Jean Roth, Rotem Gear
Jean Roth is a unique type of designer – she blends her talent for graphic design with her sharp sense of humor and knowledge of fabrics. The end result – tees and scarves that you will definitely want to wear this summer and beyond. She is a big traveler and fluent in many languages, so her grasp of pop culture is reflected in the apparel she designs. I asked Jean a few questions about her story, her inspirations and a few fun facts in this email interview.
If you were to create a graphic to describe your personality and personal style, what would it be?
This is a tough question — one I never thought of before. But if pressed I’d probably have to say the ensō, a Zen brushwork symbol that that looks like a circle. If you look it up you’ll find all sort of esoteric meanings. To me, however, it embodies what I can only call “sublime simplicity” that is very difficult to attain despite how it looks.
How did you come up with the name for Rotem Gear?
Rotem Gear got its name from the Hebraicized version of my last name. It’s the name of an evergreen desert shrub with tiny, wonderfully fragrant flowers in the early spring. It’s also a modern Hebrew name that symbolizes grace and survival under challenging conditions, so it both honors my heritage and inspires me.
You do graphic design work in addition to apparel design. How does one influence another and do you enjoy one more than the other?
I love being able to alternate between the two. Most of my graphic work is client-oriented so naturally I am bound by client requirements, and often, short deadlines. I can’t always be as creative as I’d like, but more times than not, if I forge ahead with my own intuition the result is the winner.
Designing for my own apparel like t-shirts, is a lot more self-indulgent; I design what strikes my fancy. Often humor is a key element, so it’s more light-hearted – lucky me, getting to giggle while designing!
What both areas have in common, however, is that typography figures very strongly in my design approach. With a background in Asian languages (but not painting or illustration) it’s not surprising that I gravitate toward typography as a central visual tool in my graphic design. I spend inordinate amounts of time tinkering with fonts, balance and layout.
Do you have a favorite t-shirt design or style you’ve created? Which design or design series is the most popular on your site?
I always like the last thing I did. But in terms of popularity, Kitty Crossbones is enormously popular and I hope the new Doggy Crossbones I just added gets the same reaction. Another favorite is the vintage travel ad for Forks, Washington, especially whenever a new Twilight movie comes out — the subtle connection is clear to those Twi-hards who want to avoid the look of blatant fangirl-dom. Another recent fave is my fairly new Wasabi With You which sushi fans like. Rotem Gear has also become rather well-known for my diverse Jewish line, so of I sell many of those, especially around Chanukah. Finally, my Japanese haiku collection have been steadily bought since I created the first one.
You hold two passports. Are you a big traveler in general? Which destination would you go back to again and again?
I moved to Israel and lived there for 8 years; since coming back to Los Angeles, I tend to stay close to home (two cross-Atlantic moves will do that to you!). But I’d love to go back to both Israel and Japan, which are close to my heart, I like New York (my hometown) and New England, and I have a special fondness for New Mexico.
Did you have a mentor? What was the best advice you’ve gotten so far?
I don’t think I could pick out one but of advice especially as I am so busy unlearning advice I grew up with that is no longer suitable for my world. Be safe! Follow all the rules! That just doesn’t work these days.
Where do you draw inspiration?
Stylistically I love space and the use of typography in my design approach in general, and simple, clean lines, whether derived from a Japanese Zen aesthetic, mid-century Scandinavian decor or Shaker simplicity. When it comes to apparel and t-shirt design, I’m drawn thematically to global cultures, especially Jewish and Asian, layered with pop culture influences and American humor. I love parody and retro graphics as well, and I’m very big on the belief that an intelligent designer should be able to create a hip fashion tee with clever humor and edgy design without being rude.
Are there any trends for next Fall that you find especially original?
I don’t know if I see anything truly original but I do applaud the return of … car coats! I don’t think we’ve seen car coats for decades. They are part of an aesthetic I love: the early 60s Mad Men -era, flattering casual chic fashion I saw as a young child but missed out on. With pants, ballet flats or boots (and a long scarf like mine 😉 ) they can look great while being easy to wear out and about.
How much do you care about organic materials?
I’m excited about the increasing access designers like me have to affordable organic materials and looking forward to adding more to my lines, especially for children.
Any advice for busy moms who still want to look stylish yet attend more playground parties than movie premieres?
Being neither a mom nor particularly stylish myself these days I am probably not the best person to ask this! What I would say is that fashion needs to be wearable and comfortable, with breathable fabrics, especially if you are running after kids. I don’t care what the makeover TV programs say — heels at the playground or going shopping is just silly. I personally believe in classics but also I like to look at trends, and see how current silhouette or patterns fit with my wardrobe and my own style.
Where do you see Rotem Gear in the future?
I’d love to get into small retail shops, and expand my “limited” line which is more hands-on craft-inspired fashion – I’ve started with artisan hamsa scarves and cardigans and have plans for more. (Available on Etsy at www.etsy.com/shop/jrotem)
You’ve met stars like Mick Jagger and John Lennon. Is there a star or celebrity you would like to design for? Would it be movies, music or something else?
You know, it would be a charge to see a big-name celeb in one of my designs, but honestly, I am so happy and appreciative of all my customers — who all are pretty awesome in their own right as professors, parents, designers, rabbis, writers, lawyers, chefs, what have you – to me, they are all stars.
Where can our readers buy your designs?
The main shop is http://www.rotemgear.com; my small limited collection is at www.etsy.com/shop/jrotem.
What are you working on now? What’s next for you?
In addition to approaching more magazines and media to grow my graphic design business, I’m looking forward to explanding the Rotem Gear Limited line – I have some awesome tie cardigans I need to photograph and add to the shop – stay tuned!