It’s hard not to gush when writing about the shorts from Jed & Marne. As the proud owner of three pairs, I can honestly say they’re some of the best I’ve ever had. The fabrics are great: soft, lightweight and absolutely beautiful. The fit is aces: not too tight, not too loose and just the right length. And, that they’re well under $100, but still provide gainful employment, and various other benefits, for the Mayan artisans that make them is like the feel-good icing on an already-awesome-feeling/fitting/looking cake. As far as warm weather wear goes, it really doesn’t get much better. (Like I said, it’s hard not to gush.)
Co-founding brother and sister duo Jed & Marne Ackermann recently took some time out to discuss building a family business, the importance of keeping things simple, and why everything looks cuter when it’s smaller. Here’s what they had to say.
Well Spent: Give us the Jed & Marne origin story.
Marne Ackermann: It was our mother who introduced us to the weaving traditions of Guatemala. She is an artisan herself, specializing in beaded and embroidered accessories. Together, we taught a group of women in Guatemala her style of embroidery back in 2007. I was humbled by the quality of their work; the incredible complexity of their designs and the sophistication of their color sense. I became a student of their textile traditions and spent countless hours scouring markets with my mother, building a collection of weavings. I was particularly drawn to the class of lighter weight, foot-loomed fabrics that we now use, because they were this perfect combination of textile-design traditions and practicality.
One trip, I was looking for a gift for my brother and bought him some yards of this foot-loomed fabric. He had told me he wanted to work in the garment business so I thought this would be an inspirational gift. He was ecstatic. I remember pulling the fabrics out of my suitcase and his eyes lighting up and him saying, “Marn, lets do this.” And that is where it all began.
Jed Ackermann: The business really took shape in 2010. Marne had been to Guatemala a few times at that point, and my mom had been going down there since the ’70s. I finally, and reluctantly, succombed to their pressuring me to get down there in the late winter. Just kidding, I was pumped to go check it out. Marne tells it right. After having seen a few yards of the foot-loomed fabric they brought back, I decided it was time to see the country, and the weavers in action. Marne and I canvassed the top market places, and traveled to many a rural village on many a dilapidated bus. We met a few different groups of weavers and began working with them right away on a small collection of fabrics.
I jumped on the idea because it was really the first time in my life that I saw an opportunity to build something that leveraged some of my core passions. The desire to make something tangible that’s beautiful and exotic, but also simple and accessible. Something you can incorporate into your day to day. It really aroused the artist and the merchant in me. So that, coupled with partnering with my sister, really proved motivating. I liked the idea of building a family run business from the start. Especially with my sister, because I already knew we had some shared passions and some common interests, not to mention the fact that she is a hard worker and an intrepid traveler. Also, importantly, our strengths and weaknesses complement each other very well. It’s proven to be a great partnership thus far.
Tell us about your products.
J: Our actual finished garment lines are very simple/basic. For men, each collection has been composed of a line of everyday shorts in two different lengths. For kids, the collections have been composed of slip-on picnic dresses for girls, and shorts for boys and girls sizes 1-8. Each collection has been built on a grouping of 4-6 different weaves. We make an effort to marry the traditional with the contemporary with each grouping. The weaves are really the core of our product and the decision to keep our product line basic was many fold. It really allows us to hone the quality and the variety of our fabrics. Bringing the weaves to the market via a simple everyday garment has been fundamental to our strategy. It provides a basic, approachable way to showcase the fabric.
Everything is made in Guatemala; the fabric and the finished garments. Our trekking and schlepping around has paid off, because we’ve landed on a group of weavers that are really top notch. They’re reliable. They have a good business acumen. They are quality and standards driven. They are proud of their work and so are we, which makes for a solid foundation. That’s not to say that everything is smooth and easy going all the time. As with any business, we encounter our share of obstacles.
How did you wind up connecting with the Mayan artisans that make your fabrics?
M: While there are many people weaving with treadle looms, they are not all as equally devoted and talented as those that we work with. We spent several years developing our team. The weavers are artists too – it was crucial that we find people who share a similar artistic sensibility with us. Luckily, this feeling of creative kinship is mutual.
But, the relationship was not without its challenges. Because our weaver’s first language is often their mayan dialect, they too are speaking spanish as a second language. It really forced us to discover new ways to express color and concept that I never would have thought of on my own. I have had to learn that we must trust in the process, and to be as flexible as possible because this is when the best work results.
On the J&M site, you mention “health and nutrition initiatives” that are aided through the purchase of your products. Can you tell us more about those?
M: Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of malnutrition in the world. Over 70% of indigenous children are chronically malnourished, resulting in slowed childhood development, diabetes, and myriad other health problems. We witnessed this first hand amongst the families we were working with, and immediately began researching what initiatives were out there. Unsatisfied with existing efforts, we teamed up with JUSTA and Milagros in Action to found Comida Vida Tradicional. Comida Vida Tradicional promotes health education and nutrition for women, children, and families by offering workshops on physical, mental and emotional nourishment. The courses provides information on natural, sustainable, and accessible alternatives to unhealthy and processed foods that have replaced local and traditional foods in the daily diet of indigenous families in rural Guatemala.
Last year saw the launch of your children’s line Neen Yo. Were you always planning on making kids’ clothes?
M: We weren’t necessarily planning on it, but we found so many fabrics in our weaver’s repertoire that lent themselves so perfectly to children’s wear that it seemed undeniable. Guatemalan’s are fearless with color and we really wanted to be able to showcase that. We felt that it might be asking too much of our male customer to wear these super outrageous designs, so we decided to introduce them to the children’s market.
J: That was at the core of the decision. But there’s also the underlying fact: everything looks cuter when it’s smaller. At the end of the day, we really wanted to make a super tiny pair of shorts. And look how damn cute they are!
Are there any other new products / developments you can tell us about?
J&M : We are moving into the fabric wholesale space. Our goal is to develop strategic partnerships with other brands that we see as being aligned well with Jed & Marne and the weaves that we produce. For example, you’ll notice that Freemans Sporting Club has made some of their product line this season with our fabrics. We provided them with 4 of our weaves and they’ve done a beautiful job designing with them. This is the sort of partnership you’ll begin to see us do more and more of. We are always on the lookout to do business with talented design teams like that.
What would you say to someone that’s still on the fence about buying from Jed & Marne?
J: They are handwoven. They are ridiculously comfortable. Once you put them on you won’t want to take them off. (Not my words BTW, my friend Joe, who has owned pairs since day one, said this to me. Thanks Joe!) I wear them all week long, all year round. I wear them to bed. I wear them to the beach. I wear them back from the beach. I wear them to the bodega. In fact we almost started calling them the bodega short but then we thought people might associate them with dirty soda cans, malt liquor and old ice cream so we nixed it. When it comes down to it, they are your every day, neighborhood shorts and they’re under a hundred bucks. It’s a no brainer really. And did we mention that they’re stylish?
For price and purchase info, visit Jed & Marne.