The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING W - STORY MI­LANDA ROUT

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

Win­ter 2018

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