From The Runway

Local entrepreneur heads global fashion design company

Courtesy of Jackie Wilson

After Jackie Wilson realized most designs didn't flatter her 5-foot-1 frame she took it upon herself to create more inclusive clothes. On her agenda is a plus-size clothing line.

You’re riding along the freeway in your convertible. Top down, wind in your hair. After weeks of jetsetting around the world — Hong Kong being your latest stop — today Los Angeles is your home for the day.

It sounds like pure fantasy, but for Jackie Wilson, it is the reality she has made for herself.

Wilson is the owner of American Fashion Network, one of the top emerging clothing design companies based in Syracuse. With 21 employees spread across offices in Los Angeles, Guatemala, and China, Wilson heads a booming business that rivals some of the top design companies of today.

As someone who has always viewed fashion as art, Wilson has long seen her life and her work as a fantasy. Being 5-foot-1 and feeling that her favorite styles would never compliment her, she viewed fashion as a mental escape of what the clothes would look like. It is that vision that has been the formula to her work thus far in life.

“A vision is created from a fantasy,” she said. “It is nothing short of fantasizing about what you want your life to look like.”

With the assistance of her design team, she has created much of the fashion that could be hanging in your closet. Walk into Destiny USA or browse a store like American Eagle Outfitters or Kohls, you are likely to see dozens of Wilson’s designs on the racks and modeled by the mannequins in the windows. The products appeal to the trends of today with a fresh West Coast vibe in mind — the place Wilson said is an emerging fashion hub.

“Most people will tell you that New York City is the fashion hub today, and that may be true,” she said. “But I will tell you that Los Angeles is the place to be. We are moving into a fashion cycle that is west coast inspired. I call it ‘back to the future.’”

During her collegiate years, and before coming to central New York, Wilson was on another path. After studying journalism at the University of Arizona and having job offers from different publications come graduation, she knew it was not where she was supposed to be.

But she knew she had a passion for magazines and clothing, and decided to turn that passion into a career. After gaining experience in companies all over the country, she settled in New York City where she met her husband, who is a Syracuse native and also works in fashion. Together they started their own design business, but it didn’t last. Wilson’s career looked up in 2005, when she decided to start the American Fashion Network, a private label company that makes designs and sells them to companies.

Today, with a dedicated, global team, she has grown her business to be one that is like family. Her first designer — an art major and Syracuse University alumna — has worked with Wilson for more than 10 years. Her daughter, who learned her mother’s trade “on her hip,” is now the leading designer at their Los Angeles location at 23 years old. Although the fashion industry may seem like a cutthroat playground of evil bosses and devils in stilettos, one of the most important things for Wilson is to create a team that fits within her “culture” — something she said is a key to maintaining a strong company as an entrepreneur.

“I don’t even look for experience, I look for personality,” she said. “I just hired a controller who was my bank teller. It’s all about whether he can fit into my culture. I don’t know how I know sometimes, but I trust my gut and that is key.”

Wilson is always looking for her next source of inspiration in the fast changing fashion industry — even if that means taking spontaneous drives from L.A. to Las Vegas to open up her mind to “creative fantasies.” Next on her agenda is the creation of a plus-size clothing line that will appeal to women from sizes 2 to 22, a movement she feels passionate about pursuing for consumers.

Although she may never know where her next vision is going to come from, she knows being a small giant will take her places as long as she believes in the power of her own creative mind. A recent meeting in Hong Kong with one of the largest manufacturing companies in the world offered a glimpse into it.

“They do $1.8 billion in business and I was sitting next to him. My company won an award and he was jealous. And that’s because I faked it ‘til I made it. They have no idea the size of my company,” she said.

“You don’t act small. You think big.”

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