To hear her tell it, Jesse Smith earned the nickname “Grace,” but not the way you’d think a celebrated fashion designer and tailor would earn a sobriquet. Jesse says she was clumsy as a child, sometimes painfully so. She grew up in a small Ohio farming town on a small Ohio farm, and she wore boots and jeans and overalls. Now, years later, half a nation away in a small Wyoming ranching town, after working hard to complete an art degree at a prestigious college, after interning under one of the fashion world’s most legendary figures, not all that much has changed. Step into Jesse’s new downtown Sheridan shop, aptly named Western Grace, and you’re likely to find her in boots and jeans, sheers or chalk or needle in hand, a big bare bulb illuminating the breezy space where she handcrafts stunning jackets, vests, flowing, carousel-like skirts, and elegant shirts.
Jesse’s pieces tell a story that reads like a western fairytale. They’re elegantly rugged, born equally of beauty and utility, designed to withstand nights on the town and days on the ranch. Bright lights, dirt roads. They’re the kind of clothes Jesse herself wants to wear. On this Bighorn Mountain slope, she’s found an instant audience. Jesse’s customers appreciate the callback to a time when handmade, quality garments were not just a fashion statement. If frontier chic is a thing, Jesse’s work is the embodiment of that aesthetic.
While the community has embraced Jesse’s work, she’s embraced Sheridan right back. Occasionally, there’s a sign hung on the door at the shop – gone for the day, back tomorrow. It’s likely that Jesse is out somewhere on horseback, hills laid out before her, the mountains perched over her shoulder. It’s a balance she says she needs in her life, one that’s easy to understand for anyone who has spent any time at all in Wyoming.
By balancing her creative passions and love for the outdoors, Jesse has firmly entrenched herself in Sheridan’s creative community, and become an icon of modern craft culture – no surprise then that she’s already had one career designing clothing for some of the biggest names in the Nashville music scene. There’s no doubt that she’s just getting started here in Sheridan.
For these reasons and more, fashion designer and tailor Jesse Smith is one of our Women of Sheridan, Wyo. for 2019.
Sheridan Travel & Tourism’s Shawn Parker sat down with Jesse to discuss her passion for Sheridan, and what it’s like to host one of the community’s signature events.
SHAWN: The Wyoming Office of Tourism (WOT) is calling 2019 the “Year of Wyoming Women,” as the state celebrates the 150th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage. On December 10, 1869, Wyoming Territory passed the first law in United States history granting women the right to vote and hold public office – more than 50 years prior to the U.S. ratification of the 19th amendment. What does it mean to be a woman in Wyoming in 2019?
Being a woman in today’s world and 2019 is as good as it gets. We are so fortunate to be on the same level as men when it comes to owning a business and so many other aspects. As women we feel the need to nurture, go above expectations and multitask. We can do all of those things and contribute to our community with our professions and talents.
SHAWN: Tell me about your background; how does a woman from a small rural town in Ohio end up in small town Wyoming?
I love the west. It stole my heart from the first visit at the age of 10. I attempted to make the move early in my college years. But, decided to finish school and make the move later with a degree. I have lived in Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and finally settling in Sheridan, Wyoming. I am grateful for the moves throughout the west. They each brought new design ideas to Western Grace and how different garments need to be for different climates. While in a transition I had a few artist friends who invited me to consider moving to Sheridan. I came up to check it out and knew right away it was where I would call home.
SHAWN: Why Wyoming? How does Wyoming feature in your life – not only from a professional standpoint, but as a place to live and play?
To be honest, Wyoming is the least populated state. Haha. I love the wide-open space to create and feel inspired and the genuine people who live here are so welcoming and supportive. I think it is a perfect space for both my work and play.
SHAWN: Talk to us about Western Grace. Where does the name come from, and how does it define a part of what you do, and who you are?
Grace is my nickname. I am not graceful in any way, shape or form. I have quite the history of broken bones, stitches, car accidents, walking into poles, tripping over sidewalk cracks, you name it. I seem to embarrass myself on a daily basis with being clumsy. But I would like to think my garments are graceful and with an inspiration from the west.
SHAWN: What keeps you passionate about design? You’ve talked about spending 40 hours or more on a single garment – what about your process keeps you from taking an “easier approach” to fashion design?
When you see your clients face light up when they try on their new garment. And, my love to create. I’m a pretty simple person with a love for things done the old school way. I feel my process is what sets me apart from the masses and what makes what I do unique. I made the choice years ago to do things this way. It has been a much harder road to success than an easier approach. But I feel it’s a lifelong career I want to uphold, not a fad in the fashion world that has a quick rise and fall.
SHAWN: How has living in working in Sheridan, or in Wyoming in general, influenced your aesthetic? Has place and space ever played a significant role in the pieces you create?
As an artist, we are constantly inspired by our surrounding. We are our most creative selves when we are in an element that is comforting and soothing in our mind and space. Wyoming’s landscapes, open space and beauty are all inspiring.
SHAWN: You frequently refer to yourself as an artist. As an artist, what challenges you, and where do you search for inspiration?
Being a self-employed artist has daily challenges, whether it’s trying to figure out how to sew a new design or how to pay the electricity bill. It seems to be a constant challenge but worth all of them! I find most of my inspiration in my surroundings and in old westerns. Days I spend on horseback are usually my most creative. I think I am my happiest and when being in the element where I am most creative.
SHAWN: What is it like to be part of Sheridan’s burgeoning craft culture scene? Downtown looks different than it did even 5 years ago – where do you fit in with all the makers, crafts folk, and the entrepreneurs?
Sheridan’s craft culture scene has changed so much even in the past five years and I am so grateful to be a part of it. We are such a small family, and all try to help each other along the way. I feel like I fit in mostly with the makers downtown. We constantly help each other with day to day challenges of owning and running a business. It’s great to be able to run an idea by a fellow artist and lend a hand when they need something.
SHAWN: Being a self-employed artist can be stressful. How do you unwind? Is there somewhere in the mountains you like to escape to, a ranch you hide out at, or some other place that’s your own private getaway?
I love being outdoors with my horse and dog. They can calm any stress I have on my mind. Sometimes I am lucky enough to work on ranches a day or two a week. I call those days my reset button. They help me unwind, put in a good hard day’s work and reset my mind for the following days in the shop.
SHAWN: What’s on the horizon for you in 2019 and 2020?
Western Grace has some new garments to premier for 2020 and a late 2019 additional clothing line to compliment Western Grace clients. It’s a surprise, so you will just have to watch for the launch.
To learn more about Jesse Smith and Western Grace, visit westerngrace.com
Click here for WYLD West: The Podcast, to hear Jesse’s episode.
Click here for Sheridan Travel & Tourism’s YouTube channel and our new feature on Western Grace, premiering October 6th, 2019, at the Sheridan WYO Film Festival. Directed by Salvatore Brown. Cinematography by Michael Ormiston, Jeff Shanor and Salvatore Brown. Written by Shawn Parker and Salvatore Brown.