Interview with: Jen Llerena
Website: J&T Creations
E-mail Interview Conducted by: Lady Kat Chaos
Date: April 2014
OCZ: First off, I want to say thanks for taking the time to let me ask you some questions about your J & T Creations and Promotions, first off how was the Manowar concert? What's your favorite Manowar songs and did you get to hear them live? What other concerts this year would you like to try to attend?
Jen: It was amazing! They really are the loudest band in the world. I've been to a lot of concerts, but that was the only one that my chest hurt from the bass. As for favorite song, that is a hard one. I think my favorite would be the iconic song, Battle Hymn.
OCZ: It's not often that you get to go out and enjoy a concert because you're busy with creating for your own company. Tell us a little about yourself, where you are located in the world and the origins of J & T Creations? Why did you recently change the name from J & T Creations to J & T Creations and promotions?
Jen: I have always had a knack for making things, sewing and art. I think it all started when I would revamp my concert shirts for every concert I went to. I can’t stand traditional t-shirts. I would revamp them into halter tops and tank tops and even skirts. Women started asking me to alter their shirts, so I started charging $20. It wasn't until 2010 after my 13 yr old son passed away that I turned it into a real business and started getting orders from Europe, Spain and even Australia. Burying myself into my art and selling strictly online kept me busy and distracted me from the real world.
I didn't really start setting up vendor tables until 2013 when I moved to Arizona. This amazing airbrush artists, Jason McMahon of Twisted Airbrushing, saw my work online and invited me to set up a table with him at Gilby Clarke concert. After that a local radio DJ, Mike Gaube started inviting me to shows he was hosting. Since then I have been selling at festivals, concerts and local craft and art shows, in addition to my 2 online stores.
In the last year or so, I have been working increasingly more with bands. I decided to change my name from J&T Creations to J & T Creations and Promotions because I promote bands that I work with. I am in the middle of creating a website that will not only feature and online store, but it will always feature bands that have bought either a random piece off of be or have had me do custom stuff for them.
For my guitar string jewelry, I used recycled guitar strings. These strings are donated by bands, Dagger, Chemicals of Democracy, Bang Tango, L.A. Guns, Queensryche, Gilby Clark, Chuk Cooley and the Demon Hammers, Dio’s Disciples amongst others. By promoting these bands with the jewelry in which their strings help creating I am offering free marketing for them. So I thought a name change was appropriate.
OCZ: My heart goes out to you Jen for the death of your son, who has also been an inspiration to help you cope and you're helping other parents heal by creating a special jewelry piece for them, can you explain what you'll be doing for them?
Jen: One of the types of jewelry I do, is resin work. I have offered, in memory of my son, a free custom resin pendant or bracelet, to anyone that has lost a child. Resin is a liquid glass like substance that I encase items with to make jewelry with. I have had parents ask if they can send me a small piece of a child’s toy, their ashes, a lock of hair, amongst other personal items, and have me incorporate them into a resin piece.
OCZ: What are some new designs and ideas you'll be working on in 2014?
Jen: I have started doing a lot more steam punk and leather work. You will be seeing a lot more top hats in 2014. I am also working on a gothic clothing line and stage wear.
OCZ: Did you also start creating clothing, bags, jewelry because you couldn't find what you wanted wasn't available at stores? At what age did you find your own personal style?
OCZ: It seems to have a retro look but yet also a modern feel to them as well. Did you draw from any certain influence for you designs or is it more of just a subconscious thing when you make your clothing (Rocker pants, formal gowns, dance costumes etc.), bags, custom jewelry and even custom quilts?
Jen: It really depends on the piece. A lot of my stage wear, the artists come to me with ideas of what they want. There is usually room for my own take on it. As for my jewelry, I get a lot of inspiration for pieces I see on stage or online. I just add to them and recreate. I love the steam punk era as well as more gothic and punk styles. Kinda what Hot Topic used to be, before they started selling cartoony crap for teenagers. I have a very strong attitude and I like my clothing to reflect that. I want it to give the person wearing it , confidence. One of my first customers bought a shirt from me and her words upon trying it on were, “This shirt makes me feel like I got attitude”… Since then that has been my slogan. “Custom Creations with an attitude”
OCZ: When it comes to designing for specific bands is it difficult in obtaining the rights to do so? And what has been the reaction from the bands towards your designs so far?
Jen: I have only run into issues one time and that was when one member wanted me to create something but the other members weren't on board. For the most part when I get approached, it’s for a single musicians needs. As for the rights to pictures of them wearing my designs. I also let them know upon purchase that from then on out I will be using them for marketing. So far it’s always been a win win. Free marketing for them and me. Not all my clients are fans of all the bands I work with. It’s an opportunity for bands to reach an audience that they wouldn't normally reach.
OCZ: Obviously metal is the main subject of many of your designs, who are some of your favorite bands? And what band would you like to have an opportunity to design for? Aside from a dream band you would like to design for, do you have a dream project you would like to do?
Jen: That’s a hard one. I have such an eclectic taste in music. I think from a marketing stand point, I am gonna go with Ozzy. I mean who doesn't love Ozzy? And if you could get in good with Sharon, you would be golden! But as far as favorite band. I think I am going to go with Iced Earth. I would love to design stuff with Alice Cooper. He is so artistic and brilliant. As far as a dream project, it’s always changing. I would love to have a shop in L.A.
OCZ: One of your first leather cuff you designed it for London of London's Dungeon, did you always want to make cuffs?
Jen: Actually no. I love leather. My dad passed away when I was a little girl. All he left me were his leather tools. I cant remember exactly what I was thinking when I picked up my first bag of scrap leather. Knowing me, it was probably on clearance and an idea popped in my head of what I could do with that leather. Leather cuffs are by far my favorite thing to make. I love making different styles. Some are ultra girly and blinging and others are so metal and rock n roll.
OCZ: How as Al Bane inspired you and what was one of the biggest tricks and pointed you've learned?
Jen: Funny I have seen his work all over, but didn't know it was him that created it. Not until my friend mentioned his name and I am very curious, I love to see what designs other people are coming up with. Well I read a online bio about him. He mentioned he had 17 different sewing machines. I was in awe. He could create ANYTHING. His shop is my dream shop. I think he saw a fb post I said, praising him. He ended up sending me a friends request and just like that he became my mentor. He is amazing. Not just as a leather working but as a teacher. He has worked with some amazing artist, including W.A.S.P. One of my favorite bands. If I post something on my personal fb page about an issue I am having, this man will pick up the phone and call me and say “Hey, try doing ____, this way.” He is an encyclopedia of knowledge. Not just sewing and leather work, but he has been amazing in helping me with the business aspect. He thinks outside the box. Always looking for the best and easiest ways to revolutionize his leather work and he shares his insights with me. He isn't like most artist that see everyone as a competition. He cares about fellow artists and wants to see them grow. He has helped me grow.
OCZ: You're opening a new store called, “Gypsy Knight” who will be endorsing Troy Knight the guitarist of Londons Dungeon. He will have his own product line called, “Knight”. Some of the items will include Gothic pirate inspired pants, shirts and accessories. The inspiration will come from rock n roll inspired handmade clothes and stage-wear. How did this come about? What age group are you hoping to market out too?
Jen: When I met Troy, one thing became apparent; our love for pirates. On stage he is known for wearing pirate shirts and he has a very gothic Victorian look about him. I guess you can say he has been the muse for that certain project. He wanted custom clothes that that were affordable and stuff not readily available. Well if I am making a pattern for him, why not share these design with others. The primary target audience will be rockers and those that love to stand out with more of an elegant feeling. For the elegant rocker.
OCZ: Are you still looking for bassist to donated their used Bass strings, especially those with colored ends? How can they get in touch with you? Do you make them a special piece from their donation? You've made recycled guitar string jewelry donated by Lance Eric of Bang Tango, Michael Grant of LA Guns, Rudy Sarzo, Robert Sarzo, Gilby Clarke, Rachel Bolan and many others. What else do you like creating with used strings? Where do you hope to take in the near future?
Jen: I am always accepting donated strings. Bass and Guitar. Anyone wanting to recycle their strings can private message me on my facebook page Http://www.facebook.com/jandtcreations and I will mail them a self addressed stamped envelope to mail the strings back in.
If they would like something made from their strings, I most definitely would make them something. When I make an item with their strings. I promote the artist as well as the band. Weather it is through my vendor table or if I sell the creation online. I love creating all kinds of jewelry, earrings, chokers and my soon to be patented guitar string bracelet. I would love to eventually see my designs in music stores across America. You can buy strings there , why not jewelry made from strings.
OCZ: Are you collecting album covers and t-shirts for your bags, dresses and so forth?
Jen: Im always collecting rock n roll vinyl records for my album cover purses. I currently have huge collections of tour shirts. I am always looking for items to revamp.
OCZ: I've been cutting my own metal
t-shirt designs for over 20 years for myself, what was the first article of clothing you ever designed?
Jen: Probably a shirt. I fell in love with present grommet tape. I would transform a
t-shirt into a corset in a matter of 20 minutes.
OCZ: When you go to fest, shows, bike rallies, craft fairs, benefits and other places that allows you to have a booth, besides your own designs, you also do shirt cuttings, leather repair, and semi perm salon feather extensions. What do you like doing most? Many don't know that most of these venues you attend you have to pay a cost to rent out a table or two. Sometimes you go home with a lost, break even or make a little profit. What is the most stressful part renting out a booth?
Jen: Well, I think what I like most is hearing how unique my designs are and watching someone falling in love with a piece. Table and vendor fees really depend on the venue. I've been blessed to have most of my rock family involved in the music scene. Locally I set up at The Rail Club as often as I want. They are family and don’t charge me. We promote each other. In the Phoenix area, I have been extended the same opportunities at clubs like the Blooze, Tonic, Club Red and Joe’s Grotto. Festivals always charge a fee and it really is a gamble. You have to consider travel, accommodations as well as the vendor fee. Because of that, the far away shows are the most stressful.
OCZ: You do a lot of traveling to different venues to rent out a booth, where was the furthest you've gone and where would you like to go? You are a global brand—how do you accommodate the needs of everyone all over the world who might have different fashion sensibilities?
Jen : The farthest I have ever gone to sell my creations was North Platte, Nebraska for Skull Fest. 4 hrs from the closest airport. I try to take into consideration the current styles that seem to be globally. I have such a variety of products, there really is something for everyone. Faux leather for vegans and hypo allergenic metals for those with sensitive skin.
OCZ: How do you define 'fashion' and why do think people care about it so much?
Jen: Fashion is what you adopt when you don't know who you are.
OCZ: How would you describe your personal fashion style? What matters to you most as a fashion designer?
Jen: Comfort and fit. You want to wear the clothes, and not have the clothes wear you. Who you are should be amplified in what you wear. It should bring out your identity.
OCZ: You have two online stores, how has the been helping you with selling your merchandise? How does FaceBook also help? Plug your pages.
Jen: Woohoo Free promotion
Nothing can rival facebook as a marketing tool currently . It has allowed me to reach numerous sources that normally I wouldn’t have been able to. My E-crater store get more international clients that I have no friends in common with .
Ecrater - http://jandtcreations.ecrater.com
Artfire - http://www.jandtcreations.artfire.com
OCZ: You've been talking with a tattoo and music store to carry your designs. How is that working out?
Jen: Pretty good. It’s an opportunity to reach an audience I normally wouldn't reach. I’m also in the process of have a display at a British Emporium, a couple novelty shops in Grapevine, Tx , a new rocker themed store in Nebraska and a new smoke shop opening up in North Richland Hills, TX
OCZ: Your stepfather also owns his own business, he helped with creating your new banner and J & T Creations shirts. How has he inspired you? Are your parents artist, musicians or designers themselves?
Jen: My step father is Ron Crook. He owns Custom Graphics in Palm Springs. He does t-shirts, banners and vinyl graphics. He mainly works with the automotive industry, but he has done drum heads and banners for some rock bands. He is an inspiration because he operates solely on word of mouth and has taught me a lot about branching out to places outside the rock scene. My mom’s artistic abilities only go as far as floral arrangements and scrap booking. My father passed when I was very young but he was an amazing artist. He did leather work as well as woodworking, painting, drawing, building.
OCZ: At what age did you learn to sew and did you go to school for it? Do you have a college degree as well?
Jen: I spent the summers with my grandmother who taught me how to cross stitch and crochet. My best friend, Dara’s mom, got me into sewing. I think the first thing I ever sewed were these silly 80’s floppy hats and these jackets out of sweatshirts. I took 2 years of fashion design in high school along with home etc. , and any hands on sewing class I could get for free. I never went to school. I’m more of a Jane of all traits master of none. I have a gift of being able to create things with my hands as well as fixing things. Aside from the custom work I do, I also like to work on cars and wood work.
OCZ: Well that just about wraps it up and thanks again for taking the time to answer the questions. Keep up the kick ass work that you do. Before we lock our gates, is there anything else you wish to add or say to people out there?
Jen: I just want to thank all the support my family has given me and those that believed in me. I have been blessed with some amazing friends. Thank You also to those bands that have allowed a small time designer into their world. We all gotta start somewhere. To the moon baby!