Off the Hanger

An interview with Jenifer Bain of JL+KO

Fashion isn't always about the latest trends. Sometimes, especially in a community such as Missoula, it's all about simplicity and versatility without compromising style. Jenifer from JL+KO shares some insight on her little shop and her big passion for simple fashion.

C: Tell us about the three concepts you had in mind when bringing JL+KO to Missoula. We know for certain that it really boils down to product, who's buying the product, and the environment in which they're making the purchase so let us know what your recipe and vision was.

J: In the years I spent planning to open JL+KO I knew I needed to offer something different in order to succeed. It came down to three elements: a beautiful aesthetic, authentic atmosphere, and a well thought out, curated clothing and accessory collection. When customers walk into my store I want them to feel as if they are walking into a friend's house. I was over the stale shopping experiences and wanted to create something a bit different than the traditional retail model of "Can I help you find something?" Many of my customers I now consider my friends and I love that about my job. There is no better feeling than having someone walk out of the dressing room and say, "I never thought I could wear this! I love it!" or "I feel so amazing in this!" 

C: Do you feel that JL+KO has changed since you first imagined it? If so, in what ways? 

J: JL+KO has changed and evolved since the inception in so many ways. After year one, I realized there was a deep need for men's clothing. I started small and within the first few months doubled, then tripled my men's inventory due to the growing need I was seeing. I've also greatly expanded my apothecary and accessory collections. I love helping customers put together gifts for friends, husbands, wives, etc. Because of this, I have curated a great selection of the perfect gift for men and women. I like that JL+KO is now known as more than a clothing store. I’m the place people come to find someone a gift or that perfect piece of jewelry in addition to finding amazing pieces to add to their wardrobe. I also have something in the works that will be announced very soon. It’s called the Edit Collective at JL+KO so stay tuned! Think clothing and gift curated services redefined!

C: Let's talk about fashion and style in general. Is it timeless? Or is it the most ever-changing product out there? How do you navigate those answers as a business owner?

J: When I first started JL+KO I was given the advice to never carry something in your store that you wouldn't personally wear. I have stuck to that and because of this you will never see anything too trendy in my store. For example, I’m not a huge fan of animal prints. Never have been. So you won’t come into my store and see leopard print pants or an animal print jacket. However, I have found that a belt with an animal print is sometimes the perfect pop you need for an outfit. My curated lines are definitely timeless and something that you can wear today and you will be wearing a year, two years, five years from now. I am a complete jeans-and-tee-shirt type of girl. Always have been. I carry the largest selection of men's and women's denim in Missoula for this reason. There is nothing more classic then a pair of amazing denim with the perfect tee. The best part is you don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on a pair of denim to get the perfect fit. Half of my denim lines are under $100 and they are my personal go-tos over my more expensive lines. 

C: You carry a lot of product lines. How did you decide on most, if not all, of these?

J: I do carry a lot of product lines! I love seeking out new lines from apothecary items to clothing to accessories. As the buyer for the store, I get sent a lot of requests from reps all over the world requesting for me to carry their lines. When something catches my eye, I do my research. Will it fit in with my aesthetic? Is it affordable for my customers? Is there a need for this product? From there, I decide if I want to bring it in. Going to market is also one of my favorite things to do! I spend every day talking on the phone or emailing with my reps for all the lines and market is where I to get to sit down with them and physically touch the product, see the colors, and get their advice on what is selling well. Plus the glass of champagne while sifting through the new collection racks is a beautiful perk!

C: Accessories! There are so many talented artists in Missoula. Which styles generally catch your eye and what local artist have you been recently excited about?

J: We are so incredibly lucky to have so many talented artists! I absolutely love carrying local lines. Lumin jewelry is definitely my best selling jewelry line and Cassie, the owner, is absolutely amazing. I cannot say enough about her quality and the passion she puts into each and every piece. Love Zoelle is another one of my personal faves. Her style is simple and classic. 

C: When the coronavirus hit our town, lots of us got to enjoy your daily or weekly "fashion shows" via social media. I was personally amazed at how the same shirt or dress could be worn so differently with the addition of a belt or by simply tucking some fabric in. Can you explain the importance of versatility in the lines you carry and how they cater to all body shapes and ages?

J: Yes, during the shut down, I had to get creative and create ways to connect with my customers even though I couldn't see them in person. That's when I came up with the "fashion shows." It was so much fun and my audience grew daily. I involved my daughters and my nieces and we had a blast! People love seeing what the outfit looks like on an actual human and not just on the hanger. I have continued this tradition and now do my weekly “Thursday Try On Sessions” (on my Instagram & Facebook stories @jl.ko) with a dear friend of mine, Kera. We have totally different body types and I wanted to celebrate that by showing everyone how the same outfit can work for various body types. It was my goal when opening JL+KO to change the mindset that most boutiques only carry clothing for smaller people. That is not the case with JL+KO. We carry clothing for all body shapes and sizes. Simple little tweaks, such as adding a belt or doing a mini front tuck can completely transform an outfit! It's so fun to educate others on this and give them simple tips that will change the way they feel about getting dressed in the morning. 

C: Give us your best "staple" outfit, meaning three or four articles of clothing that you'd suggest to nearly everyone who walks through your door. 

J: Easy...a great fitting pair of denim, a soft tee, a belt (I LOVE belts! I wear them everyday and think they are a must-have for everyone!) and maybe a piece of jewelry or two! Done! In my opinion, simple is best. 

C: What can we expect from JL+KO as the fall settles into our valley? Are you getting anything new and exciting that should be added to our personal closets?

J: Fall is my favorite season for clothing! It's when we can wear denim every day! Seriously though, fall is the best. Our temps start dropping and we can wear comfy and cozy sweaters, a cute belt, and an amazing pair of denim. I have some super incredible fall jackets for men and women, soft cashmere sweaters that won't break your budget, and great casual tops that will take you from your daytime to evening event. Plus, my Edit Collective will be launching in the Fall so I am even more excited than ever! I am so so thrilled to share this new venture with everyone. 

C: Lastly, why a clothing boutique? Where did this love for style and fashion first ignite?

J: I've always loved clothing but not in the way that most would think. I love simple fashion. I've never been one to dress up a lot. I enjoy it from time to time but 98% of the time I like to keep it simple and I feel a lot of people are like this. I've always gotten a lot of comments about my style and started thinking to myself, "Why not create a store where others could come and be a part of this simple style trend that I love." Plus, a rather large factor is that I have three teenage daughters, so opening a clothing boutique seemed like the natural thing to do. It has been so fun to have them on this venture with me from the beginning. They got to see it from the ground up. What starting a business looks like, everything that is involved from selecting the perfect location to choosing lines to remodeling. It’s even more fun now that they are at the ages they can actually work in the store. It’s so fun to see them on the floor interacting with customers, helping them choose an outfit or pick out a gift for someone. I love it because at JL+KO we have created a place where mothers and daughters can shop together! It’s so fun when I have teens in here with their parents and they are all trying on clothes, laughing, chatting, and simply having a fun shopping experience. Whatever their size, age, shape, or budget I wanted to create a place where everyone feels welcome and everyone can find something that will make them feel beautiful. I feel JL+KO has successfully created that place and I couldn't be more proud. 

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