The shutdowns caused by the novel coronavirus have been hard for all kinds of businesses, and fashion is no exception. The National Retail Federation (NRF) reported that retail sales were down nearly 9% in March, and fashion was one of the hardest-hit sectors. But maybe there is something to be gained from this data — at least according to Gina Lin, designer for YJack.
“Who’s buying clothing, you know, right now? To be honest?” asked Lin. “That’s shifted the mindset of so many designers — thinking about the future and probably being more mindful of what it is that they’re going to produce, because there’s just so much waste out there.”
How many nonessential workers have been getting dressed lately? Probably not many (unless there’s a video call scheduled). As more people carve out routines with sweatpants, a trendy wardrobe is sinking on the list of priorities.
“After COVID-19, it makes you think about how you’re just grabbing certain things that are easy and quick and timeless,” Lin continued. Luckily for the Los Angeles-based brand, basics are their specialty.
“I love that the T-shirt is something you don’t have to think about,” she said.
To be fair, YJack T-shirts are not run-of-the-mill. Lin and some of her team members from the brand’s Korean branch compare YJack T-shirts to Paul Cézanne’s apple painting. The artist is supposed to have said, “I want to astonish Paris with an apple,” and Lin feels that the same sentiment applies to YJack’s basics.
“It’s really the concept of something so simple and something so classic — the idea of that and trying to improve on it,” she explained.
The reason YJack shirts are so durable is because of the brand’s proprietary fabric, Exfina cotton, which is made from extra-long cotton fibers. Though extra-long staple cotton yarn (ELS) is available to the whole industry, YJack has worked for a long time to weave it into the cotton jersey that serves as the basis for its line.
“Technically, we’re more of a textiles company because our focus is more on the fabrication; we’re not purchasing it from another vendor to make it for us,” Lin said. “The way that we’ve treated it and tested it — it’s pretty much gone through a lab, and we’ve really perfected it to what we want it to be and how we want it to function and move and drape and everything.”
A fabric that will last is the basis for a timeless design that will last, Lin explained.
“A nourishing meal requires the best ingredients, and high-quality clothing should only be made with the best ingredients,” she said.
Lin’s has been in the industry for about 13 years and has worked in contemporary and mass-market design. She spent some of that time in different parts of China and in Paris.
“My main thing is noticing the differences in the details and noticing the fit differences between all of these locations and cultures,” she said. “After being all over, my style has become a little more timeless.”
But before YJack is able to branch out to other staples — T-shirt dresses, pants and pullovers, perhaps — Lin has focused on making sure that the foundation is right.
“We’re always working in a lab in the sense that we’re trying it out, testing it out, so it takes time for us to truly understand the necessity of something and whether or not we’re going to produce it,” she said.
If and when the brand does begin to experiment with other fabrics, Lin is sure that they will stick to natural ones. Pollutants from polyester, nylon and acrylic fabrics are a major source of plastic in the ocean, she explained, so it’s important to the company to avoid them.
“One single load of laundry could release hundreds of thousands of fibers from our clothing into the water supply,” she argued.
Until then, YJack, like most others, is trying to navigate the market’s new terrain.
“It’s shifted everyone’s mindset — even the connections and the relationships that we share now,” said Lin, referring to the coronavirus. “I think that it’s more relationships that have changed … It’s required a lot more trust.”
Trust — and patience — are keeping the brand going, and Lin is excited for the time when shoppers are finally ready to try out YJack T-shirts for themselves.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how people are going to react to it and how people are going to feel wearing it,” she said. “Just the feeling of this T-shirt — gosh, I can’t even explain it. You just throw it on and it’s like so cooling, and there’s nothing else like it. I’m personally even shocked by it.”
As we all wait to see how retail will emerge from this historic period, Lin continues to hope for the best. Perhaps this period of isolation will give consumers a different perspective on what is important to have in their closets.
“There’s a silver lining to all of this, and I think that silver lining is less waste and more mindfulness,” she said.