‘Wearable Art’: A Conversation with Nashville Design Duo Jamie + The Jones

 In Feature, Style

Imagine vibrant basics made-to-order with a luxe, imaginative twist. Imagine boxy canvas tops and pocket dresses breezing by on a summer day. Imagine jaunty jewel and earth tones beckoning from the closet. Now, imagine two young Nashville-based designers totally stoked to make it all happen.

Jamie Frazier and Hannah Jones met as students at O’More College of Design in Franklin, Tennessee, and paired up shortly after to launch their own line–affably dubbed “Jamie + The Jones”–with the goal of crafting “whimsical and wearable silhouettes that can be worn on any occasion.”

In a world of fast fashion and homogeneous pinks, the J+J approach is refreshing—a splash of energy and earnestness at a time when both can feel in short supply. The duo recently introduced the new “Color Campaign,” in which clients receive an array of color swatches by mail before making an order, selecting from colors such as amethyst, blush, umber and emerald. The result is slow fashion at its best.

Keep reading for our interview with Frazier and Jones.

Jamie + The Jones Nashville Designer Alive Magazine

You met in design school, and the result seems to be a real synergy of creative forces. Can you share more about your story of coming together? Did you gravitate toward each other as friends or as colleagues?
J: We were just talking about this. We were each other’s competition! Both of us want to be the best, apparently, at what we do. One of the big deals at O’More is getting to make your own line your junior and senior years, but as sophomores we had a couple of garments that could go down the runway. When we realized that our pieces were very similar—that we both like a slow process of making things, color-blocking, details, things like that—we finagled a way to have our garments go down the line together so that it looked like our collection was bigger. In essence, our other competition would look smaller. After that, it kind of just happened. We never talked about it, or said, “We’re going to be partners,” or anything like that. We just thought, “We’re going to keep doing this together and see if anyone opposes it.” But no one did, and we just kept going.
H: Our strengths are very different, so we work together well. In school, Jamie was always really interested in construction, sewing and pattern-making—all the stuff that I hated. I loved the visual side of putting together muse boards and illustrations. When we merged, it felt really natural. It was never even in question how we could work together.

So you played to each other’s strengths and interests. How long has J+J been around?
J: We actually started our brand and line as juniors in 2009, and after we graduated, we thought we’d take a break. We considered moving to other places to get jobs and experience. But the recession was right around that time, so we were forced to make it work. We always had different part-time jobs—teaching and working for other artists and designers—but we started J+J for real, in terms of business licensing and bank account, in 2010.

You make everything made-to-order. Do you have a storefront as well, or is it all online?
H: We have a showroom, and recently moved to a new space where we now have a full warehouse where we do manufacturing. It reminds us of a little compound. We have a little house in the front where our shows are, a break room and fitting room, and a space for making the clothes.

So many artists and designers are flocking to Nashville. How do you perceive J+J as both part of the Nashville design scene and distinct within it?
J: When we graduated, there actually weren’t very many designers around. I can count maybe five on my hand who existed at the time. Back then, we were known as the ones who were still embroidering or hand-beading during a show or pop-up shop. We were doing it as we were selling things. That was our thing: the slow process of it. The hand-marbling of fabric as well—we never bought a print. Part of our deal is that we make our own prints.

I still don’t know if there any design teams in Nashville. It seems to be mostly individuals or a person with their spouse. We’re distinctive in our approach to fashion and also in that we’re a team.

Jamie + The Jones Nashville Designer Alive Magazine

It seems like J+J focuses more on textiles and prints than a lot of other designers—that the feel of the fabric is even more important than its appearance.
J: Definitely. We love raw silk, the texture, and finding different fabrics. In school, everyone has the same resources, and that’s when we realized that we weren’t going to buy a print. We were going to make our own. We also love hand-weaving. Anything that’s hand-worked seems to have a totally different texture, and we think that makes the design so much better.

When many think of silk, they think of something fussy and delicate. But with your raw silk, there’s a mix of luxury and practicality—many of your garments can be machine-washed, for example. The fabric feels emblematic of something larger, of what you’re about.
H: We knew nothing about raw silk when we were back in college. Our mentor Teresa Hayes—who we marbled fabric with—taught us about silk in general. The truth is it’s one of the most durable fibers out there. Even silk charmeuse—that seems like you can’t even touch it or wear it—she taught us how to wash it, dry it, whatever. We discovered raw silk through her, and started trying to figure out how to incorporate something more basic into our design aesthetic. It was durable, and something you can continuously wear—and is offered in so many colors. We started trying it out on our silhouettes and it just stuck.
J: Nowadays a lot more small designers—and big designers—are using raw silk again, but in the ’70s and ’80s it was really popular for home sewing. We started using it, and it’s become a lot more prevalent in fashion around the same time. I don’t know why it fell out of popularity for so long.
H: Raw silk is pretty much the remnants of the silkworm, kind of the lower-end silk that’s made from the pulp, or short ends, of what’s leftover from other silk fabrics, and that fell out of favor.

The ’90s and early 2000s witnessed the rise of fast fashion—you two do the reverse. What are the challenges of making garments to order? Do you see J+J as possibly expanding beyond that, or is that aspect fundamental to your process?
J: I don’t think that [being] made-to-order is central to how we run. It works well for our business plan at the moment, but honestly, we would love to have things in stock in the future. The thing is, for small businesses and especially companies like ours—where the cost of the fabric is more than it is for companies in fast fashion—it helps our business model because we’re able to gauge demand before putting up a huge investment into making garments in a size-run or color-run. It cuts down on waste as well, because we’re not making clothes that may not sell. In the long run we’d like to continue with this model, but also add things in stock. We’ve built our business such that we aren’t season to season, so things don’t go away. So, it wouldn’t be a problem if certain items stayed in stock for a while. We would love to eventually be able to offer that.

Your aesthetic strikes me as a kind of bohemian minimalism. A lot of minimalism can be very cold, yet yours has a warm and vibrant feeling.
H: It’s funny because we developed the silhouettes we have now when we were in college, and at the time everything was very fitted and tailored. We were like, “Can’t we just wear a bag?” [laughs] J: We were learning how to drape on a model form, and they wanted fitted pants. We wanted a boxy shirt, and, at the time, that was just not a thing. We had all these patterns for what we called “box tees”—and those are now very trendy. I think many clothes are even called “box tops” for so many companies, and we came up with that in college with that name. It’s just so funny.

Jamie + The Jones Nashville Designer Alive Magazine

Collaboration is clearly a big part of your design ethos. Who are some other makers you’ve collaborated with in Nashville?
J: We’ve collaborated with Teresa Hayes for marbling, and some of our friends for our embroidered top, and a farm called Little Seeds to make “Potion #1,” our all-around scent. These days we collaborate with weavers all over the country, one in Chicago and one in New York.
H: With our business, we love working with artisans and people who can technically do something better than we can [laughs]. That’s one reason Instagram is awesome because we can find these people and actually connect and collaborate with them. So, we’re not specifically set on collaborating with people in Nashville, because there’s such a wide range of people we work with.
J: When we first met, both of us thought that if we didn’t know how to do something, we had to learn how to do it. One time Hannah learned how to knit and I learned how to crochet—literally just for that collection! We learned how to bead, embroider—all of it. One of the judges at our senior presentation said to us, “You do know that you cannot do everything yourselves.” And we were like, “Yeah, we can.” But that was the one thing we really should have listened to. We can want to do everything, but the best collaborations start when you find someone who can actually do certain things better than you, so that you can do something better than you can even imagine.

There’s a real beauty to the humility of saying, “Actually, this person does this way better than I do!” That’s not just a design skill, but a life skill. What makes you both excited about making and designing these days?
H: [laughs] Recently someone just asked us what we love to do in our down time, and we said, “Actually, we just love being at our studio.”
J: A few years ago we took a hiatus, just to make sure we were on the right path. When we came back, we were working nonstop, morning till night, and it seemed like our business was kind of stagnant. So we took a step back and asked what we were missing, and realized, “We need to live life.” When we did that, our business started moving, growing, and we have more time to enjoy our family and friends. We now have found our lives and we’ve found what we enjoy—and we really enjoy being here, doing what we love.

What happened when you stepped back that helped your company grow?
H: We were trying to push things so much without really understanding who we were as a business. Once we developed three silhouettes that we would wear constantly, we started to think about what our customers would actually want and then how to blend in who we were. Through Instagram, we were able to slowly introduce people to our idea of color and texture and print. It was an opportunity to think about what and who our customer is.

J: It’s that really cliché phrase, “Work smarter, not harder.” We realized we could be more efficient in the things we were doing, rather than spending hours on end spinning our wheels. Our business became much savvier, and our designs rose to a different level.

All photography by Brett Warren.

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