BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
In addition to designing fashion featuring fabrics woven by Chicagoans, spinning salsa, soul and samba at dance parties several nights a week, Jamie Hayes is one of Chicago’s most action-oriented advocates for Fair Trade advancements in the fashion industry. Jamie uses the slow fashion model of ethical production while creating dazzling designs for any age. Her works are currently designed, woven and cut in Chicago.
We caught up with Jamie at her Production Mode studio on West Armitage, open to the public by appointment, and visually feasted on her beautiful tooled leather pieces and her current line of high contrast fabrics in her favorite grays, reds and navies. She had recently returned from Peru where she met with local weavers.
In her angular beauty, Louise Brooks bangs and graceful expression, she channels her favorite artist, the Ukrainian-born French artist Sonia Delaunay known not only for her paintings of colorful geometric designs but for textiles and stage settings for the ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev in the 1920’s as well.
Artist Sonia Delaunay, painter, set designer and textile artist who was Jamie’s muse.
Jamie’s first stitching efforts were superhero costumes for her cat, possibly a feline talent prognosticator who graciously appeared as Wonder Woman. Her owner told how she first fell for fashion:
“My mother and grandmother taught me that if you love a piece, use it often and enjoy it, rather than saving it only for special occasions. This edict helped to form my high-low style at a young age. For example, I remember attending my first day of kindergarten wearing most of my late great-aunt’s costume jewelry, which I paired with Mr. Potato Head’s yellow plastic glasses. Similarly, when I was nine years old, I remember that my favorite kickball outfit was a cornflower blue satin, floor-length, tiered bridesmaid dress and petticoat, discarded that summer by my mother.”
Her love of vintage, hasn’t changed:
“The 1930’s and 40’s are my favorite eras of fashion. I also love the way that this period influenced the 1970s, so I’m cheating and picking several different eras. I adore vintage fashion and fashion history. I’m always looking backwards to remix fashions in new, contemporary ways. All that said, my most recent collection was most influenced by Japanese designers of the early 1980s like Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo.”
We asked Jamie whom she would like to number among her clients:
“I love to dress powerful, stylish, creative women–women who take my clothes and make them their own. I’d love to dress Solange. She has such a wonderful style–it’d be such a compliment to see her in my work. I’d love to dress Helen Mirren, too. She is so talented and really owns her sensuality and seems so comfortable in her own skin. She’s an inspiration.”
At the heart of one Chicago’s most intellectually curious and conversationally delightful circles is the husband and wife team of Lynn Hauser and Neil Ross: both doctors, art collectors, Leonard Cohen fans and terrific models for Jamie’s designs. Strangers stop Lynn to ask about her Production Mode outfits and want to touch the fabric–a wool and cotton blend–woven at the artist-run Weaving Mill in Humboldt Park:
“Jamie’s clothing and accessories are beautiful. I love that she makes original designs with high quality, ecologically responsible materials and ethical production values. The clothes are fun to wear, comfortable, and striking. I feel good wearing them and I receive lots of compliments on them. Plus, they are produced in Chicago!”
Jamie at Horween.
Jamie told us more about her design:
“My work explore the intersections between fashion, art, culture, and identity. My approach is both collaborative and customized. As a designer, I’ve always struggled with the idea that a fashion editor or designer should dictate someone else’s personal style or the dimensions of their garments. In fact, not being able to find the clothes that I wanted led me to begin designing in the first place. My desire to continue exploring these ideas with people who inspire and challenge me, and the desire to not add more useless, unwanted, ill-fitting objects to the world motivate me.”
She has worked in the fashion industry since 1999, and in the field of immigrant and labor rights since 2009. Her recent work merges these two paths. She has designed for fair trade organizations including SERRV, Intercrafts Peru, and Threads of Yunnan, and has volunteered as a Campaign Leader for Chicago Fair Trade, helping to pass an ordinance mandating that apparel procured by the City of Chicago be sweatshop-free.
Jamie has spoken at ecology conferences, Chicago Fair Trade events, the Arts Club and other places about the convergence of fashion and labor inequalities in the industry.
“The long hours, verbal and sexual harassment, low pay and other conditions make the fashion industry the second most dangerous labor sector worldwide. The contractors know that they can recruit the cheapest choice of labors–young women and girls—from the countryside into their urban factories It is an anomaly that, in the United States, it might be safer for the worker but the other conditions hold true. We must do what we can to raise salaries. I am very proud that Chicago has the sweatshop-free ordinance.”
Transferring skeins of yarns made in Oaxaca, Mexico and Peru onto local looms has been difficult so her yarns are local although she loves to travel to Latin America for inspiration.
Jamie designs a new line about every years and plans to incorporate soft pinks, yellows and blues into the next collection, favorite Delaunay colors. With designer Gerry Quinton she launched an atelier called the Department of Curiosities, with a lingerie and nightwear line that includes silken dressings gowns that Jean Harlow adored in the 1930’s and a variety of corsets.
Jamie’s great grandmother was a designer of knitwear and skirts, and her grandmother taught her to sew. While at Washington University in her hometown of St. Louis, Jamie took up sewing in earnest in the basement of a fabric store where she learned from a sample maker who did alterations for top stores such as Neiman’s and Saks.
“I begin to ask how to make this thing if I don’t have a pattern. I had majored in English Literature and still feel its influence today of trying on an historic identity. But I think I wanted something less ivory tower and more concrete. In St. Louis I worked in a boutique and did some mending and accessory making, learning from experts. I went on to get my BA from the Fashion Institute at Columbia College where I acquired technical skills and took advantage of the artistic community around me at the Art Institute and local galleries. It was at that time that I became interested in the intersection of fashion and identity.”
Playing a mix of soul, disco, salsa, cumbia and samba.
“My other passions include music, and I started deejaying in college on the local radio station and continued in arts school. I now deejay a few times a week—often with Tanja Buhler under the name PartyLine. I play a genre-fluid mix of music aimed at the dance floor: soul, disco, salsa, cumbia and samba.”
Jamie worked at 1154 Lil Studios for six years in the early 2000’s customizing handbags.
“The were pioneers in mass production, offering over 200 different fabrics from shantung to upholstery. The handbags were produced locally and offered a three-week turnaround, and we received an average of 100 orders a week. I had great mentors and learned in the days of developing digital influence about production demands. It was fascinating to see women in the simple and often severe dresses that you saw in department stores at that time coming in to order purses in riots of colors. I couldn’t help but ask, what’s going on here?”
Jamie tells what happened next:
”I woke up one morning thinking it was time to move on, so I worked as a photo stylist for awhile, doing freelance work. I became friends with many stitchers and garment workers from Mexico, Guatemala and China and saw their long hours working in poor conditions in basements for low pay. It was then that I decided to go to graduate school in social work and have become very involved in Fair Trade and labor rights.”
Jamie described her design philosophy today.
“When I started out I was like many other designers: there was a hugely narcissistic element to my design. You design only for your own body type, and at design school, the models are usually built like runway model I learned is that you have to design for all body types and learn proper proportions.
I like making things to measure. So many of us think in terms of supposed flaws: our shoulders are two narrow or too wide. That’s why I like made to measure custom wear. I do some clothes for men but to develop both a female and male design line would be too expensive to do.”
For more information about Jamie Hayes, visit productionmodechicago.com or email her at email@example.com, or call 773-934-3724.