Editor’s Note: Jia Loungewear has been named to The Story Exchange’s 2023 list of 10 Brilliant Business Ideas..
Katie Charrier spent the 2020 pandemic year working long hours as an eye doctor. Whenever she got home, she relied on her evening routine to de-stress: a hot shower, followed by a comfortable outfit. Charrier was also, at the same time, adjusting to living with her now-husband and his teenage children in their Houston home – making her braless post-work leisure wardrobe less appropriate than it once was. When Charrier couldn’t find a braless product that maintained privacy and propriety, she designed it herself. Today she runs Jia Loungewear, selling clothing that provides cup coverage without discomfort, available in classic styles and made from luxurious bamboo-knit fabric. Today, Charrier hopes parents, people with roommates, group home residents – or anyone going out to get the mail before joining a Zoom work meeting from home – will be able to find comfort and confidence in her apparel.
Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, with Charrier.
How is your business different from others in your industry?
There is no other product on the market that offers a cup coverage in braless loungewear without incorporating elastic or underwire.
I am also investigating an alternative business structure. A few customers – those who want to sell and distribute the product themselves – have suggested a direct-sales model fueled by independent consultants.
Tell us about your biggest success so far.
Having the confidence and the willingness to start. Putting yourself out there and inventing a new product, then telling people about it, can be very intimidating. The same goes for the many other steps of starting a business, including sorting the legalities, finding manufacturers, creating branding strategies and overseeing website development. I think all of it has taken a lot of growth, learning and guts, so I see each step as its own success.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Marketing the product and capturing the world’s attention. As a founder, I am more of an intuitive product inventor and designer, and less natural at garnering buzz. For this, I have leaned on mentorship, even using SBA resources, including SCORE mentorship.
In a personal sense, I have experienced hesitancy in putting myself out there to potential customers. To address the problem, I have been taking courses to foster my own confidence, which will strengthen me to appear fully as the founder of this soon-to-be successful brand.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
Having the financial burdens of a family has a significant effect on business decisions. There are so many glamorous founder stories out there about quitting a 9-to-5 job and going all-in on a business in order to find success. But a lot of these people are young, without families, and they don’t represent a feasible reality for most people who are starting a business. My husband has been absolutely incredible at shouldering the burden while I decrease my clinical hours to work more on Jia Loungewear – but without children, the risk would be much less.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Ironically, it’s advice that I still struggle to follow: Try not to do everything yourself. Even if you can learn to do something yourself, you will likely spend 10 times as long, and do the job less satisfactorily than if you had hired someone with experience. Nowadays, freelancers are so readily available on the internet, at all kinds of price points. It holds you back to spend weeks doing something someone else could do.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I go home and relax by putting on my comfy loungewear. Without fail, every time I put on the soft tops and see how effective the product actually is at achieving comfort with coverage, I feel overwhelmed by how awesome it is, and how many women would be thrilled to have a product like this. I always get re-inspired by looking at and wearing the clothes themselves.
What is your go-to song to get motivated on tough days?
I love a good throwback. Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” or Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter” are always motivational classics.
Who is your most important role model?
My mom. I watched her tireless work ethic as a single mother raising three very different children. She was always loving, accepting, accommodating, encouraging, and supportive to all of us in the unique ways we needed. She has also been one of my biggest supports through the ups and downs of start-up life. Watching her tenacity and grace has allowed me to believe that I could do anything. ◼