Jillian Maddocks launched her latest collection after spending nearly two years on hiatus. She’s seen a lot in this time, between welcoming a child who’s now 18 months old and navigating burnout. Somehow, the designer is balancing the whole work-mom routine while breathing a new life into her brand 323.
323, code for Maddocks’ birthday and the area code of her home base of East Los Angeles, is fashion’s whimsical sibling. Since its inception in 2015, the brand has always had a knack for oversized silhouettes and kooky sartorial pieces that are just as comfortable as they are stylish. I would know—I wore the pink satin Mommy set during the hustle and bustle of New York Fashion Week and not only did I adore it, but I can attest to its luscious roominess. Above all, 323 is pushing the boundaries of what it means to make space for everyone out there.
Building a Brand on Inclusivity
The formula behind the brand started after Maddocks noticed the lack of inclusivity in fashion. The designer knew she was neurodivergent growing up, but it wasn’t until high school that she was finally diagnosed with ADHD. Despite having sensory issues, clothing provided her with much-needed comfort. This would also ring true after she found out about her Ankylosing Spondylitis—an autoimmune disease that affects the bones, joints, and muscles—at 19 years old.
Thrifting was her main source of inspiration as a teenager, she tells Byrdie over the phone. “I always appreciated touching fabrics and seeing how things felt. I was emotionally connected to that, especially when I was little and had a hard time communicating.” Maddocks recalls days in high school when she would travel an hour away to visit shops in Ventura and would come home with bags of stuff for just 20 bucks. “Then,” she says. “I would take things apart and make patterns out of them."
Soon after landing her very first gig as a designer, Maddocks quickly realized her health couldn’t keep up with her everyday tasks. “I was connected to making clothes because I’m a painter, and it reminded me of making art,” she says. “I was really sick all of my early 20s, so I gave up painting because it was physically exhausting to do while in school. But now, I've gotten used to what I can do physically now.”
323’s spring 2023 line is the first we’ve seen from the designer since she paused the brand in the summer of 2021. Like most people, the pandemic caused Haddocks to disconnect and isolate. While stuck at home along with her partner, the brand was picking up momentum and diving into wholesale, but Maddocks says she ultimately craved community. Once she became pregnant, it also became evident she needed to monitor her health. “I wasn't going to be able to have a newborn and keep working,” she says. “So, I decided to take a break and see how I felt. Maybe I wouldn’t miss [working in fashion] at all, I didn’t know. But it turns out, I really missed it.”
Taking Inspiration From Grandma
She returned from her break with her newest collection, inspired by “the creative, nurturing, unconditionally loving grandma we all wish we had.” The label goes full-on “wacky minimalist” by opting for a kaleidoscope of vibrant hues and loose-fitting styles. It also puts sustainability at the forefront, with pieces crafted from materials including insulation foam and plastic bottle caps. “I was trying to focus more on creating silhouettes that were easier for all genders to wear, whereas maybe that wasn't as much the case before.”
323 introduces a colorful array of pieces throughout the collection; vintage quilted blankets are remixed into baggy pants with fluffy yellow trim, while fuzzy capes are introduced in pops of pink and yellow. Long babydoll dresses are adorned with gigantic bows, and voluminous sleeves make for the perfect statement top. Plus, all clothing items can easily be worn without undergarments for those hypersensitive to the touch of clothing.
Maddocks keeps those with disabilities in mind, as the fashion industry still struggles to cater to those physical illnesses. “It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that I was physically disabled,” she shares. “I was taking on a lot of the ablest culture that I was raised with and surrounded by, and especially during the pandemic, I really internalized a lot of it.” Through a conversation with a good friend, she was reminded that she’s always designed clothes for disabled people because she is disabled. “My friend mentioned that I’m thinking about disability in this way that's natural and without me even realizing."
Many of 323’s garments utilize disability-friendly materials: Stretchy elastics, large buttons, and pullover styles. “I always offer custom sizing, too, for people who maybe want something a little bit different. I try to be as accommodating as I can.”
Maddocks recently released a hotline, 1-855-SIK-LYFE, for disabled individuals looking for resources. It’s only available by calling for now, but by next year, she hopes to add a chat room function. “I want it to be a matchmaking service for disabled people,” she tells Byrdie. “I want it to be this group chat where people can talk about any and everything.”
The Future of 323
She also sees 323 finding a new home in Portland, Oregon. “A big reason why we're moving up there is for health reasons,” she adds. “I struggle with my physical and mental health, so we're going up there to be around good doctors, but I’m excited for a new environment and to have more nature.”
At the end of the day, the designer wants to bring joy into her pieces. In her words, the brand has always been more about the costume than everyday wear. “As someone who’s always at home, I think about what I would wear if I was this person going out all the time. How do I take these concepts and make them into something that makes people feel joy?”
In this new era for 323, Maddocks want customers to feel a sense of acceptance from the brand. “I want to do this forever, especially the customer service part of it. Like people coming to me and asking about the fit or customization, all of that," she says. "The thing I like most about having a business is being able to connect with people in this way."