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JF & Son's Guild System Designs Heirloom Fashion

New York's JF & Son clothing line is built on a revolutionary "vertical/horizontal" model and features pieces by Asian artisans.

When Jesse Finkelstein describes the concept for his JF & Son clothing line, he doesn’t put it in fashion terms; he uses the language of restaurants. “People want to know where the things they buy come from, whether it's food or clothing,” says the New York–based creative director. “Just like farm to table, we are bringing clothing from our studio to our store.”

How can a shirt be like an heirloom tomato salad?

Finkelstein’s company has structured itself on a model he calls “vertical/horizontal”: vertical because they own the process at all levels, which allows them to control costs; horizontal because they work on a “guild” system that employs skilled artisans—rather than assembly-line workers—in studios in India and China. “Everyone is a creative participant,” Finkelstein says. “Each beader or sower is in charge of their garment.” The result is a piece of clothing that is sourced, designed, made, and sold in one swoop.

Working this way has aesthetic effects, too. Sidestepping the industry’s production schedules—JF & Son doesn’t do seasonal shows—allows for creative agility, and, Finkelstein says, clears room for customer input. “We design a master collection about three to four months before delivery and then we'll keep on adding in designs a week till delivery. Everything is very immediate.”
And for Finkelstein, there may be added reason to run the company as a label that wears its heritage proudly: It’s tied to his own roots. “JF & Son was started by my great-grandfather, importing goods from overseas to be sold on the Lower East Side,” he says. “When I took over it was with a specific idea of how design should be done.”

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