Invest in your personal network. Taking the time to show people that they’re important is vital to building a group of people invested in your success. Make an effort to reach out.
Jessica Wood is the Creative Director and co-founder of Discourse NYC, an ethically made womenswear brand focused on creating affordable styles built to last while utilizing sustainable fabrics and ethical manufacturing practices. Jessica’s designs are diligently crafted in New York City for the thoughtful woman who would like to express herself through her clothing and participate in the fashion discourse without her wardrobe’s origins conflicting with her beliefs and sense of style.
Jessica moved frequently growing up, exposing her to people from all walks of life and inspiring her design process. Today, Jessica draws her inspiration from the people and places she encounters on her continuing travels. Before starting Discourse, Jessica worked for a variety of women’s apparel companies in New York City’s garment district learning the ropes of the industry.
Jessica lives in downtown Manhattan with her husband and business partner Alex. In her free time you can find her dining at new restaurants in her neighborhood, reading books at the park, or taking pictures around town.
Where did the idea for Discourse come from?
The idea for Discourse stems from my frustration with the lack of selection in the contemporary market – creativity has been washed out by the advent of fast fashion, but the slow fashion movement is mired in an extremely basic aesthetic. In addition, the human rights disasters occurring in overseas factories like the Rana Plaza collapse (and the lack of progress since) have compelled me to ensure that the clothes we produce are made in a local factory in New York City, where the minimum wage is $15 per hour and I can visit the factory at a moment’s notice.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I typically start my day alternating between catching up on the news and whatever emails have hit my inbox. After getting all caught up on the day, I move on to brainstorming creative marketing or design ideas, which can range from walking around gathering inspiration from the city to sitting down at my desk and putting pen to paper. Other daily responsibilities include running our social media accounts and designing new collections for production. Designing is a pretty broad task, and can involve sketching out ideas, general research, or pattern making. I run Discourse with my husband, Alex, so I generally handle the creative side of things while he puts his business background to work behind the scenes. I try to work at coffee shops or outside as much as possible to stay focused and keep the creative juices flowing.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The best part about fashion is that you get to see your ideas come to life pretty quickly. When I have an idea that I want to create, I compile a few high-level sketches, go over available fabrics, and create a mockup. After that, Alex and I go over the ideas together to decide what works best for our clientele and it’s off to get a sample made. Once we get the sample back, we hold a photoshoot and determine whether it’s worthy of production. While it’s easy to create a physical product, we’re pretty rigorous about maintaining our standards.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m really excited to see both the fashion industry and consumers begin to embrace high quality, ethical, and sustainable clothing. Fast fashion has caused such a throw away culture, it’s refreshing to see people who want to invest in clothing that lasts longer than a few weeks. It makes me hopeful that, beyond how terrible it is for the environment, society is waking up to how horrible of a consumer experience fast fashion really is.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Alex and I have an up-to-date, collaborative to-do list that I reference constantly. I’m able to juggle a few projects at once, so if one task is frustrating and something I need to take a break from, I can quickly bounce to another task until I’m ready to tackle that project again.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t worry about chasing after a dream job at some corporation. After college you feel so much pressure to land your dream job, but that isn’t an option very often! Keep an open mind and learn as much as you can, because sometimes the jobs that make you uncomfortable are the best learning experiences.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I’ve been told by many people that you can’t change the fashion industry, and that consumers aren’t going to spend more than a few dollars on anything, but that’s not true! Once people learn about the impact that the fashion industry has on the world in terms of pollution and human rights, I think consumers will think twice before shopping cheap, throw away clothing. One of the things we’re doing at Discourse is manufacturing our clothing in America, and our price point is super competitive with other ethical brands that manufacture overseas. It’s really just a commitment from us to price clothing fairly, and have a relationship with our customers where we don’t take them for granted.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I make sure that no matter what I’m working on, I bounce a few ideas off of a few people to get their input. As an entrepreneur it’s crucial to get alternative perspectives since you’re always in your own head, especially when it comes to the creative aspects of the business. Everyone should take the time and effort to build a group of peers and mentors that are invested in their success.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
One of our biggest successes that has helped grow business has been to learn the inner workings of how Google and the internet in general operate. I think one pitfall designers make when starting out is thinking that if they’re creative enough, customers will just happen to visit their website. The internet doesn’t work that way, so unless you have a brick-and-mortar location where customers can get to know you, you’d better learn the language of the internet. Website builders like Shopify help a great deal in getting off the ground, but having a basic understanding of HTML and CSS has helped to elevate our website and search engine results.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
It was difficult in the beginning to not see immediate success when publishing our website. Naively, it feels like after months of hard work and dedication that success will be automatic, but it takes years of intense work to be noticed, especially as an online retailer. When you think about it, everyone is working just as hard as you are – nobody is entitled to success.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
One business idea we’re running with is to produce t-shirts and other basics as sustainably as possible. To us, this means experimenting with fabrics that are dyed with byproducts from the food manufacturing process, utilize recycled plastic, or come from organic sources. It’s important to have an entry-level, accessible product that is easy to get behind so that customers can see why shopping eco-friendly is worth it!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I’ve spent $100 this month on little things to improve our living space like buying a diffuser (with some amazing scents!), some succulents to spruce up the apartment, and printing and framing a few important photos. Living in New York City can feel claustrophobic sometimes with such little space, but adding a few extra touches can make you feel more motivated, especially when you work from home a lot of the time.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Slack is a great tool to help stay productive. There are great add-ons like to-do list bots that help you send tasks to your team or personally. It’s helpful because I can sync my to-do list across my laptop and cell phone, so it stays up-to-date.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The most important book I’ve ever read is Educated by Tara Westover – it’s a story about the human condition and overcoming what feels like the inevitable. Her true story about surviving in a toxic, survivalist-centric home environment that was skeptical about traditional education and her passion to learn in light of that is incredibly inspiring. Tara’s story shows that tenacity pays off and life can get better, just keep your head down and keep doing what you love.
What is your favorite quote?
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” – Fred Rogers. I know it got some hate in an article by The Atlantic recently, but in a world where it can seem so easy to feel lost it’s a nice reminder to keep your head up and look for ways to make a difference.
- Invest in your personal network. Taking the time to show people that they’re important is vital to building a group of people invested in your success. Make an effort to reach out.
- Organization is key. Being an entrepreneur means that there are a million things to be done every day, so keep a to-do list to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.
- Focus on the customer experience. So many brands wonder whether they can do something, but never stop to think whether they should do something. Ask yourself how you’d feel about it from the customer’s perspective.
- Sometimes the underdog is one of the best positions to be in. Challenging norms is a great way to differentiate yourself and can lead to positive change in society. You may be surprised at how your message resonates with others.
Instagram handle: discoursenyc
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.