PGH Fashion Feature: An Interview with Terry Jolo
Pittsburgh’s own Terry Jolo is surely an artist to watch, as she’s setting an original tone in our city’s up-and-coming fashion market. Her dedicated spirit is inspiring and real, which is reflected in her fashions, and she stays true to herself in keeping the essence of her cultural roots alive in her creations.
A hard worker with a strong business mentality, this boss lady is taking control of her destiny with a focus on a bright future for the Terry Jolo Brand. The recent Art Institute grad is on a mission to show her city, and the rest of the world, what she’s got to offer in the world of fashion.
We recently got a chance to chat with Terry about her current works, and how she’s sustaining a grip on the reigns towards her journey to success.
NAK YOU OUT: Tell us a little bit about your background; when did you first start designing?
Terry Jolo: “I was born in Monrovia, Liberia in West Africa, and I grew up in Guinea. I was two years old when I left there, when my family and I moved to the United States. I would say my first introduction to design was back in Guinea. When I was younger, my mom would actually have us design our own holiday outfits. We’d put pieces of fabric together, and then my mom would take it to a tailor. I didn’t even know what “designing” was then, or that it was even a real occupation… I just knew that I loved it. Every holiday was fun for me as a young girl, I enjoyed it a lot. After coming to the U.S., I took a home art class when I was 16-17 years old. From there, I became more fascinated with the art of designing clothes, and I bought my own sewing machine… Then the passion just started to grow more from there!”
NYO: Can you describe the TJB style? In regards to the clothes, what’s unique about TJB that you want people to notice most?
TJ: The brand is different in a way that it incorporates the cultural aspects that represent who I am, with a Bohemian-type of feel to it, too. The garments are basically for the average, active woman. They’re made in-house, tailored to the body. It’s not mass-produced like many other brands my customers may shop with, so they know they’re getting unique pieces unlike what everyone else is wearing. Women like leaving with the confidence knowing they have something original.
NYO: Some pieces incorporate the African aesthetic; is that important for you to integrate those characteristics into your brand?
TJ: Yes, it’s important because it represents me and my background. It tells a story. When you’re providing an art and being creative, it’s telling the story of the artist. So, naturally, when making a design, that is going to translate through. Whether it’s in the silhouette, prints, etc., that cultural aspect is always being integrated.
NYO: There have been many definitions attributed to the word, “fashion”; what is “fashion” to you, and how do you go about expressing that in your creation process?
TJ: Fashion is expression. Expression of ones’ self and what separates you from the rest of the world physically. We don’t really know what’s going on in another person’s mind, but when you look at someone in relation to how they want to portray themselves to the rest of us with how they dress, you can begin to get a sense of that person further. I express fashion through my designs first through creativity–reflecting fashion through my eyes and representing me. For example, if you’re wearing a pair of TJB pants, you can style it however you like and make it yours, but my vision of fashion is still being reflected through the piece, because I created that. Then I pay attention to quality. I have control over the quality, which is an important feature that I strive to stay consistent with… Providing awesome quality is relevant to the brand.
NYO: How important do you think it is for designers to stay on top of current industry trends? Is that something you keep in mind when creating your pieces?
TJ: Well, I keep trends in mind, but not too much. I want my brands’ clothing to stay unique to its distinguished image and style. I do think it’s important to always remain aware of industry trends, like colors, silhouettes, etc.; but not always following those patterns so much that you just begin to blend in.
TJ: That actually kind of fell into my lap. I knew I needed to find a space quickly at the time; South Side happened to be the closest, and [the store] is in a decent spot. It is actually working out pretty well for right now.
NYO: So what are you currently working on? What’s your inspiration for this season?
TJ: You won’t even believe all my winter stuff is gone! People have been coming in and just buying it off of the mannequin, which is great; so right now, I’m just trying to catch up. (laughs) Currently, I’m working on winter, spring and summer [lines]. And as far as inspiration goes, I travel a lot, and I have noticed people are looking for comfort along with style. I haven’t seen the super tight jeans much lately, and I wanted to tap into that. So, now, I am working on a new collection called “Style me Comfort.” I’m using comfortable fabrics you can wear everyday, all day. There are lots of linens and cotton fabrics, but with great quality that you can wear all day and still look like a million bucks. [You can] create looks that are wearable and fashionable, which also fits well with my customer base.
NYO: Can you talk a little about your recent collaboration with Macy’s?
TJ: I actually collaborated with a company called 19th Amendment, which is a platform for emerging designers. They carry my line, and they have their own collaboration with Macy’s. So, if shoppers are on the Macy’s website, they find them, then they find me. My goal is to get my brand’s name out there as much as possible, so having an outlet like this is really helpful.
NYO: Being a designer and a business owner running your boutique day-to-day, what are the most rewarding/challenging aspects of it all? What drives you to keep moving?
Having my creativity being appreciated by others is what’s really rewarding. People can go anywhere to shop; but they are coming to me, buying my stuff, and that is a rewarding feeling. As far as challenges, challenges occur every day. There are a lot of brands and designers out there, so just having to be able to compete is a challenge… You always have to prove yourself worthy. Also, timing of production is challenging. In the fashion world, changes are happening quickly, and if you miss a certain timing, the product may not sell. Checking quality is a process in itself, too; a lot of time needs to be dedicated to it, and being a small business [owner], I’m not working with a team, so I have to do so much on my own. There are many obstacles, but I am driven to keep moving because I honestly just could not see myself doing anything else. I love my job, and I know there are a lot of people out there who have jobs they don’t love, so I am always fortunate that my dream is my job.
NYO: What are your future plans for the TJB? Where do you hope to see it go?
TJ: I definitely want to see it grow. Hopefully, [I’d like] to have my brand in a showroom across the country… To have the name spread outside of Pittsburgh, and in other boutiques, too.
TJ: That’s kind of tough, because everyone is different… But I would definitely say to make sure you really have a love for it, and stay true to who you are. It’s important to also understand what you’re doing before getting into it, too; you might lose money, or if you don’t lose money, you lose time. But whatever the case, be prepared for gains and losses. You’re going to make some mistakes in the beginning, but that’s natural. No one said it would be easy, but if you really do love it, push yourself to keep going.
Be sure to stop and visit Terry at her shop in the South Side (2724 E Carson St., Pittsburgh, Pa 15203) to pick up some unique, local pieces made with love.