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Jen Perry Jelt

Jen Perry’s entrepreneurial journey started out as many women’s have: a life changing incident led her to want to do more with her life. Perry has always been passionate about the environment and helping her community, coupled with her need for a functional belt that fit well, Jelt was born. Her social enterprise manufactures belts out of recycled plastic, she hires locally and donates a portion of all proceeds to charity. Today the Bozeman, Montana-based entrepreneur is learning how to balance work and family while running a thriving business.

Perry’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:

Jelt is a social enterprise whose mission is to create sustainable lifestyle products that everyone needs, manufactured in a way that empowers underserved women and then donates a portion of all proceeds to organizations supporting veterans, children and the environment. We specialize in eco-friendly, metal-free elastic belts made from 100% recycled plastic bottles that can be worn hiking, biking, skiing, golfing, traveling and with everyday jeans.

After surviving a ruptured appendix and spending months in the hospital, I knew I wanted to do more with my life. I wanted to do something to give back to my community as well as the planet, and to show my sons that there is more to life than making money. My belts were designed out of pure necessity, but I always had the mission to use sustainable products and to give a portion of every sale to local and national charities. The mission drives every decision I make and sets us apart from all of our competitors. I am a certified Woman Owned Small Business, am B-Corp Certified and am a member of 1% for the Planet.

[Related: She’s Taking on Fast Fashion – And Giving Refugees a Second Chance]

I define success by the impact I make in the world. I can physically see how I have helped an infinite amount of women, whether it’s the women I hire to work in Jelt headquarters, or the women on remote rural ranches who manufacture for us, or the young women I hope to have inspired through many public speaking engagements throughout Montana. I have also been interviewed by international entrepreneurs via podcasts to inspire women from all over the world. I have a saying that I always try to end with which was originally told to me by my grandmother, “It’s never too late to pursue your dreams. If not now, then when?”

I have been honored to receive Employer of the Year, Innovator of the Year and most recently was appointed by the governor of Montana to be a member of our state’s Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force.

Before starting Jelt about seven years ago, I was a stay-at-home mom raising two boys with a husband working full time. Jelt is an all-encompassing social enterprise and I am the Founder/President. I used to work very late and did not know how to balance life, family, work, exercise and friends. (My female friends are very important to me.) It has taken several years, but I am learning to leave work at work and to be present at home. My husband is now the stay-at-home dad and has grown to become my #1 supporter. It did not happen overnight. We worked at it, but I think it shows our boys how to be MEN.

[Related: The Climate is Right for New Inventions That Help the Environment — All Made By Women]

My grandmother has always been my inspiration in life. She was a professor emeritus at San Diego State University in the late 1960’s who, after retirement, published 27 romance novels. She was a true genius with an open mind and loving heart for all humans. I strive to be as wonderful as she was and to have the impact she had on thousands of people. In fact, you can still buy her novels on Amazon, so I guess she’s had an impact on millions of people!

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