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Thompson Influencers X Jamie Hayes


An ethical designer with the world in mind

Jamie Hayes doesn’t want any more ill-fitting objects in the world. True to her word, the designer for Production Mode makes each of her singular leather garments and design pieces by hand in her Logan Square studio, which is open to the public. She designs specifically with each client in mind, minimizing ecological and financial waste.

Hayes generously shares her fashion philosophy, her go-to places of inspiration in Chicago and how we can all do our part to shop responsibly.

Can you explain your approach to fashion? Where did your awareness stem from?

First and foremost, I believe in good design—pieces that are built to last both in terms of quality and styling–I aim to design garments that will be beloved staples or statement pieces. Secondly, everyone in the supply chain should be paid a living wage, and I champion environmental sustainable practices such as growing fibers organically, using natural dyes, wearing vintage/used clothing, and taking good care of the things that we own. I like to use the term “slow fashion” as it encompasses all of these principles.

I’ve been working in the fashion industry in various capacities since 1999, and during that time I’ve seen firsthand the less savory side of the industry—sweatshops both here in the US and abroad, the endless cycle of trends and planned obsolesce, the decline of quality. As a result, I stopped designing for several years to study labor rights and to work as an organizer. Eventually I found that I could combine these dual paths, and entered the world of fair trade and ethical fashion.

As consumers how can we best support Fair Trade practices?

First, we can buy less, buy higher quality clothing, and take care of what we have. That also means educating ourselves on what quality is. Looking at vintage clothing or taking a basic sewing class is a great way to do so. Second, we need to ask questions—where are our clothes made and by whom? Are workers paid a living wage? Do they work in safe conditions? If a brand isn’t telling you who makes their clothing, that’s not a good sign. Third, buy from ethical, fair trade, and local designers. There are many fairs and events that highlight local designers; those are great opportunities to get to know the people who make your clothing, similar to how we get to know local farmers at farmers markets.

What aesthetic are you going for at Production Mode and why it is important for people to be able to experience/see the working studio?

I like high contrast so my aesthetic tends to be either minimalist or maximalist–with little in between. I find myself attracted to bold prints and then grounding those with a solid plane of color.

I also believe in the importance of designing not only the cut of the garment, but also in creating or transforming the materials used to create the garments. This allows me to ensure that the materials are responsibly sourced and unique. You won’t see yourself coming and going in our designs. For example, the current line uses vegetable tanned leather from Horween tannery, located down the street from my studio. This leather is then embellished with an all-over print designed by artist Paula J. Wilson and hand screen printed by another artist, Nora Renick-Reinhart.

For us, the process is as important as the final product—it’s ultimately what makes that final product so special. The studio/storefront, Department of Curiosities, where all our products are made, is the best place to share that process with customers. I share the space with designer, Gerry Quinton of Morua, who makes gorgeous gowns and corsetry, so customers are also able to see how two very different lines are designed, cut, and sewn. We love to give mini studio visits to our customers so that they can really engage in the process. And since we make everything in house, our design process is really nimble so we’re also able to offer made-to-measure and customized garments.

What are your favorite places in Chicago to get inspiration for your designs?

I love to visit the art gallery Corbett vs. Dempsey. Not only do they curate great shows focusing on Chicago artists and art movements, they also use their gallery as a platform for interesting events and projects–for example, they often host free solo shows by amazing musicians and they also have their own record label–I’m very inspired by their creativity. It’s also upstairs from my favorite record store, Dusty Groove.

Music is a great source of joy and inspiration for me–and the music scene here in Chicago is legendary. I love to see shows at Constellation—the booking is fantastic, the space is cozy, and the drinks are cheap. I also love to hear the deejays at Danny’s (Bucktown)–it’s a bar in an old apartment with a great dance floor that feels like a house party.

And of course the architecture here is a constant source of inspiration—from Harry Weese’s river cottages to Betrand Goldberg to Mies Van der Rohe to the rusty girders that support the El rails.