Gretchen Jones is a woman who has had many identities and careers. Always open for a new, wild experience. She is currently shedding the skin of her previous role as a fashion designer and director to become a new version of herself. A "post product designer" and mentor who guides other creative entrepreneurs.
She is a committed public speaker and thought leader with a new focus to explore and invest in the spiritual side of the fashion industry. With an eye on sustainability and emotional influence.
We met with Gretchen to get more insight on her new career choices, while overlooking the epic roofs of Manhattan's SoHo.
How did you grow up?
We moved around a LOT when I was a child but most often came back to high country Colorado to a tiny town of approx 400. My parents were both Midwestern kids who originally ran to the Rocky Mountains during the hippie movement. I suppose, that particular lifestyle (one part hippie, one part ski bum, one part cowboy) is one that’s hard to run away from, even if what lingers is just the aesthetics! They very much did their own thing and were a bit of the black sheep in each of their families. But that didn’t phase us. My parents have always been the life of a party, cared more about living life than playing by any rules. They were more entrepreneurial than the opposite. Which clearly influenced me in many ways.
What made you choose to start a career in the fashion world?
I just always have been interested in and inspired by how we wardrobe ourselves and our homes for that matter. As I kid I organically cared as much as I do now. It’s not just a manner of self expression but a way we communicate with and find our tribe[s]. That always appealed to me.
Fashion CAN be frivolous, but I find it to be far more meaningful and an important part of the human experience.
Describe your personal style. Does it relate to your character?
Tho it shifts a bit with the times, I think of my style as being a refined version of bohemian with a bit of a nod towards french femininity, I suppose. I like embracing my roots and upbringing in my dress. I appreciate a bit of restraint and prudishness in how much and what I show off.
I think it would be difficult to remove how I dress from my identity. I see it as deeply connected. I dress with confidence, and I carry myself with confidence. I don’t hide that I am a woman. Instead I champion womanhood as professionally important. They go hand in hand.
Has there been a defining tipping point in your career?
Many! My first big tipping point was probably going on Project Runway, as it continues to affect my life… tho it is more of a part of my story, rather than the definitive story of my life. At that point in my career, I was devoted to achieving my dreams of being a fashion designer. And I confirmed through that experience that I am talented and capable of attaining recognition and value as a creative.
My second tipping point was in realizing that what I enjoyed creating was hard to sell… at least to my ‘people’ or following. I wasn’t really designing clothing for the life I lived, nor the company I kept. That made it difficult to achieve the level of success, I dreamt of, but also made me understand that alignment is not only necessary, but vital for sustained success in this industry.
The third tipping point was in realizing that my career dreams were not necessarily aligned with the life I wanted to/was living. I didn’t enjoy being a fashion director and the impact it had on my personal life and mental state.
I came to understand that in order to create the life, I wanted to live, I would need to drastically edit some basics and focus on what brings me joy and what feels purposeful. First and foremost. I ended up leaving the design side of my public identity behind (for now anyways) and decided to go back to school to get my M.B.A. at the London College of Fashion.
The fourth tipping point is what I am in the beginning stages of… and I have yet to fully understand what exactly is ahead of me. But I do know that it will be more aligned and in service of the life I want to, and need to live. What I do know is that this chapter will be multidimensional, it will bring together my professional ambitions and personal needs and goals...
How do you cope with rejection, stress or negativity in general?
If I am being really honest - mostly in wallowing in sorrow and mourning, but in my own home. I let myself feel all the feelings, rather than pushing them away. And then, after I stew on it, I tend to organically pick myself back up and try things on again in a new way. Persistence and resilience are some of my inherent characteristics...fluidity and not holding on too tightly to a version of myself is key.
How do you look at the fashion industry today?
I see it as wholly global now. For better and worse. Access to everyone and everything is toxic in some ways because its creating a wildly homogeneous identity and creative lense. But it also enable niche markets to sustain themselves more easily. I sense we are in the midst of another industrial revolution (i.e. digital technology,Ai/Ar/Vr/Etc havent even really impacted our industry in its fullest sense) and retail/design/consumption has yet to evolve into the version it will be.
Lastly, I think that low barriers to entry have created a fever pitch in oversaturation in our industry, there are too many designers and too much product. I sense fall out is coming and not just for the big corporate fashion houses, but the indie scene as well.
What are the things that you would like to see changing?
From a consumption space I would like to see more careful purchasing behaviors take hold, but I think we are VERY far away from that.
From a design space I hope to see more restraint and focus - Serve your customer, don’t try to serve everyone.
From a sustainability space I think it is vital to be thinking bigger picture. Sourcing ‘eco’ fabrics is not enough, especially if you aren’t asking questions about how things were sourced and where/how raw goods were handled throughout the supply chain. Producing locally/regionally is not enough, slapping a tag stating things are made near you and not doing the diligence—nor taking the time—to engage with and actually serve those serving your business will no longer be acceptable.
Material wise we’re still stuck with a lot of concepts and not enough viability.
From a marketing space I think we still struggle with making mindful design or brands look sexy enough. The messaging is still limiting and makes consumers feel guilty, or it still feels elitist. We need to evolve the messaging into a place of aspiration and appeal.
People refer to you as a “fashion activist". What projects have you worked on?
I don’t really think of myself as an activist. The fashion activists out there focus their energy in a different way… they are focused on holding businesses accountable for their actions, calling out bad practices, etc. I don’t actively protest, I preach the good book of leading with intention, your values and working mindfully through activated and engaged business practices. I think of myself as an ambassador for thoughtfulness and change. I am a guide to aligning you and your business with a more layered approach to sustainability. I preach - people, planet, process, profitability AND purpose. And I try to embody that through my own professional work and way of living.
In a way, I suppose, I think of myself as an active role model and support for those in the fashion industry wanting to understand where the business of fashion collides with being human. And I believe inspiring and creating change comes through action in a different way than that of an activist.
What does sustainability mean to you in your personal life?
We live mindfully. We limit our consumption (i.e. don’t consume very much). We limit our trash, how often we launder our soft goods, we don’t have a full fridge. We have more recycling than we do trash. We purchase thoughtfully from brands that create with intention and thoughtfulness. We vote with our values, not our political party. We speak about what we care about and always try to educate ourselves, rather than settling into our ideals. We have chosen not to have children. We don’t try to be aware of all of our actions - but we don’t beat ourselves up for not doing everything we can to be as sustainable as possible, because we know we are human.
What is your number one advice for an emerging brand?
Do not create more in this world without thinking and questioning why you want to make stuff, why your stuff has real value and purpose for those it will serve and don’t dive in blindly with your ego leading the way.
“Never deny your life its own dream.”
You have launched your own consulting agency. What are the critical things you teach?
Critical Conversations are for new AND old businesses or leaders alike. We all need to be having conversations that challenge us to get outside ourselves and our businesses to think about things from another perspective. My focus is to expand your vision of yourself and your business through meaningful conversations that make you approach your business and art from a more altruistic way, aligning yourself and your values with how you operate.
Critical Conversations are note a 1 hour experience, it’s a process of investing in changing your process and practice. This process will literally evolve that way you operate, create and think about your business. And I am a guide that helps you make steps towards creating change that makes you feel good, while aligning your business for the good of the collective whole.
My aim is to help you align yourself and your creative business through a more complex approach to true sustainability - Which is an emotional, physical, social, environmental, economic, and political methodology. It not only takes diligence and dedication but flexibility and honesty.