ELEVEN SIX WOMEN | GRETCHEN JONES
Photography by Emma Tuccillo of @emma_austen
Meet Gretchen Jones: the multi faceted talent and founder behind Weird Specialty: a consulting service that offers strategic business advising for creative & cultural leaders. We had the honor of capturing Gretchen at her Upstate, NY stylishly, unique abode and got to talk: career-past as a fashion designer, where she believes small businesses need to focus the most and about her refreshing Instagram experiment that led to starting the OFFLINE Pledge. Gretchen is our dream to dress - she is truly passionate about knitwear and embodies monochromatic, head-to-toe knit-dressing, truly appreciating the roots of the ELEVEN SIX DNA. See Gretchen's Fall edit in this story...
Gretchen wears the ELLIA Dress
Can you share how your career path led from being a designer to starting your own consultancy brand: “Weird Specialty” specializing in strategic business advising to the creative sector?
There is a long and a short version of the answer, I am going to attempt the short answer! My passion since childhood was interior and fashion design, my upbringing was one surrounded by entrepreneurialism and self taught parents. I attempted to go to college for interior design and failed at physics and calculus, dropped out and decided to dive into fashion design (fashion school was too expensive) so I focused on diving in through the indie scene. I gained momentum in the late 2000’s and hit roadblocks in terms of cost/barriers to entry being high and most of the business of fashion being production and inventory management beyond sales.
The creative studio had my heart, the business of fashion did not. I took some big risks, going on—and winning—Project Runway in 2010, doing so to try to find more sophisticated support in terms of infrastructure and network. Then moving on to be the Fashion Director of Womenswear at Pendleton Woolen Mills. I loved designing large collections, hated being in boardrooms defending creative intuition against big data and sales numbers. I resigned and decided to get my MBA at the London College of Fashion, thinking I would return to the industry/design afterwards… but had no relevant/current work in my portfolio. During my thesis, I was asked to present my thesis ‘Altruism by Design’ at SxSW and a few other large stages and kept getting feedback that I should use my expertise and background to start my own consulting firm working with creative leaders to help them hone their business skills while encouraging them to integrate more of their values into their business practices. I started my practice in 2018 and have been in a flow state with this work since then.
Also, we do love the company name: “Weird Specialty” can you tell us more about the meaning and why you chose?
Well, being a business advisor for creative entrepreneurs and leaders in creative fields is a Weird Specialty. Someone once responded to my work saying that phrase and I thought to myself - “That’s it! Own it gJ!” And I think the clientele that are attracted to my work understand the sentiment and connect with my ethos. Holistic Sustainability, Entrepreneurialism, Business Advising, Creative Leadership = one hell of a Weird Specialty.
Your consulting runs deep with your future forecasting of global macro and micro trends to advise small businesses how to better navigate what lies ahead. How do you go about such broad-spectrum research and what do you believe the top three areas that small businesses should be their focus on the most?
My appetite for consuming information—trend through to socioeconomics and geopolitics—has only grown over time. I believe my job is to bring that knowledge and understanding to my clients, who may not have the bandwidth or perspective needed on such micro & macro levels. That is why people want to work with me and why they trust my guidance and desire to push them forward.
You are well known for being the winner of season 8 Project Runway. Can you share your experience on this show: the highlights, the challenges and the learnings you took forth into your fashion brand and into today’s consulting?
To be honest, being on Project Runway was a horrible experience. The time filming was exhausting and extremely isolating. I was portrayed in a manner that is very far off from how I, and my friends and family, identify as a human being. I was not supported by the hosts, publicly stating I was psychotic and a terrible person. And after the show was extremely difficult emotionally, as well as finding very little support from the show in terms of launching my career. I had to fight my way out of deep depression while fighting for my life as a fashion designer. I think most simply put - grit, earnestness, humility, fortitude, conviction, flexibility and resiliency led to me being where I am now. I think you need ALL of those traits to make it in any creative field, especially as the leader of a company or business.
Your Instagram experiment of only posting on Tuesday and Friday is very refreshing as our social channels become increasing consuming and unhealthy. Can you share more on your viewpoint in this area and what you hope the future of IG will be within like-minded small businesses?
This is my latest experiment, beyond starting OFFLINE Pledge. I’ve stopped posting for 6 months, deleted all those I followed, only followed friends & only followed business accounts, etc. My goal with all this experimentation has been to better understand the cultural and socioeconomic relationships online and especially on social media platforms.
What I've concluded since starting to experiment instead of simply getting in formation is - it’s extremely dangerous to over index or become codependent on platforms we don’t own as business owners. These platforms have a business model and that business model doesn’t care about ours. That’s only become clearer in the last 18 months in particular (though I believe the writing has been on the wall for years now) and the effectiveness of engagement, let alone paid marketing on these platforms are proving ineffective.
My recommendation, per my latest experiment, is to reframe your view of these platforms and see them as in-real-time portfolios & business cards. Nothing more. Redirect your attention elsewhere, including more regional, authentic marketing that will resonate with your core audience/consumer because right now is HARD and what the future holds is rather murky right now.
You recently moved Upstate during the pandemic. How has this changed/enhanced your lifestyle and quality?
My spouse and I are both half country mice, half city mice. The Hudson Valley is the perfect balance of both. I feel deeply calm here, more engaged in building community and settling into the region.
We have enjoyed seeing your home renovation documented and love your eclectic, curated interior style....how would you describe your personal style?
A friend recently told me they think my style is ‘brutalist organic’ and I really like that. Our home has a lot of personality and the space has informed my aesthetic leanings more than I anticipated. It’s a postmodern craftsman if you will. Leaning into that has relit my creative flame and I’m really enjoying the process of making this place our own.
That said, from a wardrobe standpoint I have been undergoing a total vibe shift. Moving from more bohemian to 90’s minimalism.
Now we are free to travel where is the next place your hopping on a plane too?
I've been investing heavily in home decor, so travel is lower priority right now. I have a trip planned to go spend time with a dear friend this fall and then we won’t be traveling again until a trip to Holbox MX in March.
What are your favorite things to do to tune out of your busy work mind and schedule?
I'm an avid skier, so very happy it is fall now! I have begun swimming laps with my mother (she moved here this spring to be closer to us) which is truly transformative. And I am deeply invested in my fur family. We have a new puppy Daryl, she has been just a dreamy new additional to the household. And we have 2 cats that I just adore! Lastly, I am just now, at 40 yrs old, learning how to cook and that has been a blast.
Do you have anything exciting in the pipeline you would like to share – it can work or play?
Blegh, I dont know!? Everything and nothing.
How would you describe the ELEVEN SIX brand?
Versatile. Eleven Six can serve so many styles, shapes and sizes. It can be loud, it can be subtle. It can be structural and also soft. I find the line to be a brilliant representation of why knitwear is such a fabulous mode of dressing.