Born in Illinois, Jessica Fern Kamm is a Los Angeles-based designer. Her luxury, artisan clothing label, Jesse Kamm, is a collection distinctive for its minimal design, clean lines, and classic shapes. Dedicated to sustainability, Kamm reduces her label’s environmental impact by using recycled and repurposed products and non-toxic inks. She is also a cofounder of Punta Carenero, an off-the-grid sustainable community in Bocas del Toro, Panama, where she spends three months of the year with her husband and son, living in their self-built house and surfing. You can find her collection here.
At the top of a quiet LA mountain, after the winding steep streets and amongst the urban wilderness, Jesse Kamm welcomes us into her home studio tucked away in the back of her house. Sliding glass doors open to her personal view of the city, with her son’s playthings near the base of his tree house. Rocks collected from her adventures are lined up on the floor inside, underneath racks of clothes, and trinkets cover the desk. Her current collection, hung in a color coordinated fashion, tells the story of her annual summers in Central America. Her creativity is fueled by simplicity, travel, and family.
Dressed from head to toe in the tones of the desert, Jesse sat down with us to explain her philosophies of life, her “jobby”, and her effortless style. The ease with which she handles both her design and lifestyle, and the way she weaves them together, is inspiring. Her eyes light up just talking about it.
Jessica Makinson: It’s great to see your collection in person, to look at the texture and see it all together.
Jesse Kamm: I think something that’s very true about my collection is there are big boxy shapes, so when you look at them on the rack you’re kind of like, “Hmm… that looks pretty boring.” But I think the beauty of this collection comes with putting the pieces on and feeling the fabric and noticing the simplicity behind the shapes and how they fit a woman’s body. I think that having them on a person is paramount to really letting the pieces shine.
I had been in Panama all summer and I had the bulk of the collection finished before I left, so I had the shapes and a lot of the colors, and worked to put the finishing touches on and round the whole collection out. I started collecting these rock sets that sort of determined where all of the colors of the collection came from.
JM: Absolutely. The fabric you use, where do you source it from?
JK: A couple different places. I feel like my collection has grown in terms of quality immensely over the last five years after my son was born. I was trying to simplify my collection because prior to my son everything was hand printed. It was all these hand printed textiles and patterns, and that was what the whole thing was about. I would hand draw all this stuff and then I would hand print it on fabric, and it was all these silks because you needed this certain texture to take these prints. And then he was born and I was literally like, “I cannot do that anymore.“
Luke [my husband] and I just used to roll out bolts of fabric and print in this giant apartment we had in West Hollywood. I was like, okay I’ve got to pull away from that and my friend Maryam actually was talking to me about the collection one day and she was like “What if you just let go of the print?” And I was like, “But that’s my thing,” and she was like, “Actually, you have a really good understanding of color and texture and what if you just tried to allow yourself to focus on that?” It was honestly the most freeing statement someone ever gave me because I didn’t allow myself to think outside of the print and as soon as I did I got really into these textures and this like crinkled crushed fabric that is sort of my ode to the eighties.
“The beauty of this
collection comes with
putting the pieces on, feeling
the fabric and noticing the simplicity
behind the shapes and how they
fit a woman’s body.”
— Jesse Kamm
I worked super hard with a fabricator downtown to create my own version of that, and you can see it in a couple of pieces here. And then I started sourcing these Japanese textiles that had that built into them. Then came this windfall of beautiful Japanese technical fabrics, which I started looking into because I was looking for more environmentally conscious fabrics. That whole conversation is a very slippery slope because something’s organic, but the moment you dye it in bulk in India, the dye gets dumped into the river. Getting into the whole eco-conversation is not a place I really even want to go, with talking about manufacturing, because it’s the kind of thing where I’m a very conscientious person and we are a very conscientious family.
All of that plays into everything that I do in terms of small production, choosing the fabrics that I can best attain with my dollars, and my knowledge of what’s out there. I’m not going to choose only a certain kind of fabric that’s going to narrow me into this hole, but I make the best choice every step of the way. I didn’t set out to be an eco brand but, you know, we drive a car that runs on vegetable oil, we have a solar powered house that’s not here [in LA] but one day this [house] will be a part of that. We try to grow some of our own food, and just think about our impact every step of the way. That just naturally translates into what I do, but it’s not like a platform I’m on, it’s just the way we are.
JM: That’s definitely along the lines of questions I had about your textiles, saying you use dead stocks. Do you still do that?
JK: I still do that whenever I can, and what’s great about what I do is I sort of have a cap, which is like twenty stores. That’s what I believe I can handle and manage selling to because I am a lone wolf. It’s just me. I’ve tried to bring other people on – I’m too controlling and need to be a part of all of it to allow someone else to do the different things, so I’ve decided that this is my “jobby”. It’s part job part hobby and it really allows me to have a lot of fun and freedom in the work that I do.
I finish everyday at 2:30 or 3, I pick my kid up from school and we chill. We just hang and ride bikes and skateboard and do our thing. I feel like as a priority I have my son and my family, and I have my surf and that’s my church, and I have this work which is very important to me. I do it because it brings me joy and financial income, because a man’s gotta work, but I don’t feel like I am at all a part of the circus. I don’t feel like I’m in “fashion”. I mean I do, but I feel like this is just a craft and it’s been fulfilling me for almost ten years and I love it and I love that other people love it, but I don’t live and die by it.