Let’s be real: The bulk of up-and-coming fashion brands written about online and in print came to fruition with a lot of financial help from friends in high places. Such was not the case for Jess Shedlock, who worked as a bartender to scrimp and save enough money to launch her Wonderland Honolulu line of island-influenced women’s apparel in 2012.
What started out as a small collection of customized denim cut-offs, re-purposed from vintage fabrics in her living room in Kaimuki in Honolulu, Hawaii, and sold locally at vendor markets, quickly garnered so much interest from boutique buyers that Shedlock could no longer sew everything herself. So in 2013, she moved the brand’s production to Los Angeles—and went along for the ride.
“For selfish reasons, I like to keep an eye on everything!” laughed Shedlock, a surfing enthusiast who studied fashion design and merchandising at the University of Hawaii. “I am within walking or running distance to both of my manufacturers, the cutter and almost all of the fabric providers I use.”
And having a personal relationship with the people who work on her products is as important to her as quality control. “Small businesses sustain each other and keeping our money local builds community,” she explained, adding, “It feels good to know the people who made your product are being paid a fair wage, taking breaks and could maybe even be a neighbor.”
That sense of community, a core value instilled in all Hawaiians, is not the only principle that followed Shedlock to L.A. While she admitted her designs have evolved to includes styles that suit “a warmer, California-type winter,” she still pays homage to her island roots with bold prints and relaxed silhouettes. Today, Wonderland is available in stores across the U.S., Canada and Australia, as well as online and this spring has seen the line grow to include activewear.
“Hawaii is the best place to be active. Surfing, hiking, yoga, paddling, running, volleyball… You name it, we love it!” she exclaimed, explaining the active collection comprises compression leggings and shorts with breathability and moisture-wicking capabilities, designed to hold up in the gym, the studio and the water. Tops, meanwhile, will come in light, medium and full support options.
“The sizing is going to be a bit different from the typical active brands; the grading will give room in the leg circumference and rise to accommodate for quads and glutes,” she pointed out. “We want to satisfy girls from all sports in all sizes.”
Despite’s Wonderland’s expansion into new categories, Shedlock remains steadfastly committed to American manufacturing. “We are still very small and it would almost be more of a hassle to manufacture outside of the U.S.,” she shared, adding, “We keep our quantity low and the quality high. It might be a little more expensive—we don’t make the same margins that larger companies do—but it’s well worth it to us.”
Working on a small scale is also a selling point. Limited runs of special designs with repurposed fabrics—the brand’s bread and butter from the get-go—still prove popular with “beach bombshells.”
“I choose to purchase [fabric] from jobbers a lot of the time so it doesn’t go to waste. It’s a great way to recycle and it’s a lot of fun to give old prints new life,” Shedlock said. “It’s a little bit loud and I think it stands out a little from a typical assortment.”