From Doctorate to Design Duchess: how a love of design gave Jessica Jones her real home.

Our "should" thoughts often point us to expected paths, which can be appealing in a volatile world. And "expected" doesn't mean easy. We study, we work, we climb the ladder. We gather accomplishments and realize the hopes of those who raised and taught us. We know we are privileged and are proud of what we've achieved.

Yet, while on that path we feel that we're being followed by a whisper, telling us to pay attention to something we love. We dabble, play around with it, but then return to our expected lives, because that is what we know, and that is what we need to do at that time. And slowly, the opportunity to act on the passion fades away.  

It's hard to change - we have to shed expectations and recognize that our previous accomplishments don't need to define us, despite our efforts in gaining them. 

Oregon native, Jessica Jones spent 11 years in academia, striving towards a PhD in the History of Medicine (17th century French surgical medicine at that!). Yet, her love of design followed her and eventually, she acted on her instincts. Jessica went back to school to study fashion and realized that the world of design was her natural home. 

Known as the "Duchess of Whittier" (after her adopted Minneapolis neighborhood), her custom work is known for tailored, accessible sophistication and she's fast becoming one of the Cities' most sought after designers. 

We were intrigued by Jessica's story - often we hear stories of fast change, of "f&* it" moments - but this one was years in the making. Here's what she shared with us:

How did you decide to become a designer? 

Fashion has always been an influence, interest and a passion in my life. Design has opened a world of opportunities to me -  I took a long winding path to this point but have found so many rewards in this journey.

Ever since I was a child I loved fashion. I dreamed about it, but as an intelligent female growing up in the 1980s who excelled in mathematics, I was pushed in that direction by teachers and parents. No one ever told me fashion design could be "smart". But it is - pattern making for instance, is like architecture or drafting.

So, I started college with math scholarships, ended up with a philosophy degree that introduced me to philosophy of science and eventually history of science, which is how I ended up in my particular PhD program. When I quit my PhD program - because deep down I knew academia was wrong for me - I spent a couple dark years floundering in the restaurant business that has always sustained me.

After a lot of self reflection and encouragement from those who truly love me, I went back to community college to learn how to make clothes. I learned more in two years there than in seven in grad school.  I had never even used a sewing machine when I started, but the excellent instructors at MCTC turned me into a proper designer!

A Duchess of Whittier design 

A Duchess of Whittier design 

What have you sacrificed to get to this point?

It has been difficult juggling several jobs outside the industry while being in school, as well as working in the fashion and garment construction world. It has cost me in both time and money, but has repaid me in experience.

How have women helped you be who you are?

I have known inspiring women in my private life, in my various academic arenas and in the fashion world. Their input, critique and love has brought me to a safe place, so that I feel that I can accept my true calling. I am fortunate to be a part of a supportive and creative community in Minneapolis - this community nurtures an incredible group of artists and has given me what I hope to be lifelong connections and friendships. 

On the days when you don’t want to “be creative” what do you tell yourself for motivation?

Some days I know not to force creativity. I feel that can be a slippery slope to poor decision making. From textbooks to current media, and the fashion currently surrounding me, I find inspiration, and, thus, motivation. Forever, unexpected.

What advice would you give women who are considering a change in their life?

You cannot measure your personal growth and timing by others’ life decisions. But, when You feel that You have found a calling or niche in life listen to Yourself. You know Yourself best. Talk to, and get information and support from, those in your area. See if they have found fulfillment through their choices. Be open to those in several areas in your chosen field. Then move forward! Be open to criticism and find support. DO WHAT YOU LOVE!

Check out Jessica's beautiful work on Instagram. Her new website duchessofwhittier.com is coming soon - in the meantime you can contact her on duchessofwhittier@gmail.com. 

Jessica Jones - aka The Duchess of Whittier

Jessica Jones - aka The Duchess of Whittier