Jennifer M. Brown is an entrepreneurial generative artist, intimate apparel designer and creative director of Under The Root. Since 2005 they have helmed an intimate apparel design house that specializes in everything from hand structured lingerie, and boudoir accessories.
From bloomers and blindfolds, to garters and spats, they passionately design undergarments with sensuousness rather than sexual objectification in mind or as Ms. Brown describes Under The Root as “Sensual alchemy for body movement visionaries.”
In addition to being ethically handcrafted each piece is created using fair trade & stustainable fabrics, they design apparel for that can be custom fit for all body shapes and sizes.
The passion extends far beyond their apparel with the brand mission being to “achieve complete sustainability at every stage of the manufacturing process, collaborate and exchange with the socially conscious community, and substantially support slow design as a means to heal our planet and its people.”
Under The Root is continuing to expand and carve its niche in the slow fashion movement, with its newsletter the Ellefolk Gazette, and subscription boxes of sensual alchemy. In our conversation, Jennifer discusses the power of reclamation and transformation as well as the conditions that foster innovation.
Ms. Brown was kind enough to participate in the following interview.
How did you get the concept for your idea or business? My childhood story is not one for the faint of heart. There are no warm fuzzies and financial support backups or luscious love stories. The story is one of reclamation.
I was the oldest of three in a single parent household. My father was a victim of the Vietnam War and subsequently abandoned our family when I was 9 years old.
My mother did her very best although made poor choices which landed us all in the world of sexual, domestic, and emotional abuse.
The one constant in my life was dance classes. I began working in the dance studio for trade of classes at age 14 along with picking up trash for the city Parks and Recreation.
When I was 15, my decision to take a sewing class spawned an impetuous desire to somehow connect the impoverished world to the fantastical by means of an apparel tightrope. The skills gained in the next 2 years were to be quite literally danced over.
In my adult life, dance had taken over and fashion flipped to leotards, warm-ups, wrap skirts, and pieces for body mover comfort. Most of the time the materials were upcycled and/or refurbished, used, vintage clothing pieces.
As whimsy as some may think a dancer’s life is, quite the opposite is true. There are bruises, sweat, poignant falls, flips, aches, salt baths, body strategies and negotiations, grand or minuscule maneuvers.
The breadth of challenge to survive can be described as being submerged in the star-crossed love between pain and power. It is at this particular crossing where Under The Root began to take shape.
I did not take the conventional, educational path to fashion design though. I studied dance, practiced as a performance artist, designed costume for stage and film, then styling for boutiques; all the while, balancing a bartender position at the grassroots, activist oasis of Rogers Park, Chicago.
The concept was organic, a cauldron of modern dance and this inherent drive to shed light on the alchemy of undergarments with sensuousness rather than sexual objectification. I signed up for business development workshops, stayed hours at the Chicago Public Library, and attacked any resource possible for small businesses.
There is a compendium of the many crossroads you face in relation to creative skills. This tenacity of evolution bleeds into the designs and brand today.
As an innovator, it takes late nights after a day job, juggling many hats, courage to fail, strength to succeed, confidence to believe in the process, and acceptance that the business is definitely more than one person.” – Jennifer M. Brown, Under The Root
What is unique about your business? I believe there are 3 pillars that can answer what makes this business unique. Under The Root creates intimate apparel and accessories for the modern, minimalist, body mover who activates with a subtle alchemy.
Each of the design details has been rendered to comfort the sensuousness in the beholder with the support of hemp and organic cotton materials. Our business ethos directly connects a supply chain that has an uncompromised commitment to the slow fashion movement.
In order to sustain the evolution, the acceptance begins and ends with authentic, design leadership. The success of each individual and the guidance of their support are of the greatest importance.
I may be a design leader with a vision and unwavering resilience but the growth is in the hands of the army that stands up for this spiral of evolution.
What is the single most critical talent you possess in your role as a business owner? This question is a difficult one to answer because it asks for one. After all these years and delving deep into the psyche of a small business owner over the course of 15 years, I believe my personal answer is still to be shown clearly.
As an innovator, it takes late nights after a day job, juggling many hats, courage to fail, strength to succeed, confidence to believe in the process, and acceptance that the business is definitely more than one person.
What has been your biggest challenge? By far, the giant challenge is sustainable finances.
What has been your greatest accomplishment? Each day there are tiny accomplishments that lead to a successful day. The act of being able to see those moments is crucial to the continuation of any small business.
I am appreciative and gracious to the evolution of our planet and the people that are taking leaps and bounds to help further its health.
I bow to the choices and forces of those that decide to believe in Under The Root. The night I chose to build this brand and take ownership of its alchemy was probably one of the most frightening and yet, gentle elixirs for its transformation.
How do you define success as a business owner? It does send a sense of grounded kindness straight to the root of this business each time a design is finished for an order. So, success seems to be the delivery to the client and their continued, future orders.
What are your goals and where do you see yourself in the next 3-5 years? My goals are hefty, attainable, and continue to multiply with each step in the process. Under The Root will be taking on assistants, produce small, cohesive collections in short amounts of time, further define its niche, and obtain resources for a more sustainable growth trajectory.
If you had one piece of advice for someone just starting out, what would it be? Be yourself, be prepared to fail miserably and glow from the inside out, make decisions quickly and with wisdom, take the time to genuinely care for your person, and if the work is your best then be the best at what you do.