JESS // INNOVATOR
Founder of Ilk + Ernie, Brighton
To call Jess, our other Brighton Ambassador, an innovator doesn’t do her broader ethos justice. Through her fashion label Ilk + Ernie, Jess is looking to address both the environmental sustainability issues that are rife in the fashion industry, as well as the social issues that face the industry in work culture and self-image. Growing up in Frome, London was the fresh change that Jess needed to pursue her fashion work at the London College of Fashion. After studying, Jess went down the merchandising route, working her way through high street retail fashion, PR and being personal assistant to a colourful array of people in the creative industry. The strain on her mental health when being confronted daily with the immense waste, and the disregard for employees’ well-being, prompted a soul-searching mission to India. It was on this trip that Jess picked up the tools again and began to design once more.
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So, what is Jess doing differently? With Extinction Rebellion dominating the 2019 headlines, and the paper straw takeover, it is easy to take it for granted that a start-up would build in environmental sustainability to their business practice. In 2016 though, when Ilk + Ernie was the size of a blueberry, no one cared about ethical fashion and it continued to be a convenient blind spot in the environmental debate. Every item from Ilk + Ernie is made from sustainable fabric and is made in an ethical factory in India, which Jess has visited many times in person and went to great lengths to secure. And if that wasn’t enough, for every beautiful and long-lasting piece you buy from Ilk + Ernie, trees are planted.
Running your own business takes up an enormous amount of time and resources, so Jess throws herself into typical Brighton pastimes like going to the pub, the beach and cooking to relax. The lockdown has taken its toll on everyone, but small businesses like Ilk + Ernie bore the brunt of it. Days before the launch of her next collection, everything ground to a halt. Her factory in India shut down and everyone in the UK tightened their belts. Initially this was incredibly overwhelming, but the forced down time allowed Jess a moment to breathe and reflect. She was very grateful for the ready-made support network of her fellow guardians over lockdown, and the reduced license fee gave her the buffer she needed throughout this difficult time.
Jess wanted to become an Ambassador because she loves people and wants to facilitate connections across LOWE properties between like-minded people. She is also one of those people who always feels like they could be doing more – and we couldn’t be happier that she chose to put that energy into helping us foster the LOWE community! We are looking forward to developing the infrastructure to connect LOWE guardians across the south of England, and Jess’ entrepreneurial attitude is going to help make it happen.