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Will J'Amy Tarr Design the Perfect Outerwear Business?

Welcome to A Year in the Life, a new series where we follow Bay Area entrepreneurs through the highs and lows of the fashion business.

Sarah Deragon

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In her days at Michael Kors, J'Amy Tarr worked on a gown that Beyoncé wore on the cover of InStyle. It's a juicy tidbit, but it hardly defines the Mill Valley designer, who's becoming a fast favorite among local women for her perfectly-tailored jackets. More important than the brush with Queen Bey, J'Amy's time working with Kors left her with a greater appreciation for luxe textiles. "My takeaway from him was really incredible fabric. That's what makes his American sportwear amazing." It's a lesson she's applied to her eponymous line, sourcing fine leathers and high-quality Japanese wool for her universally-flatting styles.

J'Amy is at a critical point in her business: Her current collection is the third for her line, but her second as an outerwear specialist. Industry insiders will regard it as a make-or-break moment for the designer. Are her popular moto jackets a one-hit wonder, or can J'Amy garner the same level of success with a full outerwear range? And the bigger question: Can she turn her small business into a profitable empire?

J'Amy describes her first collection as "an interesting learning experience" that included "leather pants, silk shirts, jackets, everything." But in chilly San Francisco, the customers responded to her jackets. "I love the leather, working with the wools; the heavier fabrics. So I thought, 'I'm going to do that.' It was a little scary," she recalls, "but I did it. I went out on a limb. And actually, it was really successful."

Success, in this case, can be measured in both sales and positive press. Her designs made 7x7's best of SF list. From twenty-somethings to more mature women, clients are clambering for her coats. But positive press —and even customers— aren't the same thing as profitability.

J'Amy started her business with her savings, and explains that she's made the smart decision to run a lean company. "I do very small runs. I do a lot of the work myself." She isn't kidding. At her husband's urging, she finally hired a public relations rep, but Tarr does her own marketing, shoots her own photography, and creates most of her own patterns "The money right now has been going into the product. When you get one of these pieces, you're getting them way under retail. I'm pricing them very reasonably."

Hopefully, the strategy pays off. Her target timeline to reach profitability is five years. J'Amy isn't in the black yet, but she says it's possible that she could break even in 2014, two years ahead of schedule. "I think it's going to take me a little more time, but it depends. It's all about balancing your supply chain. And I make my stuff here in San Francisco, so I don't have giant factories doing this. I want to make sure that they can support orders. That's another reason I'm growing slowly; I don't want to let anybody down."

For now, J'Amy's customers seem thrilled. She's wowing bloggers and SF media, and her rep says that the national media is starting to take note. It's not a bad start for the mother of two, who still gets excited when she spots someone wearing her designs. "Especially when you're not expecting it, it's a great feeling…When they look good in it —and I have to say, most people look really good in these jackets— I just feel like I did it, I accomplished it "
· J'Amy Tarr [Official Site]
· Academy of Art Is Opening a Store in Union Square [Racked]