Sloop Jones hard at work on the uniforms for ZoZo’s wait staff, sometime around 2005.
Sloop with his wife Barbara.
Not many people can say they do what they love in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
Well-known East End artist Sloop Jones is lucky enough to be able to say just that, and this year he celebrates 25 years of bringing color and happiness to Love City.
Today, Sloop is most well-known for his hand-painted clothing, whose distinct bright colors and tropical themes are easily recognized by those who live on and love St. John. He’s also expanded his creative outlets with St. John Antennas, providing satellite TV and wireless devices.
When Sloop first came to St. John in 1989 from Massachusetts, he had a bit of experience with hand-painted clothing under his belt. Before arriving in Love City, Sloop worked with a partner in Central America manufacturing turtlenecks. When a mistake was made in the production of 300 turtlenecks and they couldn’t be sold to their intended buyer, Sloop stepped in with his paintbrush and, by hand, painted each one. The turtlenecks were subsequently sold at clothing stores and craft shows in and around the Boston area. This was the beginning of his propensity to paint everything he could get his hands on.
Sloop and his wife Barbara were immediately drawn to the East End upon their arrival in St. John.
“Cruz Bay was too much for me,” he recalled. “We looked all over the place, and there was a house at the end of the road here on the East End. It was a little West Indian cottage on the beach that had a 60-foot clothesline in the yard.”
“We took that as a sign,” he said.
The pitch pine shack had been disassembled and brought over from Tortola on a sloop in the 1890s. The rooms were exceedingly small with eight foot ceilings, but the size of his domicile did nothing to quash Sloop’s creative spirit.
From his first St. John studio, which consisted of sail cloth, a 55-gallon drum, and a piece of plywood, Sloop began churning out his hand-painted creations intended for wholesale in the states and down island. Before long, his pieces hanging out to dry in the yard began to attract some attention.
“Tourists would walk into the yard and say, ‘What are you doing?’” said Sloop. “We weren’t thinking too much about retailing here. Then people wanted to buy the clothes they saw hanging in the yard, so we started selling to them.”
At the height of his wholesale career, Sloop’s pieces were being retailed in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the BVIs, and down island. Although he wasn’t putting much effort into attracting tourist business through the 80s and 90s, island visitors still managed to find him, even during a stint at Long Point on the East End where visitors had to drive three-quarters of a mile down a dirt road to reach his two-walled shack.
Sloop and Barbara purchased the East End home where they’re located today in 1997, still focusing on their wholesale business.
“Our wholesale business was really great, so we weren’t paying too much attention to the tourist business,” said Sloop. “Somewhere after 2001, a lot of people we did business with in the wholesale arena went out of business. We just sort of turned ourselves in different directions.”
Sloop dabbled in home décor and other art-related ventures before finally founding his tech business, Dish and Dat, in 2007. The steady income stream from Dish and Dat allowed Sloop to be more relaxed about focusing on selling his hand-painted clothing solely on St. John.
Even as the availability of Sloop’s creations has dwindled, with his clothing being sold exclusively at his East End home and studio and at his website, www.sloopjones.com, loyal followers and new customers alike continue to seek him out.
“It’s wonderful to see people come back every year,” said Sloop. “I see kids whose parents started buying our clothes for them when they were three years old, and now they’re in their 20s bringing their own kids back. It’s nice for me to do something that makes people really happy.”
“I never did anything that I felt made people so happy consistently until I started doing this,” he said. “I feel like I’m rewarded every day, doing what I was meant to do.”
To celebrate his 25th year in business on St. John, Sloop kicked off his Shirt of Art workshops, teaching visitors how to embrace their inner artist and make their own hand-painted clothing, in effect passing on the torch.
“I know that I’m not going to be around forever, and I want people to know that anybody can do what I do if they realize they have the talent,” said Sloop. “The Shirt of Art workshops are what we’re doing to celebrate the next 25 years, or however many years we have left.”