We had the good fortune of connecting with Janelle Abbott and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Janelle, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
My parents owned a clothing manufacturing company when I was a child. We spent a lot of time at the warehouse where I befriended many of the employees, turned factory debris into a playground with my brother, and explored my entrepreneurial spirit by making little products to attempt to sell to the folks in the front office. My mom allowed me to explore augmenting my own clothing at a young age as well. I would cut two t-shirts in half and sew the different pieces together in new ways. Both the revelation of the labor behind garment production and the personal freedom to explore fashion as an art form informed my path in life, and eventually led me to pursue an education in fashion and ultimately compelled me to build my business.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Right out of college, I had zero idea what I was doing. I didn’t have a lot of guidance or mentorship to fall back on, though I knew I didn’t want to become a cog within the formal fashion industry, because of the rampant issues of modern day slavery, extractive practices and environmental degradation, hyper consumerism, among other unethical methodologies. I couldn’t be complicit in those kinds of thing, and couldn’t willingly connect consumers to supporting them either. So I got a job giving tours of an underground part of downtown Seattle and worked as a studio assistant/chair weaver for an artist for several years. I would dabble in making clothing and art still, but I felt a lot of pressure to pay off my student loans, so mostly my focus was on doing work to make money. It didn’t feel fair to put that kind of pressure on my art because I wanted to stay authentic aesthetically, and adhere to my strict moral code, which at times meant creating unwearable and unsellable goods just for my own personal enjoyment.
After a few years though, once I got an Instagram for the first time (I didn’t have a smart phone, and I still don’t, haha. I use an iPad to get on IG), I started to see the path towards establishing the career I actually wanted. Entering that particular market place showed me that there is space out there for the kind of work that I do: intensely personal, unabashedly handmade, one of a kind, enigmatic, made from recontextualized, second hand, and found clothing/materials. I began working with private clients on a project called Wardrobe Therapy where I help them in reconfiguring old, beloved, yet unworn pieces into new garments they can continue to wear. The sentimental nature of clothing, the way memories get caught up in the seams of the garment, how materials evoke the past and speak towards the future–these are the things that inspire me. The happenstance of finding material out in the world, especially things that have little to no value–putting in the effort to validate the existence of those items and enhance them through painting, deconstructing, and mashing unexpected components into the mix. The end result is always something unexpected.
I don’t see design as a practice of prescription but instead a journey of discovery. These are the things I’m committed to. And I’m still working towards where I want to be. But being unwavering about my ethics, my practice, my purpose in making: these things I won’t ever skimp on or make concessions to. It does mean that growing my business can be difficult, but I have to put in that effort, and find my own path. I cannot and will not exploit other people or the planet just to make a buck or get ahead. So I’m continuing to put in the hard work to be ethically transparent and aesthetically authentic, because I wouldn’t want success any other way!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’m up here in Seattle and there’s a lot of good food. Cafe Turko is a delicious Turkish restaurant just down the street from me. I’d take a friend there to try their three-part hummus plate. Or we’d get Ethiopian food at any one of the amazing restaurants–my favorite is in Northgate called Cafe Jebena. Then we’d go to this hidden little teahouse called Zen Dog, for a tasting of some ancient teas with Zen Dog himself, who always has an incredibly wealth of knowledge to share. I would take a guest thrifting for sure, but not in Seattle proper, somewhere on the outskirts, up north in Shoreline or down south in Burien. There’s a lot of beautiful natural spots too so we’d walk Green Lake or visit Discovery Park, Carkeek, St. Edwards, maybe rent a canoe at the UW and paddle around to look for river otter and eagles. I still give tours sometimes, so I might take a guest to Beneath the Streets to learn about the early history of the city and explore the underground passageways. Back in my neighborhood, there’s a chocolate factory called Theo’s where you can take a tour with lots of delicious samples. We could watch the sunset at Golden Gardens with a bonfire. Then ride bikes around the city at night.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My parents deserve a lot of credit for supporting my pursuits in life, despite their best wishes. They knew first hand how difficult it was to be in the fashion industry, and even though they would’ve preferred that I seek out a different career path, they still supported me and my decision to attend fashion school and eventually start the kind of brand that I run today. So thanks mom and dad! <3