Q&A: John Richards, Co-Owner of Downtown Seattle Boutique Jackstraw

John Richards worked at the Seattle luxury fashion stores Butch Blum and Mario’s for 25 years before opening Jackstraw in 2008.
This article appears in print in the February 2018 issue. Click here for a free subscription.

John Richards is co-owner and buyer at Jackstraw, a specialty boutique selling men’s and women’s apparel. Situated at First Avenue near Virginia Street in downtown Seattle, it endeavors to sell clothing “with stories and character, beautiful construction — nothing too fussy or uncomfortable.”

When did you discover fashion? Fourth grade. My father had these beefy, ugly Florsheim wingtips and I loved them and I got a pair — as a fourth-grader! I’ve had a wingtip obsession ever since.

How has your business changed since opening in 2008? We opened one month before the recession, so the first four years were all about staying afloat. It’s still a struggle nine years in, but we’ve built a loyal following and people are discovering us. 

Why does it matter how we dress? I don’t know about we, but for me, clothing is an extension of myself. 

What are the components of a good retail space? I get claustrophobic very easily, so I look for a spacious environment with high ceilings and extremely good lighting to see the true color of the clothing. My store has both these things and I think it’s one of the best retail spaces in Seattle.

You’ve worked at numerous local clothing boutiques. What’s the difference between those stores and the inventory at Jackstraw? The difference is this is my vision and not theirs. 

Has anything in particular influenced your fashion aesthetic? Cinema was a big factor in my decision to go into the clothing business. I discovered Humphrey Bogart in high school and loved the way he dressed in high-waisted pants and short, wide ties. 

How do you choose your inventory? Painfully! I do my homework on vendors and collections year-round, so I’m prepared when I go to market. It’s still difficult because I’m spending hard-earned money on clothing that I hope is interesting, wearable and, of course, sellable. 

Who is the Jackstraw customer? People who wear clothes not as a uniform but as part of who they are. 

Has the clothing retail business changed from when you started? The large retailers have gotten on the designer bandwagon and I try not to carry anything they do because I think collections lose their soul and energy in big stores. I’m into intimate settings with unknown collections that showcase creativity, craftsmanship and quality. 

Do you enjoy helping somebody find his or her sense of style? It brings me great joy when someone clicks with the clothing because it often means we click on other things as well and that leads to wonderful conversations about … life.

What’s the most common mistake men make when buying clothes? They don’t make mistakes at my store. I won’t let them. 

What’s the most money you’ve ever spent on a piece of clothing? The main reason people get into this industry is so we don’t have to pay for clothing!

What do you wear when you’re at home? I’m a flannel pajama freak and I’ve told my wife that if I ever retire, I’m going to live in flannel pajamas for the rest of my life. 

If someone wants to completely change their look, where should they start? With their inner selves. Delve into who you are, come to terms with what you envision and go for it. Sometimes you have to take chances.

Is there a particular time in history, ancient or contemporary, when fashion was at its best? No, but I can tell you what was the worst time: the ’80s! Those big shoulder pads, the hairstyles, most of the music … for me, it was the lost decade! 

How would you describe your relationship with money? Poor. 

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self? Put 25 percent of your paycheck away from day one and invest. I have always lived for today, always for the now and it’s completely bitten me in the ass! (Laughs) 

Do you get jealous? I get envious of people, but I’m not really a jealous person because it’s not worth it. If my wife were to fall in love with somebody else, so be it. What can I do about that? Nothing lasts forever.

Is there a part of the creative process that you like the best? I love to sit on my sofa and daydream. That’s when I’m happiest. 

What four guests would make for the perfect dinner party? Albert Einstein, John Lennon, Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ. 

What would be on the menu? I’m heavily into roasted chicken right now, so chicken, mashed potatoes, sautéed broccolini, a great Châteauneuf-du-Pape and lots of beer. I love to drink beer. 

Is there any law or rule that you would like to enforce? Yes. I would ban handguns and nuclear weapons. 

Name a favorite moment from the past year. I took my family to Greece last June and we had breakfast together at my friend’s café. Hanging out, drinking coffee and orange juice and seeing my kids and my wife so happy was the best. 

For more on the lives of entertainers, artists and entrepreneurs, tune in to art zone with nancy guppy on the Seattle Channel (seattlechannel.org/artzone).

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