A Conversation with Lisette Ffolkes, Founder of Jam + Rico
We first discovered Jam + Rico’s gorgeous wares via our favorite pop-up curator, Michelle Dalzon, at theBOM’s 2017 Summer Pop-Up Market in NYC. Jam + Rico founder Lisette Ffolkes’ display was just as vibrant as her friendly demeanor, and her unique jewelry was a hot-ticket items of the day. She creates the kind of statement pieces that perfectly complete your outfit — we literally saw patrons cop items and put them on right away. As they say, time flies, and we were eager to catch up with Ffolkes this New Year to see what she has planned for 2019 and beyond!
Jam + Rico stands for Jamaica + Puerto Rico. What aspects of these cultures inspire you to create?
Growing up, I was always influenced by my culture. With immigrant grandparents from both islands, I was always curious about their upbringing and traditions that were formed from their homeland. The most prominent inspirations were food and music in my home. A little salsa and reggae with a mix of arroz con pollo, pastelles, jerk and curry were favorites and loves within my home.
Once I got older and was able to travel to both islands, the fascination and love of my heritage grew even stronger. The colors, carnivals, art, beaches and language all inspired me to create and design. Now, with Jam + Rico I am able to dive deeper into my love of the Caribbean and explore all of the islands which have their own traditions and uniqueness.
What is the vision behind your most recent line? Are there any in the works?
Our recent collection is inspired by our last trip to Jamaica this was my first time returning to create jewelry. Our goal is to travel to every island in the Caribbean and connect with artist and creators while finding inspiration from their culture. In Jamaica, we were introduced to a Rastafarian village near Montego Bay where we were able to become one with the land and connect with the earth. We were inspired by the trees and for one design created a leaf earring to symbolize all of the trees on the property. We saw Ackee trees, picked Bay Leaves and saw so many Avocado trees, which I wish I had in my backyard.
I am still inspired from this trip and have a few designs in the works for next Spring/Summer. We are also expanding on some ideas building off our best sellers from our first trip to Cuba. We are excited to see how our customer will like our new designs. We are also getting ready for our next inspirational trip and we have selected Aruba. We will be traveling next July. We can already feel the warmth as we are writing this while it is 30 degrees outside.
What did you do prior to Jam + Rico to prepare you to run this venture?
Currently I am working in the fashion industry while growing Jam + Rico. I have worked in the industry for six years and have learned how to run a business. Throughout my career each company I have worked for was started by a female entrepreneur. I am proud to have such strong examples of leadership from each opportunity. I have witnessed the challenges owning your own business but have also seen how rewarding it can be to lead a team and see your ideas and dreams become reality. There is no sugar coating the amount of work you have to put into a successful business and I how much passion and hope you need to fulfill your dreams. Working under these phenomenal women has made me realize it is all possible!
What is the biggest challenge you've faced as you've grown?
For a long time, I thought I should hide the fact that I have a full-time job while pursuing Jam + Rico. I didn’t want my customers to not take me seriously or see this business venture as a hobby. But that is all a part of my journey. I work a full-time job in the apparel industry building Jam + Rico, building this company from the ground up. Working full-time has created the challenge of time management. Like the saying goes, “There aren’t enough hours in a day.” Well, there are definitely not enough when you have a full-time job, business and family. I have learned to use my time wisely and complete tasks in a timely manner to accomplish daily goals. It will continue to be a challenge but it can be done.
One of your recent lines was inspired by your trip to Cuba. What is your dream travel spot, and what design inspiration would you gather from it?
My dream inspiration trip is to travel to Trinidad for Carnival. I would love to create a collection inspired by the festival. It would be fun to make bright and colorful pieces to style with the extravagant parade goers costumes. It would be even cooler to get the collection photographed during the week of festivities. Putting that into the universe and it will happen!
Who have been your biggest style icons throughout your life?
I didn’t really have famous style icons but I did have my mom when I was growing up. My mom was a woman of the ‘80s and had a closet full of shoulder pads and power suits. Her jewelry box was a treasure trove for me, and often I would rummage through — with sticky fingers, of course — finding fun pieces to complete an outfit. Her bold clip-on earrings were always my favorite, and still are today. My love of vintage grew from her closet and I would shop often in thrift stores in Brooklyn finding more fabulous jewelry and unique clothes. It has been an amazing childhood growing up in New York City. I was constantly inspired by my surroundings all I had to do was hop on the train and sit on a park bench and watch the crowds of people go by.
What are your future aspirations for the company? Do you see yourselves going beyond jewelry?
We would love to go beyond jewelry! As previously stated, I have worked years in the apparel industry and have a love for textiles and prints. It would be great to have some apparel to coordinate with our jewels. Just imagine a fabulous multi-colored printed caftan with layers of gold jewelry.
Also, as we travel to the various Caribbean islands we want to connect with the local artisans and collaborate with the people of each country. The art in the Caribbean is so commercialized to suit the appeal of a western consumer. Most retail markets are filled with trinkets and t-shirts to commemorate a vacationer’s trip, but there are truly talented creatives who have vision to make unique pieces. We want to connect with these individuals and work together to design something that reflects their home. I design everything from my culture and I want to collaborate with other designers so they can do the same.
What is the best advice you've ever received and what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
Eighteen is a crazy year, graduating from high school and going into college… Having to know what you need to major in to make that your career for life was a very hard decision. With family pushing me into becoming a teacher when my heart was in the arts, it became a very difficult decision. I am happy that I was stubborn and pushed my way into Fashion Design but would tell that unsure teenager to be confident in your decisions. Focus on what you want to achieve and push to make that happen. I doubted that I could do many things and now know that anything is possible. Dream bigger than what you think is possible and amazing things will happen.
What song do you have on repeat right now?
I am getting married this year so I have been working on a bomb wedding playlist. My lists have been everything from the classics, old school, hip hop, salsa, African and Reggae music. So all of my playlists are making me dance all day long.
A motto or quote that you live by?
My life motto is to JUST HAVE FUN! We live such a short time on this earth and it still amazes me how fast time flies. It is so important to see every day as an opportunity to make ourselves happy first. I have decided to make that decision for myself to do what I value the most, and that is having as much fun as I can.