Jennifer Felts, the emerging creative mind behind Tokyo Twiggy has created a name for herself in the fashion industry. Her vibrant, attention-grabbing designs landed her in New York after winning the Emerging Designer Contest during Indiana Fashion Week in 2019. Since then she is constantly creating, designing, and developing her spunky brand.
Isabella Daugherty: Tell me a little bit about your journey to fashion design and creating your business?
Jennifer Felts: I’ve always wanted to do fashion, but really wasn’t able to pursue it until about four years ago after I applied for the Art Institute of Indianapolis, where I did study fashion design. While I was there, I was having problems finding fabric that matched my vision, so I ended up figuring out a way to be able to design my own fabrics and get them printed. That’s what kind of started it all. Right after I graduated, I participated in Indiana Fashion Week for their Emerging Designer Competition which was judged by the creators of New York Fashion Week. I won that, so I was really surprised and that pretty much shot me forward to what I’m doing now. I’ve only been doing this really since I won Indiana Fashion Week so it’s only been like a year and a half, so I am still pretty new at it.
ID: With winning the Indiana Fashion Week in 2019, tell me a little bit about your experience winning in addition to your experience in New York?
JF: The experience was great. They had a whole week’s event where professionals from New York came and spoke about the industry in addition to being the ones that judged the competition. All of the other designers were very gifted and did a little bit of everything. It was great to network within my own community, because I have not been able to meet as many people in our own community so it was great to meet locally. After winning, I won $5,000 and a trip to New York where I was able to have lunch with the creator of New York Fashion Week, Fern Mallis. I was also invited on a private tour with her to go to the COTERIE, which is a big trade show in New York City that happens twice a year and it just so happened to be going on during the time I was there. It was really cool to be able to go to like one of the biggest trade shows in the U.S. and also being on a private tour with Fern Mallis where everyone seemed to know her.
ID: Where do you find your inspiration for creating your designs and concepts?
JF: It all ranges. I try to mix up concepts, so I don’t usually have just one concept. So I try to incorporate some Japanese feel whether it’s the pattern making or the design itself. My last collection was based on Japanese pattern making because they do a lot of different patterns that we don’t really do here in the U.S. I then added Japanese shrines and did a whole piece with a little bit of everything. It really just depends. A lot of my inspiration comes from traveling. My up-coming collection is based on the color theme of the Northern Lights, but I also want to have a “cyberpunk” feel. It all just depends on my mood and what I see around me!
ID: 2020 was definitely an interesting year for everyone. How did 2020 shape you as a person, as well as shape your brand?
JF: 2020 actually ended up being the best for me. I went from doing shows and such to be able to have time to focus more on my business side, which I don’t do normally. It was really good to be able to refocus and see where I want to go long term, using my skills by helping with StitchWorks when it first opened up. I used my skills, helping with masks and other things. It was nice to be able to help the community locally. 2020 necessarily wasn’t a bad thing. It just went from one year to another year and equally just as important. I was able to open my own studio and really start getting my business side together.
ID: You mentioned the new studio that you moved into in addition to making masks and t-shirts! Can you tell me a little bit about that?
JF: I do make my own textile masks, but I am also making my own T-shirts. Here shortly, I want to do either tank tops or leggings so there would be a complete outfit. I am preparing a collection for the next Indiana Fashion Week, hopefully in July. I have been asked to participate in London and Milan Fashion Week, which I was supposed to do last September, but now it is September 2021. They are two of my first big international shows. It’ll be really interesting to see what happens after that.
ID: Speaking of your new shirts, I know that ethically U.S.-made clothing comes with higher prices which can be difficult for some consumers to understand. What are your challenges as a small business owner creating and selling products in a world where fast fashion is prevalent?
JF: It’s pretty interesting. I mean, a lot of the time it just comes down to educating your customer and at times I’ll post something along the lines of, “Here is what is involved and it’s not just an ordinary t-shirt”. I will educate on the process or the experience. There are people who use fast fashion like Forever 21, but there are people who are wanting more US-made, good quality products and willing to pay those prices. I think COVID showed what the importance was with small businesses, particularly in buying local and small compared to huge corporations. I try to keep it positive and understand my worth as well as the work I put into it as well while putting in the pricing. I try to not negotiate more or less. You have to stay true to yourself and be confident in your work. When you are upfront about what your time is worth, then customers are more understanding. I haven’t had much of an issue, thankfully people seem to like my work enough to pay for what it is. I also offer payment plans, because I know things are tough.
ID: You have mentioned a new collection is coming out before Indiana Fashion week? What is your inspiration for this collection?
JF: My inspiration is the northern lights with kimono prints and a cyber-punk feel. I’m trying to mix a lot of different things that I haven’t done before and I’m getting ready to try out a swimwear collection. I am not quite there, but I am doing certain things that have that feel. A lot of my stuff up to this point has been more loose-fitting. I try to do each collection better than my last collection, but I also like to try something new. I’m always learning, and not staying the same either.
ID: What is next for you in 2021? What does 2021 have in store?
JF: I am excited about the international shows. I feel that it will help to find my market, because most of my market tends to be either in bigger cities or abroad. I am trying to use this year as a year to build up my business, but also build a small inventory of stuff that I can take while I am traveling to get new clients and businesses. Thinking for next year, I really want to get into Tokyo Fashion Week, which has always been a big dream of mine. I am trying to build up an inventory that customers can get my stuff. I am also applying to other jobs with other companies because I have a lot to learn and I don’t mind working with other companies to get the experience. I am hopeful and excited especially as the pandemic starts to go away so I can plan for the bigger shows!
ID: How would you describe your personal style?
JF: I like to be stylish and comfortable. I don’t really believe you should technically have to suffer for fashion. You should be able to be just as stylish and be comfortable. All of the stuff I designed tends to be athletic wear and it’s all nice looking stuff, but it’s also very comfortable.
ID: What advice do you have for young creatives or up and coming fashion designers?
JF: I know it’s harder right now with COVID-19, but my biggest thing is to show up. Go out and meet people, go to events that are more in your field, and be able to network with your community, because your community is going to be your first base of customers, your first base of connections. It’s great to stay in tune with the community and what they’re doing. Keep practicing. Never think your art is never good enough. Always try to learn new skills. I know I’m not very great at pattern making, so I try to find different books on patterning techniques. Just be positive, It’s never easy, nothing is easy, but if it is something you love then it is worth it all. It’s not going to be easy, but if it’s something you love, it’s worth it.