JETPACK hom(m)e: Made in LA, marketed in Paris
American designer Ryan Morar takes a patchwork approach to fashion. His ripped-up, reconstructed, dipped, dyed, embroidered and embellished clothes hit the sweet spot between two of fashion’s recent phenomena: streetwear and sustainability. Unapologetically unisex – and all the more sustainable for it – they have been worn by Billie Eilish and Anderson Paak, and stocked in luxury boutiques across the world. Through these stories and stores, Ryan has expanded the reach of his fledgling brand, JETPACK hom(m)e, far beyond the four walls of his home studio in Los Angeles. We spoke to the Academy of Art San Francisco alumnus about the specific trials of studying and starting a brand beyond the four main fashion cities.
Your clothes are being sold in Joyce in HK, Excube in Japan and H.Lorenzo in Los Angeles (among others). How did you approach the buying process? What advice would you give other designers hoping to sell in these stores?
When I started the brand in 2016, I promoted it online by posting process and detail shots, later adding lookbook images.The first stores I sold with were H.Lorenzo, VFILES, and Joyce. Some people who worked at H.Lorenzo saw my work online and used a few pieces for an editorial shoot. That led me to meet their buyers and show them my pieces. I had created a simple “designer profile” on the VFILES website in 2016 and they noticed it a few months later. Their team reached out to me and asked if they could buy my first collection. A buyer from Joyce had seen my work online in 2017 and came to meet me at my home studio in Los Angeles. Since then, we have brainstormed the one-of-a-kind collections I’ve created for them each season. I try to reach out to stores with press clippings, lookbooks, and line-sheets, but it’s very hard to get their attention when they haven’t heard of the brand. This approach hasn’t been very successful for me. It can be difficult and discouraging at times, but I keep trying. Most of the stores I’ve worked with so far discovered my brand themselves or from word of mouth. My advice is to put in the hard work, stay true to your voice and eventually people will notice and hopefully spread organically.
“I try to reach out to stores with press clippings, lookbooks, and line-sheets, but it’s very hard to get their attention when they haven’t heard of the brand.”
How do the stores and geographies differ in terms of what sells? What have you learnt from seeing the response to your clothes in different cultures?
It’s hard for me to know, but each store has a slightly different customer base. I’ve been happy with the response so far, as the pieces ordered tend to sell out relatively quickly, especially in Hong Kong, LA and NY.
“San Francisco. It lacked a variety of fabric stores to source from and a community of designers putting on fashion shows, so I didn’t have as many opportunities as someone studying in London or New York might have.”
Did you ever feel at a disadvantage studying outside of the main fashion cities? Why/why not?
Yes, I felt some disadvantage. I moved from Los Angeles to study in San Francisco. It lacked a variety of fabric stores to source from and a community of designers putting on fashion shows, so I didn’t have as many opportunities as someone studying in London or New York might have. I interned for an independent brand in San Francisco and did a few small freelance costume design jobs for LINES Ballet School, but interning wasn’t a school requirement. Most of the fashion companies there were larger, commercial brands like Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, and Levi’s. My goal was to work with more free, creative design brands, but unfortunately, most were based in the main fashion cities.
“It is more financially sustainable for me to rent one space where I do everything.”
Do you think there was enough support for young designers starting their own brands in San Francisco? What more could be done?
I think it would be tough to start a brand in San Francisco. It’s extremely expensive to live there now (it was already very expensive when I lived there from 2008-2013). That makes it almost impossible to find an affordable space big enough to live and create in. There aren’t the same resources there for material sourcing and manufacturing as you would find in New York or Los Angeles. I think there would need to be a larger community of independent designers and brands in San Francisco and more publications covering fashion there for it to work. I started my brand here in Los Angeles, in a small house where I live, create, have meetings and hold photoshoots. It is more financially sustainable for me to rent one space where I do everything. There are more resources in the garment district and a few hidden places for fabrics, vintage and other materials. There is also a growing ‘underground’ fashion scene of independent designers and artists here now.
“I got a few requests from stores, saying they might stock my collection if I could be in Paris to meet during fashion week. I decided to take a risk and organise a small space for myself.”
You have just done the showrooms in Paris. Did you feel prepared for the European fashion scene? How does it differ from the way fashion works in America?
New York functions in a similar way to the European fashion cities, in the sense that you present a collection and then hold showroom meetings before or after. LA isn’t the same kind of fashion city; we don’t really have fashion shows or a group of buyers and press flocking to see your collection. That’s why I started coming to Paris and renting a space for meetings. In the beginning, I got a few requests from stores, saying they might stock my collection if I could be in Paris to meet during fashion week. I decided to take a risk and organise a small space for myself. In 2014, I was interning for a brand based in Antwerp, and they took over a Paris showroom for a week, so I had some experience of how it worked. From that, I knew the basics of where to start and how to organise a showroom. Out of all fashion weeks, the most amount of buyers and press from around the world travel to Paris. That’s why I chose to do my showroom there.
“Out of all fashion weeks, the most amount of buyers and press from around the world travel to Paris.”
Your clothes have appeared on Anderson Paak and Billie Eilish. How can music and celebrity impact the success of a fashion brand? Why are these useful tools for a fledgling brand?
They were pleasantly unexpected placements. I think intersecting with music and celebrity could potentially help build your brand portfolio and push your vision to people who wouldn’t necessarily know a young brand otherwise. Working with musicians and celebrities has also opened up opportunities for recurring commissions for tours, photoshoots and day-to-day wardrobe styling.
Your work merges streetwear with sustainability. How are you challenging preconceptions of each sector by merging them?
Streetwear focuses on comfortable clothes like T-shirts, jeans and hoodies. I merge it with sustainability by sourcing used streetwear items, taking them apart and reconstructing them. I might get a large pair of vintage jeans, take them apart at the seams, change the seam lines and then reconstruct them differently. Or I’ll take an old T-shirt and flip it inide-out and backwards, change the sewing construction on it and trace the existing graphics so it has a different look, but you can still see what it came from. I pattern, cut and sew new garments with casual fits from vintage fabrics. Sometimes, I hand-make patchwork textiles from vintage shirts. I also hand-make each individual button from resin with set-in, loose, hand-painted artwork that touches on this relaxed vibe.
“I think intersecting with music and celebrity could potentially help build your brand portfolio and push your vision to people who wouldn’t necessarily know a young brand otherwise.”
You brand your clothes as ‘pedestrian luxury’ – what do you mean by that? How have notions of luxury changed since you started your brand in 2016?
The pieces I make have a degree of relatability for many people. Since a number of the pieces are reconstructed from thrifted garments or vintage fabrics, more people can relate to them – they might have owned or seen something similar before. I often use boring, discarded items like old school sports kits or outdated graphic logo tees, which feel familiar. Even after I transform them into new garments, people recognise elements of them. My idea of luxury is the labour, craft and care put into each piece. That is more valuable to me than the cost of the materials that went into it or the hype surrounding it. People are opening up more to unique, handmade garments that may surprise and impress them because of the transformation process those materials have been through.
“My idea of luxury is the labour, craft and care put into each piece. That is more valuable to me than the cost of the materials that went into it or the hype surrounding it.”
How does the unisex model change your design process and the designs themselves? Why did you choose to create a unisex brand?
It makes my design process more free. I like to mix loose and boxy garments with somewhat softer fabrications and colours. I know many women who enjoy less typically feminine garment shapes and men who like softer, more playful fabrications, so it’s a happy medium.
You work with upcycled and recycled materials. Where do you source your fabrics? Why did you choose to put sustainability at the core of your brand?
I source fabrics from several different fabric stores in Los Angeles, as well as an online store that sells vintage and deadstock fabrics. I shop at retail thrift stores and outlet thrift stores, where you can buy donated clothing, materials and objects by weight. I grew up shopping secondhand, spending countless hours in thrift stores with my mom and sister. I derive a lot of inspiration from rare finds in thrift stores. I feel guilty discarding too many things, so I try to use all of my materials and leftovers from past collections to fuel new designs.