Jessie James Decker Opens Up About Her Fashion Brand Kittenish, And The Other Things In Her Life That Keeps Her Busy – Forbes

Jessie James Decker, founder of Kittenish.
If you don’t know Kittenish, you’re about to find out. Set in Nashville, Tampa, Dallas, and Scottsdale, it’s a casual clothing brand started by Country music singer Jessie James Decker and her husband Eric Decker, who both appeared in 3 seasons of their hit E! show Eric & Jessie: Game On. Jessie opens up about her brand, her thoughts on a men’s line, designing a swimwear line for Miss USA, and how she’s able to balance all facets of her life.
Jessie describes herself as a creative person and you can tell pretty quickly that she’s strategic and preparatory as she thinks ahead. In high school she prepared ahead, carefully choosing high school classes in her small Georgia town that would set her up for where she is today. “I took graphic arts all four years. I also took a broadcast and development class so I could learn how to read a teleprompter, just in case I wanted to be a television host one day. I really do think that there should be more of those extra classes implemented into our school systems because not everybody wants to do the same thing. The world is our oyster and it is the American dream to be able to do anything our hearts desire, so why not prepare students for that. I was fortunate,” she explains.
You can’t put Jessie in one basket. She’s not just a singer, though she loves it to death and has a new single out with Billy Currington. “I just know that I’m a creative person and I love expressing myself through music, fashion, and food. I’ve always been that way and I was raised by a mother who made me feel that I could do anything I wanted to in the whole world. She never made me feel like anything was out of reach. This is a lesson I teach my children. I wanted to be a Country singer and she helped me make that dream come true,” says Jessie.
Her new single, I Still Love You with eleven-time number hit winner, Billy Currington is close to her heart. “He’s a dear friend,” says Jessie. “It’s probably the best song that I’ve ever put out and I am manifesting a Grammy nomination for it,” she laughs seriously. “It’s that quality of work. I’m so proud of that song.”
Born in Vincenza, Italy as a military brat, Jessie moved a lot growing up. Louisiana, Georgia, and Kentucky are some of the places she called home. While music is her first love, fashion isn’t far behind.
“I have always loved fashion, even as a little girl. We didn’t have a ton of money growing up so I would have to improvise. I would cut up old clothes and turn them into something different. I was always the kid that didn’t just want to wear the polo shirts and the Abercrombie outfits, I wanted to look like someone different and interesting. I was wearing cheetah pants or fur boots. I just loved expressing myself through fashion because I knew I was an artist, and art and fashion is one world. But, I really knew it when I started sketching outfits in math class that I would one day wear on stage, when I should have been paying attention. I love Selena Quintanilla because she designed all her outfits that she wore on stage. And then I started sketching swimsuits. I always knew I wanted to have a fashion line one day.”
The birth of Kittenish
“I remember I heard the word kittenish when I was in a dressing room trying on a little black dress that was probably a little to grown for me, and a woman said, ‘you are so kittenish.’ And I was like, ‘what’s kittenish?,’ and she explained: ‘it’s playful, spunky, cute and kind of sexy.’ I was fifteen and I remember liking the word, so I wrote it down and saved it, and told myself that I was going to have a clothing line one day, and it was going to be called Kittenish. I used to write it in different fonts. I took graphic design in all four years of high school because I wanted to do any and everything I could to prepare for the career I wanted to have,” muses Jessie.
Jessie at the opening of the Dallas Kittenish store.
“Fast forward, I ended up getting a record deal and became an entertainer. And, my husband and I ended up getting a reality show and that created an even bigger fanbase. When I started doing fan meet and greets I started seeing fans dressing up like me, and I remember being so thrown and confused. All I was doing was wearing flannels, bandanas, cut offs and boots. The thought came: ‘why don’t I create these pieces instead of wearing these things from different stores?’ I could just create them myself. So, I ended up reaching out to a company, a very small company that doesn’t exist anymore. They were making pieces and they sent me a PR box of some clothes and I really liked the way the things were made. I asked them if they would like to create a small capsule with me, calling it Kittenish and they said yes. It was a fifty-fifty split and we sold out of everything that day. It was only six items and we kept doing this over a couple of years and everything kept selling out.”
It was at this point that Jessie began to think bigger, she began to think brick and mortar. But there was one snag, her partners didn’t agree with a move like this but headstrong, Jessie knew she was going to do it anyways and opened her first boutique.
“It opened in Nashville and what’s interesting is that my old financial advisor told me I would be lucky to break even for the year, but what I made that first month was quadruple of what that person thought I would make that year. We sold all of our inventory that first weekend, I mean everything. There was nothing in the store. I had to have people make emergency visits to New York to private label wholesale items just so my store wasn’t empty. It was a massive success. There were lines outside the door, going into the garage, and looping around. You would have thought a Jonas brother was there. I knew I had something so what I did was I bought my partners out, took over myself, and launched our first real online business in September 2019. Now we have four stores while everything continues to grow.”
The Kittenish experience
As you enter the Nashville boutique, you feel as though you’ve entered another world. Three senses are engaged: hearing, seeing, and feeling. From the elevated music, to the pink neon light signs, to the clothes strategically laid out, and the overall feeling that you get and that makes you not want to leave. It’s a woman’s haven, no matter her age.
The Nashville Kittenish Store.
“The design of the store was a total brainchild. I fantasized about this store and how I wanted it to be. At this time there were no other stores in Nashville with this type of experience. They’re developing now but I think we were ahead of our time. It was my choice. I was paying for it and I wanted the store to look like what I wished my bedroom could have looked like in high school, a teen dream of all the people I admired, to my favorite music going, to Sex and the City and Friends clips playing in the background, stickers and phrases that pump you up that say: ‘damn you look good, go girl.’ I wanted it to feel like a true experience to the point where people don’t want to leave.”
The Tampa store flows in line with Jessie’s teenage girl bedroom dream.
Getting women of all ages from fifteen to women in their sixties that shop at their four locations is no small feat. “Our Nashville location was 1100 square feet and we kept going over capacity where we had to get a bouncer outside to let people in. So, we tore down a wall to expand, which is a massive space now. I wanted it to be all my favorite things of pink, pretty, fun, and 2000s where people don’t leave. And, there are people who don’t leave and some come up to 3 times a day. I just want it to feel like a fun experience for girls,” she says.
The Scottsdale, Arizona Kittenish store.
All four cities were purposed. Nashville because she lives there, Tampa because her best friend lives there and she felt the area where the store is, is like Nashville’s The Gulch area, and, Dallas and Scottsdale were based off of analytics. “Our biggest customers are in Dallas and Scottsdale, and there are other cities we want to expand and open more stores in,” she expressed.
Working with a team of designers, Jessie makes the final call on collections before they move to production. And, are there plans for men to have consistent collections, I ask. “We’ve dabbled and it does very well and it is something we’re open to doing. We’ve bootstrapped this business. This is all Eric and I. We’ve invested our money. This started out as a capsule and it has grown to be a multimillion-dollar business that we are still learning how to run. We’re still learning. It’s a real business and we never knew it would get to this place- ever. Our dream is continuing to expand and grow, and do whatever we can to take Kittenish to the next level.”
Even though the brand is successful, it’s not quite where Jessie and her husband want it to be. My personal goal for Kittenish is to expand as much as possible, but I will say, this is a company ran by Eric and I. We continue to grow and our goal is to have a huge partnership with someone eventually to help us with Kittenish because we want to grow and expand. We have been super open to collaborations and partnerships, anyone that can continue to help us grow. We’ve never done this before and I’m so proud of the success that we’ve had, and I know we could have success in Europe to Australia because we have customers there. I see the analytics. I see the likes popping up of the people who purchase Kittenish. We’re not there yet but I want to be.
Miss USA Swim
Founder Jessie James Decker (center) poses with models on the runway for Kittenish By Jessie James … [+] Decker Swim Fashion Show presented By Klarna At Paraiso Miami Beach on July 15, 2022 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Kittenish)
Miss USA approached Kittenish, seeing their Miami Swim Week show and how Elle Smith, Miss USA walked the runway. New York Fashion Week was always the brand’s thing but this year was the first time they premiered in Miami. “The representative for Miss USA was there and she asked if we’d design the activewear for Miss Teen USA and the swim for Miss USA. We were given some color options and we pulled together and it was so exciting. It’s things like this for Kittenish that I pinch myself and say, ‘I can’t believe that we got to do that,’” beams Jessie.
Finding Balance
Jessie and her husband Eric at the 2022 CMT Artists Of The Year on October 12, 2022 in Nashville, … [+] Tennessee. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images for CMT)
Doing a lot, it leaves one to wonder, how is she able to balance being a wife, mom, singer, and fashion brand owner. “It’s hard to balance it all but it comes down to prioritizing what’s most important, and what’s most important are my kids. So, I put them first. If me being a mother to my children interferes with what I do, I just kind of rearrange. I look at it as like a pyramid. You put your priorities on top and then you start to add everything up by what’s going to make me happy, what’s going to give me joy and that’s how you prioritize. My children are up top, and obviously Eric is up top too. I put my family up top and then comes music, Kittenish, my cookbooks, and then what’s next. I start to balance everything out just for my well-being, and for my mental health. We can’t do everything all at once but we can balance and prioritize. You pick your days too,” she explains.
Jessie and her husband, and their three kids.
For Jessie it’s about using certain days to accomplish certain tasks. “There are days when I focus on finishing a cookbook because it needs to be turned in, then the next day it’s Kittenish, which was chosen to design all of Miss USAs swimwear and Miss Teen’s activewear, so I say to myself, ‘I’m going in today and we’re going to finalize that.’ I have my days where I go in and do the things that need to get done, but I’m not going to do them all in one day because you won’t give your best to each thing, and I want to give my best to each thing that I’m working on.”
Jessie and her Dancing With The Stars partner Alan Bersten.
She just finished season thirty-one of Dancing With the Stars, coming in 10th place with her partner Alan Bersten. “It was so much fun and a lot of hard work. It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve done. It was a lot and it was a great experience overall. I feel like I learned a lot about myself for the experience. I loved my partner and my kids loved it more than anybody. They would be so hyped to watch their mom every Monday night, cheering me on. They got to know the cast making it a fun family experience, and it got me in the best shape of my life. Dancing for 4 hours a day will do that,” she laughs.
Wearing many hats, Jessie is embracing all of them. Getting her first record deal at nineteen, she’s been doing things her own way ever since. From marriage to motherhood, to her nontraditional music career, to writing cookbooks, having a successful reality show, launching Kittenish and taking it from online to brick and mortar in 4 cities, Jessie James Decker does whatever she wants and doesn’t take no or ‘it’s impossible’ as solutions. Limitless is a language she speaks all too well and this is why women and young girls admire her for it. “With Kittenish, I was told by someone that it wasn’t going to work. I was told we weren’t going to break even and we broke even in a weekend.” Jessie James Decker quite simply is living her dream, she’s embracing the American dream.