Convertible clothing is a relatively new term in the fashion design world. The concept implies that you can typically wear pieces several different ways, giving a very different appearance.
Above: Jules Feng
Jules Feng and Jennifer Abernathy don’t know each other personally, but their career paths have had a similar trajectory in their embrace of convertibles.
Neither Jules nor Jennifer grew up thinking they would become clothing designers, and neither set a path forward that would lead them in that direction. In a way, it just happened. They both adopted entrepreneurship and recognized a need in the fashion industry, making the conscious decision to fill this void with their own fashion lines.
Growing up in Chicago, Jules and her mom went shopping at the local mall in Schaumburg almost every weekend. Jules says her mom has always been very fashion-forward, and fashion was an interest the two shared.
Originally a teacher and then a homemaker, Jules was tired of wearing her workout clothing every day while 70% of her amazing wardrobe sat idle in her closet. Inspired by Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant, she decided to “tidy up” her closet. According to Marie, you look at each piece of clothing, and if it makes you smile—you keep it.
Photographed by Justin Ruhl
Jules put all her clothing into three piles. Beyond the pile of clothes to keep, she made a pile to give to Goodwill and another pile to use for modifications, where she could make a few alterations and ultimately change the look of the original piece.
“Waking up in the morning and working hard for yourself and a life that you dream of is the greatest thing in the world.”
The modification process was exhilarating. Suddenly she was inspired to create a singular collection of her own designs for any size woman. Comfort and convertibility became the mission. During college in Seoul, South Korea, Jules experienced a culture focused on a sophisticated approach to textiles and thread counts—something she incorporated into her brand. BLVD, a boutique in Downtown Manhattan Beach, offered to host a launch party to showcase her designs. Much to her surprise, all her pieces sold in that one evening.
Within a week or so, Jules received a call from the buyer at the Four Seasons hotel in Hawaii raving about her luxurious leisure wear clothing she spotted on a guest. She asked for her line sheet—an order form with imagery of the different options that can be sold to retailers. Jules explained to the buyer that she was a one-woman show not yet set up for mass production. Somehow, someway, Jules made it happen and soon started fulfilling orders. She is now in multiple high-end hotels in Hawaii.
Above: Jennifer Abernathy
Jules is a great listener while being empathetic and intuitive. She approaches fashion with a custom perspective—meaning as she gets to know her clients, she specifically recommends the best designs that fit that person’s lifestyle. “I think the more we understand each other, the more we understand ourselves and the more we understand ourselves, the more we understand one another,” explains Jules.
To this day she does not have a line sheet and uses social media as well as her website to showcase her designs. In fact, she has recently introduced a second line of clothing called J | Culture, clothing made in South Korea, to add to her J | Made, clothing made in Los Angeles.
Looking at fashion from a different perspective, Jennifer Abernathy’s market is based on “zip-offs”—a type of convertible clothing that proves more versatile for workouts or to help adapt to the temperature as the day progresses.
Originally from Arizona, Jennifer was a professional indoor volleyball player growing up. Athletes live a structured lifestyle. As she aged out of the sport, she became a bit conflicted with what her next step would be, so she took a sales job.
Jennifer’s mom loved to sew and passed this skill on to her children. She was known for sewing her kids’ clothes including amazing, one-of-a-kind Halloween costumes. Realizing she had a creative passion that was not being realized, Jennifer opened a clothing boutique.
It was during this phase of her life that she started doing hot yoga at Soho Yoga in Hermosa Beach. She was struck by how hard it was to change out of her sweaty yoga clothes. She started a quest to find yoga attire that matched her active lifestyle—to no avail. So she went home, cut up some of her exercise clothes and put zippers in them herself.
Fellow yogis were awestruck with the ease with which she was able to zip off her clothing. Everyone wanted to know where they could purchase these zip-offs. Soon she discovered a niche for convertible exercise wear that could adapt to different lifestyles. Axcess Athletics was born.
Whereas Jules funded her collection herself, Jennifer used a grassroots path—launching an online Kickstarter platform and personally driving to different yoga studios selling her products and dropping off fliers.
Russian ice skaters and mud run (obstacle course) athletes have become a target demographic for her zip-offs. Ice skaters love her clothing because they can change their clothes without taking off their skates. Since her inception she now has moved over to additional forms of yoga clothing.
As innovative designers and entrepreneurs, both Jennifer and Jules are one-woman businesses in charge of every portion of their work including shipping and marketing. “The most rewarding part is just knowing that I’m doing what I’m passionate about. Nothing beats that,” explains Jennifer. “Waking up in the morning and working hard for yourself and a life that you dream of is the greatest thing in the world. Every dollar you make counts so much more.”