DREAM CATCHER: JULIA LOVAN
Designer Julia LoVan was first inspired to start a fashion company that employed disadvantaged women while volunteering in an inner-city Atlanta service program in 2004. After moving to Los Angeles, she worked at Starbucks and Urban Outfitters and a youth center while designing and marketing a women’s apparel collection on the side. Her avant-garde designs were included in the Hope in the City and Project Ethos fashion shows and landed her on the cover of California Apparel News in a “What’s New in LA” feature. Julia moved back to Iowa in 2010 to continue working as she grew her J. LoVan fashion business, crediting entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran (one of her heroes) for her conviction that working a day job instead of going into debt is one of the smartest startup decisions. She and her small team of sewers in Iowa create items for men, women, and home, and she is currently working with Burmese refugees to create a high-end spring apparel line of embroidered and appliquéd knit items, upcycling whenever possible. She also employees refugees in fashion internship positions to try to give them the kind of skills and career opportunities that she wishes she’d had as a young refugee herself.
Did your former job prepare you for running your own business? Definitely. I’ve had so many low-wage jobs. They all have prepared me in some way, but it was in the jobs where I was given more and more responsibility, and sometimes just pushed out of the nest altogether, that I was able to grow and excel.
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? My business plan has changed drastically, but it’s really good that I wrote it because it helped me to see that it wouldn’t work. There were so many aspects that I was nervous about, especially the fact that I wasn’t sure my product could make enough money to pay an investor back. And because I was talking about my business plan a lot, I got great advice from friends and colleagues, some of whom also said that it wouldn’t work. So, I decided to scrap it and move to Iowa.
How did you fund your dream? I work a full time job, and I live frugally, because I have my goals in mind.
How long were you in business before you started to see real growth? What do you attribute that to? I got into my first store just a few months out of college, so I’ve been gaining experience for eleven years. I’ve had major events that put my designs on the map, but I never felt that I was ready to put it all out there. I’ve been pretty impatient to start my dream company that provides fair jobs for marginalized people, but I see now how all of the other jobs and things that I’ve been doing have led me to this moment in time.
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? Mother Teresa, because I want to be that self-sacrificing. I would ask her if she could pray for me.
If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be… A dermatologist.
My biggest challenge is… Myself. My own doubts and fears sometimes keep me from moving forward.
If I had to do it all over I would… Have started using oDesk a lot sooner.
My proudest professional moment to date is… When people texted me to say congratulations for getting on the cover of California Apparel News. I thought it was a joke.
The most important thing I have learned so far is… Don’t sweat the small or big stuff. Worry less, love more. I want my business to be great, but at the end of the day, I want to be known for loving well.
LET’S GET PERSONAL:
My favorite nail polish and/or lipstick is… Butter London.
My favorite scent is… Cut grass.
My favorite food is… In-N-Out, of course!
On my playlist right now… Taylor Swift and Hillsong.
My favorite type of workout is… Team sports like Ultimate Frisbee or volleyball.
I rejuvenate by… Hanging out with people. I’m a huge extrovert and I get energy from being around a ton of people.
What is one talent you wish you had? Public speaking.
Who is a teacher or boss who inspired you and why? My friend Shirley – she is a children’s pastor in downtown LA and she would always cry onstage for others, but no one saw it as weakness. Her vulnerability and compassion were her sword.
A woman who inspires me is… Kirsten Dickerson of Raven + Lily. She is every woman. Kind, entrepreneurial, compassionate, fierce, hilarious, gorgeous, and a great mom and wife. I e-stalk her since I don’t live near her anymore.