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Jennifer Vanderink and Patricia Nash at Jennifer's home in West Knoxville. Photo Shawn Poynter

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Patricia Nash and Jennifer Vanderink of Knoxville

The Dynamic Mother-Daughter Duo on Building a Brand Together

Article by Jennie Treadway-Miller

Photography by Shawn Poynter, Patricia Nash

Originally published in West Knoxville Lifestyle

Patricia Nash and her daughter, Jennifer Vanderink, sit at the conference table in their second-floor corporate office off N. 6th Ave trying to remember the words to a song. It’s one that reminds Patricia of meeting her husband Jeff while she was in England. They married in 2006 and the song has something to do with the weather. They look to me for an answer, if there are lyrics I remember, if I know what song they’re talking about, but I can’t place it, and then I wonder if this is what it’s like to work with family.

“What is it like to work together?” I ask them eventually, and then to Patricia specifically. “Do you take off your Mom Hat when you’re here?”

She laughs a little and shakes her head.

“Initially, I tried not to be so controlling. Where are you? What are you doing? All that follow-up you do,” she says.

“I don’t think of you as controlling, and you give me a lot of autonomy,” Jennifer says to her mother. Jennifer joined Patricia Nash Designs in 2013 and currently serves as vice president of operations and strategy, along with general counsel. She graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 2007.

“I don’t know that she was aware of my anxiety,” Patricia tells me.

“She hid it well.” Jennifer smiles.

“That was in my mind at the time, but I got over it,” says Patricia. “So many things have changed culturally. Gone are the days when you micro-managed your employees.”

Patricia Nash has been in business for herself for forty-five years, and so far, every cultural, economic, and personal curve in the road has provided an opportunity for her to shift course. When her namesake brand debuted in 2010, she’d already invested in herself and her ideas three times over. Her designer leather handbag company – the fifth largest in mid-tier department stores, among brands such as Coach, Kate Spade, and Dooney & Bourke – will celebrate its 15th anniversary next year. To mark the occasion, they’re doing a brand refresh, and Patricia is showing no signs of slowing down.

“If I’m going to be the head of a company, I can’t do it halfway,” she says. “It speaks to the vision. If I can be involved in some capacity until I don’t have a brain anymore, that would be a good thing.”

Patricia moved from North Dakota to Texas when she was nine years old, so her formative years and early adulthood were spent in Houston. She was a creative child and an entrepreneurial adult, so after a brief stint in college to study accounting – “the best short education I’ve ever had,” she says – she and her then-husband opened a shop that sold basketry, vases, and silk flowers, what she calls a “Pier One concept.” It was the late-70s, and one store grew to three. Soon Patricia was pregnant with her first child, Jennifer. At every angle, life looked to be on an upswing.

Then, while pregnant with her second child, Jeffrey, one of the stores was lost in a fire, and her husband’s business wasn’t doing well either. She pivoted, went to work for a national housewares company, and learned about the wholesale side of consumer products. It was an education that gave energy to her entrepreneurial spirit.

“I started a company called Innovo. We created kids’ aprons, canvas bags, things like that. We started in my garage, sewing all the items ourselves,” says Patricia. She acquired licenses for major companies, brands, and characters, such as the NFL, Warner Brothers, the Muppets, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “That took me into the early 1990s with 700 employees. Then I took the company public.”

This is a moment worth noting. Creative people aren’t always known for their sharp-sighted business skills or the ability to see a golden opportunity and place a winning bet. But Innovo did well, a credit to Patricia’s complementary talents.

“I feel bad when creative people don’t have the strategic part of their brain to access. It’s not always that the product is better,” she says. “It’s the combination of both instincts – creative and strategic. I come up with what I want and figure out how to make it happen.”

Patricia and her children left Texas when Jennifer was eleven and lived for several years in Springfield, Tennessee, just north of Nashville. In 1998, as Jennifer started college at Vanderbilt, Patricia and her fifteen-year-old son moved to Knoxville, where they came to another crossroad.

“Our board of directors and shareholders were concerned about acquisitions not going well, and they wanted me to move to L.A. That’s when I made a life change, resigned, and cashed out the stock,” says Patricia. “I remember sitting in the driveway talking to the gentleman who was going to take my place, who’d I recommended, and I said to him, Take care of my baby. I remember weeping. I didn’t believe in where they were heading. It didn’t feel like me. Being a public company exposes you to a different way of thinking, and you don’t always get to run the business the way you want to.”

There was little idle time after that. Patricia continued working in the industry, doing private labels for American Eagle and Express, and then, within three years, the door opened to develop her own brand, a concept that would ultimately represent everything she holds dear – traveling, craftsmanship, and family.

Patricia had already spent twenty years developing relationships with retail partners, such as Macy’s and Dillard’s, building the sort of reputation that cannot be done without integrity, and it helped that they already understood the dynamics of supply and demand after working in wholesale for so long. Within three more years, Patricia Nash Designs was on its way. By 2013, Jennifer joined the team after spending six years working for the Knoxville Chamber and starting a family of her own.

“I loved working for a nonprofit, and it was a great environment, but there was nowhere to go from there. That’s when [Mom and I] had a serious conversation,” says Jennifer. “Knowing what she did business-wise when I was growing up, I have the luxury of picking up my phone and being constantly connected. I remember being eight years old and she’d come home to tuck us in and then get back to work.”

Jennifer says that while her mother is a visionary, she offers an organizational and logistical component to the team, a sentiment with which her mother agrees. Together, they share similar taste and style. They love to travel through Europe together and research ideas for new collections. While there was early intention to keep business and home life separate, there was never a chance of it lasting.

“The benefit of her being my mother and my boss is I can go pick up my kids and she’s fine with it,” says Jennifer. “I thought when I started working with her that I wouldn’t talk about the kids and it would be all work, and then on the weekends we wouldn’t talk about work. But thirty minutes into my first day she was asking about the kids. I remember going home and thinking, well that didn’t work.”

It didn’t matter. Their skills and goals aligned at work, and the family has stayed close through it all.

“I’ve been blessed with a good relationship with both my kids their entire life. We always spend two weeks together each year at different times, and there’s always the big dinner conversations, so they’re aware of how lucky they are, and how this isn’t normal,” says Patricia. “We have our long-term goals set and we have people in the family we can trust.”

“We’re all open and count on each other for everything,” adds Jennifer. “We live a mile and a half from each other, and I try to model our relationship with my own kids. She never forced us to stay here. Not every family is like that, and I don’t take it for granted.”

Back in March, Patricia went to Paris and popped into Kiliwatch, a vintage shop in the 2nd Arrondissement, a stone’s throw from the Louvre. There, she spotted a Patricia Nash bag from a collection they put out more than seven years ago. She beamed, snapped a photo, and sent it to her kids.

“I talk a lot about authenticity and real value. It feels good when you know you’re connected to something good, when you know the intentions are good and what the company stands for,” says Patricia.

Brand loyalty is something they’ve enjoyed for nearly fifteen years, but national recognition is a different story, and that’s in part what they’re focusing on next. Raising brand awareness, designing for both the professional and casual woman, all while keeping a toe in European vintage design and offering the kind of craftsmanship the family is proud of.

“We’re critiquing the logo and making sure we stay focused on that core heritage look,” says Patricia. “My creative head is going on to the next wow and making sure it lasts for years.”

They’re also working on opening the first Patricia Nash outlet store near Nashville, at the Tanger Outlet in Antioch.

“We have a loyal customer base who’s always looking for a new design, and we want to maintain that and make them happy,” says Jennifer, “but there’s a huge population looking for something else.”

Learn more at

“If I’m going to be the head of a company, I can’t do it halfway." - Patricia Nash

“We’re all open and count on each other for everything." - Jennifer Vanderink

  • Jennifer Vanderink and Patricia Nash at Jennifer's home in West Knoxville. Photo Shawn Poynter
  • In the Patricia Nash showroom, Knoxville. Photo: Patricia Nash
  • Patricia Nash and Jennifer Vanderink. Photo: Patricia Nash
  • Patricia Nash and Jennifer Vanderink in their Knoxville showroom. Photo: Patricia Nash
  • Patricia Nash and Jennifer Vanderink in their Knoxville showroom. Photo: Patricia Nash
  • Jennifer Vanderink and Patricia Nash at Jennifer's home in West Knoxville. Photo: Shawn Poynter
  • Jennifer Vanderink and Patricia Nash at home in West Knoxville. Photo: Shawn Poynter
  • Patricia and Jennifer in Paris. Photo: Patricia Nash
  • Working in tanneries in Italy. Photo: Patricia Nash
  • Working in tanneries in Italy. Photo: Patricia Nash
  • Jennifer Vanderink and Patricia Nash in Europe. Photo: Patricia Nash
  • Jennifer Vanderink and Patricia Nash in Europe. Photo: Patricia Nash
  • Patricia Nash in their Knoxville showroom. Photo: Patricia Nash
  • Patricia Nash and Jennifer Vanderink at home in West Knoxville. Photo: Shawn Poynter
  • Patricia Nash Knoxville showroom. Photo: Patricia Nash

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