Shopping-wise, it's hard to remember anything bigger than the opening of Emporium. But with all the fuss made for descending mega-brands such as Uniqlo, it seems many of us forgot the centre's second floor. There, shoppers are greeted almost exclusively by home-grown retailers, the fourth store from Sydney's Jac+ Jack among them.
For almost a decade, the label has been dressing men and women in its elegant knitwear. Emporium's blonde-timber-clad outlet doesn't disappoint. It offers fine merino and cashmere plus dresses, shawls, shirts and pants. From day one these garments have been guided by a simple mantra: don't be ordinary. “It has to say something,” explains Jacqueline Hunt, co-founder of the brand. “It can't just be an everyday sweater."
Hunt started Jac+ Jack with Lisa “Jack” Dempsey, who she met while working at Marcs. Initially the pair spent time together because they had to – at airports and hotels, on their way to international fabric fairs. Over time they became friends and started discussing their own ambitions. “We talked a lot about doing something,” Hunt says. “We saw a gap in the market for a knitwear label. It hadn't really happened in Australia."
Nowadays the pair may run their own ship, but they continue to visit trade fairs in Italy and elsewhere, searching for the modern fabrics their label is known for. “We're a little bit chef-like in our approach,” Hunt says. “We always start with the raw materials." Once they find something beautiful, it's passed on to small, bespoke manufacturers in locations as diverse as India, Hong Kong and Australia. The finished garment always takes precedence: if the duo believe a supplier is particularly good with cashmere or any another material, it's handed the job. No buts. “We've worked with the same suppliers since the beginning,” Hunt says. “So we have decade-old relationships."
Today's Jac+ Jack is barely recognisable next to the humble version launched in June 2004. Back then, the brand was only available online and at other peoples' stores. It was six years before it got its own bricks-and-mortar shop – a steady creep by anyone's standards. Hunt is happy though, explaining, “We've been really fortunate the brand has been able to grow at a rate where we feel in control of it."
Since then, things have moved quickly. Jac+ Jack has embraced, not been threatened by, the spectre of online shopping. A second store has landed in Sydney plus two more in Melbourne. This isn't expansion for expansion's sake; Hunt believes nothing beats a good in-store experience, even if web shopping has been part of Jac+ Jack from the beginning. It's easy to see this ethos reflected in store. Each one is radically different to the next, echoing the garments' need to, “Say something”.
Similarly, when Hunt and Dempsey began planning an outlet in Melbourne's heart two years back, they were particular about the location. “People really want convenience nowadays,” Hunt says. “They want to go to one destination and get a multitude of different things.” Emporium, Jac+ Jack's first foray into a shopping centre, was chosen with this in mind. “It didn't feel like a cookie-cutter centre,” Hunt says, “it felt really well curated.”
But while the brand mix at Emporium may have drawn in Jac+ Jack and labels of a similar calibre, it's also challenging for retailers. “You're really competing to carve out your own identity,” Hunt says. Still, the new store has been attracting plenty of customers who've never encountered the brand before, a fact which caused Hunt to breathe a sigh of relief.
“We were a bit nervous,” she says. “We went against a lot of the design rules for a shopping centre. We don't have glazed windows, for example. We don't have mannequins. We really wanted to represent Jac+ Jack as we see it.”
Jac+ Jack Emporium
Emporium Level 2, Shop 225A, 287 Lonsdale Street
Sat to Wed 10am–7pm
Thu & Fri 10am–9pm