The very essence of sunny&finn comes from the wandering spirit of its creator, Justine Youl and with the label’s latest collection launching tonight we thought we’d dig a little deeper into the creative mind behind the fashion.
A self-professed nomad, her passion for and sense of adventure is innate in the clothes and signature ‘babygotback’ bags that have become a trademark of Justine’s brand. “Throughout my life, I have always loved to move about, never staying in one place,” she says. “I’m a gypsy of sorts. It has always been about adventure and trying new things.”
Wanting her own children to remain open to life’s possibilities and treat every opportunity as an exploration into one’s self and the world around us, Justine has created a label that embodies these values entirely. “I believe that there is simply no substitute for travel. It’s an enormous teaching opportunity for my children in a myriad of ways,” she says.
Her love of travel and her zest for life were undoubtedly key factors in driving the inception of sunny&finn, but it is her three young children who the designer cites as holding the core inspiration for her brand. “I started this brand because of them,” she says, “I wanted to buy my children a bag that was made specifically for their age group, one that properly fit them. Bags that were on the market did not, so I took matters into my own hands and here we are today, sunny&finn.”
So, what of the bag that launched a thousand ships – or in this case, a fashion label! “sunny&finn came about when I was pregnant with my first child and wanted to find a practical yet stylish nappy bag,” says Justine. On holiday in Bali, she discovered a bag-maker and started sampling. However, 20 samples and one year later, baby Sunny was almost a year old and “the need for a huge nappy bag with a million compartments was gone,” she explains. “Sunny hadn’t been walking long and was still quite young and there were only bags on the market that were completely oversize and ill-fitting which meant they would be too heavy once items were packed into them. I decided right at that moment I would design a practical bag, specifically for this younger age group, designed with them in mind.”
Perfecting the design of the babygotback, developing the wonderful range of colours and variations with the contrasting pocket, Justine allowed herself to get lost in the unique and colourful world of her creative outlet. “My personal favourite design I have created to date, is the babygotback,” says Justine. “As for my favourite collection or colour, please don’t ask. I can’t pick. There are currently 34 different babygotback variations on the market and I am always looking out for new trends to keep the babygotback evolving.”
Launching sunny&finn in 2015, with the babygotback front and centre, Justine notes that the accompanying clothing line is the perfect complement to her brand’s design aesthetic. From tye-dyed tees and dresses to slouchy muscle tanks, onesies and more, the clothing range derived from Justine’s own love of fashion and years of experience in design. Citing designer Roy Halston Frowick as her prime sartorial inspiration, “his ground-breaking designs still influence and inspire me and the fashion world today, and maybe, just maybe, I would have loved to have partied in one of his gowns at Studio 54,” she says. However, her earliest encounters with fashion began at home.
Born into something of a design dynasty, Justine followed in the footsteps of her grandmother and great-grandmother, both of whom were seamstresses. Recalling a childhood spent in her grandmother’s sewing room, Justine says, “I remember being completely mesmerised by what she could create.” Herself learning to sew at age 14, she admits her teenage years were something of a distraction and with only a handful of items to show for her adolescent design dreams, the pull of partying, school and part-time jobs proved too much. “I also struggled to fund what I wanted to make,” she asserts. “It was quicker and easier for me to purchase an item off the rack and rip, dye or add to it rather than start from scratch.”
Her youth provided an excellent basis for the designer’s fashion savvy, however, and as adulthood set in Justine’s extensive knowledge of fabrics, print and dye methods and garment construction saw her develop a lucrative offshore manufacturing business, specialising in fashion and homewares. Running this business alongside sunny&finn and her family, Justine admits this has been her biggest struggle to date, “I would welcome any tips anyone may have?” Assigning herself a “knock-off time” in theory to switch back to mum-duty after school and on the weekends, like the majority of working mothers, Justine understands the work-in-progress that is having enough hours in the day to give everything and everyone the attention desired.
Eschewing the locked door of her home office for the craziness of the kitchen bench, she has found somewhat of a happy medium. “I can’t stand being locked in a room, although it may be more productive for some, I like to be amongst it and my crazy kids interrupting me every 2 minutes,” she says. “It’s a tad frustrating but it’s all part of being a working stay-at-home mum I guess. I’d much rather them interrupting me than be working for someone else and have them interrupt me!”
Designing with her kids in mind, Justine attributes this as the fundamental principle on which her brand is based. “Everything I do, I work to design something which will be useful for them and create it to fit their needs,” she says. Though practicality may be at the forefront of her design process, the look of her products are equally important, “I want to ensure that not just my children, but other children love it all as much as I do.”
Her design aesthetic strikes a balance between surf chic and hipster cool with a hint of bling thrown in for good measure, “I definitely agree with that interpretation,” says Justine, “I feel it is extremely representative of myself and my life.” The look and feel of sunny&finn is the ideal juxtaposition of the designer’s Melbourne roots and her new life in Bali, where she and her family recently relocated. “It is city meets beach,” she says, “While it has the practicality and modernity of the city, it has the beachy and relaxed vibes to accompany it.”
Scooting around Bali to source materials for her designs, Justine describes it as something of a minefield, “You need to be in the know here to get anywhere,” she says. But she reveals it is one of her favourite parts of the job. Besides, she says, “if I can’t find it, I’ll make it. Dye it, print it, cut it, rip it – I don’t give up easily.” On the subject of materials, she is currently in the process of crafting that leather baby bag that started it all. “After failed attempts, I still haven’t given up,” she says. “With all the amazing feedback I have received from the babygotback and the stylish and practical designs I’ve devised, this is currently being sampled.”
Her designs have certainly generated an extensive following, not least across the online social media community, “I love that I am able to create products that people love,” says Justine acknowledging the constant stream of positive feedback she receives, though equally she asserts that it’s no easy ride. “It’s hard hard hard work and you have to give 110%! I never estimated just how much work is involved.”
Her pursuit of success for sunny&finn however, means no amount of hard work is going to derail this talented lady. With a new look winter range in the works and her dream of launching the much-anticipated sunny&finn nappy bag by the end of 2016, Justine confesses that while the trademark babygotback has until this point been the hero of her collection, her leather dream may just usurp it in her affections.
On the topic of hero pieces, what is the hero of Justine’s own wardrobe? “Boots!! I wear boots with everything and they travel with me everywhere. They are just so versatile,” she says. In fact, the designer’s love of boots has infiltrated sunny&finn as the new season collection, which launches today includes her newest offering, the Zephyr Boot. The babygotboots put the style in versatile with interchangeable cuffs that mean one pair of boots, several styles for any discerning mini fashionista.
Starting this business prompted Justine to take a chance not only on something new, but most importantly on herself, something she invites everyone to do. “Through sunny&finn,” she says, “I hope children do that too by embracing the unique designs, and learning to be themselves.”