Jess Beachen is ready to put her own stamp on the fashion industry. She talks to Rebecca Ryan about her new label, Jessica Flora, and effecting meaningful change.
A seed for creativity was planted in Jess Beachen from a very young age, and she has never chased any career path other than design.
After years spent working in different areas of the fashion industry, she has finally launched her own label – Jessica Flora.
Beachen, who is moving to Kurow this month, grew up on a sheep and beef farm in Hawke’s Bay.
As a young girl, she was taught by her mother how to make little lavender bags for drawers.
“I used to make millions of those and give them out to everyone,” she said.
After lavender bags, she moved on to clothing – an A-line purple tartan skirt was one of the first items she made for herself – and ”pretty much got addicted from there”.
At secondary school, she would buy bulk fabric to make hoodies, which she would sell to her friends.
She went on to study fashion design at Massey University in Wellington and got her start in the industry as a garment technician for a menswear company in Christchurch, before moving to the United Kingdom to work for Sportfolio, designing and preparing licensed apparel for international events, such as the Rugby World Cup.
Coming from a small menswear company in New Zealand, Sportfolio was a massive change for Beachen, but a good experience and insight into the industry.
When Sportfolio got the licence for the America’s Cup, she returned to New Zealand and continued working for the company from Auckland.
In 2019, she moved south to work for New Zealand activewear brand Rhind, and was involved in launching two other brands for the company.
“That was such a game-changer for me, learning how to navigate that whole start-up space.”
Beachen was grateful for all her experiences in the industry, but said she always had a drive to do something for herself and had worked on her own designs for many years.
“It’s always been something I’ve done on the side, designing away.”
Now taking on the industry with her own name, she launched series one of Jessica Flora at Kurow’s Waitaki Braids this month.
She hoped to use her label to start a conversation about the fashion industry and tackle the issues she found herself constantly questioning.
All the products in series one are made from compostable fabrics and by Christchurch-based machinists, who are celebrated on the label of each item of clothing.
Beachen also composts all of her offcuts, of which there are many.
“Our goal is to cut down on waste,” she said.
Beachen is quick to point out that she is not perfect.
As her company grows, and she is able to, she will continue to improve on her footprint.
“I really like the idea of having a platform that can create positive change.”
Featuring six styles, series one was small but mighty, she said.
“I don’t want to be pushing too much product out there. I want to make an effort to create a series that’s classic.
“I really want to have that essence of longevity.”
But she also offered the option to customise her styles – such as changing the back of her dresses to be open or closed.
“There’s quite a few different touches that different people like, and suit.
“That way they’re buying something that really suits them.”
She was excited to finally be able to show people what she had been working on for the past six months.
When Beachen met her partner Matt Irving last year, she had never heard of his hometown, Kurow.
But she was looking forward to soon calling it home, and being part of the “fantastic community”.
Already, she had connected and collaborated with other Waitaki Valley businesswomen – such as Whistle & Pop’s Bex Hayman and photographer Dana Johnston.
“It’s just got such a cool community feel here. I feel really lucky,” she said.
“There’s so many amazing, talented ladies who run their businesses here – it’s so cool to be part of that.”
Jessica Flora is available on jessicaflora.co.nz, and some items will be stocked at Design Federation in Oamaru.