by Jillian Holness
Jacquelyn-Bernice Stephens sits in her condo watching Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over with her younger brother James.
She notices his attention starts to turn away from the movie as his eyes glance from his sister to me, a stranger in Jacquelyn’s home, which is decorated with family photos, figurines of African-American angels and a stroller that sits in the corner of the living room for her Pomeranian.
Jacquelyn goes to her room and brings out an iPad and a pen. She makes sure her production notes for her fashion company, the JameS Brand, are saved before she hands James the iPad and helps him grasp the stylius in his hand.
James has broken these pens by hammering them against the iPad. Jacquelyn warns him not to do that this time.
James then turns his attention back to the movie and starts to quietly draw ovals on the iPad.
Jacquelyn looks over at James to make sure he’s still drawing and not going into the folder that contains her sketches and notes.
She then starts to relax and talk about why she started the JameS Brand.
“I’m a very visual creative. I’d see an outfit in my head or from a magazine and try to recreate that vision,” Jacquelyn says. “I decided that it was time to put out what I wanted to wear.”
She says the reason why the J and S are capitalized in JameS is because those are her initials and represent the close relationship she has with her brother. She also decided to name the company after James to raise awareness, donating at least seven percent of the company’s sales every year to Autism Speaks.
Jacquelyn says her 22-year-old brother has been diagnosed with Down Syndrome, Autism and Trisomy 3, a genetic disorder in which a person has three copies of a chromosome instead of two. She received custody of her brother when she was 21 years old.
“In 2016, we had a family decision to make on who would take custody of my brother,” Jacquelyn says. “It fell on me. I’m the oldest out of three.”
Jacquelyn is only two years older than her brother but has to make serious decisions for him.
She recently moved James into an assisted living home because she had issues dealing with caregivers and home health services.
“For me, If I have to tell you how to do your job, I’d just rather do it myself,” Jacquelyn says.
Jacquelyn says James’ move has helped his independence flourish.
“He struggles with his speech, but everything else he can do,” Jacquelyn explains. “He’s very crafty. He’s like a kid with a babysitter. Like, ‘I know you don’t know these rules, so I’m going to break them all.”’
During the movie, Jacquelyn goes in the kitchen and heats up James’s cheesy bread and pizza crusts from earlier. She squirts ketchup on the side and sets down a bottle of water and apple sauce cup on a TV tray. She tells James his food is ready, and he carefully picks up the tray and carries it to the couch, where he sits down and starts eating.
Jacquelyn reminds James to take small bites and sips of water in between.
Flipping back to business, she describes the JameS brand as “badass.”
“I feel like we represent the women that are working hard and maybe just aren’t seen enough, that aren’t heard enough,” Jacquelyn says. She wants the JameS brand to help overlooked women gain the power to feel strong, sexy and beautiful.
The JameS brand currently has its “Bossy Ohio Made” crop tops for sale on the website, shopthejamesbrand.com.
Jacquelyn says the shirts stand for the boss women in Ohio who work full-time jobs while trying to make their dreams come true.
“It represents everyone that is struggling and trying to make something out of nothing,” Jacquelyn says.
Jacquelyn also explains that Bossy Ohio represents people who have been undermined. She uses her experience interacting with James’s teachers and group home staff as an example.
“For me being so young and getting custody of my brother, people and teachers didn’t take me too seriously,” Jacquelyn says. “When things went wrong, I addressed it, and it became ‘Oh, my God, I’m so sorry, we’ll fix it.”
Jacquelyn takes her role as James’s guardian very seriously and doesn’t care if she comes across as bossy or rude.
“My brother isn’t a business. He’s not just a check to someone. He’s a person,” Jacquelyn says. “His feelings, what he needs, those matter just like anybody else, and if I’m coming off as being rude about that, that’s unfortunate for you and that you’re taking it that way.”
Jacqueline also describes the JameS brand as versatile.
“My business represents the go-to pieces — pieces that you can wear to work, that you can dress down or that you can dress up,” Jacquelyn says. “I really wanted to make everything versatile, so that you can wear it to any occassion and still look on-point.”
The JameS brand’s upcoming spring/summer collection is called Hue and features mix-and-match mini skirts, crop tops and one shoulder tops.
Jacquelyn says the collection is called Hue because it represents the wavelengths of colors that are pretty much everywhere.
“If you look at trees, they change through the season. The same thing with the grass, ground and sky,” Jacquelyn says. “Everything around us has a wavelength that changes depending on our spectrum and mood.”
Jacquelyn says the collection features playful colors. One color that she is excited to incorporate is a chartreuse green that changes into a goldish green in the sun.
Jacquelyn has been promoting and growing JameS since the company’s beginning. She has done fashion shoots with Kent State fashion student Todd White and his styling company Fashion Haus.
Jacquelyn also plans on having a pop-up table at the Raw Artist event in Cleveland at the House of Blues on June 17.
In the future, Jacquelyn says she sees herself living in Los Angeles and the JameS brand reaching new heights.
“I want to become a household name,” Jacquelyn says. “In the future, I want to add a couture sub-line and hopefully that can become a household name like Dior.”
Jacquelyn also hopes to maintain a balance as her brother’s guardian and sister.
“Me, being his sister, I have to take on the role of his mother and sister, and at the same time try to balance those and realize that he knows I’m not his mom,” Jacquelyn says.
Jacquelyn goes to get James’s shoes as the ending credits on Spy Kids start to roll. She sets them in front of a chair and tells James to put them on while she gets her keys.
James sits down and slowly puts on his shoes. He also puts on a hat, which is one of his favorite things to wear, and walks outside with his sister.
Before going into his sister’s two-seater, Jacquelyn asks James if he wants to give me a fist bump.
I give James a small smile and hold my fist out. He looks at me, then back at my fist. He turns to Jacquelyn and sees her making a fist.
He grabs Jacquelyn’s arm and bumps her fist with mine.
To learn more about the JameS Brand, visit www.shopthejamesbrand.com.
Jillian Holness is a graduate of Kent State University’s School of Journalism.
Photos used with permission from the JameS Brand.