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I Need to Know: What made clothing label Mr Winston a Melbourne status symbol?

IMAGE VIA @MRWINSTONCO/INSTAGRAM
WORDS BY GENEVIEVE PHELAN

Unpacking the leisurewear label’s meteoric rise.

If you live South of the Yarra and are a 20-something reading Fashion Journal, you’ve likely been exposed to numerous sightings of Mr Winston: a softwear brand born in Melbourne. You’ll have heard about its hard-to-get drops and sporadic releases of coveted jumpers, tees and other off-duty wear.

The acquisition of a Mr Winston jumper, for some, has become akin to a sport. Others may be baffled by the label’s omnipresence. I say this with the most objectivity and matter-of-factness, but from face value, Mr Winston’s leisurewear-style hoodies and tees are seemingly nonremarkable.


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What is bewildering, however, is Mr Winston’s steady, sustained, considered and self-driven rise to fame. Its clothes-on-back, retro-ish marketing, is driven organically via word of mouth and real-life sightings. Mr Winston rejects paid advertising, publicity and influencer marketing.

Turns out, they’ve relied on old-school tactics, a strong work ethic, sustainability, distinct branding and on-trend dressing to reach such localised notoriety. And I’m not exaggerating. I recall going to the Moonlight Cinema a few weeks ago with a girlfriend when the desire for this investigation latched on – we counted a solid nine or so technicolour Mr Winston hoodies on the backs of young, teen or 20-something girls in the duration of the trailers alone.

We thought, how? How have you turned a homogenous, run-of-the-mill, low-key piece of comfy wear and made it something so immensely sought-after in this city? Whether or not Mr Winston holds real estate in your wardrobe, the label’s foothold in the zeitgeist is undeniable.

Here, we catch up with Ella Davidson, co-founder of the Melbourne brand on the trajectory she’s been on to establish such sweeping success. For budding designers, or fellow curious onlookers (like me), Ella’s take is one worth reading. 

Ella! Please walk us through the beginnings of Mr Winston – your ideation, your why, the timeline, and how it came to being.

My mum and I launched Mr Winston (named after our 14-year-old golden retriever) in 2017. Prior to this, I had years of experience sourcing and selling vintage clothing. I learnt very quickly what garments were in high demand and what to look for. In my view, careful selection of garments, stylised photography and an eye for detail is key to success. I always searched for items I would like to own and wear myself. 

I continually found cool vintage garments that I wanted to adjust and change. I wanted to start a business that created garments I could not find but wanted to buy. My mother Karen and I started discussing our shared interest in starting a business from scratch. We shared a clear vision and desire to work hard in order to produce a new and exciting label.

We had completely different skillsets and experience, which was great. Karen is very creative and has come from a background of design, manufacture and self-employment in business. We
combined all our skills and launched our first drop in February 2017. We complement each other and share a love of what we do. We are a great team.

 

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A post shared by MR WINSTON (@mrwinstonco)

Tell me about the brand’s local manufacturing. Is this important to you, and how is it executed?

We feel very proud that we have been able to local manufacture as [much as] we possibly can, especially during the difficult times experienced by so many over the past few years. It is not always possible to manufacture everything here, but we love the idea of supporting local businesses and have developed great relationships and teams of people that have worked tirelessly for us.

We cannot thank them enough for all their help when we were just getting started. All our teams bring different skillsets and experience which makes our company stronger. At present, we are proud to say that we manufacture all our garments locally, even producing and dyeing our own fabric when possible. Ethical manufacturing is extremely important to our company and it’s nice to see that our customers also hold value to that. 

How did the logo come to life? Do you think this is a fundamental attribute of the brand?

We decided to keep the Mr Winston logo unisex, so we didn’t pigeonhole ourselves into a particular style. We also loved the appearance of puff print and wanted to use it on our first Mr Winston Sport collection. It took a few months of development to figure out which direction the Sport logo should go down.

The final logo drew inspiration from a video campaign by the late Virgil Abloh for Louis Vuitton. This style reminded us of street art but also had a feminine twist. Our type complimented the puff technique perfectly and we think this logo was a pivotal moment for our business.

 

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Was there a pivotal moment, or a series of things you did, to propel Mr Winston’s popularity?

A pivotal moment for us was the launch of our locally made Mr Winston Sport Collection in November of 2020. From 2017, we developed our labels sense of style and a vibe. This time and development was essential and gave us the confidence to start producing garments displaying our brand name. We soon found people wanting to walk around with the Mr Winston logo on their clothes.

The demand for our label is now overwhelming and amazing. We started selling our range in an unconventional way, in limited fast-paced drops. As a result of this selling method, our Instagram started to gain followers at a rapid rate. This is a great problem to have, but has made it extremely challenging for us to meet demand. We are always striving to improve everything we do and have big, exciting plans for the future.

You haven’t opted for traditional media (i.e. PR or magazine placement). What role has influencer marketing played? Or is there another superpower you think Mr Winston has to thank for its triumph?

We really haven’t used influencer marketing at all. Every now and then I come across cool people that I’d love to see in our garments, but I think a lot of our success has come from our fast-paced drops and word of mouth. These drops were chaotic and it really became a talking point for those who were successful or missed out.

We spent a lot of last year just focusing on improving the way the business flows, so we didn’t involve ourselves in marketing much at all (in terms of giving out product, PR and paid ads). I hold a lot of weight around our content and I think this has definitely contributed to our success and appeal. I look forward to doing some more fun and creative things this year around marketing.

Mr Winston has become a status symbol among Melbourne’s Gen Z, predominantly female crowd. Was this always your intention?

I came from a business that targeted mostly to Gen Z girls and I think I learnt a lot about what they want to see and how they want to see it. When we started Mr Winston, we really had no expectations and have been riding the wave ever since. It’s so crazy to see it on the streets and we’re so thankful to those who continue to support us.

 

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A post shared by MR WINSTON (@mrwinstonco)



How does Mr Winston tackle issues like sustainability and individuality to avoid mass-production and homogeneous style?

We recently re-introduced Mr Winston Re-Work. This is a collection of one-of-one recycled garments that have been re-worked by our team. This is an arm of the business that we are incredibly proud of. Giving new life to discarded items is a great collaboration of the old and new. 

For fellow emerging brand-builders, what would your best pieces of advice be?

I’d say consistency and patience are key. It’s easy to focus on and feel pressured by how much exposure there is to other brands and similar businesses. What’s been important for us is to focus inward and stay consistent, no matter how much the business changes or grows.

Not letting the pressure of perceived success distract from what your brand is about. Nothing happens overnight. I’d say remember what the fundamental reasons were for starting, and make sure that reflects what you create and the way you operate all the way through.

What do you see in Mr Winston’s future? How will you differentiate the brand to avoid plateau or stagnation? 

The summer break has given us a great opportunity to take a deep breath and think about the future of Mr Winston. We want to remain unpredictable, so we have a lot of exciting new products and ideas in the pipeline. We are in the midst of renovating a tailor’s building here in Melbourne, which we believe will really shape the brand and open up a lot of exciting opportunities for us. 

Genevieve Phelan is Fashion Journal’s Lifestyle & Careers Columnist. Her writing fuses introspection with investigation, calling on her own personal anecdotes and the advice of admired experts in the realms of intimacy, money, friendship, careers and love. You can find her here and here.

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