Meet the Maker: I AND ME
20 Nov 2016
I AND ME is a London based, denim and lifestyle brand, that’s rewriting the rules for denim. Focusing on collections that react to moments, rather than seasons, and creating genderless designs, I AND ME was set up by TOPSHOP’s former buyer, Jessica Gebhart. With over 10 years of experience in the industry, Jessica always dreamt of setting up her own business and exploring new ways of working with her favourite material. We meet her in her latest store on Redchurch Street to talk all things denim.
Tell us what inspired you to start I AND ME? Was it that you felt the denim industry was missing something?
It’s always been a lifelong dream of mine to set up my own company. I’ve had over 10 years experience in industry, but I was waiting for the right time to come and was picking up inspiration along the way.
It wasn’t that I felt the denim industry was missing something as such, but I was noticing that a lot of the brands I aspire to, the Acne’s of this world, had gone up a lot in price. I felt there was an opportunity to create something that filled that gap. Making beautiful but affordable clothes is the backbone of I AND ME.
TOPSHOP’s one of biggest retailers in the world and one of the best high street denim brands. What did you learn from working there?
It’s a beast of a company, but that makes it an amazing place to learn – and get a really wide understanding on the industry. As a buyer I got to see so many aspects of product development and range planning – from the start to the end. I also worked with teams across the board so I felt like I was able to absorb a lot and see how all aspects of the business work together. That knowledge is really useful to have when it comes to setting up your own thing.
Transitioning from working in such a big business to being your only employee is a big jump, how did you manage it?
It was a huge change going from being part of such a large team to just being myself. At times, it was frustrating, especially when you realise how quickly people push small brands to the back of the pile and don’t take you so seriously. I’m still finding my feet and the best way to work around this. But coming from a big company like TOPSHOP has it’s benefits as the team are all really supportive of my business and backed my brand.
You’ve worked in denim for over seven years. What appeals to you about it?
I’ve always been a denim girl. But it’s also been where I’ve had most of my work experience. I ended up on TOPSHOP’s denim buying team out of chance but stayed there for 7 years. I liked becoming an expert in one thing. It’s now a fabric I really understand and have became really passionate about.
Talk us through your first collections?
My collections are designed to be seasonless and attached to a moment. People no longer want to wait months for something to hit the stores. I AND ME is all about being, buy now, wear now. My first two collections have been inspired by physical places. The first, OFF SEASON, was inspired by out of season coastal towns. ONE THING WELL was born out my honeymoon in Japan. We were travelling around, and I became obsessed with the Japanese architecture, especially the architect Tadao Ando. You can see a lot of that filter into my designs: the grey shades like concrete, linear shapes and interesting structures.
You’re also creating ceramics and homeware products as part of the collection. How did the idea come about?
I wanted to be more than just a denim brand, and I’ve always been inspired by homeware and lifestyle products. I saw it as a great way to collaborate with artists and broaden my reach. I’ve now worked with everyone from potters to set designers. It’s really helped open up my mind to think outside fashion and denim. Everything I create is based on the trends that inspire my main collection. I’m just using a different media to bring them all to life.
You’ve just launched your second pop-up, how how they helped you develop your brand?
The pop-ups have been so important for showing people the quality of our product and shapes I create. No matter how nice your site or editorial is online, the experience is still quite flat. When people come into my store and touch and feel the fabrics they understand it more. I see our store as the best way for people to really get what we’re about and raise awareness. Redchurch Street has been a great location to be. Especially for a denim brand. It’s filled with all the brands I want to be associated with – and there’s also the fact that you have a lot of people shopping here!
Where do you see I AND ME in the next couple of years?
I want to be wholesaling soon, with two or three key retail partners in the US, Europe and London. I’d rather work with less, but make sure they’re the right ones. I want to keep doing what I’m doing right now: testing new areas by opening up pop-up stores and reaching new audiences as I do it.
What stores do you look to for inspiration?
My favourite shops at the moment are The Row in LA and The Store by Alex Eagles in Soho. I always find myself drawn to more lifestyle brands and those stores that create more of an environment with nice seating and lots of plants.
And if you could only wear one style of jeans?
For me, they’ve got to be straight or slim and in rigid denim.