Conversation with Jane Israel, Founder of Jane Israel
Work Attire Intended to Inspire
September 26, 2018
1. What is your business?
I just launched Jane Israel, a company that designs and manufactures women’s business clothes. My business is borne out of my desire for elegant and affordable business suits, pants, skirts, and blouses. I finally just decided to create what I wanted: clothes that help professional women look great, feel good and be taken seriously. My first collection is manufactured in America and it has 9 pieces: two skirts, two pants, two dresses, two jackets, and one blouse. Each item generally has a choice of two colors. I use navy blue and an olive green for separates and ivory and mushroom for the blouse.
One of the key elements of Jane Israel is that I wanted fabrics that were nicer than what is available. Every item in my line is under $500, comparable to Theory, but we have more flair and use lovely fabrics like silk, and wool. In addition, when appropriate we add lining and coverage to the pieces. I just think it is so unhelpful and lacking in quality when work clothes are unlined.
I am a lawyer by training, and I have always worked in an office. As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve found that there are three choices when it comes to buying business clothes for women, and none of them appeal to me. It seems like the vast majority of clothes available for purchase are either clothes with lots of cute embellishments, clothes that are very dowdy, or the $2,000 designer suit.
Once you’re about in your 30s, you can’t really wear fast fashion, and it is no longer age- or office-appropriate. And on top of that, the quality isn’t there, and the clothes just don’t convey the image you want to project as a professional. The dowdy clothes are just depressing and don’t make me feel powerful and capable. Designer clothes are appropriate and often lovely, but I have other financial responsibilities and spending that much money to create a working wardrobe is just not realistic.
2. What made you decide to start your business and/or switch careers?
I had no background in fashion. None. But, I knew that a lot of people who start in fashion do it without any background and that this is an industry where a lot of the work is done by contractors. So I believed that as long as I had the vision, I was not afraid of finding people who can help me bring that vision to the market.
And my vision was strong—I would spend all day contemplating the failings of work clothes. It just felt like I could really help women in their careers with a few key pieces. If you want to be perceived as the person in charge and treated with respect, you do have to dress in a way that conveys that. I don’t know if that’s something that men would say but, but when I see younger women wearing khaki pants and a button-down shirt, they are not going to be treated the same way as they would be treated if they up leveled their wardrobe. As a woman, you don’t want to be thought of as an underling, and you also don’t want to be the assistant. Dressing in a professional way helps to quickly establish yourself as the authority. You want to make the client, colleague, or whomever question their assumptions and recognize your position.
3. Was there one moment that gave you the confidence that this was a good idea?
I had been thinking about this business for years, so I just got to a point where I just couldn’t put it aside any longer. My desire to launch this line was ever-present and my career as a lawyer seemed to be stagnating somewhat, so I finally allowed myself to follow through.
I’m a tax lawyer, and when I relocated to Los Angeles, it fundamentally changed my career. L.A. is not a tax town the way that Washington, D.C. is—where I had been living before I met my husband. My husband was not in favor of me launching this business because of our financial obligations and the responsibilities of caring for our two children. I think that is one reason I waited so long. Starting a business is risky, but I feel very confident about Jane Israel. It’s not that I don’t think there are going to be challenges or difficulties, but I just feel so convinced, so confident that if I can push through all of that it will be successful.
4. Were your family and friends helpful or obstacles in launching your business? How so?
I mean, my husband was skeptical, but he has acquiesced. The interesting thing was that of all people my father was very supportive. This surprised me because he had always encouraged me to be a lawyer in the first place.
5. Were there any partnerships or advice that were particularly helpful?
Los Angeles is very helpful in terms of resources because there are many people who can help me get my patterns made, do my production and sizing. In fact, we just had a fit meeting yesterday with our pattern maker and my production assistant, and my pattern maker was saying that it’s very different in New York because my line is sportswear. Apparently, in New York, no one cares about sportswear, they’re far more interested in runway and high fashion, so it’s more challenging to get their attention.
6. What are some of your current challenges?
One of the biggest challenges of starting a business is that the owner really is doing everything. I’m trying to manage the production, but I still have to get the designs, interact with our manufacturer and pattern maker, and then there’s getting the website and managing my social media and all of the advertising. It’s just endless. Whatever there is to do falls on you.
Social media is a big challenge and absolutely critical if you’re just online as is the case for Jane Israel. Social media is hard for several reasons. It can be lots of fun when you’re just doing it with your friends, but for a business when you are trying to connect with people who you don’t know it is a big challenge. It’s is very hard to understand how it’s working, number one. And number two, if you hire someone to manage your social media, it can be hard to find the right voice.
7. What are some of the biggest positive or negative surprises in your business?
It’s just been an unbelievable learning process. I would say the biggest surprise has been creating samples. I thought I would make a few samples, and that process wouldn’t be a big deal. No. I’ve gone through six or seven rounds of samples. I would never have thought that would be necessary. The hard part is communicating what I want with the samples. The problem is that the people who are making my samples are not me and every little item needs to be spelled out—location of the zipper, pockets, buttons, etc. When the samples came back and they just seemed so totally different from what I was anticipating. That and getting things to fit properly is a HUGE challenge and an ongoing effort.
And then I have been surprised by how much the wrong samples affects other aspects. To get the website up and running, we did a photo shoot pretty early on. We used my second set of samples, and the photos look terrible. So, it’s like these terrible samples are all over my website. Partly they look terrible because my fabric has changed, the color is slightly different, and the shaping is different. But, also the pictures were taken on these models who are six-feet-tall, so they make the dresses look really short and skimpy. Which undercuts the whole reason I started this line!
8. Have there ever been moments when you regretted what you started or had to abandon part of the plan?
Yes, definitely. First thing, I had to abandon was one blouse. It just wasn’t coming out the way I wanted and then the price of silk was going up. I’m going to hold on to that design for another year.
9. What would be your biggest piece of advice you would give to yourself ten years ago?
Don’t wait to start, just do it. Definitely, don’t wait to start. And I come up with all kinds of excuses, oh, I can’t do it because of this that or the other thing. But there are always going to be reasons not to do something. Yes. So, you just got to do it.
10. What was the best and worst piece of advice you have received as you were starting your business?
The best piece of advice was guiding me in how to price items and figuring out how much you can spend to arrive at the price point I am aiming for. This came from my consultant, and this advice really helped me quickly identify what was affordable and what wasn’t. This would have been very hard for me to do on my own.
I haven’t received any advice that’s really bad. Some things haven’t worked out as well as I would have hoped. For example, for a while, I was reaching out to showrooms and boutiques as a retail channel. This wasn’t very fruitful because very few boutiques sell work clothes. They mostly sell casual or going-out type clothes. But this could always change!
11. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?
I want Jane Israel to be a successful online business, and eventually, I would like to be carried in department stores. I would like to expand my size range and be the go-to brand for business women. I’d like to expand into accessories down the road. I want this to be a big company, and I want to be able to give it to my children to run eventually.
Date of conversation: June 6, 2018
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