GET TO KNOW: ZOE FROM JOYN
Meet Zoe Tuckey, Lead Designer at JOYN, creators of ethically produced
handmade bags from India.
Zoe holds the creative vision behind their handcrafted products and oversees how they put into practice their values of caring for people and the planet in all that they do. Zoe grew up in India and lives with her family in Rajpur, a little town nestled at the foothills of the Himalayas, where JOYN’s manufacturing studio is based.
Interview by Rowena Price for HEY GIRL.
“We envision a world where community is connected to the art of hand making – the practice of choosing slow and spending our time to create products that deserve to exist in our world.”
RP: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Zoe! Tell us more about JOYN – what’s the brand all about?
ZT: JOYN is a brand that strives to do business differently, creating a circular ecosystem where all considerations of the supply chain are taken into account and where the people and craftsmanship behind each product are honoured. It was started in 2011 by Melodie Murray, who was living in the Rajpur area with her family and wanted to help the arts of India to keep going in the local area. Rajpur is a tiny community in the mountains in the middle of nowhere and hardly anybody knows about it. She had been in textiles and, enamoured by the artistic expression of block printing, thought it would be a good way to create more opportunities for local women to learn the artform and new skills, and to gain employment. So she started small, teaching a few people and working with local artisan groups. That team grew – we currently have around 40 employees – and here we are, over ten years later!
RP: Your website talks about many of the local women you worked with in the early days coming out of trafficking and abusive situations…
ZT: Yes, that’s what the brand was established on – helping people get jobs with fair wages in ethical conditions as part of a community, as well as fueling the local arts industry. We’ve worked with a lot of local women who wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to be employed in this way – a lot of their husbands were drinking and they were just trying to provide for their families.
RP: JOYN is part of the global fashion industry, an industry facing constant scrutiny, particular in terms of ethics, social justice and sustainability. What role do brands like yours have to play here?
ZT: We try to lead by doing, not just saying, take action on a consistent basis, and avoid grand gestures whilst keeping a handle on our contribution to the mess. On a basic level, people will always consume – we know that. For us it’s about how and what is consumed, and a consideration of balancing our values of people and planet together. If people are our priority the planet must be too. Yes, we make new products, but we do so slowly and mindfully and make products built to last as sustainably as possible. We actively work to purchase remnant leathers and sustainable materials so that we can make our bags without going through the high impact processes of tanning and dying so that, wherever possible, we create beauty with what the earth has already given us. We choose not to mass produce, but work with small, sustainable production runs, each time creating a small batch of handcrafted products, making each one beautifully unique. I’m personally driven to keep holding us to high standards in terms of our employees’ experience – we really look after the people that work for us – as well as the nature of what we produce.
RP: How would you describe the work you do?
ZT: Since coming back from maternity leave it’s been more of a part time situation. Usually the beginning of a season is the busiest time – developing ideas, gathering inspiration and sketching new collections. And I like to see it through to the end – so I work with Amy on how it’s going to be photographed, the accompanying wardrobe and the creative expression of what those products mean. I love the whole process. An average week is based on what is needed at that time of the season – I’ll go into the manufacturing unit, for example, to work with the team there to mix the right colours, order the block designs, choose the fabrics and oversee the development of the prints. No two days are the same – it’s really exciting, varied work and I feel like I’m the luckiest person.
RP: Your role at JOYN isn’t something you’d done before joining the company. What was it like learning those new skills?
ZT: At the time I started I had total imposter syndrome, like, ‘What am I doing?!’. Also being very aware of being white and female and outside of the culture in some senses, in spite of having lived in India for over 30 years. But in some ways it worked to my advantage because I knew nothing and had everything to learn. So I learnt a lot! I went into the production unit and said ‘I have this idea… is it possible?’ and it pushed peopleand became this collaborative effort because of my limitations and our different skill sets. As I look back I can see that that sense of collaboration was, and is, what it’s all about.
RP: What role does creativity play in your daily life?
ZT: I think I always find a way to be creative, even in the lulls. I took up weaving recently – there was this big loom at work and I took it home and started weaving – it’s all therapy, really. I’m not very good at being in the moment so it’s good for me. I’ve always really appreciated textile and design and art, and always had this beant towards creativity and tried to do stuff with my hands since I was young. I have another background in music so it was always going to be design or music – I initially went with music and toured with a band for a while and organised creative events where we did music and poetry and workshops and that sort of thing. It’s creativity or nothing for me – it’s an outlet for expression, I have to or I’ll go mad!
RP: How do you overcome creative blocks?
ZT: It’s a real tough one and show’s itself in different ways with different artforms. Like with songwriting, when I hit a wall, I just want to smash my guitar and say ‘That’s it, I’m done!’. But with other stuff – like weaving – I find it really intuitive, so if I hit a wall I think ‘no I need to finish this, even if it sucks and even if I don’t like it in the end, it’s the process that’s important and not the outcome’.
RP: It’s such a different slant on a creative process when you’re attaching to an outcome, thinking ‘I’ve got to sell this, what will people think of it?’…
ZT: Absolutely. Previously I was all about ‘how can it be the best, how will it be seen by others’ – it’s so hard to get out of that mindset of how the final product will be seen, how it can be sold and thinking about how it’s going to be validated by other people. All these thoughts go through your head. But I know that if I can get out of that zone and focus on the fact that this is good for me and I need to do it because I can find myself in it, I can overcome the blocks much better, one step at a time.
RP: What’s your personal definition of empowerment? What does that word mean to you?
ZT: I’ve gone round in circles about this because it’s been misused a lot. When the word ‘empowerment’ is used it can sometimes indicate a power imbalance. I don’t think anyone can really ‘empower’ somebody else, I think it has to come from within. I think it’s more like being a friend, and when you’re being a friend to somebody and you’re seeing and hearing each other mutually then you’re both going to rise. If you’re in it together then you’re empowering each other – it’s more mutual and leaves no room for inequality, I would say.
RP: When do you feel most empowered?
ZT: When I’ve pushed through something that I didn’t allow myself to do before. Where I feel like I just can’t do it or I’m not good enough. My husband is really good at asking the right questions in those moments, helping me realise I can do it and it’s not impossible. When I overcome things like that then I feel empowered.
RP: You’ve talked about togetherness being conducive to mutual empowerment. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given about working together and collaborating with others?
ZG: I’m not sure about advice specifically, but I’ve learned over time about when to take the lead, when to step back, and choose your collaborators consciously. If you can go in with the mindset of knowing that you have something to learn here, with an open attitude, it’s probably going to go much better for you.
RP: HEY GIRL believes that creativity is an incredibly powerful force in the world. How do you see that power being harnessed currently and what impact do you want it to have?
ZT: I’m always blown away by how impactful creativity is in terms of changing the world. I remember watching a documentary (I can’t remember what it’s called now!) about how a place in America was transformed through the arts, putting art everywhere and the act of creative expression changing things for people. We often talk about ‘what is it about art that’s so transformational for people?’ – and it’s often intangible. But we’ve all experienced it in our own lives – listening to music or seeing a picture or photo and something changes. I think it just needs to keep happening. Art is this explosion of everything that you can’t say, and often it’s most powerful when it’s expressed by people who have been suppressed or haven’t had the opportunity to be heard – it’s powerful and completely beautiful.
“Trust your inner voice – hold on to that inner wisdom and stay the course.”
RP: Tell us about your creative influences – who or what inspires you?
ZT: It’s more people and artists that I know rather than famous people. There have been people in my own life that have come at the right time and done something spectacular that I’ve seen and it’s magic when that happens.
RP: ‘Positivity’ in the media is often portrayed as either toxically present or demonstrably absent. What’s your relationship with the concept of positivity today?
ZT: I really don’t like toxic positivity. I wouldn’t say I’m an extremely positive person – I’m down the middle, a realist, I guess. But I guess positivity is a nice way of getting yourself out of fight or flight more and seeing potential in challenging situations and shifting perspective.
RP: What one piece of advice would you give to your 16 year old self?
ZT: Trust your inner voice – hold on to that inner wisdom and stay the course.
RP: What’s your hope for 2023?
ZT: I hope for more adventure for all of us! It’s been a tough few years, so action and adventure and new experiences would be wonderful.
RP: That does sound wonderful! Thanks again for taking the time to chat with us and allowing us to shine a spotlight on your inspiring work.
Discover more about JOYN, their products and brand story at www.joynbags.com