Classic. Modern. Defiant. JAKE

You may have seen him on Project Runway.  You probably have seen his work last time you found yourself staring at the guy or gal in the room that had that certain je ne sais quoi about their style.  I have the pleasure of calling Jake a client, a friend – and the reason I myself sometimes look presentable.  We recently sat down to chat a bit for FnJ.  Now we present you with the pleasure of reading it…
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FnJ:  So first I must ask, with a background like yours, what made you want to dive into the fashion business?  What was your inspiration?

For Nathan and myself (Designer Jake) – the journey into fashion and building JAKE has been one that is anything but traditional. Nathan and I were introduced through a mutual professor through our business program.  I was working in technology marketing at the time and Nathan, an engineer by trade, was working in the oil business. Connected through a shared entrepreunerial spirit, we quickly formed a friendship with the goal of creating something… we just didn’t know what that something was.  After kicking the proverbial can of ideas around, one idea that kept coming up time and time again was the idea of making a great suit for a friend, colleague or, even in some cases, a random Facebook connection.

This all originates back to 2010 when I had a bit of an “eat, pray, love” moment and decided to quit my job an head in a new direction. An NPR piece on the lost art of bespoke tailoring inspired me to find an authentic master tailor specializing in unique suiting and shirting. So at 30 years old, with no plans beyond an eventual return ticket home, I found a made-by-hand operation in Hong Kong and turned my childhood knowledge of sewing and finishing into something a little more impressive than just mending pants.

And so, in short, you can see it really is as much a story of adventure as it is one of business around here.

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FnJ:  At its core, what is JAKE as a brand and as a company?

Classic. Modern. Defiant. JAKE is clothing made by people who feel like obsession has its advantages. These are clothes designed to fit perfectly, last practically forever, and you’ll never stop hearing how amazing you look. JAKE gives you what you never knew you wanted. We dress people who favor a sharper fit as well as refined look and who appreciate clothes where even the details have details.

Through the character Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie once said, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.”  This may be true… but we would argue that Peter never wore JAKE clothing that is an even grander adventure.

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FnJ:  What challenges have you faced in turning your creative talents into a functioning business?

It is starting to feel like there isn’t a challenge we haven’t faced.  The biggest challenge we face on a daily basis is the reality that we will always be cash strapped and idea rich.  But as we face the challenges of trying to “make it work” on what sometimes feels like a shoestring budget, we build immense character.  We’ve come a long way in just four years and if there is one thing I appreciate more than anything else it is our willingness to dream big and yet accomplish the small things that result in the big wins.

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FnJ:  What resources have you found helpful in this effort, and are there others you wish were available?

When it comes to professional resources in the city and key contract services, one of the most important to look to is strong legal support.  In the case of JAKE, we have been fortunate enough to work with Lord Bertram’s principals — Brad and Gregory — over the last set of years to not just help us with our immediate needs but to gain insight into things coming down the pipeline and prepare properly for the future.  They see five steps ahead which allows us to focus most importantly on the here and now.

The other half of running a fashion company like JAKE is making sure the right people know what you are doing and how you are doing it — this is where the dynamic duo from Cross Marketing and Public Relations that is Claudia Castillo Ross and Tiffany Cummins comes in. We had the good fortune of meeting these two through the fall antiques fair here in San Francisco and have since become fast friends and they are some of the best brand advocates we could hope for.  In a business like ours, it is important to have the right people in place making sure that people know what we are doing… otherwise we are just drawing pretty pictures and dreaming of better times.  Working with the Cross team… we don’t dream of better times, we make better times every day.

The Fashion Incubator San Francisco (FiSF) at Macy’s Union Square was an invaluable resource to JAKE when we were just starting out and the team at FiSF has continued to be strong supporters of us as we trudge forward.  Lead by Executive Director Jeanne Allen, FiSF brings together a rare combination of industry experts here in San Francisco and we had the pleasure of working with them at a very valuable time in the progression of JAKE.  It is through their mentorship that we continued to refine our offerings and really got a better grasp of some key business practices that were truly applicable to our day-to-day.  Since our time with the Incubator, we have continued to work with the mentors on an as-needed basis and that is probably one of the most amazing features of FiSF – the continued relationships and support network.

With this in mind and as long as we are making wishes, if you were to ask me for one thing that I think San Francisco is lacking… it’s a true Fashion Week of notoriety.  There are a few great offerings from interested parties – each unique in their respective ways.  But there is not critical mass offering.  No collective time in which San Francisco focuses in and makes fashion its spectacle.  A city that hosts amazing experiences from the festivities of Gay Pride to Outside Lands to Fleet Week… it seems about time that we pull together our collective creativity and offer a Fashion Week worthy of the city and the talents that call it home.

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FnJ:  Our readers are likely very curious about your experience with Project Runway.  Not just “what it was like and is it cool being on TV?”, but how has it changed your business and how have you been able to use the experience to move forward?

Project Runway was a great experience that I wouldn’t change in any way shape or form.  It wasn’t something I ever wanted to do.  I didn’t seek them out, they actually recruited me.  Thanks to the great support of my co-founder and business partner, Nathan Johnson, I decided to go for it.  The opportunity to work with Tim, Heidi, Nina, Zac and the entire behind-the-scenes crew that make that show happen was truly a once in a lifetime experience.  That said, seeing the sausage made once was probably enough for me.  I got to meet some great people that I hope to have in my life for a long time and I got to meet some others that I don’t ever need to see again.  But that’s life.  And it is always a mixed bag.

I think that because JAKE is truly a team effort, the Project Runway effect has been different for me and for us.  We have used it as a springboard because that is what we saw it as from the very beginning.  Not the end all be all.  Not THE game changer.  But instead the thing that add fuel to the already interesting fire we have been stoking at JAKE.  Armed with this, we have been able to develop great partnerships with Westfield, Bloomingdale’s, and others.  We have worked diligently and are now just days away from opening our brand new flagship location kicking off the retail renaissance in San Francisco’s historic Jackson Square at 619 Sansome St.  Project Runway was most definitely a powerful part of this perfect storm.  And just like anything, make sure you are prepared to use the power for good.

FnJ:  Any words of wisdom for someone looking to follow your footsteps and get into this business?

This is one of the hardest businesses you will ever work in.  But it is also one of the most gracious, most communal, and most creative.  You will make great things and you will do it with great people as long as you are game to work your collective “assets” off.  So go forth and be great because the whole world is watching and they expect nothing less than exceptional.

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FnJ:  What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your business?

My favorite part of my business is working directly with my clients to make amazing things for them and establishing their respective individual style.  There is nothing better than seeing a client come into his or her own.  It’s everything.

My least favorite part of running a business is firing people.  No one ends up happy in that moment.  I hate doing it.  The person getting fired hates being fired.  It truly is a no win situation.

FnJ:  Where do you see the industry in 5-10 years?

The fashion industry will continue down a path of customization and individualization in intelligent and intuitive ways.  It really will become products that are dedicated to markets of ONE and I can’t wait.

FnJ:  What’s coming up for JAKE and how can Fashion InJunction readers get involved?

It’s a busy time for JAKE with the grand opening of our new flagship showroom and atelier at 619 Sansome St.  Fashion InJunction readers are welcome to stop by and see us Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 am to 6 pm and get a taste of the new space, the JCB wine bar, a few other special surprises.

JAKE will be making our 2016 partnership debut with Bloomingdale’s on March 10th for a Men’s Showcase at the San Francisco store.  Fashion InJunction readers should join us for a sampling of the latest trends and highlights of new designer favorites including a few surprises from JAKE, DJ beats and libations from our friends at Jean-Charles Boisset, while you are treated to the only looks that matter for this spring kicking off at 7 pm.  Simply RSVP to walter.smith@bloomingdales.com.

FnJ:  Finally, we know you are opening a new flagship.  Where can people go to see the magic at work and step up their style?

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And as if I haven’t mentioned it enough… come and check out not just how JAKE is changing fashion but how we are changing the face of retail at our new flagship and atelier at 619 Sansome St., San Francisco, CA 94111 – corner of Jackson and Sansome.

FnJ:  Thanks, Jake.  Have the feeling you will be seeing a lot of us!