Some artists know their passion from an early age. Jessica Kooiman, a White Bear Lake designer, has been involved in the craft since she was 7 years old, helping in her grandma’s fabric store. She loved making clothes for her dolls and Beanie Babies. “I always wanted to do something creative,” says Kooiman (formerly Loomis—she was recently married).
Kooiman went to school at the University of Minnesota and studied at the London College of Fashion in 2011, where she learned—among other things—to make shoes and a cupcake corset. She also worked at Joynoelle, a Minneapolis-based designer of couture garments, as part of her school’s internship program. Kooiman reveals how intimidated she was at the prospect of working for a company she revered—but she was accepted right away. She worked with five other interns to assemble a line of the Joynoelle brand, and along the way, learned about her own style. “I learned that [design] didn’t have to be a simple shape,” she says. “But you can add to your simple shape and make it a lot more unique.”
Besides her internship at Joynoelle, Kooiman has also designed a wearable alarm system for NASA, for which she received a Student Design and Scholarship Excellence Award, and even presented the alarm system to NASA in person. The garment delivers warning signals in three different tones (audible, visual and tactile alerts). She has created numerous projects for Tumblewalla, and has recently gone solo to enhance her own unique designs. Now she does a lot of custom work, and has an Etsy shop called The Tatty Cupcake.
In 2014, a year after Kooiman designed some pieces for her senior fashion show, a woman named Alli Babe, who worked for Omaha Fashion Week, contacted Kooiman about showing her line in the fashion show; Kooiman didn’t even have to apply. Her French Florals collection, which took her a bit more than one year to create, plus one month for four new looks to be shown at Omaha Fashion Week, combines the artist’s love of the French countryside and styles inspired by the French Revolution; she also adds a more flirty aspect to the clothes.
“[The designing] came naturally,” Kooiman says. “I was on a time crunch, but I just felt it. When I get into a huge kick I can do it so quickly. I love when it comes out of my head and I get a complete product at the end.”
One of the girls who modeled some of Kooiman’s clothes in the fashion show, Camryn Benson, loved showing off Kooiman’s designs. “Through it all, Jessica was the sweetest thing, the best gal I could trust to work with my young daughter,” says Cassi, Camryn’s mom. “She made her feel comfortable and special, just like her clothing—just like the designer.”
Designs with a Purpose
Seeing her designs come to life is only part of the reason that Kooiman loves working in design. When working at a camp for children with autism from 2005 to 2007, she noticed the kids didn’t like the clothes their parents picked out for them because they were uncomfortable. So she put together a project through the U of M, asking children which fabrics they preferred, what their least favorite part about clothing was, and other questions.
She is extremely invested in children’s choices, comfort and love of their clothes, which is why someday she wants to create a line specifically for children with autism. “I’d love to make a line of clothing dedicated solely to making sure that kids are comfortable in what they’re wearing and feeling confident every day,” Kooiman says.
Kooiman’s customers agree that she goes the extra mile to make sure that everyone is comfortable and happy with her designs. Kooiman designed flower-girl dresses for Kelsey Toetschinger’s peacock-themed wedding, and Toetschinger was very happy with the results. “She is such a fantastic friend, person and an amazing designer,” Toetschinger says. “Over the course of the year I planned my wedding, I only needed to meet with Jessica a couple of times in person to check in. She was very efficient.”
And Kooiman is very happy with the path her design-inspired life has taken. “Looking back, I realized how much I enjoyed making stuff,” she says. “So I decided to go into clothing design; it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
(A few of Kooiman’s French-inspired designs.)
Photos by Katie Thering Photography
Model: Melanie Tremelling
Headband by Lakeside Floral