DREAM CATCHER: CYNTHIA JAMIN
Cynthia Jamin had already achieved considerable success as an actress (with roles on shows like Seinfeld and ER) when a serendipitous decision to take a sewing class with her mother led to the intoxicating realization that she loved seeing her own creations come to life. She came up with a design for a reversible dress for her daughters that was cute, made of soft fabrics, and best of all…twirly! When fellow moms approached her about creating dresses for their own tween girls, her hobby quickly evolved into a new profession and TwirlyGirl was born. She sewed everything herself in her own dining room until an order from a local boutique pushed her to find the team of local sewers who still work with her to this day. The dresses caught the eye of a Nordstrom buyer, who placed an immediate order. Fulfilling it was a learning experience, and ultimately Cynthia decided that she’d rather scale back and stay true to her values than outsource overseas just to meet the demands of the big stores. Seven years since creating that first dress, TwirlyGirl has sold tens of thousands of dresses and is carried in over one hundred children’s boutiques across the country. Cynthia has recently expanded her business to include the Pioretta line of adult dresses so that women of all ages can take a twirl. She has also become a powerful voice for survivors of childhood abuse after sharing her own story to give hope to others. The girl who never felt carefree enough to twirl around in a pretty dress is giving meaning to her past (and building an empire in the process) by helping to create magical moments for other young girls. TwirlyGirl donates a portion of all sales to Childhelp.org.
When did you know you wanted to pursue your business or venture? When people were interested in buying what I was making. Before that, I had no interest in starting my own business.
Did your original business plan change along the way or are you doing exactly what you set out to do? If it changed, how so? I think you have to try everything to see what works and what doesn’t. We started out just selling retail before branching out to focus on wholesale for a few years while letting the retail exist on its own. Now we are back to where we started. Wholesale is still a part of our business but it’s not where our resources go – we love retail and it was our first instinct. We have come full circle.
What makes you different from your competition? We are always in production. We don’t do “collections”. That means that we have signature pieces and keep switching out the fabrics so they remain fresh with a one-of-a-kind appeal. We don’t like to repeat ourselves with fabric combinations, so our pieces become cherished collectibles. We choose to make small quantities and number everything like works of art so that our customers know how truly special each garment is. We also develop imaginative stories to go along with all of our styles. We want our customers to have a unique experience that they will appreciate. While it’s tempting to want to appeal to the adults that are buying for the special girls in their life, we choose to design for the GIRLS. That means using prints and colors that they will enjoy and have fun wearing. And we pride ourselves on crazy good customer service. Above all, we want our customers to be happy and to want to come back time and time again.
Tell us about a time when you thought you should throw in the towel. What kept you going?Great question. Being an entrepreneur is very time-consuming. There is never a vacation, never a time to just leave your work at the office. My office is everywhere I am, so I sometimes feel overworked and overwhelmed. But because we’ve taken the slow and steady approach, we haven’t yet run into a situation where it made sense to just throw in the towel. Our exit strategy is in place in case that happens but for now, I just take a breath and remember that no one is forcing me to do this. Sometimes I have to push a deadline so I don’t feel so much pressure, other times I nix a project because it’s just not realistic at that moment. After seven years, I’ve learned that I don’t have to rush so much and that the business will still be there tomorrow.
What three factors have most contributed to your success in business and in life? Curiosity, perseverance, and passion.
If you could have a one-on-one meeting with any woman, who would it be and why? What’s the first thing you would you ask her? Oprah Winfrey was the first person that popped into my head. She is the embodiment for me of a powerful woman who is also deeply committed to being authentic and true to herself. She definitely gave me the courage to share my secret with my customers. I wanted to be truthful about who I was and what motivates me, and hopefully help others in the process. I would ask her “How do you let the love in and allow yourself to be as successful as you can possibly be?” A common issue that plagues those of us who have suffered abuse of any kind is that we always feel we have to pay for the attention we receive.
I wish someone had told me… That everything would work out even better than I could have imagined. It would have saved me a lot of miserable days and nights in my twenties being afraid for my future. I also would have enjoyed myself a little more without all that stress.
I gave up ________ to pursue my dream: Nothing. Being my own boss allows me to call the shots. And above all else, I value my freedom to make my own destiny.
My biggest challenge is… Myself. Slowly but surely I’m finding my true inner confidence. There are times I just go down that hole and feel so defeated and want to trash everything. I’m grateful I have people around me who remind me of my accomplishments when I forget them, and tell me “You’re better than you know. So wake up and KNOW IT!”
My proudest professional moment to date is… Sharing my secret. It was the most healing, powerful decision I’ve ever made. And believe me, it wasn’t something that I was totally on board with at the beginning. The big fear I had was that people would treat me differently. I didn’t want the abuse to define me. The tipping point was my husband, Michael, who gave me the confidence to move forward. He shot and edited the video and we streamlined the story to tell it just right. I’m so proud of both of us for this. The impact it has made on so many people has been profound and humbling. I’m so grateful it has been received so positively and is helping to bring awareness to this issue.
LET’S GET PERSONAL:
The three words that best describe me are… Wise, creative, and independent.
While on vacation I always… Want to see new things and get lost on the way.
My beauty routine consists of… As low-maintenance as it can get. Wet hair, 30-second blow dry, a little powder and blush, and I’m done.
On my playlist right now you will find… I’m so bad with music. I find it’s very emotional for me, so I have to be in the right mood to listen to anything. While working, I like all the classic jazz players, like Miles Davis and Max Roach. When I’m in a lively mood, I like pop radio for a bit until it gets too repetitive.
My tips for eating healthy during the workday are… Bring your own snacks. Veggies, fruit, healthy chips. I’m more of a snacker and tend not to eat a big lunch. I like to relax with a nice dinner.
My favorite type of workout is… P90X3. It’s 30 minutes and it’s HARD. I love Tony Horton and how he just tells me what to do so I don’t have to think about it. Amazing workout. I used to dance professionally (in another lifetime) so I’m glad there is something like this that gets all the body parts.
A teacher or boss who influenced me was… My acting teachers, Gene and Toni Bua. They made me get in touch with how unique and special I was and showed me that I had my own talent, unlike anyone else. They saved my young adult life many times. I’m eternally grateful for them.
I rejuvenate by… Going on walks with our Golden Retriever, Dolci. Having time with my husband where we just take off and escape. Riding bikes with our daughter, Lola. Visiting a museum with our daughter, Roxy.
Lately I’m inspired by… Other entrepreneurs and TED Talks. I love hearing how people meet challenges and get through them.
Being a mom and an entrepreneur means… Holy cow, that’s a loaded question. It means that you have NO TIME for yourself so you have to literally schedule it into the day. It also means being a strong example for your kids. I don’t know what impact my girls are getting from seeing me build a business from the ground up, but I like to think it will make them believe they can do anything they set their minds to. They grew up with TwirlyGirl, so they don’t really know any different. I’m always aware of this legacy, and I am very proud of it for as long as it lasts.