Circling Back: When the Going Gets Tough, Jan Erickson Gets Creative

Amid painful disruption of the apparel industry, Jan Erickson is retooling her Colorado Springs, Colo., clothing company for the digital age.

Riva Richmond By Riva Richmond

5 Years of StoriesJan Erickson is finding out just how hard it can be to keep a business alive during bad times.

Her Colorado Springs, Colo., clothing company, Janska, is enduring significant stress due to massive, dislocating change that’s punishing the entire apparel industry. Retail clothing stores, large and small, have been watching their customers shift decisively toward online shopping and away from brick-and-mortar locations, hurting both retailers and suppliers. At the same time, they’re reeling as cheap “fast fashion” from Asia forces them to deepen discounts to compete, pressuring already thin margins.

“When they suffer, we suffer. And when they close, of course, that takes some business away from us,” Erickson says.

The retail world looked a lot more friendly when we profiled Erickson in August 2014. She was selling her made-in-America jackets, wraps and accessories through more than 900 boutiques — and predicting $3 million in revenue for the year, a 25 percent gain from 2013. That success had been stoked by a lean manufacturing strategy that improved efficiency and protected Janska’s ability to continue to sew its products in the United States. Janska had 14 quality sewers working in its factory, and Erickson’s big challenge was finding more in a country where clothes manufacturing had mostly died.

Less apparent at the time, however, was the worsening health of boutiques she relied on to sell her products. “We didn’t make the $3 million” in 2014, Erickson says with disappointment. When revenue fell to $2.3 million in 2015, Janska became unprofitable for the first time, despite aggressive cost cuts, including layoffs of precious sewers.

But Erickson, who founded her company with a dream to bring dignity, beauty and comfort to hospital patients, has put up a real fight. A determined entrepreneur, she’s has been doing everything she can think of to cope and to adjust. In the process, she’s showing that tenacity, creativity and willingness to try new ideas is the key to perseverance.

She’s taking Janska digital. In an effort to grow its online business, she improved the company’s consumer-facing website and stepped up its vendor relationship with e-commerce behemoth Amazon. Online sales have grown to 12 percent of Janska’s total revenue from about 7 percent as a result. Erickson hopes that number will reach 18 percent by the end of this year.

To move more operations online, Janska launched a new wholesale site this spring where stores can learn about the brand and place orders. And because these clients are now visiting shows less to view new products, Janska is doing “virtual showrooms” to walk buyers through product features and benefits via Skype or Facetime. “It’s not quite as great as being there, but it’s pretty close,” Erickson says.

She’s also refocusing her sales and marketing effort on the wellness and health-and-beauty space, tapping the origin story and social mission that makes her company and its products special. New initiatives to expand into more airport shops and high-end boutiques are exceeding expectations, she says.

“It’s not a fun ride, but we are learning a lot,” Erickson says. “I believe we have great things that women love, and we’re still getting a great response.”

Check out her TSE video profile:

Posted: November 10, 2016

Riva RichmondCircling Back: When the Going Gets Tough, Jan Erickson Gets Creative