At the end of March, 2017, when I was finally ready to put some serious focus on growing Wooly Doodle, I knew I was going to need helps so I posted an ad on Kijiji - "Experienced seamstress with serger required for sewing clothing”. A few responses trickled in and one of them was from what seemed to be a professional and conscientious applicant named Jessica.
After a few email exchanges, I drove out to meet Jessica where she was doing her sewing (at that time it was a spare room in her parent’s home) and she sewed a pair of pants for me while I pretended to have my sh*t together. I was impressed by her and pleased with her sewing and so we embarked on what was meant to be part-time support, sewing a small number of items that would help me prep for the Modern Mom Show in June 2017.
About 3 months later, Jessica and I sat down over pub food and beers to talk about what the future would hold. She was now fully maxed out and so the discussions began around bringing on new people to help. We also both agreed we had a really good thing going and it would be nice to partner on some items moving forward – this is when the first discussion around our Ladies Lounge Romper began and Jessica started the process of growing her team.
Fast forward to today, one year later, and Jessica has a team of 5 who all work out of her sewing studio which once was a large garage on her property. She’s invested in hiring and training a solid team and industrial equipment to enable them to do quality work.
Jessica and her team are solely focused on our Ladies Rompers. When she and I had our beer chat, we talked about partnering on this item – sharing the profits, the risks and the expenses. This is the model we still have today with Jessica and her team doing all the production work and creation of new patterns and styles and me handling the branding, marketing and fulfillment.
I have had people question why I chose to go in this direction rather than just having a production house make the Rompers, enabling me to keep more of the profits. For me, running a business is so much more than making money. I knew early on Jessica was a bad-ass boss lady in the making and saw so much potential for both our businesses to grow.
Making money is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but being able to be part of seeing another local business grow, providing jobs in our community, is equally rewarding.
It has been a year of ups and downs for both of us. We’ve grown from being two individuals working mainly on consumer equipment to producing hundreds (soon to be thousands) of garments each month. We’ve made mistakes, we’ve learned a LOT and I’m sure we’ve annoyed the sh*t out of each other on a few occasions but I know I couldn’t have grown the business to where it is today without the help of this Boss Babe. So, without further ado, I introduce you to Jessica Johnston – first up in my ‘Know Them’ series.
Jessica Johnston: Owner, Jessica Johnston Clothier
ELIZABETH: How did you get here? Like, not here, here.. but how did you end up in this industry and on this current trajectory?
JESSICA: I began sewing through my first passion, theatre. After post secondary education with a theatrical degree I stumbled upon a new program on technical costume studies, which is where I learned to build garments from measurements to the final press. From a TON of help from my family I was able to build my sewing business.
ELIZABETH: It’s been a year now – what has been the highlight of the past year doing production for Wooly Doodle?
JESSICA: The biggest highlight from producing for Wooly Doodle, aside from meeting nerd-tastic Elizabeth, is sharing the same ideology of supporting local and watching others believe it so much that the business has grown greatly allowing to employ more Canadians.
ELIZABETH: Nerd-tastic? I’m adding that to my LinkedIn profile. Ok, so on the flip side – what has been the biggest challenge?
JESSICA: The biggest challenge has been the growth of the business as well. I went from being the sole seamstress on a domestic serger in a room in my house - to suddenly having to find employees, train, purchase industrial machinery. Plus, find room for all these people and machines!
ELIZABETH: What is the biggest mistake you’ve made or regret you’ve had and what would you do differently if you had the chance?
JESSICA: Honestly I think my biggest mistake was not taking the risk sooner of owning my own business. I wish I had believed in myself sooner, it would have allowed for less production hiccups and therefore less stress and headaches. Although the timing worked out fantastic since it was only 3 months later that I received the contract with Wooly Doodle.
ELIZABETH: I believed in you, girl! Given how fast all of this has happened and how quickly you’ve had to grow your business - How do you make it all work with balancing two small children, a business, a marriage (lol)?
JESSICA: I'm not going to lie, it is frickin' hard balancing it all. Without the love and support from my family and inlaws I would never be able to manage this twister called life. My village of helpers live in the same town which is the best! I have a very helpful husband, gender reversal to the max in this family. It's wonderful seeing the close relationships my kids have with so many extended family members. And aside from the typical pull your hair out child craziness my children are easy going, especially if you have food.
ELIZABETH: Are you ever able to relax? And if so, what does that look like for you?
JESSICA: After working a long day in the shop my means of relaxation is playing with my kids, eating dinner with my family around the table - that my husband likely made - putting the kids to bed and sitting down on the couch with a drink and watching a show. I also love to read, and have a nice stack of books on my bookcase, that I plan on reading...someday.
ELIZABETH: That sounds like perfection! Now, speaking of your kids - What advice would you give them 10 years from now?
JESSICA: School isn't everything. You can be successful in life without a degree, research into a trade.''If you can't do what you love, do what you like. Do what you love when you're done what you like.''
ELIZABETH: I can totally appreciate that – I actually dropped out of my 1st year of university (nursing) and didn’t end up completing post-secondary until years later. There’s so many paths to success these days.
ELIZABETH: Now let’s do some random rapid-fire questions I pulled out of nowhere that people may or may not find interesting!
ELIZABETH: Beer or Wine.. or?
JESSICA: It's no hard or fast rule but.. Beer in the summer, wine in the winter and gin on the good days.
ELIZABETH: Morning Person or Night Owl?
JESSICA: Morning person!
ELIZABETH: Cool – so you must love it when I text you at 11 p.m. What are you most likely to binge watch?
JESSICA: Breaking Bad, Greys Anatomy, really any drama since my life doesn't have much of that, thankfully!
ELIZABETH: Hmmm did you hack my Netflix? Fave Instagram account (aside from @woolydoodle, of course)?
JESSICA: @brianthewiredhairvizsla because I love them dogs! And @john_w_brennan for keeping it real.
ELIZABETH: Can you tell them both to follow WD so I can hit 10k already? Who is your hero?
JESSICA: Childhood hero, Ginger Spice, for being a famous ginger. Current hero, my dad.
ELIZABETH: Well that’s stinkin’ sweet! Guilty pleasure?
JESSICA: Rubbing my nose against my kids.
ELIZABETH: Stinkin’s sweet x 2. Biggest fear?
JESSICA: Biggest fear, not being able to help my children from being hurt.
What would you like to know?
So there you have it. Our inaugural edition of ‘KNOW THEM’, featuring a very special member of the Wooly Doodle family on our one year anniversary *high kick*.
What would you like to know about Jessica? Post questions below and even though she doesn’t know I’m doing this, I’ll get her to answer :).