Color may be what catches your eye in a new garment, but quality fabric and fit are just as important when purchasing a new addition for your wardrobe. For Jean Marie Clarke, founder of local clothing brand Pax Philomena, clothing is more than something to wear, but embodies a generous spirit.
Pax Philomena creates brightly-colored women’s dresses, tunics, loungewear, wool outerwear and men’s and children’s clothing in quality cotton and silk with bold patterns that are perfect for lounging by the pool, taking a walk or relaxing at home. Pax Couture features items with silk from Italy and sewn in India, and their cotton line features hand block printed patterns with natural fibers that breathe.
Clarke’s 30-year career designing and creating textiles in Italy and India gave her the background and knowledge needed to create her own clothing brand with a keen eye for quality, comfortable fabrics and eye-catching colors.
The designer was born in Calcutta, India, grew up in Phoenix and started returning to the country 40 years after her family left for America when she was three years old.
“I felt like I was at home,” Clarke said of her time in India, “I wanted to do something to connect with the country more and I would bring back brightly-colored tunics and kaftans and wear them.
I also wanted to find a way to give back to the community, and I thought of Mother Teresa because I had always heard about her growing up in Calcutta, as the Mother House where she founded the Missionaries of Charity is a few blocks from where I was born.”
In addition to reconnecting with India, Clarke wanted to give back to the community and decided to give a portion of Pax Philomena’s proceeds to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. “I went to India and I met with the sisters in Calcutta and they said, ‘please give to our mission in Phoenix’ so I think it’s really important and I don’t think many people even know Mother Teresa founded a mission in Phoenix in 1989.”
Clarke said she also wanted to start Pax Philomena to honor her mother who passed away in March 2020, whose name was Philomena. The other part of the brand’s name, “Pax,” means peace in Latin; and Philomena comes from the tomb of Saint Philomena which was discovered in the catacombs of Rome in the 19th century—on the tomb Pax Tecum Filumena was written, which means “daughter of light, peace be with you Philomena,” And so Pax Philomena became the name of Clarke’s company.
“So this whole brand is a combination of a passion for textiles, a passion for my mother and it’s passion for giving back to people,” Clarke said of Pax Philomena.
“Mother Teresa came to America to open a mission in the late 80s, she came to Phoenix and said America was the poorest country in the world because of our spiritual poverty,” Clarke said.
“So when the sisters in Calcutta said, ‘please give it to our sisters in Phoenix, whatever you donate, they will share with us if need be,’ so I researched and found the Missionaries of Charity in Phoenix, whatever Pax Philomena had we gave, so we’ve never given off of profit because we’re young, and those sisters are amazing, they have 40 homeless people in the heart of South Phoenix,” Clarke said.
“The motto of our company is Peace Begins with a Smile which comes from Mother Teresa. What I found out in working in textiles is that bright colors and beautiful design make people smile,” Clarke said. “In fashion when you wear something bright and colorful you can’t help but be happy.”
The brand also has a local following, in addition to repeat customers across the U.S. and in England, as Pax Philomena was featured in the March and May 2020 issues of British Vogue, Vogue Italia in March 2019 and the Isadora maxi kaftan dress was included in O, The Oprah Magazine in August 2018 and lauded as the perfect beach maxi dress.
Clarke said she also writes to about 90 percent of the clients who place orders. “It’s about establishing friendships and spreading the word and that’s been the most important marketing tool that I’ve had. Once people buy one product, they either purchase another or gift a piece.”
Since establishing the brand, Clarke said she has enjoyed establishing a connection with the Sisters of Charity and re-establishing her connections with India.
“I’ve been able to establish connections with Mother Teresa and help people and those sisters have been so kind and appreciative and said ‘Mother always said whoever gives us money has sacrificed for that money and we understand your sacrifice and your hard work,’” Clarke said.
“I asked the Phoenix sisters how they survive with no support and they said, ‘Divine intervention; people like you,’ so it doesn’t get more rewarding than that to know that I’m helping people and they said, ‘because you can give us funds, we can serve the poor.’
“And the other thing is because I’m honoring my mother who was a very famous artist. She taught me about color, passion, risk taking and she was an amazing woman so to carry on her name in the brand is a big deal for me,” Clarke said.
In the future, Clarke said she wants to expand Pax Philomena to create more kinds of clothing such as expanding her pajama line, men’s line and baby line and venture into accessories like swimsuit cover ups and bags.