THE INSEPARABLE PAIR BEHIND AUSTRALIAN LABEL JAC + JACK HAVE GONE THEIR SEPARATE WAYS – BUT ONLY GEOGRAPHICALLY. IN A TRICKY RETAIL ENVIRONMENT THEY ARE FOCUSING ON WHAT MADE THEM FAMOUS: THE CASUAL ELEGANCE OF CASHMERE AND LINEN.
Acreative shot in the arm. That is how Jacqueline Hunt describes her move to downtown Los Angeles. As one half of the Australian fashion label Jac + Jack, Hunt relocated to the US almost 18 months ago after 12 years designing in Sydney. Considering her other business half – and best friend – Lisa “Jac” Dempsey is still in Sydney, it has been a challenge but one definitely worth the effort.
“I feel like I am energised. I feel like I want to experiment and do better,” Hunt tells WISH over the phone, not from LA but from Hong Kong, where she is on a business trip. She and her husband, Patrick Blue, who is the creative director at Jac + Jack, decided to move to LA rather than London or New York after being attracted to the burgeoning design scene, manufacturing sector and affordable rents.
“I was probably in a bit of a creative rut because you are drawing on the same sources of inspiration; you are treading on the same path you have always been on,” Hunt says of her life before the relocation. “It becomes harder and harder to find inspiration to move you forward. I feel I can see things with a lot more clarity. I am also enjoying working with amazing talent and being able to access different levels of creativity and inspiration. It has been remarkable.”
Hunt and Dempsey started Jac + Jack in 2004 producing luxury cashmere knitwear. The fashion designer and buyer had met at clothing company Marcs, formed a friendship and decided to branch out on their own to fill a gap in the market for such wares. The label soon grew and became known for wardrobe staples like T-shirts, pants and linen dresses, with a focus on quality materials. They expanded to menswear (they won the Fashion Laureate award for best Australian menswear in 2017) and now have six stores, including one that opened in Perth late last year.
But it hasn’t been an easy ride, either. Like all Australian retailers, the pair are operating in a challenging retail environment where online sales are increasingly important. They opened a tiny shop in London in 2015 but closed it last year when their lease expired. Hunt says it was a “terrific experiment” and that
they learned a lot, but says they probably needed a bigger retail presence in a busier spot in the city. It was also tough to manage a store from 17,000km away.
“I think the whole model of what retail stores are going to be in the future has probably changed so Lisa and I are both thinking that we would just like to press pause on retail expansion at the moment and just think about what a brick and mortar store would look like in five years’ time,” says Hunt. “We love retail stores and do them really well, but in terms of international expansion, we are happy to reflect and see what unfolds and put a lot more focus on the digital space.”
Dempsey says the “really tough” retail environment is not all bad: it presents new opportunities and forces you to refocus. “It shakes things up a bit more and you have to make sure you are delivering on great customer service and realise it is the product at the end of the day that is keeping your customers inspired and walking through the door,” she tells WISH in Sydney. “It is more about how we can be better at what we do – a smaller retail footprint, with incredible stores, focused on better customer service and product that stands out – leaning into our strengths.”
The pair are also getting used to being in different countries – they not only worked together in Sydney but lived in the same street in Bondi. “I definitely miss the energy that Jac brings to the business on a day-to-day basis,” says Dempsey. “But she and I work really well together remotely and we are inspired now in different ways.” Hunt also says it has been a challenge to be apart from Dempsey but that it has unexpectedly allowed them to grow into their individual roles.
“Lisa has blossomed into a real leadership role because I am not there and I think it’s been really good for her because she is really great at it,” Hunt says of her absence. “That is the feedback I get from a lot of people in the business. And I have been able to step into my creative role more and that makes me a lot happier.”
Hunt says being apart has another unexpected advantage: it forces them to schedule time for each
“We love retail stores and do them well, but we want to see what unfolds and put more focus on the digital space.”
other to talk business (they have three Skype calls a week) whereas in Sydney they would get distracted. “We would see each other socially or on the way to work, grab a ride with each other and we would spend 20 minutes talking about the business,” Hunt tells WISH. “Now it is more structured. We have grown closer in a way. We carve out that time for each other that before we didn’t because we probably had grown complacent. We weren’t actually spending the time together that we needed and I really relish that now.”
Hunt is also finding the creative industry – especially in manufacturing and craft-making – is also a positive in LA as is the shortened distance to Europe.
“Australia is an amazing place but it is a small country and you don’t have the access you can get in other places,” she says. “[When we were in Sydney] we were just reliant on a lot of things happening, whether it be models flying in from overseas or photographers, everyone kind of uses the same pool. And manufacturing in Australia is getting harder and harder to find. A lot of people are winding up their businesses.”
Dempsey and Hunt say they are going back to basics – literally – with the pieces that Jac + Jack became known for and concentrate on perfecting what they are good at instead of trying to spread themselves too thin. “The moment I go into a different area, it’s okay but never really as successful as when we do our beautiful washed linen dresses or cotton pants or beautiful cashmere sweaters,” says Hunt. “I really want to focus to make sure I am doing that to the best of my ability and to make it modern and fresh, sourcing really good materials and working with great makers.”
And where do they see the business in five to 10 years? “I hope we are a well-known Australian brand that is known internationally, whether it is through digital channels or small unique retail stores, with more streamlined products that are focused on our strengths,” Dempsey says. “And being able to deliver on that quality – we want to hang our hat on that quality.”
“We’re never as successful as when we do our washed linen dresses or cotton pants or cashmere sweaters.”
Lisa ‘Jack’ Dempsey at the Paddington store