01/11/2012 11:05 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The J. Crew Genius Who's Making "Mini Mes" of the Kids of the Company's Legions of Fans

This article was written by Chris Frey and originally appeared on The Inside Source, eBay's digital style magazine. To read the full interview, click here and be sure to visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

We can't resist a chance to chat with an indefatigable mother of two boys, who despite having more than plenty on her plate, admits that when she can't be scouring antique stores, she squeezes in a little eBay shopping just before bedtime.

When that mom happens to be Jenny Cooper, the New York-based Head of Design for J. Crew's covetable children's line, Crewcuts, we can't wait to find out more. Cooper is part of the creative dream team that has catapulted J. Crew from rollneck sweater and barn jacket catalogue fixture into one of the most influential fashion houses in America. And Crewcuts is certainly following suit, enhancing the brand with sophisticated but wearable clothes for kids... and, more recently, babies, too.

Crewcuts Holiday 2011

Cooper tells us that since the launch of Crewcuts in 2007 she has sought to create clothes for kids that are "cool" and "normal," like the clothes she wants to wear. She avoids dumbing down the line with trendy, cloyingly cute pieces. And, as the mother of Miller, 6, and Walker, 9, she's keenly aware that clothes can be as transformative for kids as they are for adults.

Parents love Crewcuts' detailing and quality construction; kids love the playful colors and patterns. While I was a fashion editor at Conde Nast's now-shuttered Cookie magazine (with fellow TIS contributor Jennifer Smith), we found it nearly impossible not to feature the entire Crewcuts collection each season! Take a look at the new holiday looks and you'll see why.

The Inside Source: Hi Jenny! How long have you been with J. Crew?

Jenny Cooper: I designed the women's sweaters for seven years before I started working on Crewcuts in 2007. I'm an old-timer!

The Inside Source: What lead you to make the transition from adults to kids?

Jenny Cooper: At the time we started Crewcuts I was the only member of the design team with kids. And spending time with them is really enlightening when it comes to designing for them. I test everything on them, even when I have to resort to bribery.

The Inside Source: What's your Crewcuts philosophy? Where do you look most for inspiration?

Jenny Cooper: When I had kids--two boys--I found that I couldn't find anything out there that looked like my clothes, or what I thought was cool. Or I had to pay tremendous amounts of money for jeans and t-shirts from Japan. So when we started Crewcuts, we just wanted to give people more options-- lots of new colors, fabrics and details that are drawn from adult clothing, but with secret elastic waists because I also found that kids place a higher premium on movement and comfort than adults.

The Inside Source: How do your sons, Miller and Walker, influence what you do at Crewcuts?

Jenny Cooper: I see the way they respond to clothes and color: their eyes light up when they see bright colors or a piece that makes them feel like they are "dressing up." Not dressing up in the suit and tie sense but in the sense that they resemble one of their heroes or somebody they want to be when they grow up. I think clothes are transformative and interactive for them.


The Inside Source: We love that you try to stray from over-commercialized gifts, toys and gadgets for your boys. Did this come from your own upbringing?

Jenny Cooper: Barbie was persona non grata in our house! But I always try to work in vintage toys. When Walker needed a ride-on toy, I found an old Audi ride-on from a New Jersey dealership on eBay. And, I won't let my husband give it away even though now they are too big for it.

The Inside Source: Are there relics from your childhood that have stood the test of time?

Jenny Cooper: I had few relics to begin with because I was always outdoors armed with not much more than my own imagination (which still distracts me more than it should!). I usually made my own toys, which certainly did not stand the test of time. I think my favorite was making paints with ground up rocks and egg that I would use to paint on the side of the garage. And the dog would then lick them off!

The Inside Source: Do you use eBay? What search terms do you use for your family?

Jenny Cooper: Whenever I'm looking for something that stands out--that I don't think I will be able to find anywhere--I start on eBay. I've been using "chandelier" and "wardrobe" a lot. I use eBay anytime I am wishing I could spend a day trolling the Massachusetts antique and junk stores, but all I have is 30 minutes before I fall asleep!

(images courtesy Crewcuts)