Jess Reese - Designer
After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in knitwear and working in the fashion industry, Jess started up James Street Co in 2018 focused on sustainability and effortless design.
Q: Where did your interest in fashion begin?
JR: From a young age, I always felt that I was going to own my own business. I was first attracted to fashion through styling and analyzing different silhouettes that were on the runway. From there I knew I wanted to be in the fashion industry.
Q: What gave you the confidence to start your own business so soon after graduating from FIDM?
JR: My intent was always to start my own business, but you can always talk yourself out of anything because of life and timing. The big push for me was when my husband Paul and I moved back to Utah. I had recently finished school and a job with an established brand, so I figured if I’m going to do this, then I just need to do it.
Q: How did you start your brand, and how was it navigating your own startup?
JR: I started the brand out of my house, I invested in some brother knitting machines, so I could start the business small and test the market. It also allowed me to be hands-on in literally every aspect of the business: designing, production, fulfillment, branding, and marketing. Let’s be honest, the biggest thing with starting a fashion brand is money, so by simplifying the process and starting very humbly, it helped me understand cost breakdown organically and test my market before investing in working with a factory. You never really know how much each piece is going to cost until you’re actually doing it. Everything is a variable, and knitwear is a pretty expensive market to go into - and as a new brand (that is not funded by investors) you have to really design with intent. Most factories do not like to take on small designers because it’s risky, and it will take time for them to grow and to afford larger quantities. So that was one of the reasons why I started it out of my house, and I wanted to work up to afford the minimums. My first collection produced in a factory wasn’t even a collection, it ended up being the first “winter set”, and then from that, I have added styles as the company has grown. All in all, there are so many ways to start a business and the industry has changed so much; so don't get discouraged if you can’t debut a runway 12 piece collection right out of the gate. The slow fashion movement in the industry shows that being specific with your products and being known for certain things is a great way to start out.
Q: Where do you find inspiration?
JR: I would say creating effortless, timeless pieces have always been at the forefront when designing pieces for James Street. Effortless is a word that has always inspired me in fashion. Of course, I love to see fun, new runway looks, but when designing I’m most inspired by women who are just cool, effortless, and confident as themselves. I feel like that never gets old. So that’s kind of what I want the ‘James Street woman’ to be.
Q: When you're creating a piece or collection, who is the woman you're designing for?
JR: I always try to design easy pieces to make women feel effortless and cool. Basically pieces women don’t have to think too much about when getting ready. I don’t ever really design trend-driven pieces, but rather pieces that will be cool and relevant for years to come. I try to always think: ‘If a woman was building a wardrobe with us from scratch, what would be the next thing she’d want?’ And that has been the “jumping off” point for each collection.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far?
JR: Making big financial choices on my own, and not having a guideline for really anything. A lot of it is becoming as knowledgeable as you can be in everything along the way. And the hope that what you’re creating will attract an authentic customer base that ‘grows’ with you and understands that small brands don’t come with a corporate setting. They come with a very small group of people (or even one person) making the decisions for a large customer base, but in return, there is a more personal connection between a brand and the customer, and a sense of community within the brand -- which I love and cherish.
Q: What do you hope to shift about the fashion industry?
JR: From my past jobs, I just saw a ton of waste in the industry. So when I started my brand, I decided to be a slow fashion brand from the beginning and make sustainability a priority from the get-go. Even though it's not the cheapest route and it's not the easiest route, I didn’t want to just be pumping out styles every week that had no thought or intention to them. Sometimes brands produce so much just to have new stuff on their website. I wanted to make everything with intent and purpose, and not have styles that are just “filler styles” - but everything has a specific place in the collection. One benefit of being able to be direct to consumer brand is that it allows us to make our own fashion calendar. Sure, we make collections pertaining to the season - but we don't remove them from the site once the season is done. Core styles, (like our knitted sets and the Lowe pullover), have become James Street staples, so we will produce them and leave them available until all yarn inventory is gone. Once the yarn is gone, that style and/or color is gone.