JESSICA WOLF DESIGNS

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An American-born Australian, classically trained artist and former art educator, Jessica Wolf moved with her husband to Australia (Central Coast of NSW) in November 2009. In an effort to adjust to the cost of living and buy items that they needed for what might be temporary residency, Jessica was brought back to her love of second-hand shopping. Three years later, they decided to pursue permanent residency and relocated to Northcote, in Melbourne’s inner north. It is here that Jessica’s design story began. Now living in Newcastle, NSW, she shares her adventure of becoming part of the slow fashion movement.

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After our move to Melbourne, High Street and the many op shops and quirky independent retailers near Fitzroy helped me to recognise that I was a repeat offender of the fast fashion industry, so I made a conscious choice to buy second-hand and locally handmade – to buy less and focus on good quality items. It was cool knowing that I could buy something from a maker who lived in my own community, and eventually I was inspired to join the club. I visited my local sewing shop and inquired about lessons; I made the commitment to learn how to sew in 2013. The course of study began with basic fundamentals and over time, progressed to basic pattern drafting. Learning to sew made me a more discerning shopper and gave me the confidence to create garments and accessories for myself. This was an awakening of my creative spirit which I didn’t have time to nurture when I was teaching art full time and busy championing the creativity of my students. I was finally walking the talk, so to speak, and so began my entrepreneurial story.

When I began sewing, I experimented with making bags, tops, skirts, dresses, bub clothes, and even dog accessories, creating things that I would actually wear and use. After posting photos of what I had made for myself, some friends overseas responded very positively to what I was creating, and placed orders for my handmade creations. And so, by the encouragement of others, and quite serendipitously, Jessica Wolf Designs was born.

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In the early days of my handmade business journey, I started by joining a few local Melbourne markets, and I opened an Etsy Shop. Reluctantly, I joined Instagram in 2015 on the encouragement of friends, who showed me that hashtagging (while exhausting) didn’t need to be shameful, but would instead help me expand my business and connect me with like-minded creators, upcyclers, sewers, vintage and retro lovers all over the globe.

While I’ve always considered myself to be a bit of an environmentalist, I didn’t realise how important sustainability in my own business was until a bit later. At first, I was buying all of my fabric and notions from local craft shops, primarily because I had not yet discovered the great network of vintage fabric suppliers around the world that would soon provide the input to my quickly evolving creations. I soon discovered the error of my ways and began cutting into some of the gorgeous vintage sheets and curtains and table linens I was buying in op shops instead. Today, most of what I create involves materials that have a past, reloving the old and upcycling it into new life, instead of it sitting in nana’s linen cupboard never seeing the light of day. I love it when people buy my gear because they had the print somewhere in their home when they were kids!

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My design aesthetic is driven by bold colours and prints from the 50s through to the 80s, juxtaposed in a quirky and eclectic way to create wearable art. The inspiration for my work comes from a finely curated fabric collection – it’s like the pieces of fabric tell me what they want to be! I love to travel and I often pick up textiles in different parts of the world: an old MCM barkcloth curtain from America, vintage floral sheets from Canada or the UK, Sarongs and hand-painted batiks from SE Asia, a vintage kimono from Japan, and of course the colourful table linens and souvenir tea towels of Australiana. I love and use all of them, and I consider myself a story-teller as I piece these artefacts together in my makes.  

I believe part of the problem with throw-away fashion is that people, like trends, are fickle. I figured, why not have a go at making things reversible, in order to make things more exciting so they stick around in wardrobes a little longer? Now that I’ve lived in Newcastle for the last couple of years near some of Australia’s most beautiful beaches, I decided it was time to get serious about hat making. I felt that if women were given a good quality hat that they can travel with or toss in a bag, and have two different sides to wear depending on their outfit, they would be more likely to slap it on to protect themselves. I’ve now made over 400 hats in various styles and sizes, helping people to not wear boring hats

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In the last year, the business has really grown to the point that I find myself working 80 hour weeks, rushing to fill orders, and sewing on the weekend, but they say that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life! I’m very fortunate that I’m able to wake up every day and be my own boss, pursuing my passions and creating with inspiring materials. I’m very fortunate to have stockists around Australia, many of whom are themselves a one-woman band, and proudly support sustainably handmade in their small businesses. Sewing has given me renewed purpose in life. It gives me joy to make people feel good about themselves and I do my small part to help the planet, so it’s a win-win. I’m grateful to share my creations and my story to help others awaken their aspirations to learn something new and dream big.

I’m just a crazy dog lady, hanging out in her inner-city garage/studio in my own little world making cool gear for real people like myself – a casual woman, jeans and T-shirt or top and skirt kinda gal, with a good sense of humour and comfortable enough in her own skin to cultivate moods by wearing playful, quirky, joyful prints and bold colour choices, who does and wears what she wants without the worrying about being on trend or blending into the crowd.

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You can find Jessica’s designs at her Etsy shop, and be sure to follow her on Instagram.

FashionSian Blohm