Jennifer Sumko fell asleep daydreaming about designs for dresses, blouses and pants.
But the Latter-day Saint mom of four isn’t just dreaming anymore. Her spring and summer clothing collection is currently available at Dillard’s 250-plus stores across the United States.
The 35-piece collection includes dresses, shoes, swimsuits and more. Sumko said she used bright, garden-inspired patterns and colors to invoke feelings of happiness and whimsy. She found additional inspiration in her love for textiles and wallpapers.
The collection is also unique because Sumko designed it for compatibility with temple garments — special undergarments worn by adult members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have made promises to God in temples.
Temple garments are a physical reminder of these sacred promises, known as covenants, and of the blessings available when those promises are honored, ChurchofJesusChrist.org explains. Later-day Saint men and women who have participated in the temple ordinances wear garments daily under other clothing.
Sumko said Dillard’s asked for designs that she’d be comfortable wearing herself. She hopes that her collection will appeal not only to Latter-day Saints, but to anyone who wants fashionable clothing options that include sleeves and longer hems.
“We don’t have to compromise our beliefs to feel like we’re (fashionable),” Sumko said.
‘Like heaven orchestrated it’
Sumko grew up in Salt Lake City and attended the University of Utah. After living in Washington, DC, she returned to Utah, met her husband and moved with him to Pennsylvania, where their four children were born.
During that time, Sumko said she developed interests in photography and design. She also started sewing.
“The creative side of me kind of emerged while (my husband) was in school, because I just needed an outlet… and just a way of trying to figure out (my) talents and even ways to make money,” Sumko said.
After 10 years in Pennsylvania for her husband’s medical training, the family moved to Arizona, where they’ve lived for the past nine years. Sumko now runs an online shop, Jen Sumko Vint, and an associated Instagram account with over 80,000 followers.
About a year ago, a designer at Dillard’s saw Sumko’s online shop and sent her an Instagram message about a possible collaboration.
Sumko said she initially thought the message was a joke — then she recognized the designer’s name. After several phone calls, Sumko was offered a collaboration.
In the year leading up to her collection’s launch, Sumko chose five colors and four patterns, sketched out basic designs, worked with manufacturers to create samples and then fine-tuned the sample pieces into their final forms.
Sumko praised Dillard’s for the company’s honesty, integrity and respect for her values. Working with Dillard’s “felt very much like heaven orchestrated it,” she said. “… It’s been a testimony builder, honestly.”
Her Dillard’s collection came to stores at the end of February and is available through the summer, she said.
She added that while she can’t share many details yet, the Dillard’s collaboration opened some “exciting” doors for her, and she’s now working on her next projects.
Sharing who she is
Sumko encouraged other Latter-day Saint designers to embrace who they are as they navigate the fashion world.
She shared a story of trying on a dress at a store in Florida. When the salespeople asked why she was wearing a shirt underneath it, she explained what temple garments were and why she was wearing them. The salespeople were supportive and kind, and even suggested ways she could style an undershirt to work with the dress.
After returning home, Sumko learned that one of the women who gave her suggestions that day was a designer whose work she admires.
“I was just grateful that I was authentic to who I was,” she said.
Mike Sumko, Jennifer Sumko’s husband, said his wife has interacted with people of all faiths through her fashion career, sharing the gospel with them along the way. “She’s made great connections. … There’s a lot of goodness out there.”
He also said his kids love watching their mom being successful at something she loves. She shows them that it’s never too late to pursue dreams and goals, Mike Sumko said.
Jennifer Sumko agreed that her family has been blessed by watching her fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming a fashion designer.
Doing work she loves while still staying at home and being a mother “is miraculous,” she said. “Your relationship with God and your relationship with your family is what’s most important. … When you know those things are your number ones, the other things can miraculously happen and do happen.”
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