Gretchen Jones is forging a new path for fashion professionals everywhere. Her pursuits in the industry range from academic exploration to humanizing the way we do business. As a champion of emerging designers and sustainably-minded individuals, Gretchen is carving out space for conscious (and critical) conversations to happen. In addition to being inspired by her important work, we also can't help but fall more and more in love with her thoughtful approach to style. In this interview, Gretchen speaks more about her journey in fashion, shares musings on sustainability, and much more.
I used to be a fashion designer and director but that no longer feels right. But I'm ok with that because I believe it is vital to follow your intuition and say no to things to create room for "yes" to appear! I am coming to a new, more aligned chapter both personally and professionally.
I am starting to see that my real magic power is in being a guide. A guide in asking bigger, more complex questions of oneself— and one's business/profession —as much as challenging others to ask those questions of themselves and their businesses or professions, too. My vision and value are rooted in helping others to find ways of becoming more connected and engaged in their communities, but on a global scale because we are all global citizens now. In a sense, I want to help brands and people build more meaningful, holistic businesses that are rooted in our humanity. My goal is to support their efforts in perfecting the processes and perspectives they manage within the institutions and businesses they work in as much as the lives they lead outside of them. I want to help inspire those who long to be more, create more and offer more than just transactional goods.
My journey is a focused, yet meandering one, and the irony is not lost on me! After years of trying to fit into molds that were culturally constructed and linear in progression, I realized I needed to— and was —forging my own path because the social and professional norms just didn't fit. Beyond that, I wanted to make a more meaningful impact in my career, beyond exclusively [fashion] collection design. In a sense, I'm post-product.
The more that I invested in understanding the bigger picture in my industry, the more I became concerned with it as a whole. And as I became more curious as to the bigger picture, I became really concerned and eager to help influence the change I wanted to see within not only my industry but also beyond it. I am just now settling into the beginnings of the new chapter in my career. I am near where I want to be, but still feel like I have a lot accomplish to be where I want to be (and be working with who I hope to be working with).
I want the focus of my professional story in on being one of courage and conviction. I want to be admired for NOT falling in line, not letting each chapter within my identity to define me forever. I want my story to inspire others to follow their hearts, rather than to follow what makes them feel obligated or what they think they are supposed to do. At the end of the day, we are the ones who look at ourselves in the mirror— no one else —and I want to look in the mirror and be able to say, "Dammmmnnn girl! You threw them for a loop! Bravo and keep pushin!"
The 21st century is about disruption, authenticity, transparency, and progress. I aim to be a tool and voice for that. And I know I am living that every day, regardless of how hard it may feel (or be) at times.
Critical Conversations is about connection and the power of intimate, trusted communication. I don't believe in traditional consulting, nor traditional business models. I believe in the power of meaningful, intuitive conversation. I believe in empowering new thoughts and being supportive through shifting perspective.
I wanted to launch my business with a window of time and accessibility that I know won't be sustainable for me in the long term, but would afford me the opportunity to connect and engage with small makers in a way they rarely have access to. And I feel really good about that.
My vision and hopes for the future are to make a big and meaningful impact on many tiers. I want to have critical conversations with CEOs, leading entrepreneurs, AND small businesses in ways that enrich and provide for each. I want to help challenge academia to move fast[er], as much as I want to explore ways for corporations to integrate more intuitive and authentic (and sustainable) business practices, as much as I want to encourage small makers to refine and define their business models in ways that work for them.
In a sense - I want to create a safe space to be challenged and supported while redefining what it means to be a business, a scholarly institution, or even a political entity. And I want all that practice to provide and support me in a way that challenges me to continually grow and be inspired at the same time!
Sustainability is a term that is as championed as it is perplexing. I find it to be most often alienating and misinformed in use.
The longer I have been in the industry (and adulthood) the more I have come to realize that it is actually a widely dimensional term. True sustainability is an emotional, physical, social, environmental, economic, and political methodology. It not only takes diligence and dedication but flexibility and honesty. The reality is that most often, only one to three of these touchpoints can be hit. Another reality is true sustainability is a luxury, and one most of the world can't afford.
I personally AND professionally have moved beyond sustainable business practices into a space of altruism. I believe in tapping into the emotional (even spiritual) side of ourselves as a guide and path towards understanding our real value systems; then we must have the courage to align ourselves and our professional behavior/choices as best we can. Our moral compass should not be removed from our businesses and professions. In fact, it should inform our directions - within each dimension of our lives!
I also strongly believe in the power of wearing our values and vision on our sleeves is REAL. Loyalty and reciprocity depend on it, and that, in itself, is the only mode towards truly sustainable lifestyles, businesses, and internal well-being.
I've been a fan of Coclico for some time now but only recently become a true customer (I honestly can't even say why it took me this long because once I realized how aligned the aesthetics and ethos was with my own, I had an "Aha!" brand moment!). And if I could afford it, I'd have invested in about six pairs from spring, that's how good a collection I think it is!
As I have aged, I have become less interested in fashionability over function. Mostly because I don't think we have to sacrifice one for the other anymore. Coclico does a charmingly good job of marrying style, wearability, integrity, and specialty in a way that is synergistic. You can select any pair, and it holistically dances between fashionable and easy, day and night. And that's really saying something.
I picked the Oasis Sandal in Depeche Suede because I KNOW I will wear it all summer. The design is both progressive and classic. Sophisticated and every day. To me, that's the magic middle ground. And when thinking about sustainability - serving many purposes and offering its wearer such flexibility is what it's all about!
On Being Loyal to Your Own Experience
Being loyal to your own experience is giving myself and those who follow me permission to write their own stories, in real time. Too long have we needed or felt obligated to "get in line" and stick with what may not work for us. I feel strongly that when we trust the wide open compass of our very own soul, we give ourselves permission to be and do things that are right for our souls, ourselves and our careers. Like my mother says: "You cannot win big if you are not willing to risk big." And risk, risk is not about getting into formation, it's about creating the lines you alone want to color in.
I don't attach very much to the clothing I own. I moved around A LOT as a child, and I came to find objects/places/people as never being "forever" so I started connecting more to the moments (and perspective) those objects led me to.
For me, what is forever is the feeling I have WHILE I wear things. The memories that are created when I feel good about what I am wearing are far more vivid and real because I am more present and engaged with the company I am keeping. And that feeling, the way you look into someone's eyes, the value in the interactions and conversations is tangible and deep - all of which are far more valuable than the actual objects present in the moment. So, I keep those moments more closely than a pair of jeans or shoes ever could, because they live within me.
That said, I need those jeans and those shoes to look as good as they feel. I want them to come from good places, made by good people in a way that makes me proud of how aligned my choices are to the woman I define myself to be AND the company I am engaging with. And that is what it's all about.
Photos by Alyssa Greenberg for Coclico