ELOQUII is one of the few brands that have a true cult following in the plus community. This is probably because of they consistently put out amazing fashion and have that je ne sais quoi aura about them; a genuineness to the brand that is not often seen.
Well we definitely have Jodi Arnold to thank for that! Jodi is currently the Vice President of Design and Creative Director for ELOQUII. Jodi grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, sewing and creating clothes she couldn’t find in stores. She then relocated to New York after graduating from Baylor University with a degree in Fashion Design.
Jodi has worked in the fashion industry for over 10 years gaining knowledge and designing in various markets. In 1999 over a cup of mint tea in Paris, Jodi made the decision to set out on her own and launched the contemporary line MINT Jodi Arnold. The collection became a press and retail favorite known for its interesting details, prints, and embellishments. The brand grew quickly with global distribution in over 250 stores including Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, Isetan in Japan, Harrods in London, Net-a-porter, Bloomingdales, and Louis Boston. In addition, Jodi also had two freestanding stores in New York City.
After a successful designer collaboration in 2009 under her own label, The Limited hired Jodi in 2011 as Vice President of Design for their newly launched plus size line. Jodi played an integral part in launching Eloquii by The Limited and brought the plus size customer the designer aesthetic, fit, and quality that she was craving. The Limited shuttered the 18 month old brand in early 2013. Jodi, along with several key members of the management team from ELOQUII connected with an investor who also had the
vision to continue the ELOQUII brand and to finally give this undeserved customer the fashion, online experience, and attention that she deserves.
Jodi was gracious enough to speak with me and I am truly excited to share this insight-packed interview with you all 🙂
Natasha: A lot of women who read our blog want to start a clothing line or become a business-owner – can you describe your thought process from when you first decided to create your own collection while having a day job? What were some factors that helped lead to that?
Jodi: In this day in and age, one of the most important things is to get your degree. It seems to me now that the job market in the fashion industry is dwindling and there are still a lot of young people coming out of school and wanting to pursue fashion. So, the best way get a leg up is to have a design degree if designing is what you want to do…or a merchandising degree or a business degree. That would be my first bit of advice. Second, I had about 10 years of experience designing in various markets of the industry before I went out on my own and even after I did that, when I look at all the mistakes I made when I finally started my own line, I wonder how do people do this when they’re only 2-3 years out of school! You learn from mistakes of course, but they’re also costly. You are going to be able to achieve your dreams so make sure you get a really good foundation. It’ll save you headaches and money in the long run.
Natasha: Who was the client you were designing for in that first collection?
Jodi: My first collection was launched in 1999 around the time that the contemporary market was forming and was led by new brands like Marc by Marc Jacobs, Rebecca Taylor, and Jill Stuart. It was geared towards a young girl who wanted the look of designer clothes but couldn’t go to a place like Barney’s and afford to buy high-end design. This whole contemporary market started so you could get the look of designer but at a better price point. (the price range was still very high; around $300 for a dress). Back then it was a good price for getting designer clothing but now with the birth of fast fashion, many people don’t want to spend that much on a dress. It was contemporary clothing for ages 25-45 and was sizes 0-10.
Natasha: At least within the plus size fashion industry, it seems like there is more of a personal connection between the people who design and sell the clothes and the end-customer; I’ve noticed there are not as many male-designers for female plus size clothing — do you think there will be more male designers entering this space in the near or distant future or general thoughts about that?
Jodi: I think as the market becomes bigger, and everyone sees you can’t ignore this customer, there will be more courses taught in design school and in turn more males and females looking to design in this market. Its great that people like Christian Siriano or even Michael Kors (to a degree) have been leading the way. I think any stigma about getting into the market is changing, so now it will become normal. Hopefully all designers will begin to take into account both straight and plus sizing.
Natasha: Has your personal definition of “fashion” changed from when you were designing for the Barney’s customer to the customers you are designing for now?
Jodi: It’s all about the options. Back in 1999 when the contemporary market started, it was because we didn’t have a lot of options…..same thing for the plus market. I love being a part of a nascent market. Things have changed from those days when you could put out 4 collections a year and it took a year to design 1 collection. The whole world has changed and now it is all about speed to market. I think with the advent of social media, the customer is seeing so much imagery all the time, we want everything very fast. I am so happy to be a part of the burgeoning plus market. I love fast fashion and I love this customer and her thirst for the fashion and quality she has always been excluded from. The thought of designing a $900 leather dress for a size 2 woman does not interest me anymore. A light bulb went off for me when the opportunity to design the plus size line for The Limited came about. I knew I could make a difference aesthetically and provide a different eye and quality for these women who have always been ignored in the fashion conversation. And the customer appreciation for what we are doing makes it all worthwhile.
Natasha: When you transitioned to designing plus size clothing, was there anything that surprised you?
Jodi: It was scary. You are afraid about things you don’t know: “I don’t know about the plus size market, or the technical part of designing for plus sizes.” But I was surprised to find that when I approached design the same way that I always did –leading with fashion, it turned out to be the best way to do it rather than coming to the table with a lot of preconceived notions about the plus market or the plus customer. I think that has been our advantage at ELOQUII. When we put new styles out, we are able to see that she wants the most fashion forward styles. The challenge for a designer is that you can sketch anything but when you get the garment on an actual body it becomes more challenging to make sure it looks good on different body shapes. How do you technically make that dress look neat and tailored….something this customer does not get very often? It’s exactly like straight size fittings in that respect. I was surprised at how interesting and fun it is. We spend a lot of time in fittings every week – maybe about 12 hours a week. Fitting is one of my favorite things about my job.
Natasha: Given all you’ve learned, what advice would you give to your younger self as you were creating your own line?
Jodi: Great question! First of all, it really has to be about the customer and I think a lot of young designers are more about their ego and what they want to do or what celebrities would like or the magazines would like or what the press thinks. The real challenge is being a designer and having a profitable business because in the end we all have to stay alive and make a living. We have to get over ourselves a little bit. The end result should be to have a profitable business and serve a need. So, think about what YOU like but focus most on what your customer needs. In this day and age, listening to the customer is really all that matters and that is what brought ELOQUII back. Our customers drive everything we do.
Natasha: If you had to limit it to one, what’s the one skill you’ve developed that you think contributed the most to your success? It can be any skill – technical or non-technical.
Jodi: My mom always talked about gumption – I don’t know if that’s a word that people use too much or if it is more of a Southern expression but it’s really about just going for it with blind abandon. Not worrying what others say, making sure you know your field and not letting anyone get in your way of achieving your goals. I don’t think I am the most talented person in the world but I have a lot of gumption and desire to be good at what I do. I always wanted to be a fashion designer and nothing could stop me from coming to New York from Alabama. It was sheer gumption and passion for the art of making clothing. I went to school in Texas and came to NY right after graduation. I felt like I always had to work a little harder to prove that I could do the job. I just loved fashion so much. I had the gumption to go into a job interview and say I have certain skills and I have what it takes to do this job. It’s like any job, you have to believe in yourself. When I see interns I can always tell the ones who are going to make it and the ones who will change directions with their career. The ones who make it as designers are the ones who WANT to be at work every day, ask a lot of questions and consume everything that they can about the business. They are the ones who succeed as designers. I remember one interview where they said to me “We only want FIT or Parson’s graduates.” You will get knocked down. You can’t take things personally. Give yourself a great foundation, working in different markets even designing things you may not like, soak up as much knowledge as you can.
Natasha: Do you see any growth opportunity in high-end plus size fashion or will fast fashion dominate plus size fashion?
Jodi: I think there is a lot of room for a lot different markets in plus sizes. We speak to a lot of customers who say “I have the money to buy really expensive clothes.” So, I think there is an opportunity for different people to come in to the plus arena. We always say that as the tide rises we all benefit from it. I think as much as we would like to be the brand to do a higher end line, an active wear line, a lingerie line we have to focus and keep listening to what the customer wants from us. I think there is more opportunity for high end and fast fashion alike. There is still a dearth of options in the plus market compared to the size of the market. I’m happy that we are now seeing new entrants into the plus market almost monthly. It’s a good sign.
Natasha: What’s a little-known fact about you that you haven’t shared in a previous interview?
Jodi: I love pit bulls and and I’m passionate about pit bull rescue and education around the breed; I’ve also been practicing yoga for almost 30 years. It has always been a passion of mine and such a life saver in this stressful business. I have never done a teacher training but maybe that’s somewhere down the road.
Jodi Arnold makes it clear that if you want something, the key is to have a good foundation, be prepared to put in the work, and you have to believe in yourself!