Q&A with Jola Ariel, a Fort Wayne-based fashion design brand with a spring collection on Shein

From the time she was a dancer at age three, Jordan Latham of Fort Wayne has been immersed in the city’s creative culture.

Over the years, she’s gone from the performing arts world of the Fort Wayne Dance Collective to the visual arts world of design and fashion.

In 2020, she started her own art brand, Jola Ariel Art & Boutique, where she began painting her designs onto denim and transferring them to other clothing using a vinyl heat press. Then, in 2021, she earned an opportunity to create an 8-piece collection for the international online fashion retailer Shein as part of their Shein X platform supporting young and independent designers. 

Her pieces, which range from a casual t-shirt maxi dress to tees and joggers, are designed exclusively in plus sizes 0XL-4XL.

"I decided to start with plus sizes mostly because I've always been a curvy girl and have struggled finding styles and/or cuts that fit correctly, compliment my body, and that are also stylish," Latham says. 

Her pieces are now available on Shein’s website, and all designs feature her signature bold patterns in neutral tones with bright pops of color.

A few of Jola Ariel's pieces available on Shein.com.

Now, due to the success of her first collection, Latham has been asked to come back and collaborate with Shein on a Fall/Winter 2022 line of clothing in the works.

Input Fort Wayne sat down with Latham to learn more about her journey as a rising fashion designer in Fort Wayne and what inspires her.

Jordan Latham is the Fort Wayne-based artist behind Jola Ariel, a fashion and design brand with a 2022 Spring collection on Shein.

IFW: When did you first fall in love with art and design? 

JL: There was never really one single "it moment" as far as falling in love with art. There were actually far too many to count. Growing up in the performing arts world, Fort Wayne Dance Collective was a second home to me. I started dancing at age three and transitioned into a West African Drumming Group at age 10. I spent my entire childhood there until I was 18. Those "it moments" came from dance and music first. I fell in love with creating a masterpiece out of movement and sound and the ability to "move" someone by it. 

Guests shop Jordan Latham​​​​​​​'s designs for Jola Ariel Art & Boutique at a launch party in Fort Wayne.

My life at a young age outside of school was a very outward expression of art, so naturally, that eventually reflected in school, too. I always enjoyed art class, but it wasn't until my 6th grade year at Memorial Park Middle School that became a turning point for me. Mr. Woehnker was my most favorite art teacher. It was his class in 6th grade that the light came on for me. He didn't just say, "Good job; you're good at this." He was passionate about art; he believed in his students and took the time to challenge us. 

Jordan Latham​​​​​​​ began Jola Ariel Art & Boutique by painting her designs onto denim and transferring them to other clothing using a vinyl heat press.

That year was the first time I ever did a still-life painting with watercolor. I remember getting so frustrated because it wasn't turning out how I wanted it to, and I wanted to toss it. Mr. Woehnker encouraged me. He told me to stick it out and keep going. After this particular assignment was complete, he helped me enter it into a national contest, and it not only ended up placing one of 30 winners out of thousands who entered, but I even ended up getting a check for it, which of course, was such an experience at that age. That was not only a major turning point for me in my journey as an artist, but an important lesson of persistence and believing in yourself. 

Jordan Latham is the Fort Wayne-based artist behind Jola Ariel, a fashion and design brand with a 2022 Spring collection on Shein.

IFW: What inspires your art and productions style?

JL: I am Inspired by so much. It'd be easier to answer what I am not inspired by. Sometimes I'm inspired by a simple word or message. Other times, it's someone I've seen or someone I know, and sometimes, it's purely emotionally driven. Although I don't always have a recognizable style or signature look as far as my artwork goes, I do tend to create a lot more women than anything else simply because I'm expressing from my own experiences as a woman, and I'm also fortunate enough to be surrounded by so many phenomenal women who do inspire me regularly. 

Jordan Latham​​​​​​​ began Jola Ariel Art & Boutique by painting her designs onto denim and transferring them to other clothing using a vinyl heat press.

IFW: How did you transition from two-dimensional art to fashion design?

JL: Fashion is an art I've always been drawn to. Art and fashion are one in the same. They draw out emotion, make you feel, and inspire. I remember getting in trouble at a very young age for cutting up my clothes and somehow creating an outfit without actually sewing anything together. Fashion to me was just another way to express myself. When I feel my most authentic self, I feel my best, and when I feel my best, I perform my best. That kind of confidence leaks out into every aspect of your life. If you don't feel good, you don't always perform well. 

I really want to be able to feel my best as much as possible, and more importantly, I want to give that feeling to the world around me. Whether it is from the clothes you wear or the art in your home, you are purposefully creating a sacred space for yourself that makes you exhale more peacefully and confidently. 

Guests shop Jordan Latham​​​​​​​'s designs for Jola Ariel Art & Boutique at a launch party in Fort Wayne.

In 2020, when I started Jola Ariel, I knew I wanted to eventually incorporate fashion with my artwork, but I didn't have any professional experience. I had previously let that same fear prevent me from diving into my artwork again as an adult, making myself believe I had to be a certain kind of qualified or be a "house name" to pursue art or fashion as a profession. After psyching myself out of it for long enough, my creative brain was exploding, and I needed to do something about it, so I came to a realization that I didn't want to wait another 10 years to start something I was passionate about. 

In 2021, I made up my mind that I was going to start creating my own experience and just start somewhere. So I invested in some clothing, a Cricut®, some fabric paint, and went to work at  "Youtube University." I quickly began putting some of my designs onto clothing with the vinyl heat press and also started painting denim. 

Jordan Latham​​​​​​​ began Jola Ariel Art & Boutique by painting her designs onto denim and transferring them to other clothing using a vinyl heat press.

After I created somewhat of a portfolio, I started searching for opportunities for upcoming designers. I came across a designer opportunity for Shein, applied, and got my first design gig, creating an eight-piece collection for their Spring Designer Series. It just happened to do well enough that they asked me to come back for the Fall/Winter 2022 Collection. 

Guests shop Jordan Latham​​​​​​​'s designs for Jola Ariel Art & Boutique at a launch party in Fort Wayne.

IFW: Tell us about your Fall/Winter 2022 line collaboration with Shein. What can we expect from you in 2022?

JL: I'm currently working on the Fall/Winter 2022 Collection for Shein right now. Although my Jola Ariel fashion typically stays pretty neutral in color and simple in design, I am excited to step outside of that a bit and play with more color and patterns. 

Guests shop Jordan Latham​​​​​​​'s designs for Jola Ariel Art & Boutique at a launch party in Fort Wayne.

IFW: Do you have any favorite local or global fashion designers? 

JL: I actually don't have any favorites when it comes to designers. Not because I don't like or appreciate any of them, but my own style is like a melting pot of all fashion genres, and it's ever-changing. I am a bit of a shopaholic myself, and I will say there's nothing like discovering a new clothing store in or around Fort Wayne!  

Guests shop Jordan Latham​​​​​​​'s designs for Jola Ariel Art & Boutique at a launch party in Fort Wayne.

IFW: As a Fort Wayne native, what are your hopes for the future of the art and design scene here?

JL: I think Downtown Fort Wayne has certainly "come up" in the last decade when it comes to the arts. From the festivals and wall murals to all of the farmers and artisan markets, Downtown has certainly upgraded its Midwest aesthetic for the visitor. I would however love to see this creative wave expand into the rest of Fort Wayne with hopes that we can build a solid and, more importantly, respected foundation for the next generation of artists, designers, and creatives. 

Guests shop Jordan Latham​​​​​​​'s designs for Jola Ariel Art & Boutique at a launch party in Fort Wayne.

IFW: Where can we follow your work?

JL: You can follow my work on Facebook and Instagram at @jola.ariel.