Jess Jeetly is the inspiration and founder of Jeetly.com a petite clothing range that aims to make work-appropriate clothing that is feminine, timeless and chic. Frustrated at the lack of suitable work clothing for her petite frame Jess took the leap from employed Optometrist to entrepreneurship. Read her fantastic story and tips below!
1. What made you want to start your own business?
I grew up in a family of business owners so I believe the entrepreneurial spirit was in my blood. Unfortunately it was seen as a man’s role, so the women weren’t involved in the family business, so as a girl, I was intrigued and remember saying at the age of nine, that I will have my own business when I grow up. I had a burning desire to live life on my own terms to shape my future instead of shaping someone else’s. A year after graduating from university I became self employed when I realised that my hard work was not rewarded by my employer and I was making someone else rich.
2. How did you come up with your idea?
The idea stemmed from my personal struggle in finding clothes for work that fit. At 5’1 and a size 6, I needed to alter 70% of the clothes I bought for work – namely jackets would gape at the shoulders, sleeves would overhang on blouses, dresses needed to be hemmed up and the waistline would sit below my waist. I was making do with casual styles, when alterations cost too much, because existing petite brands catered to a mature customer which made me look like a girl dressed in her mum’s wardrobe. As an Optometrist, my patients would ask whether I was old enough to be qualified to examine their eyes! That was the moment I decided to do something about it and create my own work wardrobe because no brand was serving my needs. I was seeking structured dresses that made me look taller, suits that empowered me with confidence at work and flattered my petite proportions. I conducted market research and realised that 35% of women in the UK were petite and out of 100 surveyed, 85 said they struggled to find work clothes that fit. This was my lightbulb moment for a business that would fill the gap in the market. I thought it was unfair for me to dictate trends to customers; I decided to flip the traditional retail model and ask my customer to choose and design exactly what she wanted in her working wardrobe, giving real women control of the styles that go ahead for manufacture and to finally have a say in a clothing industry which has ignored such a large proportion of female shoppers.
3. What has been the toughest part of the journey?
Raising angel investment for the business and maintaining cash flow. It’s a very lonely time starting a business on your own- getting people to share your vision and to be as enthusiastic as you. It’s easy to give up when you meet challenges almost every day and people remind you how much more you were earning in your ‘stable’ high salaried job.
4. What are your fears?
My fear is my competitors’ next move; the fear that I may miss opportunities for my business, because I’m not putting as many hours into the business as other successful women do. Although I work 12 hours a day, most of the entrepreneurs I know work 16. Family and personal life are an absolute priority to me and although I try to have it all, I know that something’s got to give and I ensure the hunger for success in business doesn’t come at the cost of my personal life. I never want to look back at my life and feel that I had missed out on my daughter’s development or my husband’s companionship. I can live with not being wealthy but I couldn’t live with being a ‘poor mother’ or ‘poor wife’.
5. What are your hopes?
To serve my purpose in making a positive change in the world and to be a great role model for my daughter. I hope to democratise the fashion industry for short women who have been underserved for decades so that every short woman has the same choice of clothing as the average woman, and she not only has a say in what clothes are produced for her, she is also empowered for success because her clothes boost her self confidence.
6. How did you finance the business?
I financed the business using the money I earned from my job as an Optometrist, working part time in the first year of trading. To date the business has been funded organically with retained earnings and no external investment.
7. What do your family and friends think of it?
My husband has been the single most supportive individual in my business journey. Family were highly sceptical of the business in the first year because of my total lack of fashion/retail experience. Nevertheless I have now gained their support. Sadly I can only say I had one friend that was supportive of my venture, the rest weren’t. When you launch a business, you definitely realise who your true friends are! Unless your friends are like-minded, I find most are rooting for your failure because they are intimidated by women who strive for success and are envious that such women may actually achieve it.
8. What sacrifices have you had to make to get to where you are right now?
I gave up on sleep! Aside from giving up the stability of a well paid job and using my life savings to fund the business, I had to sacrifice my social life and those cosy evenings watching movies for catching up on emails, putting systems and processes in place, analysing product performance, filing VAT returns, designing new samples etc. I’ve learnt to become highly selective about where and who I spend my time with.
9. What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud to see Jeetly empowering real women; we receive testimonials from happy customers who finally feel confident in their clothes and have got through interviews by wearing Jeetly – this happens so often which keeps me going!
Seeing Jeetly worn by famous faces on television around the world and hitting headlines in India after a few Bollywood actresses wore our dresses has been very fulfilling. Another proud moment for me was winning the National Business Mother of the Year Award sponsored by Natwest a few weeks ago, which was testament to the fact that I am an equally great mother and business woman; truly humbling!
10. What are your tips for any other ladies wanting to start a business?
• Create a support network around you- work out who will look after your children if you have to be away for the day to visit clients or network late evenings
• discuss your goals with your husband/partner so you are both prepared on how the business will affect your lives. Plan an effective strategy to achieve work-life balance.
• Eliminate negative people from your lives – do you really need all those numbers on your phone? Surround yourself with positive people.
• Learn how to set your own priorities and take complete personal responsibility for all your actions
• Develop self discipline – there will be no boss to answer to but yourself. It’s easy to press the snooze button on your alarm clock every morning when you don’t have a deadline to get to work; so motivation is key to get you out of bed early and get into action
• Make education your life-long commitment- Read daily to develop yourself and your business to ensure you are constantly evolving with changes in technology
• Think big and visualise your success
• Make a habit of putting thoughts into action
• Change your thought process from a linear fashion to thinking laterally and balancing different hats all at the same time. This means you can no longer just focus on being the sales or marketing person, if that’s your forte, you will now need to manage customer services, finances, logistics and operations until you have employed a team to do this for you.
• Focus your efforts on evaluating the return on investment of everything you do. Instead of just completing tasks for the sake of doing so, ask yourself, is this task going to move me closer to where I want to be? The key is to become ‘results’ driven rather than ‘activity’ driven.
• Be adaptable to change. When you’re an employee you become accustomed to the status quo, but as an entrepreneur you have to realise there is no straight road from A to B, see the journey to success as “climbing a jungle gym, not a ladder” – a great analogy described by Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In.
• Remove self limiting beliefs and raise your self esteem in order to inspire those around you to believe in your vision and have the desire to work for you.
• Be prepared to step out of your comfort zone. The only way to grow your business is by growing yourself and doing things you have never done before.
• If you fail, so be it, pick yourself up and try again. See it as a badge of honour because you had the courage to try in the first place and failure is your stepping stone to success!
You can connect with Jeetly Petite on Twitter @jeetlypetite