In our long-running series "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion and beauty industries about how they broke in and found success.
Growing up among a family of artists, architects and textile designers in Brighton in the U.K., Jessica Lomax was bound to end up in a creative career. "As long as I can remember, I was sketching clothes," she says. "My grandmother was a textile designer, so she taught me to sew from a really young age."
For university, Lomax moved to London to study at Istituto Marangoni, a top fashion school from Milan. "I really wanted to go to Milan, which is why I went to that school," recalls Lomax. "And the plan was that I would go for a year in London and then go to Milan, but I loved London so much that I ended up just staying."
While studying womenswear design, Lomax was able to garner internships for high-end labels like Alexander McQueen, Giles Deacon and Roksanda Illincic. "That was such a good learning experience because I got to work with the designers and really learn the process," she says. It wasn't until her first-ever fashion job — which involved a collaboration with another major athletic brand — that she would decide to make the switch from high-fashion design to sports apparel.
Now, as Nike's Design Director of Women's Apparel, Lomax is able to combine her passion for sport and her studies in fashion design into the ultimate dream job. Though she's been with Nike for five years, her current role is somewhat new, and required a big move from the global sports company's main headquarters in Portland, Ore. to its near-two-year-old office in New York City.
"In Portland, I was working on the entire breadth of the women's sportswear line," explains Lomax. "Whereas in New York, we're focused more on special projects, so getting closer to the consumer and understanding how the modern woman moves around the city and designing special collections for her."
While in Paris during the reveal of its national team soccer kits for the World Cup in March, we sat down with Lomax to learn more about how she broke into the fashion industry, how sports apparel for women has evolved and her best advice for young fashion designers. Read on for the highlights of our conversation.
What was your first job in the fashion industry?
My first job was at Hussein Chalayan. I started there quite soon off to graduating. That was really amazing because we were doing collaborations with different brands but also doing the main collection, so it was a great experience to do Paris Fashion Week.
Then when did you make the switch into focusing on more sport?
I've always been passionate about sport and working out and so when I was at Hussein Chalayan and we did a sport collaboration and that got me into design in sports. I loved designing for function and coming up with solutions. I thought that was inspiring — to start with a problem to solve for and then design for that. After, I left to work on a startup label that was called Work Out Life and it was three different collections about working out, going out and then lifestyle clothing, which was interesting because it's about how the three come together.
How long have you been at Nike?
I've been at Nike for five years now. I did one year in London and I was working a little bit with collaborations, as well as Nike Tech Pack. And then I moved to Portland for three years where I really focused on women's sportswear apparel. Just recently, or nine months ago, I moved to New York to start a new womenswear team.
Throughout your career, have you noticed any changes when it comes to designing for sport for women?
I have, actually. There's so much more versatility and option now. You can be expressive and really push sports style while still being functional and very innovative with performance materials. The combination of the two is exciting.
Are there any projects at Nike that you're particularly proud of?
I've been fortunate to work with so many amazing collections. I worked on the first Sacai collaboration for Nike, and I got to travel to Tokyo often and work with Chitose [Abe] and the Sacai team.
And then also the Nike Tech Pack Collection because I'd been working on that for five years, so I've seen its evolution. It started as more of a lifestyle collection into now a full collection of running, training and lifestyle together. It really is this wardrobe for the modern woman. But everything is in performance materials and functionality is built in and comfort and innovative materials. So being a part of that journey has been amazing.
How do you stay informed about the sports industry and does that help foster creativity?
Being in New York is amazing for that, especially because we constantly participate in new workouts. Every week we try to go to a new one, which is exciting because there's always new things popping up in New York. We go to the classes and see what the girls are wearing and talk to them after, which is a great way to get insights. When it comes to creativity, I try to travel as much as possible, and I go to gallery openings and popups around New York — just trying to really immerse ourselves in the culture.
Do you have any advice for young designers who want to focus on sports apparel?
I found studying fashion design helpful; it's a good setup to learn the skill and craft. My advice would be to do apprenticeships, as well, because I managed to learn so much from doing that. You also meet a lot of people and build up your network of connections, which is really, really beneficial.
Another good thing to do it is really participate in sport and understand how the body moves so you can think about how to design for that. If you can understand the body then it will help you design sportswear.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Homepage image: Jessica Lomax. Photo: Courtesy of Nike