Fashion is an important thing. Even though Vancouver was rated the third worst dressed city in the world, a handful of Vancouver entrepreneurs have something to say about that. Past Vancouver Entrepreneur fashion features include Wabi and Wantering, now we have someone new. There has been a trend in having clothing find you as opposed to you finding them. This week’s feature uses this concept for the ladies who appreciate custom dresses. We’ve gotten a chance to catch up with another UBC alumni and HelenJean’s founder, Katie Jeanes.
1. Who are you? Tell us about your business/core idea and what inspired you to create it.
HelenJean makes custom dresses for game changing women. We focus on workwear, classic silhouettes with a twist. It’s our take on power dressing. Basically I never had anything to wear to work, and decided to design my own dresses. I’m also pretty tall so it was hard to find clothes that fit properly which is where the idea of custom came from. A friend from Bali introduced me to the tailors we work with and away we went!
2. Would you consider yourself the Indochino for women or how do you best differentiate from what else is out there?
Sort of. We don’t do suits, but the whole made to measure concept is the same. There’s nothing really out there for women yet that is truly made to measure except for us. You can go to a tailor to get a dress made, but it will cost you a lot more than $200. With our line, it’s more than just a dress. You can set an intention for how you want to feel when you wear it. Strong, powerful, sexy, whatever it is, and then we’ll put that on the tag in lieu of a size number. We also donate a percentage of each dress sold to support women and girls globally.
3. How has Vancouver served as an inspiration to the company?
As one of the most laid back places to work, no one really wears suits. So that’s where the idea for dresses came from. Plus there are a ton of incredible women here and I wanted to create clothes for them that they could wear for work and then out for dinner and still look and feel amazing.
4. What kind of challenges has your team had to face and how have you mitigated them?
All our dresses are made in Bali, and I don’t speak Indonesian so that’s been a bit of a challenge. We’re getting there though. It’s also been tricky introducing a new brand with a new concept for buying clothes, but that’s also been really fun for us. We get to be really creative in our marketing and we’re building a community of exceptional women. They make it really fun and are a constant source of inspiration.
5. What core problem are you specifically solving for Vancouverites?
For any woman that has ever tried on clothes and wished her body was different, we fix that. We give women power outfits that are custom fit for their bodies, not an industry standard. We help them focus on their gifts and talents, instead of their perceived flaws.
6. What entrepreneur has inspired you the most for running your business and what makes them so special?
There are so many. Locally, I love the way that Joel Solomon is committed to making money make change. Beyond that, Richard Branson seems to really love what he does and have a lot of fun with business. Really anyone that strikes off on their own and goes for it, I find that really inspiring. Nicole Bridger, Bridgitte Alomes, Darrell Kopke and his institute B team are all incredible as well. They’ve all figured out how to turn their passions into profitable businesses that are changing the world for the better.
7. What Vancouver celebrity would you most be excited to have as a member of the team and why?
8. What’s your advice for current or future entrepreneurs?
Just start. So many people try ad get everything right before they start. At some point you just have to go for it. Also, find as many people as you can that are smarter than you to work with. Be great at what you’re good at, and find people to fill the gaps.
*End of interview*
As I said last week, it’s pretty amazing to see the wonderful entrepreneurs that universities like UBC, SFU, and BCIT produce. HelenJean has a great story behind it and it’s demonstrating that doing international business is a smart way to go. I used to work with Katie at UBC REC and was always impressed with that spark of energy and enthusiasm she possesses. Perhaps Katie and the rest of the fashion entrepreneurs can turn around Vancouver’s unfashionable reputation, but then again, who’s to judge function isn’t fashion?
*Vancouver Entrepreneurs is a weekly feature on the city’s most notable entrepreneurs and startups that are making a local and even a global impact. If you think your venture deserves to be on the series, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to explain why you’re a fit”