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Meet Jean Marie Clarke of Pax Philomena in North Central Phoenix

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jean Marie Clarke.

Jean Marie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I started Pax Philomena mainly because I felt a calling to India, the country where I was born and had left behind over four decades ago.

I was three years old when I came to America with my parents and left behind Calcutta, India where my family had lived since the middle of the 19th century. I am a product of the British Raj, so I am mostly British but some Indian blood flows thru my veins as well. I was raised in America, however, my parents had spent the first 35 years of their lives in India so we came to America and brought all of our Anglo-Indian cultures with us. I was raised on Indian food, with British customs, in a country that luckily found us all to be quite exotic, which indeed we were, and are still today as there are only 500,000 Anglo Indians left in the world. We are part of a dying breed, who had no place left in India once the British left and India gained its independence, however as an Anglo Indian we were very much loved by the Indian population and still are today. Despite my paternal bloodline being all British, the Indians welcome me today as one of their own.

I grew up in Phoenix and began doing batiks when I was in grade school, along with my mother Philomena and that is how I learned about textiles, colour, and design. I sold my artwork in galleries throughout the Southwest guided by my mother who taught me much of what I know about colour and design. We were a mother/daughter team. We spent hours working on our art and also sewing our own clothing. At the time, my family was struggling to make ends meet (having emigrated to a new country it was difficult at first), so we needed to make our own clothes and sell our art to help pay the bills, while my father was getting his own engineering business off the ground. Being my own seamstress turned out to be a blessing for me when I started Pax Philomena, as I am well versed in pattern making and can instruct my tailors on what I want done when I design our garments.

My mother was very keen that I get a top class education, so when I was offered a scholarship to Princeton University she insisted that I go, despite having never even been to the East coast nor having seen the campus before getting there. I got my BA from Princeton in Art History with a specialty in Italian Renaissance Art & Architecture, and spent a semester abroad in Rome where I experienced Italian culture and realized that I was in love with the Italian language and the Italians’ sense of aesthetics and wanted to come back. After graduation, I went back to Italy on a scholarship that I won to work at the Peggy Guggenheim collection in Venice, where I was convinced I would meet someone who would get me into textiles. I met by divine intervention or a twist of fate, Antonio Ratti who was owner of the best high fashion printing mill arguably in the world, who hired me to work for him in his home textiles division from his Como office, I lived in Italy for three years and learned all about printing high-end luxury textiles.

After I married, I had to move back to the States as I was married to a US citizen and was expecting my first child, I started working for Italian luxury textile mills as a creative sales representative selling their products to companies here in America, I still have this business today. About 10 years ago, I began working also for an Indian textile mill as well and that is when I first set foot back on Indian soil and realized I had to do something with all the beautiful colorful hand block printed fabrics that only the Indians have the tradition of making. I wanted to bring some of that colour back with me to America, which I feel has become a very drab place where clothing is concerned.

I wanted to explore how I could take my passion and talent for textile design and create a company that could contribute to the world’s happiness thru clothing as a form of textile art. I also wanted to create an entity that would allow me to give back to the world whilst also following my passion. Which is why Pax Philomena gives a percentage of sales to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Phoenix, Arizona which benefits both countries America and India. I visited Mother Teresa’s headquarters in Kolkata, India recently and they indicated that the funds that Pax Philomena donates in Phoenix to their mission here will be shared with India.

In naming my company, which I realize has a very unique name, I decided that I really wanted to honor my mother who has always encouraged me to pursue my artistic passions and also has such an amazing name as Philomena (which means daughter of light ) in Latin. Saint Philomena was martyred in the 3rd century and her tomb was found in the 19th century in Rome. On it was written PAX TECUM FILUMENA – peace be with you, Philomena. I took the PAX part and the PHILOMENA and that was how the name came to me.

I like to recall the words of Mother Teresa, “Peace begins with a smile”. Pax Philomena clothing makes people smile and hence spreads peace. That is one of our missions is to spread more smiles in this world. No one can resist smiling when they see someone wearing our clothing, it is bright, colourful, fun, and made with love.

Spread Light! Spread Pax! is our motto.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The biggest challenge for me has been to understand how to market my product in the digital world of today. I knew I had a great product when I put up my website, but I was hopelessly ingenuous where the internet was concerned and thought that people would just come to my website to purchase my product. So I have had to conquer all of my IT related fears and learn about the digital world that is so powerful today. It was a huge challenge for me being a mother of a millennial but not one myself, to navigate the technical ins and outs of my website and to learn all sorts of technical terms including that dreaded three letter word, SEO (to which I have yet to succumb).

I would say that I have had to adopt a strategy of guerilla marketing relying heavily on word of mouth (spread thru the internet with the help of my son Max who manages my digital marketing), and also I have focused on editorial coverage, which I have been really lucky in obtaining thru my own efforts.

I have solicited various magazines with my story and pitched myself organically and have had good luck with editors finding my unique background interesting.

I have to admit I have had so much encouragement from my two sons Max (who serves as CFO) and Zane (who serve as Creative Marketing manager), that I was able to ignore all the naysayers who told me I was crazy to start a clothing line when there is so much competition in the marketplace. Without doing the market research I just followed my dream and went to Jaipur to put a whole collection together which I then brought to America without having a marketing strategy, clients or a clue as to what it would take to sell it. My philosophy in life is that you cannot win the game if you don’t play it!

The fun part has been figuring it all out it is like a puzzle that I am putting together piece by piece. I believe that there is a niche for what I do, and indeed I am thrilled to be getting emails from mostly women and some men from around the country thanking me for starting Pax Philomena and sending me photos of themselves wearing our garments. My parents as well have been behind me all the way, helping me to pursue my passion and believe in myself.

Pax Philomena is also self-funded so the risk was all mine 100%, and that too has contributed to the struggle involved in making a company work, we have to be creative and mind our budget, hence you will see me and my sons oftentimes as the models. I enjoy the fact that we are unconventional and homegrown, we just roll with the punches, as we forge ahead spreading light and spreading pax!

We have been blessed by being featured by O, Oprah magazine in her August 2018 issue where she endorsed one of our maxi dresses, and that has truly helped to put Pax Philomena on the map.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Pax Philomena specializes in natural fiber clothing that is hand tailored in Jaipur, India. The cotton fabrics are hand block printed on the finest quality of Indian cotton in Jaipur where there is a centuries-old block printing tradition.

We are known for our colourful and capricious prints some of them having up to nine different colours, and we also like to use gold pigment details.

What sets us apart is that our clothing is all hand tailored with French seams and is of the highest quality both fabric and tailoring wise. Each piece we treat as a unique work of art, which it is, as block printing is done by hand, each yard of fabric produced is different to the next.

We also add hand embroidered metallic details to some of our tunics and dresses. We have a huge variety of kaftans in mini, midi, and maxi lengths which we also sell as dresses depending on how you want to term them.

What sets us apart is our bright colours, our fanciful designs for both men and women, and the quality of our cotton that gets softer and softer with each wash.

Our silk line is at its beginning we use the finest quality Italian silk printed at Ratti SPA in Como, Italy, and hand tailor the garments in Jaipur, adding handmade tailoring details like beaded tassels.

Our atelier which is by appointment only is located in North Central Phoenix in a historic adobe home that is a Phoenix landmark and is on the National Register of historic homes and is turning 100 years old this year (will include photos). It has white oak floors, tin ceilings, and walls that are two feet thick typical of adobe homes. The basement stores all of our inventory and it is a beautiful environment in which I can work to design the new collections as it has much of the original furniture that was gifted to me by the original owners of the home, one of whom was my grade school art teacher who bought the first batik that I ever did and launched my art career.

Hence, I have a strong connection to this home.

What were you like growing up?
Growing up, I was a perfectionist. I set very high standards for myself and I was insistent that I reach my goals be it academically, creatively or physically. My mother has not had the same opportunities growing up in India, really hammered into my head that I needed to get a good education and excel at all that I did.
I never really felt that I was part of American culture due to the way I was raised (in fact my two fabulous sons to this day insist that their mother is American only by passport as I really do feel much closer to the British culture). However, Phoenix is my home and I am eternally thankful that my family emigrated to this country that really was and still is the land of opportunity.

I was raised quite strictly and was always very disciplined, I think that my appreciation for hard work comes from understanding what it means to be without. if you set your mind to it in this country you can really achieve whatever you want.

I was always a swimmer (having grown up in a city that gets 335 days of sunshine a year) and to this day, I have swimming as part of my daily routine. Many of my best ideas for Pax Philomena come to me in the pool during my morning swim.

I was always a lover of the Native American culture as I grew up traveling around the Indian reservations with my mother taking inspiration for our batiks, so I spent a good deal of time learning about Navajo culture from a young age and I still collect Navajo rugs and jewelry which I started doing when I was in sixth grade.

Pricing:

  • Maxi dresses $115- $135
  • Midi dresses $100 – $120
  • Men’s shirts $70-$85
  • Men’s boxers $25
  • Women’s tunics $75 – $225
  • Short kaftans $85-$115
  • Bandanas $21

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Personal photo – Krista Tomlin, Both Ocean pictures in Crete – Antonis Kelaidis, Lifeguard tower – Katharine Hauschka, Outside of house – Jack London

Getting in touch: VoyagePhoenix is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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