We’re taking an in depth look at the faces and stories behind some of South Market’s shops, restaurants, and businesses. In this edition, we’re meeting Jac Currie of Defend New Orleans (DNO).
DNO first began printing shirts casually in 2003 as a means of local pride and as an art project among friends. Eight years later they opened their first store at Magazine and First Street in the Garden District. This summer, DNO expanded to its second location, Downtown at the Ace Hotel. Last week, we sat down with Jac at the Downtown store.
How did Defend New Orleans start?
Jac: “We didn’t start as a business at all. It was a sticker campaign and these hand printed t-shirts that we gave out to friends and sold out of a store we were working at. It was a slow organic growth until Hurricane Katrina hit. At that point, the symbol was out enough that people were able to recognize it in a different way, and it took on a very serious meaning. We felt a strong responsibility to use the symbol as a sentiment for displaced New Orleanians, but also sales from the products could become a way to raise money for rebuilding efforts.”
I’ve been in the shop a few times over the last week, and I always notice something that I didn’t the previous visit. What do you look for in the products you produce and carry?
Jac: “We’re looking for a sense of authenticity in a lot of the products. We’ll carry one item from a maker’s line that’s just the one thing that we feel is their most authentic piece. We seek the piece that’s most true to the maker or also that seems to carry the essence of their project. One of my favorite pieces is the ceramic oyster shells by Sea Gem Studios. They make so many products that are awesome, but these shells are so simple and completely capture what they’re doing that we just carry the shells.”
What made DNO want to expand to Downtown?
Jac: “We’ve been wanting to expand to a second store for the last couple of years. The location of our first store is really important. It’s a beautiful and unique building. We knew the second one would have to be equally special or a special location in some way. When this possibility presented itself, it was a no-brainer. It’s the perfect community. We felt Ace and our other neighbors were of the same mind, and it just really made sense. There’s something about the energy of this area right now. To see the CBD going through this transition of new businesses and more attention being paid to the neighborhood is really something.”
The name Defend New Orleans has become one of the city’s most recognizable slogans in recent years. What does that mean to you and DNO?
Jac: “It’s a lot of responsibility. From the beginning, the approach to the whole project was one of putting New Orleans first and trying to carefully make decisions that we thought reflected the city and not our own personal drive to create something. I think that the idea of being really careful about what we put out has enabled us to create better things and more timeless objects. It’s also something we’ve been thinking and talking about a lot lately as a core value. There’s a certain design restraint that has come out of that process that will continue to carry us for decades.”
Where do you see Defend New Orleans fitting in right now in the city, and where do you see it fitting in the future?
Jac: “We’re working on more and more restraint all of the time – having our products say ‘Defend New Orleans’ without it actually saying it. We’re working on new color palates and new font choices, and phrases that have the same philosophy, but don’t say ‘Defend’ or ‘New Orleans.’ We started a hashtag ‘#AlwaysNewOrleans’ and we started printing products that just say ‘Always.’ It’s about an eternal dedication to the city that’s within that single word. Another example includes a Spanish Moss shirt. We’re working on custom dyeing for our fabrics that are inspired by regional vegetation, house colors, paint. So like oak trees. Things that are part of our environment that we’re able to reflect in our products in more subtle ways. I’m carrying a leaf around [right now] so I can try and match this color.”
It’s clear that DNO is a part of what makes New Orleans an eternal city in the U.S. The business reflects the passions and the originality of the place it calls home. Its products strike a balance between timeless and representative of daily life. And, it extends beyond the store in active ways.
Today, DNO is continuing the work that began in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures by supporting local organizations and nonprofits working on issues that promise a continuation of legacy long after a t-shirt has faded. They include Roots of Music, Son of a Saint, Gulf Restoration Network, and more. They’re organizations that are focused on youth, the arts, and the continuation of the city’s culture. It all plays a role in helping to defend New Orleans.
Defend New Orleans Downtown
600 Carondelet Street
Open 7 days a week from 11am-8pm