I first meet Jia Ma, founder of JAM LOVE, a unique and beautifully crafted handbag line, in London's Wolf and Badger, a gorgeous boutique filled with specially chosen designers. In the center sits Jam Love’s travel totes and rucksacks, a design recognizable from a mile away. Made from only the best fabrics and created with an environmentally conscious process, Jam Love stands out from the rest.
After gazing at her beautiful collection in the chic and individual store, we move on to Mayfair’s Lansdowne Club where we settle on comfy arm chairs to chat about Jam Love, fashion, art, vintage cars and following your heart....
When you first meet Jia, you feel like you have known her for years. The perfect combination of someone who wears her heart on her sleeve, but with a business savvy and knowledge of both the art scene and the fashion industry that makes her a credible and significant player in the fashion industry.
Jam Love was born out of love. After spending years following the safe route, academia and working for other brands, Jia finally left the safety behind and began her own company.
But let’s start from the beginning. Jia grew up in Hungzhou, which Jia describes as beautiful and a great place to spend her childhood. She later moved to Beijing to live with her Grandparents, another experience she enjoyed, “The skies were blue with great hutongs. Everyone was riding bikes and the watermelons were so big and colorful. It was the good heart and soul of China.”
Jia later made the move to England as a teenager. Speaking of the move she tells me, “People didn’t speak to each other as much as they do in China, and with the big cosmopolitan scene of England made it feel like a colder city. In terms of the city though, Hungzhou was very developed so it didn’t feel that different. Things did close a lot earlier though which I found difficult.”
However Jia certainly soon settled in. She gained her GCSE’s and A-Levels before going on to do a foundation course at Central Saint Martin's fashion school. She describes the experience as, “Very competitive.” Continuing, “We were given a real glimpse of what the real fashion world was like and how cutthroat it could be.”
However despite the tough nature of the industry, Jia excelled. She was offered a coveted position of a one-year paid internship at American Eagle in New York. They were scouting for just three candidates, looking at London College of Fashion, St. Martins and Parsons. When the 12 months was up they kept extending her position. The job saw her travel to Mexico to work on developing their own line of t-shirts, “They needed a lot of graphic designs and I was chosen to do this.” A paid internship on 3rd street in NY with a visa all taken care of, is a dream job for many, however Jia still had her eyes set on completing her course so moved back to London. Jia then went on to do her Bachelor of Arts degree in Product Design & Development at London College of Fashion.
After graduating, Jia began building an impressive career in fashion, working for Ted Baker in London, followed by Visvim, Comme de Garçons and Moncler with her work even taking her to Tokyo for 7 years. However despite her success Jia had a passion to set out on her own and create her own brand, “ My heart is so free and after listening to it I started JAM LOVE. Before that I felt like I was following a specific route, stability and coming from a very academic family, but after freeing myself I decided to start my own business. My heart told me to do something for myself. I was working like a slave, traveling all over the place, even travelling when I was a week a way from giving birth. I felt like my life belonged to another company, and my designs belonged to someone else. I was always in the safe zone, I felt stable and didn’t feel suffering but it didn’t push me to do anything else.” Becoming a mother also changed her outlook, “becoming a mother limits your time, so you want to do something really good with it.”
So with this passion and drive, in 2014, Jam Love was born. A brand so reflective of the multi cultural background Jia has experienced but made with the love of an artist.
Inspired by the durability of bespoke menswear and the classic design of vintage motorcars and luxury watches, JAM LOVE combines the finest materials, some of which are even the same materials that Hermès uses. This combined with a vegetable tanning and heritage waxed canvas from Lake Como, Italy and the best of British craftsmanship all help to ensure each piece is of the highest quality.
In addition, the unique bags use Nineteen Century British letterpress process. Their logo is an 1880 typographic font found during the initial project.
The line is really a true reflection of Jia, the SHIBAURA Travel Tote Bag and the TAMAGAWA Book Tote Bag take their names from dynamic places in Tokyo where Jia Ma lived whilst each piece is lovingly made in Britain. It’s incredibly unique, a beautiful mix of east meets west, which is so reflective of the life she has led.
I ask Jia, the fact that she grew up in China, spent her teenage years in England but has lived in both America and Japan, what does she most identify with?
“My heart is Chinese, but my work reflect a European sensibility. I have learnt from what I experienced in New York and Europe. I get influences as well from the music I listen to and the books I read. I love vintage cars as well which are all European and that was also another strong influence. However, nationality doesn’t matter to me anymore. I want people to know I’m Chinese but people don’t see me as that anymore, some see me as Japanese as I lived and worked there for seven years. My personal life has crossed different nationalities but my heart feels like it’s one nation. I have experienced so many cultures, it feels like it’s one."
With this global perspective in mind, it’s easy to see why Jia is also intent on making her line as environmentally friendly as possible as well as long lasting. Making the hardware with brass so that it reduces pollution and chemicals, not using artificial coats on her bags and using a vegetable tanning process that reduces the pollution and chemicals often used by other brands.
(The backpack can be worn 4 different ways)
Coco Chanel had her own story, but she understood good quality. Vintage pieces still stand up to this.
Jia tells me, “ I want my products to have soul and to create a brand with that quality takes time. People don’t look at long term use any more, society has forgotten that every item has a soul. I believe in long term products. Time tests it. Coco Chanel had her own story, but she understood good quality. Vintage pieces still stand up to this.”
Jia continues, “I really feel more of an artists than a designer, I like to be near artists as they see the big vision and not just one thing. JAM LOVE is different than other brands. I’ve taken my time to find a model that represents the brand. A good mix of what the brand represents."
It’s certainly paying off, Jia was the only female designer to be asked to participate in The Best of Britannia Classic and Sports Cars for their London show as her bags represent the colors and materials of a vintage car.
I asked Jia how she has the time to juggle her work load with being a mum and she tells me, “I work really hard around my children. I draw at midnight and do all the marketing after they have gone to bed. I have the motivation, and I am hungry for it.”
The collection has started out as a small one, “I want to create a great product. I’ve started with two styles and I want to expand it slowly. Customers love the website and my customers are mainly by word of mouth. One customer from Austria bought a bag after seeing a women who was standing in line at an airport in Chicago. She was so enthusiastic about my bags that they checked out the products and then ordered them from Austria. A couple told another couple and that’s how it spread."
One customer from Arabia contacted me wanting four bags. She saw my profile on Instagram and really liked my story. She wanted them for her best friends and her mother.”
“I’ve had other customers spot other customers wearing my bag on the train and they send me pictures.
Perhaps one of the many things customers like is the functionality of the bags that Jia has created. Having travelled so much, going to Europe a few times every month, she knew what her customers would want from a travel tote. The functionality is so thought out. There is a section that holds a laptop (like a laptop sleeve), that can easily be pulled out when going through security, or alternatively, if you are using the bag as a work bag, you can use this section as a clutch when you go out at night.
There is even an easy reach section for your passport when the rest of the bag is closed. The over the shoulder handles (unlike so many bags I’ve had snap on me with the sheer weight of travel essentials) is designed to be as sturdy as a cars steering wheel but smooth so that it doesn’t cut into the shoulder. There is even a flap that can lay over the entire bag to give it a smooth chic feel that actually makes it wearable for both men and women. Every element is so thought out and put through vigorous testing. A bag that Jia knows will stand the test of time. After all JAM LOVE is about classic and timeless pieces.
As we wrap up our interview, that by now feels like chatting to a friend, I ask Jia what her plans are for JAM LOVE going forward. Does she plan on expanding her line or opening up a storefront and if so, where?
“I would like to have my own storefront. I would ideally like to have it in Notting Hill, Covent Garden or Portabella Market. Somewhere there is a mix of cultures and spirit of the place.”
"I would like people to see the quality of the bags and have them engage. I feel this is vital for the brand. In real economy and for the countries future I feel we need this. I want customers to have the real experience of buying my bags. I feel like we will go full circle and go back to buying in person. You have to get customers in to bond with the product and the experience."
As for expansion? “ I want different categories, I’d like to start JAM LOVE shoes, and trench coats. I’ve designed jackets and coats in the past and used high Tec material and designed a lot of menswear. I’ve designed bags, shoes, clothes and even homeware”
Lastly, I ask Jia if she had any advice for new designers what would it be?
“Be yourself, you can feel very lost but follow your spirit. Find yourself and create a brand that will attract interesting people. Everything has a formula. MBA, everyone is learning the same course, following the same path. Following your own path will create different trends in your own way.”
As we get up to leave we say goodbye and Jia slips into the cloakroom to retrieve a travel tote. A famous customer from Beijing saw Jia’s collection online and has asked that she hand delivers it on her travels. Jia obliged and took the very last from Wolf and Badger to fulfill her promise. Jia is certainly a women going places, and I can’t wait to see what she does next!
For more information on Jam Love visit: JAM LOVE : HOME
JAM LOVE INSTAGRAM
JAM LOVE FACEBOOK