Everybody has a system — a set of processes developed for navigating whatever life throws at them. Jackie Villevoye’s couldn’t be more visceral.
“The way I do things has always been like this. Purely from the stomach,” says the 62-year-old Dutch designer and founder of fashion and homeware label Jupe by Jackie. “I strongly believe in genes.”
Although Jackie’s speech is straight-arrowed and frank, characteristic of a pragmatic businesswoman, her designs reveal a completely different flourish to her personality. Her embroidered details embellish and decorate her pieces with a lively and playful elegance.
“I wanted to bring some humor to it. It’s only fashion in the end of the day,” she says.
From Empty Nest to Entrepreneur
To Villevoye, it might be “only fashion,” but in just under a decade, Jupe by Jackie has won the recognition of some of the fashion scene’s biggest players, enjoying a four-year collaboration with the radical high-fashion brand Comme des Garçons and being stocked in powerhouses such as Lane Crawford Singapore and The Conran Shop.
Ten years ago, Villevoye couldn’t have envisioned her current success. Her previous years had been filled with the assiduous job of raising of her five children in Breda, in the south of the Netherlands.
“When Kate [Jackie’s youngest] left home for university I cried for weeks straight looking at the sea and realizing it was all behind me,” she recalls. “Emotions in me are really strong. It felt deep. I felt empty.”
While an empty nest might have been her catalyst, her aesthetic sensibility and drive have always been there. “When you have five children, you are automatically a shopaholic!” jokes Villevoye. “It might be clothes or toys or food. You are always buying, buying, buying.”
But while she shopped, she was consistently disappointed by the selection. She always had been complimented on the way she dressed her children and the decor of her home. “I knew there was something there,” she says.
From the start, Villevoye’s intuition has informed her brand more than any business plan ever could. Following a hunch, she bought a solo one-way ticket to India.
“I told myself I would only come back when I found what I was looking for,” she says.
Traveling the World for Inspiration
She found it in the province of Uttar Pradesh, where she met the master embroiderers that she has worked with ever since. She had closed the deal with the craftsmen whose work she fell in love with, even before deciding what product she would sell.
“ ‘Ties! That can’t be that complicated to make,’ I thought to myself,” Villevoye recalls.
But like every true entrepreneur, she wanted to do something innovative. She started selling ties for women — a boyish elegance reflected in her own style and inherent in all of Jupe’s designs. A complete newbie in the world of retail, Jackie called TRANOÏ in Paris — one of the most influential and prestigious fashion trade shows — to ask about getting a booth to showcase her ties.
Never Taking No for an Answer
“I got this arrogant Frenchman on the line who told me, ‘No way, I have never heard of you,’” she says. “But that’s the advantage of being older than the other person. I am determined! I didn’t give up on that phone call; I kept calling and calling and talking and talking.”
After she learned that there might be available space on the men’s floor of TRANOÏ, Jackie changed her strategy.
“The next minute I was on the line with India making ties for men!” she says. “That is how I started making ties for men. There was never any business plan. It was always completely organic, just following my nose.”
Villevoye’s 2010 debut at TRANOÏ opened many doors for Jupe by Jackie. She became a regular fixture on the fashion circuit. Every year her collections expanded, moving from just ties to full menswear and womenswear lines to a separate t-shirt collection. More recently, she has added a housewares collection. It was at TRANOÏ that Jupe by Jackie was handpicked by Comme des Garçons for a collaboration.
“But I still didn’t manage to bring the tie to women,” she laughs.
Weaving Work with Family
Age and experience, she says, have been an advantage when it comes to starting a business. “This is being 53 and being naughty and thinking you know what is best!”
When we speak, she is in the Netherlands outlining the brand’s online strategy for the new year. She has returned from London the day before, where she was meeting buyers. In a few days, she will be leaving for a trip to India to oversee her 120-staff-strong atelier and the making of her new collection. That will be followed by trips to Florence for Pitti Uomo — one of the world’s most important trade shows for men’s clothing and accessories — and Paris for Fashion Week.
And, of course, she spends time with her children who are scattered between Amsterdam, London and Houston, and her growing number of grandchildren. Sometimes these two worlds — personal and work — come together. Her youngest daughter modeled her creations in the company’s early years and has assisted with the brand’s website. Her youngest son now manages her t-shirt line. And inspiration for designs often comes from family holidays.
“Yasmin [Jackie’s oldest daughter] took me to a beautiful shop when I saw her in Texas last,” Villevoye says. “I found this mohair throw and discovered where it came from. I got a contact right there and got in touch. We are now going to customize them with our embroidery.”
The Jackie System
Villevoye isn’t merely the owner or designer for Jupe by Jackie. She is the brand — a confluence where her hardworking nature and deep-felt intuitions seamlessly cross over like the threads on her embroideries.
“I am struck by a wink or a smile,” she says. “I always cry with beautiful things. Of course I am a designer! I have goosebumps when I see a beautiful color combination, and I am very happy for this. Life is so much more interesting when you see the fine nuances in it,” she tells me.
But the “Jackie system” isn’t just limited to how she does business. It has guided her through all of her endeavors, motherhood included.
“I have never read one article on education,” she says. “I am relying on my system. I trust my factory, I trust in what I say. There is no age in me. There is Jackie. Just me. This machine that works very hard.”
Perhaps it is no surprise that when Jackie ran the New York Marathon at 48, she did it in 03:43 (it is a running joke that she beat the times of her three children). Her grit is strikingly evident when you look at her achievements, both personal and professional.
Self-confidence — the courage to follow your gut — is a whole different ball game. For Jackie, it seems to come from a deep-seated wisdom that we each have our own unique path to walk, which makes comparisons worthless.
“When I decided to do the marathon people kept asking me, ‘With who?’ Nobody!” she says. “I will never find partners that run the same pace as me. You should run it by yourself. No one runs the same path as you.”
Shop for Jupe by Jackie styles here.