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Name: Alison OBrien
Business: JWalking Designs, workout apparel
Industry: Clothing & Accessories, E-Commerce
Location: New Jersey, U.S.
Reason for starting: As a veteran television producer and novice athlete, I decided to train for my first marathon with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s endurance group, Team in Training, in the hopes of finding and funding a cure for the cancer my friend was bravely battling. While training for what become multiple 26.2 mile adventures, my new-found friends and I discussed what we disliked about the workout “bottoms” available on the market. Shorts could be ill-fitting and lead to chafing; pants were too heavy for hot weather; and skirts weren’t always made to be flattering to all sizes. Very few options had pockets to store keys, cash and a cell phone, which made the requisite “post-training breakfast” a tad more difficult.
At age 40, both my eyesight and that seemingly clear career choice became a bit blurry. I had not lost one ounce of my love for writing and producing television stories, but I started to wonder if there was more of life to be explored. The search for ‘more’ led me on a brand new path – building a business from the ground up in a field foreign to me. The biggest push was born from a fear of regret – I did not want to wake up in 5, 10, 20 years and see that my “what if” had become a “wish I had.” A month shy of my 41st Birthday, the JWalking Designs cyber-store-space was officially launched.
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How do you define success? I define success by the customer feedback I receive. Recently, a woman wrote a review of one of my 3-pocket active skirts and said it was, “real workout wear for real women… I am an XL size and I feel good” in the skirts. That makes me happy because my aim is that people of all shapes and sizes have the self-confidence to get out and get active. I know that may sound like a “line” but it’s really true.
Biggest success: My biggest success – as I’d rate it – was at the Seattle Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon (June 2014) when a friend of mine spotted a woman walking by in my JWalking Designs’ “Mad About Plaid” active skirt. Now, I had one on, as did a few of my friends, but this passer-by was an actual customer! She had bought the skirt online because she liked it, not because she knew me 🙂 I tracked her down – in a sea of tens-of-thousands of marathoners, a purple plaid is remarkably easy to spot! – and talked with her. It was really awesome.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it? The biggest challenge I encountered when setting up the business was learning that not everyone you work well with in one environment will work well with you everywhere else. Besides my designer/manufacturer in Los Angeles – who are amazing – I run this on my own. Every day, every move made, is just me. I had no idea how much time, effort, energy and emotion it would take to run a business – and did not expect to do be doing it solo. But, when things seem overwhelming, I take a deep breath, put my head down and keep going. What’s my other choice? Stopping is not an option.
My vision for the business has not changed – I remarkably have stayed pretty true to my original plan. However, I began this with a partner and we have since parted ways. While I have been the sole financier since the business began, knowing that I could not rely on anyone else has been both frightening and freeing. I feel like I can build the business how I choose, without reservation, but I do not have a potential cushion to fall back on. I say that this may not be how I planned it, but maybe this is how it was meant to be.
Related: From Corporate Employee to Entrepreneur
Who is your most important role model? For several years while I was a producer with CNBC long form/ documentary unit, I had the honor of working under a veteran television producer named Josh Howard. He taught me to trust my gut and rely on my instincts – that I know what I need to do and believe I can do it. Those lessons translate directly to standing on my two feet, and building JWalking Designs. Josh has recently embarked on a new project himself – and had to forge paths outside of his comfort zone – and, while he admitted to feeling tentative, he took his own advice.
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Edited by The Story Exchange