[quote style=”boxed”]As long as your learn from your mistakes, you can’t consider it a regret.[/quote]
Drawing inspiration from the heart of the deep south, New Orleans…over a pitcher of sweet tea and a messy shrimp po’ boy…Jolie & Elizabeth was born. Jolie &Elizabeth is comprised of two young New Orleans fashion designers, Jolie Bensen and Sarah Elizabeth Dewey.
The two met while Dewey was interning for Bensen at BCBG Corporate in NY. Both being from the south, it was only a matter of time until they realized that the street they were searching for was not Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive, but Desire.
Jolie Bensen, born and raised in New Orleans, began as an intern for Betsey Johnson in New York, went on to BCBG Max Azria Corporate for three years, and after a short stint with Alice + Olivia, returned to New Orleans to diversify her accomplishments in fashion with a focus on manufacturing. As a designer, Bensen aspires to create fun, feminine yet functional dresses that are a balance of sophisticated and spirited while focusing on the importance of a good fit. She remains determined to take her experiences from different levels within the fashion industry and evolve them to help structure and invigorate a stronger path for the young and talented generation to come. Bensen is a graduate of Mount Carmel Academy and Louisiana State University, where she was a member of Delta Gamma.
Sarah Elizabeth Dewey, born in New Orleans, moved to Dallas at a young age and nourished a passion for the south. After working with buyers and wholesalers at many Dallas fashion markets, she traded in her cowboy boots for shrimp boots and headed down to Louisiana State University to obtain a degree in Fashion Merchandising and Business. With her experience in the Dallas and New York City fashion industries and her passion for sales and brand imaging, she brings customer-centric enthusiasm to Jolie & Elizabeth.
After just five months, in June 2010, Bensen and Dewey were awarded “Top 30 People to Watch 2010” by New Orleans Magazine.
In May 2011, Jolie & Elizabeth launched the “JE Junior Designer Challenge” in an effort to continue the growing apparel design and manufacturing industries and further the number of opportunities available for young talent.
In November 2011, Bensen and Dewey were named among the Top 100 Entrepreneurs in America by the White House, the prestigious “Empact 100 List.”
The designs of Jolie & Elizabeth have been featured in various regional and national publications, including New York’s Daily Candy and Southern Living.
Staying true to timeless southern style, the dresses of Jolie & Elizabeth surpass forced trends that overlook the purpose of a dress: to adorn or decorate, to render pleasing or attractive. Trends come and go, but a true southern girl knows good style and good attitude go hand in hand. And there’s nothing more charmingly irresistible than that.
What are you working on right now?
Designing our Spring and Summer 2013 collections. We’ve just finalized our color palettes, fabrications and key dresses. From there, we highlight which trends we think are important for that season and begin sewing new dresses for the collection. With every collection, we go to market and our number of retailers continues to grow, as well as our online sales.
Where did the idea for Jolie & Elizabeth come from?
We met while working together at BCBG Corporate in New York. Sarah Elizabeth was one of our interns—and one of the hardest-working. Her internship ended around the time the economy crashed, which hit New York particularly hard. After her internship, she returned to New Orleans and began working in retail. After three years at BCBG, I moved on to Alice + Olivia Corporate in New York.
After five years total in New York, I decided to leave New York to return to New Orleans to do something impactful. Sarah Elizabeth faced frustrations finding a design job here in New Orleans, while I faced the same frustration upon returning from New York. So we just decided to start our own apparel design company based here in New Orleans.
What does your typical day look like?
Most of our time is split between our wholesale office in Uptown New Orleans and our factory in New Orleans East. We usually begin our days at our wholesale office, answering email, going over appointments and meetings we have scheduled for the day. Around noon, we head out to the factory to work through the current collection in production, take lookbook photos, finalize details of upcoming collections. Our days usually end around 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. As it’s our own company, we handle just about everything from managing the website to packing and shipping orders to our retailers or customers.
How do you bring ideas to life?
That’s literally our job. We sketch dresses, select fabrics, sew up the mock sample. If it’s a strong style that we really believe in, and many boutiques place orders, then it goes into production, of which hundreds of the one style are manufactured. We find inspiration for dresses from just about everything—the older lady waiting for the streetcar that’s dressed in a classic tweed jacket, the younger girls at music shows who throw on their favorite vintage dress. We literally dream up ideas for dresses, then sew them to life.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Social media, definitely. Our job description is much different than that of a fashion designer 20 years ago. Through social media, we can receive immediate feedback on dresses and can reach out to our customer base in a much easier way. We are able to get our message out, whether that is being “Made in America” or our new favorite color for that season, in a variety of mediums. It’s really changed the way a business is run.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
Not necessarily the worst, but significant in our line of work: retail. It’s tough because it’s long hours on your feet but really helps you learn the value of strong customer service, attention to detail and following through.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
As long as your learn from your mistakes, you can’t consider it a regret. Can’t say that we really have any.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Set goals. Setting goals help you check yourself, make sure your daily tasks align with the bigger picture of what you hope to accomplish.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
We started out with a private investor, and while this is an important step for many entrepreneurs, it caused many issues in launching our business the way we had envisioned. We ended up buying him out before launching our first collection, but it made us realize how much we valued our business idea and the many small details that are involved.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Haha, love this. An app that tells you the nearest nail salon, the current wait and if they have Shellac.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
We’ve learned that most business men and women, particularly those of an older generation, do not see the potential in bringing back American manufacturing. We would change this viewpoint. While many may say they support it or encourage it, most of us head to Wal-mart and not the local farmer’s market. It shouldn’t be about the specific political views of anyone, but the bigger picture of helping our country get back on the right track.
Tell us a secret.
We’re southern girls, and we love our southern food. On any given Friday, you can bet we’re taking a long lunch at our new favorite New Orleans restaurant.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources, and what do you love about them?
1. Fashionising.com – Every photo shoot, every magazine from around the world. Instant inspiration.
2. The Square – Makes instant purchases so easy. Run credit cards straight from your iPhone? Yes, please!
3. Facebook – We can instantly connect with our fans. It’s a visual way to meet our customers, see how they wear our dresses…pretty incredible.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Beautiful Fallby Alicia Drake.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
1. @GenNola – A writer based here in New Orleans. Her work can be found on Forbes.com, Nola.com and many other publications. She’s always scheming something up; we admire that.
2. @USJobCreation – A list of “Made in America” products. We’ve found it extremely useful.
3. @BoF – Business of Fashion – Alotof helpful information and tips.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Earlier today. A very sweet woman called our toll-free number to order a few dresses. She said she had stained our wrap dress while gardening, so she wanted to order four more of that same dress ‘”just in case.” She was 86 years old and lives in Shelby, North Carolina. She ended the phone call with, “You girls design the most beautiful seersucker dresses; where were you in 1944 when I needed you!??”
Who is your hero?
Our fathers. We both have amazing fathers, are very close to them, and throughout everything with our company they have been there for us—guiding us, applauding us and teaching us. We strongly believe strong successful women are products of a strong family foundation; we are living proof.
Where do you see your company in five years?
We hope to further grow our factory and its production output, grow our list of retailers to an international level and continue to hire young talent.
What’s your favorite quote?
“Behind every successful woman is herself.”
Jolie & Elizabeth on Twitter: twitter.com/JE_NOLA
Jolie & Elizabeth on Facebook: facebook.com/jolieandelizabeth
Jolie & Elizabeth on Instagram: @JE_NOLA
Jolie & Elizabeth Apparel’s Website:
Jolie & Elizabeth’s Photo Archive:
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.