Jesse Erin

Jesse Erin is the founder, creative director, and co-designer for Stepforward. After stints at Ford Modeling and Condé Nast she was inspired to follow her entrepreneurial spirit and develop a women’s brand for the collegiate market. She happily resides in Los Angeles and is passionately focused on understanding customer choices primarily in lifestyle brands and ready to wear items.

Where did the idea for Stepforward come from?

Stepforward was born out of my search for simple, sophisticated staples suited to today’s women on campus – students, staff, parents and alumni. Basics with a designer point of view.

I first noticed this gap in the market as a student, but as an alumni I become increasingly more aware of the lack of true women’s product in the collegiate space. My mother adamantly agreed and together we created a line of feminine elevated essentials. Today, Stepforward is an apparel company committed to delivering an inclusive experience for women in the collegiate and souvenir marketplace.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I live in LA and work on east coast time, which means by the time I get up around 6AM, I’m already late. Preparing a general outline for each day the night before has been incredibly helpful, so with a strong cup of coffee, I am ready to jump right in. The first item on my agenda post-caffeination is to call my sales director and then my art director.

After that I finalize my to do list for the day and double check that I have all of my personal and work related items by my side before I start meeting rounds. Typically after lunch I get a production update and spend the next few hours working on new development and current distribution projects. Around 5PM I try to sneak out for a work out and then come back and have a quick dinner. Finally at 7PM I start my homework, meaning anything that didn’t get done during the day and, of course, my outline for tomorrow.

How do you bring ideas to life?

First thing I do is spread word about the idea to all of the key stakeholders in the company. If the idea seems to be sitting well with everyone I arrange for a group meeting where we hash out what the end goal should be. Once we are on the same page “goal-wise” we flush out the details.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I love everything about subtlety. Rose gold knobs on dressers, crafty minimalist jewelry, coconut oil to highlife cheek bones, everything! It very much reinforces our own approach to graphic design. We love tone on tone prints, soft script embroidery’s, and are sticklers for finding the perfect placement.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I am not a procrastinator. If something is on my to do list, its on my mind and I am anxious to get it done so I do not have to think about it anymore.

What advice would you give your younger self?

No single individual is equipped to build and grow a company on their own. Finding the right people who are experts in their field and that you enjoy working with is just as critical as the product or brand you are building.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Worrying about your competitors next move is a waste of creative energy.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I lay out my clothes the night before any major meeting. It may sound insignificant, but guarding myself from wardrobe anxiety is something simple I do to set myself up to win.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

When we began designing the line, we needed to find suppliers and partners to help execute my vision. Being in LA, a hub of the US textile industry, we would literally go downtown and follow delivery trucks of the brands we liked to find out where they were manufacturing their goods. Doing the dirty work on the ground level often leads to incredible insights that are hard to gather from 30,000 feet up.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Early on I had a meeting with a potential client who expressed the desire to bring in new women’s options into the store’s existing assortment. When it was time to present our product collection, I overwhelmed the client with too many options. It was a lesson for me to think not just about my perspective of the collection, but what are the most important needs of the audience in front of you. Sometimes you need to work on a client’s timeline and be prepared to overwhelm when they are ready.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Technology is integral in sustaining Stepforward’s value chain. It allows for stronger communication and the ability to remedy issues before they become costly burdens. In any industry, a critical phase in product development is when the technical designs are translated into digital files, as these will be the baseline for high-volume production runs. The files are complex and difficult to navigate. If there was software that would better allow non-technical users to collaborate with the technical designers and catch any problems before production, that would be invaluable.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The night before we shot our latest lookbook I picked up some foe flowers at Ross and specialty wrapping paper at Paper Source. We used them as props in almost every shot and it gave us the exact feminine touch and pop of color we were looking for.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Dropbox is critical to the company since we deal with large graphics files. I love Dropbox now more than ever because I have structured my folders for ease of use, which saves me time and the unnecessary stress of finding single files. The importance of accessibility is something I learned in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Implementing CBT principles when utilizing software or web services has helped me get the most out of these tools.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I just finished Wonder, by R. J. Palacio, a story about a young boy who must deal with severe facial defects, which was recently made into a movie. I was inspired by its perspective on how people of all ages develop and demonstrate empathy towards one another. We have the ability to be incredibly positive forces in the lives of people around us if we strive to understand rather than accept assumptions.

What is your favorite quote?

“Don’t get lost in the what if’s, deal with what is.” – Bill Lopatin, my Father and mentor

Key Learnings:

  • Shield yourself from chaos where you can. There are no guarantees in business and things can change in the blink of an eye so create stability where you can. Surround yourself with people you can trust and do whatever you can to minimize stress triggers.
  • Keep striving to work harder and smarter, everyday. I am not the entrepreneur today that I will be tomorrow. That used to frustrate me, but now it excites me. I keep my eyes peeled for all kinds of tips and tricks that can make me a better business owner.
  • Think outside the box. When in doubt, stalk your competitors delivery trucks and find colorful objects at discount department stores.


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