Life As I Know It: Ace & Jig’s Cary Vaughan and Jenna Wilson

Cary Vaughan and Jenna Wilson, founded the ethical clothing label Ace & Jig in Brooklyn in 2010. Famous for the quality of their handwoven, brightly coloured textile, made by a factory of artisan weavers in India, they are a no-waste company, turning every scrap of fabric to use. While Cary remains in Brooklyn, Jenna lives in Portland, Oregon. Here they tell us about their sustainable practices at work and at home. 

Why we started

Jenna: We love fashion, but we know that the most impactful thing we can do is wear our clothes for longer. This cycle of buying and disposing is really harmful on several levels – because we’re constantly manufacturing and because it’s going into landfill. Our goal was to recreate clothing that people would want to wear for a long time and pass down. From the textiles themselves to all our initiatives, we’re focused on how to prolong the lifespan of a garment, whether that’s encouraging swapping or offering free repairs at our events. 

Use and re-use 

Cary: Both Jen and I come from families who passed things down and mended. My mother was one of eight and her father was an admiral in the navy. She had to travel all over with six sisters so they just swapped and passed down their clothes. 

Jenna:  My grandmother grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan during the Great Depression and they re-used everything. When a piece of cloth became too small to do anything else with, it was saved and stitched together with other pieces to make blankets. That inspired us at Ace & Jig to use every single scrap of fabric. 

Continually improving

Cary: We’ve been working with the same Indian manufacturer for 10 years now and it’s like a family business. We go once or twice a year. They work according to the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen – a practice of continually trying to improve. They look after their staff, providing free childcare and use reclaimed water to grow organic produce for their employees. 

Jenna: We just took our team to visit the factory of a no-waste pioneer – the American designer, Eileen Fisher. We found out about all her sustainable practices and her recycling, it was so inspiring. One of the things that is fascinating about sustainable fashion companies is that they want to teach other brands. They see that it’s about getting better together. 

Reducing our carbon footprint

Jenna: We’re trying to reduce our carbon footprint where we can. It comes up every day in everything we do. We’re actually in the process of changing over our packaging.

Cary: We’re looking at compostable bags and recycled or recyclable materials and we’re nearly there. We want them in play for the upcoming season.  

Start small

Jenna: With mindful consumerism, everything has to become a way of life. You start with small things that become habits – whether that’s composting, recycling, taking a refillable cup with you, the way you drink water, using cloth bags instead of plastic. In Portland, where I live, plastic bags are banned and I will tell you, you don’t miss them. The only thing is, my daughter was getting carsick this morning and that was a challenge! 

Cary: We both live in very progressive cities. I think you have a responsibility to really have to champion these practices so that they will spread more widely. 

Eating green 

Jenna: Outside Portland there’s a community supported eco-culture co-op. They grow amazing produce: fruit, vegetables, flowers. I get cheese and dairy from there and they have chickens, although I don’t eat meat. 

Cary:  I haven’t found anything like that in Brooklyn but I shop at our local farmers’ markets and green markets, which are everywhere in Brooklyn.

Kids are doing it for themselves

Cary: The kids are very aware. My daughter, who’s 10, would be totally embarrassed to go to school with anything plastic. That would not be seen as cool. They take stainless steel bento boxes. 

Jenna: Yes, that shift happened a few years ago and now it’s all steel, glass or Thermos and reuseable cutlery. And they don’t want the individual packet of pretzels. You buy a bulk pack so it’s less wasteful. 

Cary: My kids’ school has a station where they compost the leftover food. 

Jenna: A lot of the restaurants in Portland will do that now too. It’s great because even if you’re someone who doesn’t really feel motivated to think like that, you end up adapting and doing it. 

Mindful consumption

Cary: It’s hard to buy beauty products, but we both like the organic brand Tata Harper, which uses glass packaging. 

Jenna: I think the difference is that now I just consume far fewer beauty products. I’m very selective about what I purchase and things that I do like often come in glass or good packaging. I feel like back in my 20s I’d buy everything. Now I don’t do that.