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Fashion

JESS LENEY TILLETT & NAOMI WATKINS [@j.a.m.studios]

“We are J.A.M Studios; Jess Leney Tillett and Naomi (Nam) Watkins. We went to Kingston University together where we met and our story began. By second year we were living together and the more we worked around each other we realised how similar our design aesthetic and morals were as well as growing a huge appreciation for each other’s work. We’ve lived together ever since and we’re now based in Tooting, London, in a small flat/studio (much to our tidy boyfriends’ dismay). We make everything we sell with our own four hands, sewing every stitch and VERY patiently threading every bead ourselves. Imagine us as your older, slightly eccentric sisters sewing you fucking steezy pieces of clothing to match ours. Part of what we think makes J.A.M so great is that we recognise that fashion is not sustainable and that something needs to shift. But everyone wants clothes that make them smile when they look at them. Our response to this is to
use discontinued fabrics and trimmings whenever we possibly can, which comes at a price – it takes time, effort and money to source and the quantity and choice is limited, sometimes affecting the designs of our pieces. But we also believe this is what makes us so special; every decision
regarding materials has been deliberated over (with a glass of wine to help decide) to make it right for the environment and our customers.”

Starting your own fashion label is a huge step to take, what motivated you both to start J.A.M? What have you learnt throughout the process?

We have always talked about starting our own brand together since the start of Uni, but never had the opportunity or balls to take the plunge. We are now both at the right time in our lives to have a J.A.M baby. We have such a huge appreciation for so many fashion brands that we love, however we’ve always felt we would like to put our own spin on it. Finding a fashion brand to work at with the same aesthetic and morals is hard, so we are filling that hole with J.A.M! This gives us the freedom to do whatever we want, in a way that suits us and our ethics. There is a gap in the market for J.A.M, for clothing and accessories that are fun and environmentally conscious, without using hemp all the time. 

We are still learning so much, we feel like we have barely started and have a lot to figure out still. But so far we are staying afloat and having a great time doing it. It’s the skills we didn’t even consider that we are really pushing ourselves to get savvy at; for example, Instagram marketing is a lot harder than you think. As people, we are relatively modest about our work so trying to push and market our brand has been a big confidence lesson, we don’t like being pushy but apparently that’s what you need to do to sell, sell, SELL! Another thing we have had to adapt to is juggling a full-time job with J.A.M, there are simply not enough hours in the day. We would love an extra few hours a day for J.A.M please. 

J.A.M’s Handmade Flower Bead Necklace

Where do you draw most of your inspiration from? 

We start with individual visual research around a vague theme, then come together with our separate takes on the buzzword themes. We seem to spiral into a frenzy of inspiration, bouncing imagery ideas off each other and getting more excited with every juicy new picture. We both contribute different things and have our own unique way of approaching the theme and mood- board. Jess focuses on photographers from all eras that she’s drooled over as well as historic fashion garments, and Naomi offers incredible artists that are more textural to inspire the fabrication and heel-clicking textile techniques. Although we try to keep our research authentic by basing it on photography and design textbooks, we have to admit that Instagram is a massive influence; we all know that social media has its drawbacks but it’s also a great source of visual imagery. And we get very excited when we’ve both screenshotted the same post. #inspo.

As J.A.M is a relatively new label to the world, do you have any additional side hustles?

We both have full-time jobs so this is our side hustle at the moment, it’s our little baby. Naomi is working and currently looking for a new job in all this quarantine madness, and Jess is working as a freelance junior designer for Mira Mikati in London. We have to pay the bills and the cost of getting this company going, but we put most of our free time into this so that hopefully one day it will be our main bae.

Where would you love to see J.A.M in the next five years?

In five years’ time we would love to see J.A.M standing on its own four feet running around in beautiful clothes with all its little fashion friends. It would be great if this could be our full time job by that time, with a cult following and loyal customers that love everything as much as we do. It would be a dream to have a proper studio so we don’t keep covering our carpets in thread and maybe even an employee of our own.

“We’re not big and glitzy but want to keep it for the homegirls.”

If you could have any celebrity to be the face of J.A.M, who would you choose and why?

We don’t really look to celebrities as idols for our brand. We’re not big and glitzy but want to keep it for the homegirls. We do however love a lot of influencers on Instagram, especially the Copenhagen babes. Some of our favourites are @annawinck and @simonenoa. They wear a lot of the same brands that we align with as well as having a very playful, colourful style that we appreciate. Their lifestyle as a whole we adore, from their pink patterned plates to the funkiest of hats, we love it all.

Which were the most useful skills you acquired at Uni?

The main skill we both think we learnt from Uni was time management. You have to plan things and set realistic goals. Learning to juggle and be proactive in setting your own path is key to making any business work. A huge part of Uni for both of us was how much it built our confidence and stretched our minds with creative ideas. Working alongside so many inspirational people and tutors taught us about how important community and collaboration is. We learnt so many practical skills while at Uni, from pattern cutting, to knitting, to all-nighters on illustrator. We are hugely thankful for our Uni experience because it’s enabled us to do what we are doing now, as well as provide the foundation for our business – we met on the first day of Uni and have been best friends ever since.

J.A.M’s Sterling Silver Handmade Flower Bead Earrings

Have either of you taken part in any Internships/work experience? If so where and what did you get out of it?

We have both dipped our toes into the mad world of internships, and have more than a few under our colourful belts and a few stories to tell. Jess’ most influential internship was with Victoria Beckham… Spicy. Although we were always told to be creative in Uni, internships open your eyes to the business side of the industry and you have to reign it all in again and the whole experience can be quite intimidating. But Jess’ boss became more of a mentor figure and told her to be creative, drape, draw, enjoy fabrics, jump on a train to another country to do interviews, do whatever it takes to keep fashion an art form instead of losing it to the corporate bureaucracy. Naomi’s craziest internship was with Chanel in Paris as a textile designer, which was super exciting and pinch-yourself mad to be around people she had looked up to for so long; what she learnt most is how to deal with big egos and scary office politics though. Devil Wears Prada isn’t fictional ladies and gents.

Is there anything you’d both like to add?

Making this company work so smoothly is mostly down to that fact that there are two of us. When one of us is busy or life gets in the way, the other is always there to pick up the slack. We get so excited about what we’re doing and we hype each other up even if it’s just a small thing like making the perfect flower bead or stamping a label perfectly… We go crazy. Also a bonus is that we get to spend every day together making cool shit and laughing through the whole of it. It’s not easy, cheap or as glamorous as you’d think but boy oh boy it’s sweet, like jam. 

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