Slipped away in the hazy Espresso hookah lounge in downtown Tucson, Jamie Edwards can be found in the back, sitting in a sofa with her legs crossed, sipping occasionally on her drink.
Her chic blonde hair and scarlet lips make her unmissable. Lounging in a pair of towering black boots and a bohemian cardigan, it comes with no surprise that this woman has had her designs grace the runway at New York Fashion Week.
Life was not always cocktails and big cities for Edwards. The road to success for this rising star on the fashion scene is one full of twist and turns.
Edwards was raised in a house where if she wasn’t wearing something she made herself, she was wearing her older sister’s hand-me-downs.
“I’ve always been a fashionista,” Edwards says.
While the nightmare of her mother insisting she wear a bonnet until she was 12 still haunts the back of her mind, Edwards remembers cutting her sister’s flared jeans and sewing zippers on the sides to transform them into skinny jeans.
Not too long after Edwards was allowed to take off her bonnet, at 13, her parents chose to take her out of school so she could earn money by grooming dogs. That work kept her occupied until at 16 she chose to emancipate herself from her parents and moved to Ecuador.
A nomadic lifestyle took Edwards from Ecuador to Los Angeles, and finally to Seattle in 1993 because “you know, Nirvana was playing.”
After settling down from the rock shows and traveling, Edwards spent her next 13 years working as a software analyst. After becoming sick and bedridden, Edwards was told she had a short life expectancy.
“You know what happened instead? I lost 70 pounds, I got a boob job, and I went to Europe for six weeks,” Edwards says.
Those six weeks in Europe were just the starting point for the new road that Edwards was about to travel.
It has been six years since that trip to Europe, but Edwards can still recall every detail of one “life changing” occasion.
Edwards takes another sip from her drink as she reminisces about her experience at Marlise Dekker. Her eyes widen when she explains how you had to knock on the door in order to be let into the store. Once admitted, she thought about what she wanted to try on as she watched models parade through the store in different styles of lingerie.
After selecting a garment, one woman held up silk to cover her, another woman took her measurements, and a third woman fed her chocolates.
Edwards admits she is wearing what she bought at Marlise Dekker six years ago. While it cost her hundreds of dollars, she says it was worth every penny.
“I strive to have that same type of quality in everything I do,” Edwards say.
Edwards still marks that occasion as one of the turning points in her life that would lead her into a career in fashion.
Soon after her return from Europe, Edwards received a call from a friend to help him design a dress for an upcoming award that ultimately won. After not being accredited or given a ticket to the award ceremony, Edwards decided to make a dress to wear to the ceremony anyways.
She created a dress that featured lamb skin on the top, chiffon cascading down the bottom and a piece of blown glass, provided by friend and local glass blower Jonathan Russell, attaching the shoulder strap to the back.
Her firm determination to be recognized for her accomplishment was the perfect accessory to her outfit. It was that night that the first dress from her brand JL Edwards would be public.
Edwards’ dress was the talk of the party, so much so that she had an article written about her. With talent, charm, and a bit of luck, Edwards was invited to attend New York Fashion Week in the fall and would have her dresses grace the runway.
Edwards remembers the flurry of thoughts she had after receiving that call. Most of them were doubts of how she would ever prepare herself for fashion week, let alone make it to New York.
These doubts and questions were resolved through the help of her friends and the city of Tucson.
Close friend Karina Levine put herself in charge of revamping Edwards’ social media and established fundraisers to raise an estimated $300 for travel expenses.
“I believe in her and in her talent,” Levine says. “I believe in helping out my friends always.”
When Edwards begins to describe the sight she saw as she emerged from her limo onto the bustling sidewalk outside of Madison Square Garden, her head leaves the small hookah lounge in Tucson and returns a life of flashing cameras and beaming city lights.
“In NY it was a whole different ball game. Everyone was so wonderful,” Edwards says. “It had everything I needed.”
Edwards’ time in New York quickly turned to hectic afternoons backstage zipping up models and nights of last minute sewing with little sleep.
After multiple days without sleep, Edwards could feel herself start to crack. Through those cracks, doubts began to flood into her mind about whether she would make it in the world of fashion.
“I thought I was the stupidest person in the world,” Edwards says. “I thought ‘What are you doing? You don’t know how to sew. You have the whole community giving you money. What are you doing?’”
Once again, Edwards’ friends came to her aid. From across the country, friends joined her in New York to offer her help in the form of laughs and a few extra hands for some stitching.
Her long nights and hard work paid off. Colorful dresses of all kinds of cuts floated on models as they strutted the runway.
One particular model and friend brought Edwards’ vision for her clothes to life. The model was a size 00 and with a flat chest and slim hips, she was worried that she would not look as “womanly” as the other models.
“Don’t worry, I’ll make you look like a woman,” Edwards recalls saying.
The dress fit the model perfectly and Edwards could see her confidence increase as she worked the runway.
Edwards’ main accomplishment had been achieved. For Edwards, the concept behind JL Edwards is to not just make clothing for people to wear, but rather something people can live in and feel happiness in.
“I like making clothes, but honestly, I like making people pretty” Edwards says. “I think women are beautiful and what we don’t like, other people seem to love”
After the glitz and the glamour was through, Edwards left New York and returned back to her home in Tucson.
In a perfect example of irony, Edwards attended the award ceremony as fashion designer of the year that just one year ago, she did not receive an invitation to.
Sticking with the initial concept of JL Edwards Designs, Edwards chose the part of her body she disliked the most, her thighs, and created a dress with lace all down the sides of her legs.
“Instead of hiding things with our clothes, I want to bring out that part,” Edwards says. “For the first night, I loved my thighs”
Since New York Fashion Week and multiple awards, Edwards plans to extend her line possibly into menswear and wants to do some experimenting with pop art. An intricate corset involving blown glass is also currently a work in progress.
Regardless of how the designs of JL Edwards change, Edwards plans to stay involved with the community in whatever she does. Through this year of new challenges and experiences, Edwards has learn that help from friends and a strong self of sense will get her far in life.
“When it comes down to it, it’s really not about fashion. It’s really not about the career and what you do. It’s about your perseverance and your heart and what you want to put into it,” Edwards says. “Anything you put into it will come out, if your intention is right, just the way you want it. That’s what I discovered this year.”
Tessa Patterson is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org