Jackie Smythe: Fashion Brand Founder, Fashion Activist, and MSU Student Doing It All
While approaching her freshman year at Michigan State University, her expectations were that she’d major in Supply Chain Management, and minor in Entrepreneurship, complete her final four years of school, and hopefully graduate with a job in her back pocket. That didn’t quite go to plan. Little did Jackie know that by attending MSU’s Freshman Seminar Abroad in Costa Rica program, INFKNIT Apparel was about to be born.
INFKNIT Apparel is sustainable, reversible apparel, with a practical approach to design. All their pieces are timeless and created to be versatile for the traveler, the trend-setter and the business woman alike. It was born out of a spontaneous business pitch with her co-founders Olivia Miller, Amanda Miner and Kathryne Rojeck. After pitching, their professors liked it. A lot. With some encouragement, the girls took their idea to The Hatch, a resource for MSU entrepreneurial students, and started making their idea a reality.
We Talk To Jackie…
What does it feel like to be a successful co-founder, student, & fashion activist all at the age of 18?
The thought of myself as successful co-founder, student, & fashion activist makes me feel like I can accomplish anything. Whenever I set a new goal that may seem out of reach or second guess my abilities, I remind myself of everything I’ve done successfully so far. It offers me a reassurance that I can literally achieve anything as long I’m willing to dedicate time and effort.
What is the one thing you NEED to do every day in order to stay sane? How do you wind down every night?
I typically wind down my night watching the Mentalist, a TV series that can be streamed for free on Amazon Prime. Simon Baker, the lead, is a cunning (and cute) detective who solves murder mysteries using skills he developed from his previous career as a psychic. Another thing I like to do at the end of a night is my GlamGlow SuperMud face mask, I swear by this stuff it’s seriously amazing.
When did your passion for fashion and sustainability first arise?
Since before I can remember, I’ve been in love with the world of fashion. Growing up with two sisters, the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale was Christmas (still is). I would fawn over designer clothes, begging and begging my mom to buy that $100 Ella Moss sweater for my 10-year-old self. The tradition of hiding an excessive number of bags in the car trunk from my dad, and slowly removing each one over the span of a week, still remains. As I got older, I became more hands on with fashion and started to sew clothes to fit my American Girl Dolls, with the help of my mini mannequin sets. Eventually, after writing a research paper on Coco Chanel in middle school, I learned how to use a sewing machine. Although now I no longer sew, this sparked my interest in the merchandising aspect of fashion as my intended career. Sustainability entered the picture while studying Business and Sustainability in Costa Rica with MSU. I explained my intended career path of fashion to one of the program’s professors asking how sustainability could play a role. My professor mentioned a student of his with a career in fashion and sustainability, ever since I became hooked on the concept.
When did you and your co-founders initially come up with the idea for INFKNIT?
All the co-founders-Amanda Miner, Olivia Miller, Kathryne Rojeck, and I- were studying business sustainability and entrepreneurship in Costa Rica together. One day, the class was assigned to form groups to develop an innovative business idea and spontaneously pitch. We decided to work together and came up with a concept that later became INFKNIT. Months later, we continued developing the idea and pitched to a panel of professors as an aspect of the final project for the class. These professors were fascinated with our pitch and encouraged us to apply to the Hatch, MSU's on campus business incubator. The Hatch has provided us the resources and support to develop what has become INFKNIT.
How does INFKNIT differ from other sustainable clothing brands?
INFKNIT differs from other sustainable brands through versatility. We actively combat fast-fashion by trying to minimize the consumers closet through providing one garment that can take the place of many. Our innovative designs provide a garment that can adapt to many occasions, taking the place of the need to purchase multiple additional items thus reducing waste.
What has been the most challenging part of starting and running a new business? The Most Rewarding?
The most challenging part about starting and running a new business is also being a student with a busy schedule. I’m constantly working and taking on new responsibilities but that compromises free time. It sounds great- founding a company, receiving good grades, and doing what you love, but it comes at a cost. I’m 19 and have to plan time in my calendar just to hang out with friends. It honestly makes me laugh. My life is dedicated to fashion and school, which means friends and a social life are often swept under the rug. But, honestly that brings me to the reason why it’s worth not going to that party or watching a movie with friends. Fashion is my passion and I want to change the world with it. Textiles is one of the largest polluting industries, contributing immensely to the growing problem of climate change. To put this into perspective, the amount of water used to grow cotton for one t-shirt is equivalent to the amount one person can consume for three years (PlanetAid). This obviously cannot be sustained and has already contributed to major water issues around the world. If the fashion industry does not change itself, it will be forced to. That brings me to the most rewarding part about starting INFKNIT, I am proactively working to solve a problem that will impact the world while doing fashion, two things I love.
Where do you want to take INFKNIT by 2025?
Hopefully by 2025 INFKNIT is in many people’s closets. We hope to see sustainable clothing increase in popularity and launch more successful lines throughout the years. We’re not sure where our brand is headed in terms of online or in stores, but we know it’s destined for great things.
What's the one thing you wish you knew about running a business when you first got started/What would you tell someone who has dreams of starting their own business?
I wish I knew how many hoops I would have to jump through. Things are incredibly unpredictable with a start-up company, one second everything is going as planned the next your fabric is on backorder or has to be imported from another country. When INFKNIT first launched on Kickstarter, a global crowd founding campaign website, I filed a Provisional Patent myself because we didn’t have excess money to hire a lawyer. It took me about thirty hours, six cups of coffee and some tears, but I managed put together all my resources and to get it done. It’s important to be ready to adapt to any situation and remember to not stress- problems have a weird way of working themselves out.
Who is your female founder inspiration?
My female founder inspiration is Francesca Aiello. Pam at Lindsey’s Kloset actually first introduced me to Frankie’s Bikini’s, Francesca’s first business, about two years ago. I fell in love with her swimwear, and later became even more obsessed with Frankie’s Rework, sustainable vintage clothing. After seeing her third company, Aiello, I finally googled Frankie to find out she was only 18 when started her first company, similar to myself. Women are few and far between in the entrepreneurship world, Frankie’s success (and value of sustainability) is why she is my inspiration.
Jackie never expected to be answering business emails and filing patents all while keeping up with class notes and exams. But she wouldn’t have it any other way. INFKNIT is now up and running, and you can buy their reversible dress, reversible long-sleeve and more, on their website now! Buying something from them is a great way to show Jackie and her team your support, while also helping the environment.
If you want to follow INFKNIT’s amazing journey, go ahead and give them a follow on their Instagram. You won’t want to miss what they put out next!
Written by: Carly Shaw