Bippy Jean Menswear - With Jessica and Andrew Ledgerwood

The latest issue of my local zine, Newcastle Mirage, is currently floating around in stores. This month I actually brought back the journalist in me and did a piece for the magazine on a local menswear brand called Bippy Jean. If you aren't from Newcastle, or just haven't managed to go grab a copy yet, here's the story I did and some of the shots I took.

If you ventured to the Kurri Kurri Nostalgia Festival recently and saw four-time Golden Guitar winner Lawrie Minson jamming out on stage, you may have noticed he was wearing a pretty funky shirt. Fun fact, that shirt was made by a local brand called Bippy Jean Menswear. Run by Jessica and Andrew Ledgerwood and located just across from the Rivers store in Marketplace on Hunter Street Mall, the brand’s fashion creations are for those who don’t mind standing out amongst the crowd.

For those who have no idea what Bippy Jean is, how would you describe the company to them?
Jessica: I make small quantities of men’s shirts in Western style or fun prints.

Andrew: Basically we make shirts for guys who are looking for something a little bit different. A unique shirt that helps them celebrate their personality.

What makes the brand unique and different from others?
Jessica: I think the fabrics. We use really good quality and lots of prints, which I just think there isn’t that type of thing available for guys. There’s lots of business shirts, white shirts and stripes and stuff, but nothing really out there.

Andrew: A lot of guy’s shirts seem to celebrate gingham; we’re about bringing out some colour in life. Blokes love a colourful shirt; they just need to be encouraged to get into it.

What made you decide to start the label?
Jessica: I started making women’s clothes and then I just made a couple of shirts for Andy and my uncle and they got really excited about it, so I started making more. It seemed like a niche that was fun and that I could fill. I did this business course and they said it’s always best to niche in something, especially on a smaller scale. So I stopped doing the women’s stuff and just did shirts.

Where did the name Bippy Jean come from?
Jessica: The name is my nickname, which is Bippy, which comes from when my brother was a baby and couldn’t say my name, and then my middle name is Jean.

Where do you pull inspiration from for your designs?
Jessica: We spend a lot of time just searching through what fabrics are available.

Andrew: Once you get a little lick of colour you can follow a theme. Prior to these eucalyptus and flower prints, we had been running with a little bit of an animal print. So we had some polar bears, some penguins, there’s some bees coming, and some seagulls.

Jessica: People love animals. We also used Aboriginal fabric for the eucalyptus shirt and the wax flower shirt, which were made in Queensland by an Aboriginal community.

Andrew: One the sales reps who comes around and sees us with textiles had this line in the Aboriginal fabrics and as soon as he started showing us the stuff, like the gum leaves, they looked unreal. Then when you start asking a few questions and he gives you that back story it sort of sells it for you. So it’s M & S textiles and they collaborate with some communities in central Queensland. They get the designers in those communities to make up a print and an amount of the profit from the sales of the fabric goes back to the community. It’s cool to make shirts out of it.

Jessica: I noticed after we made it, we follow Dr. Carl on Instagram and he has one, I think his wife must have made it for him in that fabric, just with a tiny bit different design.

So you’ve got a good setup in here, it looks like the store front and then a workshop at the back?
Jessica: Yeah, it’s used mostly as a workshop. We got offered the shop by Renew Newcastle. I originally got offered one in the Emporium, but I just couldn’t do the hours because we have an eight-month old baby. So Chris from Renew offered me this shop. It’s just open school hours and I share it with another girl from Renew.

Has Newcastle influenced the design of the shirts?
Andrew: Yeah it does, from the point of view that we live really close up to Newcastle beach and it’s a vibrant end of town, and we were trying to make some shirts that fit into that. So there’s a lot of colour, trying to make it fun and appealing to young people. From the point of view of, do we put the break wall and Nobby’s lighthouse over everything, not really. We don’t try to make it obvious, but I think we have sort of made a shirt that fits in with the culture that we live in. We’re right here smack bang in the middle of it, so it’s hard to say it doesn’t inspire us, because it’s our life.

What would you say is your favourite design or designs, either past or present?
Andrew: Well that cloud shirt we’ve done is, I reckon, amazing; it really does look cool. We’ve also got some shirts in at Ramjet as well and we had this retro, orange dots shirt that went really well. That’s probably props to Michelle, she did a good job at selling all our stuff down there. We also keep telling the story about the Aboriginal prints.

What’s been your favourite thing so far about running the business?
Jessica: Well two weekends ago we were at Kurri Kurri Nostalgia Festival and this guy (Lawrie Minson) came in and brought a shirt and he said “I’m going to be playing on stage in half an hour”. So I went and had a look and saw my shirt up on stage. He’s asked us to do another one as well, so we’re trying to track down some fabric for him. I guess that’s the fun thing, guys come in, especially guys in bands, and they say “I just want something I can wear on stage”.

Andrew: Yeah this guy who plays in this band called Catfish Soup came in and brought a shirt off us, because we do custom shirts, and to know he’s out there playing in a shirt of ours and there’s no other shirt like it on the planet is pretty cool. It’s good to have someone come in and say this is what I want and to be able to make that for them and I guess, given that we’ve got some experience in the game, to say “look, this will make it look even better”. We had a guy come in the other day and he was really into Dobro guitars, and he really wanted this shirt with Dobro guitars and we were able to line it all up with piping around the cuffs and collar, and to see him wearing that shirt the other day and again knowing there’s no other shirt like that, it’s cool.

Jessica: Yeah that was fun. In the end he was like “I think you had more fun than I did making this”, because I kept ringing him and asking him if I could add extra details.

Where would you like to see the brand go in the future?
Jessica: I guess I’d like to have a wider client base, because at the moment I think I’m only really selling to Newcastle and Central Coast people.

Andrew: But I don’t think we want to lose that client-producer relationship. We really like to have a genuine, hands-on involvement with what’s going on with each shirt. It keeps that thing that’s fun for us, which is making a unique shirt for people. It’s nice to have that exposure to your clients to say you’ve made it and sold it to people; I don’t know that we’d want to get to far away from that.

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