How Do You Tell Your Story Through Fashion? with Jessica Richards
Updated: Jan 24, 2022
Jessica Richards is the founder of JMR trend + creative and fashion director for the Accessories Council. With an extensive background in forecasting and design for major North American retailers, she brings a forward-thinking yet commercial and brand-right viability to product and editorial content projects across the fashion and wellness industries.
Jessica graduated from Boston University with a degree in Magazine Journalism, and has been additionally certified from the Fashion Institute of Technology. She has been quoted and featured as a guest expert across international media, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, InStyle, and more. She has also spoken as a trade expert for industry events and organizations such as MAGIC, JCK, NY NOW, and WWIN.
Alexis Kashar: How did you get started in fashion?
Jessica Richards: Growing up, I was always interested in fashion and loved reading magazines, shopping, and working in a clothing store in the mall. I'm from a small town outside of Boston and didn't know anyone that worked in that industry, so I thought being able to sketch and draw was something you had to be able to do to "get in." When I went to college, I decided to focus on my skill set in writing as a means to break into fashion and earned a Magazine Journalism degree from Boston University. As soon as I graduated, I was ready for New York City; despite never once being there!
Through my network, I found a couch to crash on and got my first temp job, working as an executive assistant at Christian Dior. It was a small but mighty opportunity; having that on my resume landed me a permanent job as an assistant to the CEO of another retailer. As fate would have it, in that role I met the woman that has come to be my mentor and best friend, Marie Holman-Rao. Marie was coming on as a creative design consultant and asked me to be her assistant. In the years we worked together, she taught me all about building brands, creating product assortments, and gave me insight into trend forecasting. Combined with my writing abilities, these skills led me into a part of the industry I didn't know existed and I worked on trend and concept teams. Eventually, in my last corporate retail role, I was design director overseeing footwear, handbags, and accessories for the private label business of a large department store group. In January 2020 I started my own consulting business, doing independent trend forecasts, branding, and editorial content and that's what I'm happy to still do today with RoseBYANDER.
Alexis: What happened to fashion after the pandemic hit?
Jessica: The pandemic was devastating to the fashion industry as it existed in 2020; people were very unsure of what was going to happen, they weren't leaving the house, and they were saving and spending just on essential products. At the same time, there were so many social movements happening and a large peek behind the curtain of corporations, revealing more about how they were functioning and who the decision-makers were. Especially in fashion, it was quite clear that there needed to be a call to action for more representation and diversity on these teams and in the product they were producing. Simply put, it was time for consumers to finally push back and press a big reset button. With everyone at home, designers and brands used social media to communicate directly with their audiences more than ever before; they had to listen and respond to this call. Ultimately as scary and unsure as those times were, it certainly forced the fashion industry to take a pause and re-evaluate what and how they were trying to sell. Did it include everyone or at least as wide an audience as possible? One of my favorite sayings is, "You can't vote for the customer you want; they vote for what they want, with their dollars." The power has returned to the consumer who has demanded to be heard and not forced into product or marketing or brands that they don't align with. We'll see this not just as a trend for a few seasons, but as a new standard going forward, which is a very positive result of the pandemic.
Alexis: Tell us about the shift to consumer-driven fashion? What does this mean? To be aligned with the brand?
Jessica: Consumers want designers and brands to be considerate of them in product and in marketing; one of the greatest lessons we'll take from this time is that REPRESENTATION MATTERS! It disappoints me to still see major marketing campaigns very targeted in their approach, casting non-diverse models and promoting their product in a silo. I also think this is interesting in the luxury market; subliminally that suggests that luxury is for few, and it discriminates so many from that aspiration to be aligned with a brand. However, that will ultimately cost them; when consumers feel that the brand is authentically aligned with their core values, it creates a sort of community; one that they will want to support by continuing to shop with those brands. In this industry, we are trying to sell goods; why shouldn't we create a space and a dialogue with those that are building us up and helping us grow? This two-way alignment only benefits everyone on both sides.
Alexis: Is there a new meaning to the world of personalization?
Jessica: In years past, personalization trends have often meant adding an initial or decoration to an item to make it "yours." These trends were very strong in the market for years leading up to the pandemic.
For 2020 and 2021, many of my trend forecasts in jewelry were about what I called the "personal pendant." Surviving a historical pandemic, going through something so unbelievable in our lifetime, we would want to mark this occasion somehow; but it was also a time of connection, of needing safety and love, and missing so many people we could not physically connect with. Symbols of love and protection then would have even more significant importance, both as amulets we would buy and wear ourselves as a means to feel safe, but also as gifts; telling the recipient "I have been thinking about you and want you to carry this with you wherever you go, so you know that I am there."
This still feels incredibly relevant and we'll see personalization continue but also evolve as we move through 2022 and beyond. Personalization will also extend into styling. For example; perhaps in 2020 and 2021 you would only wear one RoseBYANDER LoveSign pendant, and in that way, it expresses love, it expresses allyship with the Deaf community; it becomes a platform for others to start a dialogue with you on this symbol and what it means to you. This is amazing! Now I imagine that in 2022, with styling personalization becoming so important, we'll see new ways to wear. Both you and I wear the double ILY, with two LoveSign pendants. Through working with RoseBYANDER, we are keen to end our meetings and meetups by flashing two ILYs on Zoom or in the street. You had shared with me early on that is your signature, that you do that with your family and friends; that it felt casual and personal and like an extra bit of love. This really resonated with me! I love gestures and little colloquial details that feel cute and personal and so I've adopted this as well. :)
So when we wear our double LoveSigns, not only are we both referencing this gesture, but to take it a step further, we've styled this differently in a way that feels like us; you, Alexis wear yours on two different chains and in different sizes, and I wear a mini and a medium next to each other on the same long chain. I love this extra layer of personalization through styling, which just becomes a vehicle for a new way to personalize your jewelry story.
As seen in the photo, Jessica is wearing Mini and Medium Yellow Solid Gold Love Sign™ Pendant Necklaces.
Alexis: How do you see this year’s Valentine’s Day being different?
Jessica: This year, I think we'll continue to see this tidal wave continue to wanting to express the love and the relief of having a bit more opportunity to reconnect with those we've missed so much in the past couple of years; again, sharing that symbolism through gifting a pendant or personal amulet of love feels incredibly timely and important. What might feel really different too, is that this demand from consumers for better representation and inclusion might give love a "new face." Perhaps we're finally able to move past the generic, heteronormative imagery that is typically associated with Valentine's Day marketing and celebrate this holiday as a declaration for all those that we love, whether romantic, familial, or as a community.
Alexis: How can people tell their own stories in fashion?
Jessica: The choices you make in the brands you buy and support are the basis of the story you tell with your fashion. I love to see the success of small businesses with powerful products and messaging; it means they are resonating with their consumers, their self-built community, because of this shared story.
In styling, you can tell your story in so many ways but I believe that nothing is more personal than a beautiful jewelry curation. Layering heirloom family pieces, modern charms with personal significance, mixing and matching self-purchases with thoughtful gifts; all together it tells a story of who you are, where you've come from, and where you want to go.
Alexis: Let's talk about 2022 styling trends.
Jessica: Here's my biggest trends for spring 2022, a season that I am calling out as one of optimism and joy. More than ever, vibrant and bold colors are going to make us stand out and have presence in our dressing. Palettes have been more quiet and neutral and safe feeling; as we slowly move about the world again, expressing this cautious return feels better in rainbow brights. Expect to see bold pops in everything, even in fine jewelry, mixing elements of color into our charm stacks and chains.
Sparkle is also a major styling element. With the desire to dress boldly and be seen. More is more; add a stone chain into your normal metal necklace layering to make it feel like a new season. If stones aren't your thing, pearls are still major, and popping in a string or charm makes for an opulent styling addition.
Last - tying together so much of what we've talked about here - adding personal elements to your jewelry stack opens up your world to those around you, both strangers and friends. Fashion storytelling through careful curation is real, and starts a conversation about the pieces you've chosen, and how you are styling it. Seeing how impactful your message can be through statement jewelry is an unexpected but amazing way to share yourself with the world; what an incredible way to grow your own community and share your story.