Up-and-coming eco fashion label Mae-Noel was born out of encouragement. Regardless of what you hear in this current political zeitgeist in America, words do matter, and designer Joanna Weadon is a testament to their power. I connected with Joanna to learn more about her story — how she got started, why she pursued sustainable fashion and how she envisions her brand evolving.
Tell me all about starting Mae-Noel.
J: This has been something pretty unexpected in my life because I don’t have any formal training in fashion or design. We moved to California about two and a half years ago, I had just had my second child and I was starving to be creative. I started having fun with style and it became a way for me to be creative every day; it became a challenge to wear something fashionable and still be able to take care of the kids in it. I started [designing] because a friend encouraged my style as a mom. That’s a big part of my story – that my husband, close friends and family were affirming me and encouraging me along the way, that’s how Mae-Noel was born. It really only took one person to say “these are good” for me to decide, “ok I’m going to do something”.
Were you at that point making clothes for yourself?
J: No, at that point I was learning about the whole ethical fashion movement. I had just discovered some brands that I was looking at, and I wasn’t quite finding exactly what I was looking for. I wanted to show my figure a little bit but have [my clothes] be wearable and mom appropriate at the same time.
People were encouraging me to sketch and draw because that’s an interest of mine. My husband bought me a sketch book and I started drawing clothes that I wanted to wear. That’s when a friend of mine said, “These are really good, I feel like you want to do something” and I said, “You’re right I want to do something!” Laughs. I happened to have another friend who was willing to help me do my first round of samples and get me off the ground. Then, we decided to try having [my signature collection] made in a small scale factory here in San Francisco.
Besides your friends and family, were there any resources that helped or inspired your business in the beginning?
J: I watched the documentary The True Cost on Netflix. That brought together so many things in my mind for me. I remember watching it and feeling so excited, it was like it hit a sweet spot. Just focusing on the people — real people behind [our] clothes.
How did you select your factory?
J: It was word of mouth. I heard from a colleague of my husband’s that it was one of the more organized factories in SF. I’m so glad that I’ve been able to be there and talk things through in person. I think it makes a big difference. I go there myself and I actually take my kids. The owner loves that I go with my kids because she started her factory with her baby on her back when he was one. She always tells me, “I did that too!” and “You can do it!” It’s been really great meeting people along the way who encourage me, and being a young mom and being new to it, people have just affirmed [me].
Was sustainability something you were aiming for from the beginning?
J: Sustainability is something that I’m just interested in. My degree is in Urban Planning and my interest within that was sustainability. It makes sense to pursue fabrics that are going to be sustainable — in how they’re made and the actual fibers themselves. It naturally flowed out of me and what I care about. I started with a lot of linens, but the next time around I found a lot of blends with hemp in them which is super sustainable.
I use this great company in SF called Pickering International. They are the ones that check up on the factories, making sure that everything is maintained to certain standards – how they treat the workers and how they are producing things and manufacturing things.
Ultimately, the best thing is to not buy new stuff and just have your favorite [pieces] and wear them and love them, but when you do get things, get things that will last, and that don’t cause unnecessary waste in being made. It’s the responsible thing to do now that we have all this information. I felt like…how can I not look into this?
What are your goals for Mae-Noel’s future?
J: I’m really open..I’m so young in it. I’m in a couple boutiques in SF and I love being a part of those. I look for boutiques that have a similar mindset that I like to sell in, and I have my website. The website was a big goal of mine and I’m excited to have it launched.
I’m really hopeful, I have a vision to help. I’ve been considering for awhile volunteering with a group of different homes for girls that have been victims of sex trafficking. Part of my vision is to be at a point where I’m able to donate actual clothes to the girls on a regular basis, or a portion of proceeds.
How do you stay balanced as an entrepreneur and a Mom?
J: I love the quote from Nelson Mandela:
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
That has stuck with me because it’s true. I look at these clothes and think back to a couple months ago when I questioned what I’m doing and how I would be able to get this done. Balancing it with taking care of my kids is truly my first priority — my first job is to be a mom. You just take it a day at a time. I actually think that it’s made me a better mom because it gives me something that I’m working on on the side that’s exciting. My kids can see that passion and I can share it with them . That’s why I like taking them with me; I can to show them different options for the future. I want to expose them to as much as possible. I worked with a floral designer and I was telling my daughter, “This is someone’s actual job! She makes these beautiful arrangements with flowers and plants. If this is something you’re excited about, this is what they do.” That’s really a big part of it for me, to be able to show my kids more of the world through it.
Check out the latest wearable, stylish and sustainable pieces from Mae-Noel here. Use the code “MichelleForGood” to take 15% off your next order.