Local artist offers high-end, high-fashion painted jeans through Dragonfly by JClaire

A sampling of jeans at Dragonflybyjclaire.com. Jeans can have hand painting all over the garment, on just select areas or purchased with no design.
A sampling of jeans at Dragonflybyjclaire.com. Jeans can have hand painting all over the garment, on just select areas or purchased with no design.

While creating textured art on the walls of homes and restaurants, paint inevitably dripped onto Joan Claire Smith’s jeans. She didn’t notice it much. But homeowners and restaurant patrons did — and some even asked her where they could buy a pair.

That’s what inspired Smith, a River Forest resident, to start her new business, Dragonfly by JClaire in November of 2012. Smith hand paints jeans she purchases from a California company. These unique jeans piqued the interest of singing sensation Selena Gomez, who purchased two pairs, one for her and one for her assistant.

Smith paints the jeans from top to bottom with a stencil, or she’ll create a little bit of art just on the cuffs or pockets. She uses a soft fabric paint dry brushed by hand one color at a time, building and blending coordinating colors to give the design a fade-in fade-out effect.

Smith has also been noticed by Hollywood, with the request for her hand-painted jeans to be part of the swag bags for stars invited to special events, such as the Academy Awards. But Smith had to turn them down, because she didn’t have enough capital to get the project done in time.

“It’s exciting and interesting, but very hard financially,” Smith said.

A single mother of five, Smith said she chose to work at her own business at home so she’d be there when her children came home from school. “It was lucrative and a great way to support my family and be flexible,” she said.

She already has the knack for entrepreneurship, working as an interior decorator and getting certified in the special art of doing texturized wall paintings.

She made it work and she intends to make Dragonfly by JClaire work too.

She’ll get some help from Peter Harmon, her fiancé, whose profession is marketing.

The hand-painted jeans sell in the $200 to $300 range. “I wanted them to be high-end,” she said, adding she realizes that “people living in Oak Park and River Forest don’t necessarily spend that much on jeans.” So she’s examining whether she can produce the hand-painted products at a different price point. She’s also researching high-end boutiques where she can market her product.

“I’d also like to have different jeans for different body types. I’d love to have wearable art on a lot of different things, on boots, on shoes,” she said.

She’s currently seeking a grant from the Village of Oak Park to acquire a brick and mortar storefront. “I envision me painting in a storefront window so it draws interest from pedestrians walking by. I would offer my services to paint on the customer’s own jeans, boots, purses with JClaire Designs.”

She’d also offer a computer terminal where customers could design their own wearable art. “Customization is so on trend right now,” Smith said.

Smith also hand paints T-shirts, including one she designed with the words “Be kind” on the front. Smith supports anti-bullying campaigns with some of the profits from the T-shirts.

“I want to be able to give back from my business,” said Smith, who was inspired by her father, Bernard Smith. He taught her that giving to others can be a rewarding, spiritual experience. Bernard Smith was an artist who painted billboards in the Chicago area.

Another inspiration is her daughter, Danielle Johnson who lives in Forest Park. Smith recalled that it took her a while to start the business, even though she had the idea and the skills. “My daughter said, ‘Mom, you’ve been talking about painting on jeans. Just do it.’”

For more information visit www.dragonflybyjclaire.com.

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