“If you have something creative, people will eventually find you. Rather than exponential growth and exponential decay, I think it’s great to have consistency and longevity in a brand.”
“When I was in the 7th grade, I would think, wow that’s a great piece, I want to buy that. Now as a designer, I think wow, that’s a great piece, that really inspires me— so I want to do better than that,” says Jae Wook Bae, who goes by Wookie Fields. The founder of Jaefields, a streetwear clothing brand and boutique in downtown Portland, Wookie is interested in pushing beyond the conventional consumer side of fashion. From hoodies to vests, Jaefields produces clothing that is “less trendy, more about quality, the fit, the aesthetic, the construction: all the the little details that go into making a t-shirt,” he says.
Wookie graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in mathematics and computer science, and after graduation worked at a tech startup. But he had always been creative, and working on web design helped inspire his entrepreneurial instincts. “I realized there is so much more to a website than having engineers in the back. You have to have marketing, product management, and also the creative side,” he says. A few years later, he quit and began to buy fabric, as much as he could afford, and sewing t-shirts at home.
His first creation was inspired by his mother and sister. Looking at long t-shirts for women, he wondered if he could create a menswear version. Adding scalloped edges and slits, he created a layerable piece that launched his brand. He named the new company Jaefields, derived from his Korean last name. From the beginning, he was invested in keeping garment production local: “Bringing fashion to Portland, you have to keep the business in Portland. What’s the point of bringing garments in here when no one’s involved?”
Almost four years later, he has a brick-and-mortar shop on SW Pine and sells his designs at six boutiques across the country and Canada, as well as online. The first two years, he said, were mostyl “creating stuff and pushing myself creatively.” When he moved into his current space — which also has two barbers on site, so customers can get an all-around menswear makeover— he had to turn his attention to business. “Now that I have a lot of overhead, the space, the business side of things, I get pulled into that direction more,” he says.
Working on new collections a full year in advance, Wookie creates designs that strive for quality and uniqueness over trend. “Half the time when I make something so far ahead, when it comes down to time to sell it, I think, Oh I wish I could change that a little bit…those two months you’re sitting on it, there’s little things you are inspired by. That’s why I don’t follow trends. I say make something that you believe in,” he says.
One of his biggest challenges has been convincing Northwesterners to be more fashion-forward. But Wookie is on a mission to convince Portland that design matters, and he says the “the quality and the exclusivity” of his brand are what draw customers back. “If you have something creative, people will eventually find you. Rather than exponential growth and exponential decay, I think it’s great to have consistency and longevity in a brand,” he says.
Storyteller: Caitlin Dwyer | Photos: Kim Nguyen | Published: May 2018