Gretchen Jones is rocking the West Coast. After returning to her former home of Portland, Oregon,the accomplished designer behind her eponymous label has joined the design team at beloved American heritage brand Pendleton. In addition, she’s launched “The Neutral Territory”, a year long experiment in fashion without color.
I chat with the designer, the Project Runway (season 8) winner and 2012 inductee into GenArt’s “Fresh Faces in Fashion”, about everything from her inspiration and design process to tips for emerging designers and the wisdom she’s picked up along the way in an exclusive interview, below.
Guest column written by REBECCA MIR GRADY
Rebecca Mir Grady: You have a great sense for patterns - I especially like how you mix them with solid prints in your most recent collection - FW13. The patterns and hues make me think of landscapes outside of New York, where you lived when you designed this last collection.
Do you travel for inspiration or get inspiration from landscapes you know? I can definitely see American West influences in your work—I like it.
Gretchen Jones: I grew up in rural Colorado, lived in Boulder CO from 2000-06, then lived in Portland OR from 06-10… and NYC for the last 3 years. I haven’t been able to afford myself international travel, so I do TONS of R&D for each collection and read a lot. I let that be my way of travel.
However, I do believe travel and experience are vital for inspiration and ‘newness’ in long term portfolios. I am now in a position where I can actually afford to travel abroad, and will.
Also - I think finding a unique and special back story to your process and inspiration season to season is imperative to your success.
RMG: What were your first steps to starting your line? What lessons did you learn in the beginning? Do you have any advice for starting out?
GJ: I’m a clothing designer, not a jewelry designer [I do both, but accessories are just that- accessories to my greater work] and my advice for any young clothing designers is to NOT be indie, you can’t make enough money to afford development of collections, sales, pr, production costs, etc.
I also am high end and that is a different game. i know many successful indie clothing designers who stuck to one simple concept - small collections - and are making it.
My aesthetics came with epic costs and a heavily competitive market. Humility and patience and perspective are important for success. And huge financial backing…or working for a design house/brand.
Someone like you with a simple, affordable start up company [in comparison] needs to approach their label differently than I did. Sell locally, do shows like Renegade Craft Fair in your region, keep costs low, build a following and cash flow. Walk into the boutiques you want to be in and build a relationship with them, then get in them!
When you reach 10-15 stockists, start thinking about affordable trade shows in LA/Las Vegas/NYC. Do NOT pay for a pr company until years 3-5. Get on the real fashion schedule for production and sales. Also, create quality [and industry standard] marketing materials to accompany your collections. Use social media as a resource.
RMG: How did you get exposure for your line early on? Did you find any pr/marketing strategies useful when you were getting started?
GJ: I went on a national television show, competed and won. That is not really an option for most. Do NOT spend money for actual trade shows/sales showrooms or pr firms until you already can cover their costs through your established sales. Grow organically.
Image courtesy of Gretchen Jones.
"R&Design" is a monthly interview series that features jewelry designer Rebecca Mir Grady, who launched a debut jewelry collection under her eponymous label in 2013, in conversation with new and established designers. The monthly guest column is a platform for the exchange of ideas, advice, and fashion-focused research and development strategies. Follow Rebecca’s adventures on Twitter,Facebook, and Instagram. This article first appeared on PastFashionFuture in January 2014."