Establishing New Values with Jones Boutique
In early December we travelled to Netherlands to visit Judith ter Haar, Owner of Jones boutique, Arnhem. The store’s modest front door invites you into an open-plan space, an art studio in spirit, with a kiosk providing a home to a small family of Finches. These happy birds are just one example of the elements that transform this space into is living, breathing and changing environment.
Jones boutique is a cultivation of its Owner’s 30 year career in art, fashion and trend forecasting, an invaluable experience that can’t be replicated unless lived. The store is both friendly and invigorating, providing it’s customers with a constantly rotating showcase of womenswear, beauty, lifestyle objects and custom-commissioned art. Judith’s abundant curiosity, innate understanding of quality, tactility and form create a new vision for multi-brand retail, all under one roof in a town of 152,000 inhabitants.
“Jones is my home ground, my house, my platform and a way to show the current state of fashion.”
Advance Copy: Hello Judith, thank you for sitting down with me after such a busy day at Jones boutique.
Judith ter Haar: Thank you for coming!
AC: If I understand correctly you are both a university lecturer and Owner of Jones boutique?
Judith: That’s right, I started working in fashion by becoming an entrepreneur, but before working in stores I studied theater and later architecture. Jones is my home ground, my house, my platform and a way to show the current state of fashion, or how I look at fashion. Next to that, I have an art studio and I work as a curator at a cultural fashion exhibition, Arnhem Fashion Biennale. I also worked as a forecaster and I’m now the head of Fashion Strategy Master program at ArtEz University, I lecture Intuitive Analyses or Intuitive Strategies, on which I’m also writing a book. The red thread for Fashion Strategy is artistic based research, but we are also focusing on sustainability, looking at aesthetic, social and emotional sustainability.
“The goal for the future is to dissolve the ego of fashion.”
The kinds of students we are trying to educate are change-makers, I try to draw out their personal characteristics, their information, story and narrative. We start with the Self, then with the Other and then with the bigger world, which slowly forms a professional language. Students sometimes find new titles which give them an intrinsic voice, because going into fashion is enormously difficult and it’s diffused by the artificial side of the industry. The Master program’s goal for the future is to dissolve the ego of fashion.
AC: What has been the biggest driver of your curiosity through such a multi-faceted career?
Judith: For me, the aim, why I always wanted to stay in fashion, is material. I started from art material and even within the walls of this commercial environment I try to hold on to modest designers, connected to their collection, with a love for material and form. I believe that if you can separate bad fashion from good fashion, it is through knowledge of the material.
“If you can separate bad fashion from good fashion, it is through knowledge of the material.”
AC: Could you talk us through your overall vision for Jones, has the store seen many reincarnations throughout the years?
Judith: It was never a store that sold clothes, but a store that shows the current state of fashion. I was only 26 when I started and it needed to be on my level, so I was one of the first to represent Gaultier and Diesel, it was always a mix of jeans and basics – the archetype clothing, I really love jeans and vintage, and on the other side Alaia, Comme des Garcons – a design level.
When I look back I see that we had all these key periods, from the English: Vivianne Westwood to Paul Smith and later from Yohji Yamamoto to Comme des Garcons, Antwerp 6. Maybe the last 5 – 10 years [the selection] has been stable, the only thing I always try to find is small Japanese brands. But I think we are at the end of an era, which I call ‘quiet design’ where designs are everlasting, I have Sophie D’Hoore and Dries van Noten who are still doing this.
“We need to put our efforts into basic human needs and basic human stories.”
AC: As a lecturer and a business owner, what future would you like to manifest for independent retailers and designers?
Judith: I would say we should have never allowed fast fashion get so big, even if a retailer like COS could exist we should make these stores smaller. Make honest clothing, eliminate the 30% [of stock] that gets wasted and burnt, my hope would be to make that a crime. Kids and young women shouldn’t be allowed to work in factories, and wages shouldn’t be under 1€ for our clothing.
My effort in that is keeping a store like Jones, keeping clients informed and keeping a place where they can be connected to a feeling of quality. Customers come here because they want to put an effort into a more sustainable way of living and buy quality items. I think we need to put our efforts into basic human needs and basic human stories. That means we need to make customers aware as the industry will never change unless we, the grassroots, decide to take responsibility to not buy – it’s a protest.
I can’t give you an answer or a solution, but I think what gives me a positive feeling is a wish to see smaller communities pop up from all sides. I’m very privileged to work in fashion with nice people who are conscious, and with a school that has real goals for equality and diversity. We need to all put effort in to get a more honest and equal world.
AC: Do we need to reconsider the purpose of fashion in today’s world?
Judith: We need to explain the difference between fashion and clothing. Why do we need to constantly invent? What if brands had only a small part of highlights for shows every year and a consistent collection where you can buy what you need. That means changing the production cycle, but we won’t have to buy more than we can sell and there would be less waste. Let’s look at Margaret Howell for example: in the showroom there are only about 80 new pieces each season, and at Jones her collection sells out at almost 80%. We need to think about how we can make aesthetic, sustainable fashion.
AC: What would be your advice to other entrepreneurs wishing to create a human scale business?
Judith: For me, the ultimate answer is if you become successful or if you grow – take out the greed, the only one that can do that is you. Profit needs to be just enough so I can create a small family and this small family can grow a little bigger, to include the clients. So [Jones] is my home and I work with my family, every worker in this store has their responsibility, I’m not the boss, they have the freedom to work. We have to put a value on a basic human need, happiness. When a company gets too big then it’s hard to go back.
“If you become successful or if you grow – take out the greed, the only one that can do that is you.”
AC: How do you feel about social media and the development of Instagram, do you use it?
Judith: I don’t use it personally, but for the store I do as a sort of window. With Instagramers, bloggers and influencers we are still selling a sort of illusionary story, we are over-consuming ourselves.
AC: So as people we have become a product to present, sell and consume?
Judith: That’s what I always say, we accept to be branded. We need to be aware of what we are doing, that we are all addicted to attention and creating illusionary stories, being seen on a screen with no emotional values. We are promoting this alter ego. If we are constantly doing that but people from lower classes who don’t have money can still access this world through Primark, how can we tell them that they are bad? There is a responsibility to be taken somewhere. We are privileged, I am privileged, and if you are privileged then you have the biggest responsibility there is. You can’t look at the bigger picture and take the world on your shoulders, but what is your circle of influence, what can you change?