Adrienne Priess grew up in a home filled with creativity. She saw a hat she liked and her mother made it from an old sweater. That was the beginning of Jax Hats. Adrienne now manages an upcycled business creating fashionable accessories from thrift store finds.
How long have you been creating accessories, home goods and garments from reused fabrics? How did you get started?
We started in 2007 when my mother made a hat for me for my birthday with an old sweater she didn’t want to throw away. She couldn’t have foreseen then that all my family and friends would want one too! And then later, of course our customers too.
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It all started when I saw a hat I wanted and showed her that hat and Instead of buying it, that my mother just made her own rendition. The JAX classic flapper has come a long way since then, but we still have the very first ones she made.
I became her spokesperson. First I sat at the farmers market for her, the first time with 15 hats in a vintage suitcase, we nearly sold out. Then, I lined up all my friends to be in photos. We did a photoshoot eventually with a professional photographer and 10 of my friends. Then I evolved into sewing for her. For me it was all about helping supplement my ski patrol season. From there I moved to Oregon and asked if I could start a JAX HATS over here. I built the business from scratch. All I had were patterns and pictures. I worked my bottom off to build it.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
We have always created our styles with the serged seams on the outside of the products. A deconstructed look to go with our patchwork style. We enjoy having the upcycled element steer the style of the hat. We love putting wild fabrics together, or making some plain modern hats, giving everyone a chance to find what they love from us.
How does your environment influence your creativity?
I spend most of my time in thrift stores and garage sales. I think being able to create from what already exists is such a gift because it takes me on a ride in the direction it wants to go. I do very little planning for what is next and the items come to life through being reborn, yet keeping their original essence.
Do you create with the intent to send a message? If so, how important is it that your audience understands the message?
Yes. We are creating repurposed items to help people understand how easy it is to reuse what already exists. Hopefully we are encouraging them to shop curated, long lasting, unique items and break out of the perpetual need to buy, discard, buy, discard that we have all been conditioned to embrace through the marketing that is all around us.
Our customers are on board and love to support this mission. I do find that due to our quality and style, some people are just buying to buy and enjoy, and not realizing or putting much stock in the repurposed nature. Which is okay because they are supporting the planet by relation.
How often do you create and launch a new design?
I cannot help myself from wanting to keep pushing out new products. If I am using it in my normal day to day I often think, “Can I make these with a JAX upcycled twist?”
So to answer, I would say at least one a year but this year I believe we have launched two new products – the oversized slouchie scarves and the bucket summer and bucket fall and winter hats. I have also been working on a pet design for both cats and dogs. Mostly hairless cats because we own two and we have a frenchie and they love to have warm outfits!
Tell us about the inspiration of one of your new pieces. How does a new item come to life at JaxHats?
The bucket hats started coming into trend this year, so we started making summer ones both for kids and adults. They were made from leftover cotton pandemic mask fabric and blouses from yard sales until I researched fall ones coming up from big brands. I saw so many cool fabrics and then I started my search for those thrifting from used clothing. We use lots of khaki mens pants, ladies jackets including fuzzy or puffy or wool and add a different liner so it becomes reversible.
As a small team I usually get an idea, start the process of material gathering and then have my seamstresses try it out and then we tweak it until it is to my liking.
Whatever we are currently into tends to be in trend and we just jump on board and add our JAX Upcycled flare!
Which part of the design and launch process is your favorite? Which part is a challenge for you?
For me the designing and curating the final product to be advertised is my favorite. From planning to photoshoots. Then the actual marketing can be challenging for me. I like it but it can be disheartening when you don’t get the response you are hoping for. You know if you reached the right audience, it would succeed. Getting there can be a challenge. And then shipping…. I do not like shipping. I do not know why but now that I know I have my main right hand gal doing that for us and it is a great relief.
Describe your creative space. Where are the products made?
OMG, typical craft room with a 1000 unfinished projects and lack of organization… need I say more? I am due for a deep clean. Right now I have 4 sewing machines and a massage table, white board, chair, table, rack and 40 bags of half cut into sweaters and piles of hats and other made products waiting for their debut.
How have your products and business changed over time?
I have been in business for 11 years now and it has greatly evolved. One of my fondest times in business was when I asked my sister to move from San Diego to Portland to live and sew and own the business with me. She did and we went on for a year sewing side by side, going to events together, learning how to run a business. We would go to events and sell so many hats that we would go back to the hotel and sew all night just to sell the new hats the second day. People always could feel the newness and buy those ones from the night before.
At one point I had consultants selling my stuff in their towns at house parties, much like an MLM with no structure or way to get trapped. Just buying it a wholesale and reselling it making a mark up of a store with no overhead.
I also have had up to 9 team members working with me, but now I realize that less can be more. I have my main gal now and then a few other contractors who help me seasonally but it’s low pressure and a little less overhead for us. I still do a lot of sewing which is helpful but it can actually make it harder for me to market and sell the product.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
I love creating new things! I love shaping the business and watching it take new form. That is always motivating for me!
What is your favorite accomplishment?
I think that changes year to year. When I had consultants helping sell in different towns it was a fun highlight and very energizing for me to create content for them and kind of have a coaching aspect to the business.
I also am really enjoying where I am right now and that is creating new boundaries for myself and sticking too them. I am trying to spread myself less thin and have more time to cultivate my personal life and find that work life balance.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
Oh boy. When I was a small child, we would do crafts with my mother for everything. It was like being in art class every day. I also loved dress up, make up and modeling from a very young age. Thank goodness I grew up without the internet so I can see that my passions are authentically mine and the web didn’t influence me. I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer, makeup artist and a model around kindergarten.
Do you think that creativity is part of human nature or is it something that must be nurtured and learned?
I think we all have passions inside us that whichever way you look at them are creative. People get hung up on not being like other people and their creativity and sometimes the creator in them is right under their nose. In their heart. I hope to spread that acknowledgement to help others start to discover their creator without fear.
How have other people supported or inspired you?
My mother is my biggest mentor within the creative space. She is constantly creating, creating something new, creating instead of buying and creating for us. My good friend Mallory from Youer apparel has been a mentor in the business and creative space. We enjoy talking about all our paths in our journeys and that is helpful just to share and toss things around. My partner is one of the most supportive partners one could have. She supports me by listening, helping physically and helping me create more health while being a business owner and a person.
What is your advice for someone starting out in your field?
My advice for someone starting in this field would be after your idea is conceptualized and you have an idea for direction, invest in yourself with classes, mentors and most importantly financial intelligence. Then after you have those in line then just remember don’t give up. There will always be competition, copiers and someone doing something as good or better than you. But can you weather the storm and stick it out? Can you adapt and change? If you can, you will be around. Also the top is not always the best goal. Being happy and making money can be a good goal too.
What is your typical day like?
Wake, make coffee or tea, focus on dogs, fitness and partner, then check emails and texts, probably create content and work on my website or wholesale site, start logistical planning for whatever project I am working on, and I like to start sewing mid or end of day generally.
What do you hope the next year will bring?
I hope the new year will bring more understanding of our bottom line, travel more for pleasure less for work, create a product that goes viral and restructure the business to be more online than in person and finally to start a side hustle with more passion projects that will create unbridled energy!
Where can people find JaxHats products?
You can find our products not only in Oregon and Montana where we started but now we are in 18 states. They are in about 60 stores now. We attend 30-50 events a year in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.
We look forward to hearing what you all think about our product so feel free to leave comments on social media and give us your feedback!
Interview posted December 2023
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