DESIGNER - LOS ANGELES, CA
Janessa Leone is a designer from San Diego, Ca who has created a world renown luxury accessories label. Most known for her gorgeous hats, she marries timeless design, sophistication, and quality materials, with transparent processes and manufacturing.
Her designs are a favorite amongst tasteful celebrities, worn by the likes of Beyoncé, Jessica Alba, Rosie Huntington Whiteley, and Gwyneth Paltrow, to name a few.
We sat down with Janessa to chat about all the things, and capture her in the JL HQ with her black xs petite portfolio.
Our conversation with Ms. Leone…
1. What sparked your interest in design? When did you begin your journey as a professional product designer?
I have always been drawn to expressing myself through art. I would cut up towels and tie them together into dresses. I would pretty much ruin any textile in the house and make a new wardrobe. Design as a career was never really spoken about as an option in my family- not that they wouldn’t support it, it just was a foreign career concept. My parents weren’t in creative fields--no one in my family was. So I always saw it as a hobby. Once I graduated college I decided I could attempt to make it a career. I decided to pivot away from attending law school and decided to pursue designing. I wanted to create a fashion brand, but without any necessary technical skills or financial resources to launch a fully realized lifestyle brand, I wanted to start with something niche that I was passionate about. I started with hats because I love the identifiable spirit that comes with wearing a hat- there's a confidence an air that is all encompassing and is unique to that accessory. I also loved the romance in the idea that some of my favorite designers, Coco Chanel and Jeanne Lanvin started with hats before launching their brands we know now.
2. What specific elements are a part of your creative process as a product designer?
My creative process is really centered around quiet and mindfulness. I have to consciously create a lot of space and make an effort to create a schedule to allow for silence. I try to compartmentalize work stresses and life stresses to create a really peaceful quiet place so I feel like I can let the ideas start to layer on top of each other and make sense. It’s really focused on mindfulness, meditation, prayer, hikes, getting outside, going to the beach, organizing the daily tasks of running a business, and anything that allows for space and quiet in my mind is always the number one thing in my creative process.
3. How do you pursue your craft with curiosity and actively seeking inspiration instead of falling victim to complacency?
I think that complacency isn’t really an option in my life because I am driven in my participation in a bigger creative story, cosmically. My creative journey is connected and in tandem with God’s creation. I am constantly seeking to create in tandem with God who is very big and endless. God is not complacent, little, or minimal so there is no room for a self imposed sense of “arrival”- there’s always more I want to create and be apart of. Creation and therefore creativity is constantly evolving and moving. This movement is such a critical understanding to my creative process and therefore by definition I feel incapable of being settled in stagnancy.
“My creative process is really centered around quiet and mindfulness. I have to consciously create a lot of space and make an effort to create a schedule to allow for silence. I try to compartmentalize work stresses and life stresses to create a really peaceful quiet place so I feel like I can let the ideas start to layer on top of each other and make sense.”
4. What encouragement would you give to someone who is taking their first steps in the product industry?
I always tell people that they just have to start somewhere. I think if you’re inclined to create a product or create a brand you’re definitely a big picture thinker and you have a lot of ideas and goals for yourself, but that is so easy to get drowned by. When you first launch a product it would be impossible to get the product perfect, your packaging perfect, branding perfect, website perfect. That’s just too big of a task. I constantly encourage people to just start. Take one step, one day at a time, and know that your current idea of “perfect” wouldn’t stand without a foundation, and that foundation takes time to build. Once you’re in the process you realize that perfection you are trying to achieve is actually a fallacy. It’s not attainable- it is something that’s constantly evolving. So no matter what stage you’re at, you’re going to have to just continue taking steps everyday and build up that foundation and that platform underneath you, brick by brick to be working towards the new goal. You will never escape the mountain you are climbing.
5. How do you actively pursue rejuvenation in the midst of your career? What brings you refreshment and enables you to return to your work anew?
I actively pursue it and I actively fail. I think that, for me, I am really enriched by community and being in conversation and relationships with people. I feel a lot of refreshment from time with friends, vacations with friends and family, being surrounded with people who know you and accept you and lift you up. It’s hard to find time for that but I always have to remind myself that it makes you better and if you are going to take a week off to fill back up your tank, the work that comes after is going to be so much more enriching. It is a constant struggle but I think it is of utmost importance to constantly fill up your bowl, so what overflows is rich and abundant.
6. Was there a time you wanted to shift career paths? If so, how did you reestablish connection to your profession?
There were times I threatened to shift career paths but I don’t think I ever really wanted to. I fall victim to the weight of how heavy running a business is when it’s filled with things I’m naturally not good at and, therefore, don’t tend to be drawn to. Whenever I threaten to abandon ship and do something different I’m always directly left with the reflection that this is something that I really, truly love and I am so grateful to do. I realize that I don’t want to shift. I might want to shift the current circumstances or the current workflow, but there is agency there. You can always take something off your plate you can always change flows and do things that are more fulfilling for you.
7. As humans in an ever- changing environment, we often find that vulnerability is essential to learn. Is there a significant struggle or time in your life where you chose to find strength in weakness?
I think, based on the bigger picture, you have to fail and struggle in order to realize how sweet the other side is. I think that is a common theme in life and something that no one really wants to be forced to understand but once you’ve gone through a failure or tragedy you that realization is there. There is always a silver lining and there is always beauty in the midst of struggle. The biggest one in my personal life is losing my Dad suddenly. I just wanted to succumb to that loss and curl up in a ball - I was and I am still so crushed by it. The impulse to give up, hide away, and not show up to the challenge was all encompassing. With the support of my boyfriend and friends, I found some inner strength that I and others had to convince myself was even there. I can’t say I am through that. I can’t say that I’ll ever be through that loss but I did surprise myself with the resilience I was able to muster. It gives me a lot of agency and a lot of hope for other things that I deal with. I am able to see things with a new perspective and a new light and confidence and know that I’m not alone in this world and can handle the ongoing struggles.
8. What does beauty mean to you? How do you choose to share that meaning with others or actively contribute to it?
Beauty always comes back to an understanding and acceptance of your self-worth which manifests itself outwardly as confidence. I think, universally, people think confidence is beautiful. I think that deeper than that, beauty is really truly loving yourself, loving who you are, and who you were made to be. For me, that is the feeling and intention that I put into designing -I want people to feel good when they look in the mirror. They are not going to feel valued by simply putting a hat on their head, but I hope by feeling good about how they look, they manifest a sense of self worth, value, and a sense of love and contentment within themselves. . If they can do that because they look good in a hat that is definitely something that is meaningful to me and something that helps me continue everyday to be apart of this bigger story that we are all living in.
9. If you could invite a small group of people over for dinner, celebrating the contribution they have made to your personal development, who would you invite?
I would have my Dad, my boyfriend Kevin, my CFO Jaymee, my publicist Ashley, and my close high school and college friends who deal with me crying every other day about how I feel like a failure. They continue to lift me up and urge me to go on.
10. Our first collection if called Eleven-Thirty, which reflects and celebrates a specific time of day. Is there a favorite time of day you have and why?
I have two. I love early in the morning, around 7:30am when it is still really quiet and the sun is just peeking up over the houses. I feel like there is so much opportunity in that time of the morning. You have an active decision to make everyday - if you are going to show up and do your best work or if you’re going to get crushed by the pressure. So it is a really nice time to reflect on who you are and why you’re here. I usually give that time to feel gratitude for the things I have. It is usually a quiet time for prayer and for feeling grateful even when things don’t seem great and it really sets the tone of the day so I feel like mornings are really sacred for me. Sunday afternoons at 4:30pm are my favorite time of week. The sun is kind of starting to set, you usually feel so restored from the weekend, and are excited about a new week that is happening, but you still have a few hours of that freedom from the weekend and you’re about to have a good dinner. I feel like there is so much opportunity in the start of a day and the very, very beginning of a new week.