Plenty of waterproof rain gear exists for bikers, but finding stylish garments that’ll keep you dry is a dilemma. Instead of riding in the rain looking like Paddington Bear, Danish designer Emma Jorn created a collection of rain-proof dresses, jackets, and hats that made style mavens (and cyclists) swoon. Ultimately, she parlayed her Kickstarter darling into new collection with the rainwear brand Ilse Jacobsen. But a popular crowdfunding campaign isn’t an immediate sign of commercial success, though, especially when it comes to high fashion.
Jorn met–and actually exceeded–her Kickstarter goal in April 2015. Figuring out what to do after a major crowdfunding success can be daunting, though, as a number of high-profile, highly funded campaigns that have left backers with nothing illustrate. While getting someone to post a slick dress they like to their #fashiongoals Pinterest board is one thing, making a sale is another. In the realm of performance apparel, like Jorn’s, it meant creating final designs that were equally eye-catching and functional.
Plus, Jorn wanted a sustainable fashion business–not just to fulfill orders from her campaign backers.
“A question I ask myself all the time is how commercial should it be and how creative should it be?” Jorn says of her designs. “It should be a new way of seeing rain wear, but it should also be something my mom wants to wear–and she’s really practical.”
Jorn launched her brand, Takaokami, on Kickstarter in February of 2015 and by April, she met her funding goal of $28,500. In September 2015, she appeared on the Danish version of the entrepreneurial pitch show “Shark Tank,” and by October she had signed a contract to design five collections for Ilse Jacobsen. In the process of working with the brand, Jorn discovered how she would have to adapt her concept for the realities of a market. This meant thinking about new styles of garments, tweaking some of her initial silhouettes, and incorporating more sophisticated fabrication techniques.
“The first designs I made were not commercial,” Jorn says. “It was more about a creative idea for a need that I saw.” For example, an enormous hat was more about proposing a way to have the protection of an umbrella overhead while freeing your arms. In reality, if someone wore it while riding, it would just trail back like a nun’s habit. The dresses, with their racer backs and short sleeves, were definitely more of a successful fashion statement rather than practical protection from the rain, since they left wearers’ forearms exposed. “It wasn’t rainwear that would cover your whole body, but more about how can you look good and feminine.”
The SS17 line Jorn designed for Jacobsen included many tweaks and changes to that end: dresses that are longer in front than in the back to protect wearers’ thighs and knees when they ride (the original dresses Jorn created were longer in the back or had even hems, leaving knees exposed). For very heavy rain, Jorn designed a jumpsuit–still, a very trendy garment–in a slightly thicker polyester than the rest of her line.
Working with Ilse Jacobsen gave Jorn access to suppliers and materials that aren’t always open to independent designers, helping her create a more marketable line. The paper-thin waterproofed nylon Jorn uses for most of her garments–the opposite of the thick Gore-Tex you usually find on rain gear–is a fabric she found through Jacobsen. Additionally, the in-house design team at the brand helped to refine the construction and specify the welding and taping techniques on the seams to ensure that no rain makes its way through. “I learned a lot about technical drawings so the work with factories and production is easier,” Jorn says about the logistical lessons learned. “That’s something I struggled with on my own: how to communicate with production in the best way.”
Throughout the process, it was about keeping the core idea–outerwear that looks like regular garments–but adapting it to be more functional. “The collections are getting better and better,” Jorn says.
There’s still room for Jorn’s creative perspective though, a privilege she earned because Jacobsen likes her style. She was adamant about having a version of that obscenely large hat in the collection, despite its shortcomings. “It’s definitely for walking,” Jorn says. “I have biked with it, but when it’s windy it’s not practical at all.”
Find Jorn’s collection on ilsejacobsen.com.