Designer to Watch: Ja9
At the age of seventeen, most girls are daydreaming about graduation and university. Janine, however, spends most of her high school days thinking about organic fabrics and patchwork – meticulously planning her next creation for what is now Ja9. Cleverly taken from her name Janine, Ja9 (pronounced Jay-nine) is a line of unique, one-of-a-kind, handmade canvas tote bags designed and created by the seventeen year old herself. Her decision to launch a line of bags stemmed simply from her love of sewing and crafting her own creations. When people started to like what she was doing, it got her thinking – Why not create her own company? “I kind of just went on from there,” she tells me. “It was a really slow process and once I got into it and had the time, it really went along.” It may have started off slow but once Janine started her website, organized a photo shoot, started advertising, and selling her bags in stores (they’re currently being sold at Ainsworth Custom Design on Granville) her first batch of bags sold out within two weeks. “The owner of the store called me and said, ‘They’re all gone. I need more. ‘I was like, ‘Really?’ And that was about three months ago,” the young designer recalls. Not too shabby considering she hasn’t even graduated from high school.
If you take a look at her debut collection, the pieces are impeccably made. Working with scraps of recycled material and using only organic fabrics, her designs are well-crafted, and wouldn’t look out-of-place next to the kinds of bags that you would see in bigger stores. Impressed, I asked the designer if she ever turned to books or the internet when she first started creating bags. Surprisingly, she played it by ear. Rather than researching, she used her natural curiosity as her guiding source. “.. I didn’t read books. Nothing. I just went along with it, played it by ear – tried to figure it out how to sew the bag right there and then. I’ll look at [a bag] and maybe look at the bags that I have and say, ‘I think it might work’. If it works, it works and if it doesn’t then I’ll try something else.”
Much of her designs come from imitation and studying existing bags. “I’ll study it and I’ll try to see how the manufacturer or company does theirs … and then I can kind of see how it was put together and then imitate it.” Her first batch of bags had a very hippie, Coachella-like feel to it with feathers and strips of leather hanging down from the bags.
As her collections progress, I’ve noticed a more unifying and cohesive theme especially with her S/S 13 Collection which is defined by similar patterns, clean lines, and quirky designs. There’s almost a maturity reflected in her most recent collection – her designs and creations have grown with her, exuding a classic and grown-up feel. It has a cheerful and fun vibe attached to it which is fitting since Janine’s inspiration came from her “wanting summer to come faster.” “But at the same time,” she adds, “I tried to play it with mellow colours.”
At the moment, Janine is currently working with a few stores with the hopes of expanding and having her products more widely available. When asked if she could reveal sources, Janine coyly responded, “Not yet.” Whatever it is, we’re sure it must be something exciting. She may only be seventeen, but her talent and natural curiosity will certainly take her places, especially in the fashion world. “I have been working on it [clothes] a bit…” Did you hear that Ja9 fans? You can expect clothes from Ja9 somewhere down the road!
Considering her success, Janine is refreshingly modest and true to her values. She’s declined mass-produced deals in the past and would rather keep her bags local than commercialize it. “I want to keep it personal. I don’t want to be tempted with bigger dollars. I just want to keep it very local, very me, [and] stay true to myself. I think it’s different and unique and I think we need a little more of that. So that’s my main goal: to not get sidetracked with what other people want me to do, just what I want to.” Ja9 isn’t just a design label; it encompasses and represents everything that Janine is: unique, different, one-of-a-kind, and utterly admirable.