe I might follow that path when I got to the UK. However, pay/salaries in more junior roles in the Fashion industry wasn’t going to cut it whilst trying to travel, so for a more worldly perspective, I decided against it.
Nowadays, I definitely see my skills from my previous role come into play with Isle of Eden and they allow Nelson and I to work really well as a team. We both have quite different but complementary skill sets, so luckily it seems to work out!
How many people are in your team and can you briefly explain the process from design-production-marketing-wholesale?
It’s Nelson and I; Nelson on the creative, marketing and finance, and myself on accounts, customer service, and operations. We also have two casuals; Isabelle who works at our retail store and does some marketing, and Philippa who works in the studio helping with orders and brings great company. We are still a small team so it keeps us very busy!
Design-wise, we put our range in two buckets; our core range which are classic shapes; These look great on almost any face, and are timeless styles that are our subtle interpretations of mid-century designs. Then, we also have our more future-forward range, where we try to channel what's happening in the world of design and fashion and imbue this into a unique collection.
We tend to launch 2 to 4 new styles coming into summer which are a combination of the two buckets, ranging from a more basic style to a bolder unique statement frame. Our design and production process starts early in the year. First, we start looking at our current collection to see which styles have sold best for us and our retailers, and what opportunities and holes there are in our range. Then, we start mood-boarding and trend-forecasting. Once we have a rough idea of direction, we start to sketch shapes and details, and define the theme. Moving on, we digitise the drawings, making a ton of variations and tweaks to the drawings to try to define a theme and details that carry across the new collection, whilst retaining some variance in the overall shapes.
We then work collaboratively with our manufacturer to produce our working drawings, and once finalised, produce black only samples. This process is quite intricate and takes us around 2 months. Once completed, actual production takes anywhere from 4-6 months.
Marketing-wise, a lot of our marketing is actually completely organic via word of mouth. Fortunately, people have just really resonated with our mission in terms of the products, the quality, the price point and our values. We are also super grateful to be in such amazing stores around NZ/AUS/UK, which definitely helps people find us initially. Nelson is also a freelance designer/motion designer on the side, so when he doesn’t have any projects on the go, he creates our videos for socials and marketing etc. Due to time, marketing definitely isn’t our strong point at the moment, but will be something we will be putting our focus on in the coming months.
Wholesale sales, and day to day operations is basically me. We’ve just returned from Australia doing the big trade expo there where we’ve picked up more wholesale accounts, so I should be busy in the coming months! The business has traditionally been run out of our home studio which has been pretty difficult with the overlap of home and work life (especially with kids). Luckily, we’ve just recently moved the operations into the office adjoining our Eden Terrace store which is huge for us. It’s also allowed us to centralise things and will allow us to bring in some more help over the busy summer months. I’m also currently working in the retail store a few days a week around kindy hours to allow Nelson to complete some more freelance jobs.
What is your favourite part of your job/process and why?
I love the people we meet along the way; either customers or other business owners like yourself. Also, hearing the feedback from people about the product you’ve put out there is really cool.
I’m a real organiser, so I love it when our new styles/colours arrive and I get to organise the shoots and see it all come together. I also enjoy putting on events e.g. little launch parties, sales etc where we can get people in, have a few drinks etc. When you are constantly working in your business and working around the clock with little ones you can forget what you’re working behind, so when we have these events and see people wearing the product it’s super rewarding and a real reminder why you’re doing what you do.
What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner/designer?
Running a growing business is a lot of hard work and you're always on and juggling. We have two little girls who are 2 and 4 so it’s super challenging sometimes and can be completely hectic. To keep sane, maintaining some semblance of balance is key. We always feel like we need to be doing more on the business (and have been hiring to help us), but we also don’t want to neglect the other things in our lives such as relationships, health etc. We always try to have a fun family day on a Saturday and switch off at night if we can. We also try to allow time for each of us to move our bodies (yay to finally getting some sunshine to get outside!).
What would you say is a signature style for Isle of Eden and why?
Currently, the Emily is. It’s still a best seller and has been since we launched it 4 years ago. It’s also kind of defined our newer seasons which are edgier, angular, and sculpted interpretations of classic shapes. When you see someone wearing it you can spot it a mile away.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
In the past we’ve kept our detailing pretty simple with shapes and colours doing the heavy lifting. Our shapes are not specific to any specific thing, but generally reference the thick acetate designs of the 50’s and 60’s and 90’s. We choose a range of colours that are a combination of bold hues, and tried and true classics which compliment a persons skin tone or dress sense. In our new range you can definitely see hints of the 90’s in terms of size, 60’s sculptural detailing and 30’s art deco styling. The new hinge pins, and exposed wire core reference the E and I in our logo, but you’ll have to wait and see!
What do you think sets NZ designers apart from the rest of the world?
Because we’re so isolated, we turn both inward and outward to find inspiration. The internet, short trips, and tourists are our main viewpoints to the rest of the world. So, I guess you could say we get a kind of concentrated and curated version of global culture, fashion and design which we draw on. We obviously also have our own culture and identity. You definitely see influence coming from nature/outdoors, and functional design which is quite interesting.
Best piece of advice you have ever received?
Don’t compare yourself against others.
Another NZ designer we should check out?
A few brands/Designers/ shops I like following and seeing what they're doing are Checks (I love a graphic tee) and it’s fun and different.. I love what you guys are doing and always love seeing what brands and designers you bring in-store, it’s exciting. Abel with lovely Natural scents. I also love following Bronwyn footwear, Georgia Jay bags.
Your go-to coffee spot?
Don’t get coffee out much anymore as I have a great coffee machine at home. But if I go for a nice walk from home I go to Duo. Or if I’m central I go to Daily Bread, Williams Eatery, or Mibo.
Your favourite place to go for dinner?
When we get a chance to head out we always go to Lillian- it's been a fave of ours since it opened, and when you find that place it’s hard to go anywhere else. With the kids you cannot beat a laksa from Selera in Newmarket, we love heading here the best Laksa.
Your favourite place for drinks?
With the kids, you can often find us at the Northcote Tavern, a great pub and an awesome outdoor area. Without kids, I do love Hotel Ponsonby- great atmosphere, great people watching and a delicious spicy Margarita.
A free activity you would recommend checking out in your city?
We love getting out for big walks; you cannot beat Cornwall Park. We go for a big walk then end up at the cafe with a coffee sitting on a bean bag and just hang out, while the kids climb trees, scooter or bike about. They also do a park run on a Saturday morning which is awesome; definitely London vibes!
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