Meet co-founder and designer of cult-loved shoe label Mara & Mine, Jasmine Yarbrough. Travelling the world with best friend and business partner Tamie Ingham, Mara & Mine was concepted on vacation in Capri, as a stylish solution to a flat shoe that women can wear both day and night. As a former international model, Jasmine resides between Los Angeles and Sydney, and recently opened the label’s flagship boutique in Paddington.
Describe your title and roleI’m one of the co-founders and directors of Mara & Mine. My partner-in-crime, Tamie, and I both run the company and work across all aspects of the brand together, so we don’t have distinct titles. I’m now living in Sydney again and Tamie is based in Los Angeles, so our roles tend to be split more geographically, just because of the time zones; she is more involved in U.S. operations, and my recent focus has been on the Australian market.
What is your formal background?I started working in the fashion industry when I was just 18. You see a lot when you’re a model, not just backstage at the shows with the designers, but when you’re in their studios and ateliers. I got a peek into the inner workings of their creative processes, their references and methodology, how collections are developed and fine-tuned, and the way that they’re received by the industry. That experience became one of the things that charted my course into the fashion world. Because the thing is, I quickly realised I wanted to be on the other side of the industry; making it, not just wearing it.
Identifying a gap in the market prompted the launch of your footwear brand Mara & Mine. In the label’s formative years, how and where did you source all the right elements from production to design?You’re absolutely right; we saw an opportunity to create a brand that was all about flats – something we hadn’t seen before. The only flats that were around at the time were the ubiquitous ballet slippers – they were everywhere! Tamie and I were both living in L.A. at the time, and during a holiday together in Capri we noticed that chic Italian women wore flats out at night, to parties and with the most beautiful outfits. It was one of those “aha!” moments you sometimes have in life. We’d just never seen that before. So when we got back to Los Angeles, we began our research into textile sourcing and manufacturers right there in the downtown fashion district, because that’s where we were living. Los Angeles has its own creative landscape of makers, artisans and small-scale producers and it’s a good place to get something off the ground. One of the things I love the most about the fashion community in California is the way in which so many people are happy to help out by opening their little black book of contacts, making introductions and just generally being supportive. There’s a real spirit of genuine enthusiasm for seeing other people succeed. I love that. So we rolled up our sleeves and practically pounded the pavements in LA to find our first manufacturers. We just really believed in our idea, so we knocked on doors, cold called, and asked everyone we knew. Eventually we found our first great footwear manufacturer in LA, sourced leathers and textiles through them, and we were off. It certainly wasn’t a glamorous start (we were working from our kitchen table!), but we were absolutely persistent, and making it happen in the city we lived in was the most practical way of getting things off the ground. There’s not one part of the business that we haven’t managed ourselves. We learnt through trial and error. We did our own sales at the beginning. We’ve done everything ourselves from the very start – hands on is an understatement. At one point we had so many samples at my house, literally boxes piled on every surface, that I was like the woman that lived in her shoes!
How do you balance your business partnership with your best friend, Tamie?Our friendship is the anchor and the heart of our success. We have a deep respect for each other and try to play to each other’s strengths. We see our work together as an opportunity to grow and expand, both creatively and personally. Sometimes that support is about allowing each other the room to take risk and try new things, not always knowing how it’s going to turn out. This really came into play last year, when after 6 years of us both living in LA, I moved back to Sydney. It was a huge adjustment for us both. We had to find a new rhythm in both our business partnership and in our friendship. Knowing that we’re able to keep growing and changing – both within our business and also on a bigger-picture level when it comes to new chapters in our life – makes it all possible. We’re lucky to have each other.
What has been the most rewarding moment or project of your career pre or post Mara & Mine?It’s hard to pin it down to just one. There’s the ‘unsung hero’ of wins, the quiet kind, such as when we finally found our dream manufacturing partner, who has also been instrumental in guiding us through best practice with the production process. He’s so well respected in his field, and I’m proud that he’s both a friend and a mentor to me; something’s that a rarity in this business. Coming back to Australia after so many years away and opening our very first little boutique was a pinch-me moment. Just getting such a warm welcome and so much support on home shores meant the world to me. That opening night, when all of our friends piled into the first space that was truly ours, I’ll never forget that. I’m so proudly Aussie (I’ll always be a girl from Queensland!) that being able to do that has been one of the most fulfilling experiences for me personally.
What are the challenges you’ve faced in establishing your own business?Oh, where do I start? That list is long! It’s been a circus of curve balls and unexpected lessons. Believe it or not, the technical aspects of shoe construction are actually quite complex. Getting it right is crucial. We go through so many versions of each prototype, each with subtle differences, before we arrive at the perfect end result. It takes a lot of patience and an eye for detail. You just can’t rush it. Ensuring the highest quality product possible whilst staying within a certain price point is another challenge. It’s juggling figures and a lot of long hours with Excel spreadsheets and checking stock in warehouses – not exactly the glamorous world it looks like from the outside. I think almost all independent designers would agree with me that making the numbers work is a never-ending challenge.
Having major fashion celebrities like Cara Delevigne endorse the brand created immediate sell-through success. How important is the social and celebrity endorsement for a young brand?It’s so true - when it’s a celebrity that’s known for having great style, or someone that’s on the forefront of the fashion industry, that wears them, it can make something an overnight sell-out hit. The power of celebrity in the fashion world is undeniable. Cara Delevingne was the first celebrity to wear Mara & Mine, right at the very beginning, and it helped put us on the map. Since then, we’ve had everyone from American beauties like Kendall Jenner, Nicole Richie and Julianne Hough through to Victoria’s Secret girls like Alessandra Ambrosio and Candice Swanepoel wearing them. Candice was such a fan that we ended up collaborating with her to design a capsule of four styles that were completely vegan. Seeing celebrities out and about in Mara & Mine is still a little surreal for us though. We saw a photo of Margot Robbie wearing our skeleton slippers in London. She’d obviously just gone out and bought them, because that was the first we’d heard of it. Margot is one of our favourite Australian stars so I couldn’t stop smiling! We love having the Antipodean style brigade wearing the brand, and so having Aussie’s like Shanina Shaik, Jessica Gomes, Abby Lee Kershaw and Cat McNeil in Mara & Mine makes us proud.
What advice do you have for emerging designers influenced by your career path?Persistence. Don’t let mistakes or setbacks make you throw it all in. Push through all the challenges, no matter what anyone says, and be humble enough to learn from your mistakes. And the big one - you can get all the advice in the world but in the end, it’s your own intuition and instincts that determine your success in this industry, so you have to trust yourself.
Why was it the right time to open your first flagship in Sydney?This was the first time in Mara & Mine’s five-year history that either of us were based in Australia, so that was a huge reason. We both love Sydney and the idea of having our very first retail store here was something that just felt right. This city has an amazing fashion community and we both agreed that we wanted to be a part of it. In that way, Parlour X has always been a big inspiration to us. Watching Eva’s career over the years, I always looked up to her as someone I both respected and admired. She’s an incredibly successful female entrepreneur in fashion - someone who balances both career and family with such grace. I’ve been quietly taking notes, ha!
You travel a lot! What are your rituals or must-haves when packing?You’re going to laugh, but I think Korean sheet masks are the bomb on flights. I take them with me where ever I go. I also always have a stash of Airborne effervescent tablets for a quick vitamin C hit when I’m travelling. I wear our Aquarius Zodiac satin mules whenever I’m flying. They’re a dream to wear - super soft, light and comfortable - which make them great for getting through airports and long-haul travel.
Describe your style philosophy.I buy sparingly as I like to invest in pieces that last; mostly neutral staples that see me through season after season, and then I throw in quirky, fun pieces to mix it up in between. My new favourites are Ellery earrings that I’m wearing on the daily. I love wearing Australian designers especially when I’m overseas away – represent, baby! I guess you could call me a minimalist – I like pared back silhouettes and clean lines. Nothing cluttered or complicated and a lot of black. And of course, flats with everything! I’m not afraid to wear flats to a party or underneath an amazing long dress – they can be so chic, no matter what the occasion.
Jasmine wears Celine from Parlour X; image by Vogue Australia