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Inspiring Conversations with Jessica Harmon of ATTU

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jessica Harmon.

Hi Jessica, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I started my clothing design journey in middle school when I would cut up and alter my clothes to fit the way I wanted them to. After that, my mom got me a sewing machine, and I started making original pieces. Eventually, in high school my friend Alaia Merz and I started a little business called Demure. We would cut up old t-shirts from thrift stores and turn them into little mini skirts. We sold a bunch to our friends and classmates. That’s when I really knew I wanted to have my own business design clothes. Eventually, I went to FIDM to learn how to make clothes properly. After graduating from FIDM and overcoming my fear of actually doing it, I started ATTU. A few years later, we opened our first clothing store, KISKA, and a few years after that we opened our flagship store in Laguna Beach.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
ATTU’s journey has not been a smooth road. Struggle is constant for small businesses. One of the first struggles for me was just figuring out how to do everything. Coming out of FIDM, I knew how to make a garment from start to finish, how to identify fabrics, and how to build a collection, but I didn’t know where to buy fabric, where to get patterns graded, or even where to get them manufactured. It was scary to try to figure all this out, but after many calls and many meetings I found the right group. I’ve been working with them ever since. Another struggle we’ve always dealt with is finding the right fabric. Since we buy fabric leftover from other companies, we’re limited to the prints and fiber contents they don’t want anymore. Sometimes we can’t find anything we can use for weeks or months, so our manufacturing isn’t always as consistent as we’d like. Our biggest struggle was opening our second store. It took us about a year to figure out the best curation of goods for our location. Then in year two, we went into the COVID 19 Quarantine, which was really difficult for us because we had to close our store for two months when we were just starting to get on our feet. Since then, it’s been a struggle to navigate the employment crisis. Being short-staffed for months, everyone started to feel burnt out, but we’ve managed to overcome all these struggles one at a time. Each time we overcame an obstacle, we grew more and more.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
ATTU is a child born of globalization. Like its namesake, Attu Island, it represents a merge between east and west: a union of vintage Siamese soul and modern Western lifestyle. Thai/ American designer, Jessica Harmon, founded ATTU in 2015 to encourage meaningful cultural exchange through style. Her mix of ethnic style and classic silhouettes represents her own multicultural background. She also draws inspiration for ATTU from Sophia Loren, vintage Italian films, and traditional Thai textiles.

Jessica chose the name ATTU to pay homage to her father and his adventurous spirit. In the 70s, James Harmon built a pinky schooner sailboat in Malaysia. He planned to sail it from Malaysia up to Alaska and then down to San Diego. With his voyage in mind, James named his ship Attu, after an island in the Aleutian Island Chain in Alaska. Attu Island is the western most point of the United States. It’s so far west that it actually in the Eastern Hemisphere, so the name perfectly represented what the ATTU brand embodies.

ATTU clothing is known for creating sustainable garments using fabric leftover from other companies. We use a small, local, family-owned factory to manufacture our goods. Our retail store stands out in downtown Laguna Beach as the result of careful brand curation as well as our South East Asian aesthetic. We also pride ourselves in being a brand that’s affordable. At our store we offer a wide range of products with a wide range of prices. However, we don’t buy for brands if the quality is not there.

Can you talk to us about how you think about risk?
I’ve taken a few major risks over the course of my journey. The first major risk was manufacturing my first collection without any real idea as to how I would sell it once I put all the money into it. I ended up going store to store to see who would take my clothes on consignment. That was really hard. No one wants to talk to a person coming in to sell them stuff. Opening each store was also a big risk because it’s a big investment. I don’t view myself as a huge risk taker; however, I do take calculated risks because taking risks often comes with great reward. I like to think about what I’m doing, but I’m willing to take a risk if I see an opportunity. You have to gamble sometimes.

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Image Credits:

Scott Stinnett, Isaac Zoller

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