Janska Clothing that Comforts
Info: 2255 Reliable Circle, 866-452-6752
In business: Since 2003
Number of employees: 40
Business has always been good for Jan Erickson and Jon Thomas, owners of Janska Clothing that Comforts.
In business since 2003, Janska staff envision, design, cut, sew and sell clothing like jackets, socks, hats, scarves and more.
Erickson’s and Thomas’ knowledge of business has grown in time with the bottom line, they said recently.
“We’ve had 175 percent growth in sales since 2010,” Erickson said. “There’s not been a year when we haven’t had a positive growth in sales.
“We grew when the recession hit.”
Not so bad, especially for a married couple who started the business when they were in their 50s, and with neither of them having any background in apparel or small business.
It did take eight years for them to draw a paycheck: one paycheck for both of them.
Since the beginning, all of their products have been crafted in the United States. They outsource some of the sewing to Washington, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Indiana, and locally at Sew and Sew in Colorado Springs. The Janska shop, in southern Colorado Springs near the Hotel Eleganté, includes space for expert seamstresses who sit at industrial sewing machines that buzz with activity.
In March, Erickson was named the Small Business Administration’s person of the year for Colorado.
Roots: the dream
The story of the business’ roots is not unfamiliar to the Colorado Springs business community.
Erickson, who had worked in caregiving roles from her teenage years on, had a dream. This dream centered on Jean Jauchen, an elderly woman who had suffered a stroke and was living in a nursing home.
There, Jauchen had to wear hospital gowns, which Erickson called ugly and undignified.
One night, Erickson dreamed she had given Jauchen a piece of clothing that would work in a clinical setting.
When she woke up, Erickson sketched the garment from the dream. From there, she made a piece of clothing that was easy to put on. It had a slit down the back for Jauchen’s caregivers to use to access their patient.
“Jean couldn’t perform the motion of putting her arm through,” a traditional jacket, Erickson said. So they gave the garment more room in the arms as well as through the neck area.
“Also, Jean was always cold,” Erickson said. Carrying the drawing with them, Erickson and her husband appealed to Sew and Sew to build the garment out of polar fleece, a soft, cuddly fabric.
They gave it to Jauchen, who loved it immediately.
“Emotionally, she just felt better, and she was treated differently” by the staff and other residents, Erickson said.
“Clothing plays a pivotal role in societal relationships,” Thomas said. “This has always been about dignity and comfort.”
After the dream, “all these ideas tumbled into my head,” Erickson said.
From that first frock, they made different designs from polar fleece and sold them throughout the state at arts and crafts fairs.
“We were just everywhere,” Erickson said. “It was fun.”
They read constantly and took classes in small business management and finance. They appealed to the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) and its expert small business counselors for advice.
At one point, Thomas suggested selling wholesale to clothing stores.
Two of the reasons people fail in business are that they are under-capitalized and they’re not asking for help, she said.
“Asking for help was pretty easy because we didn’t know anything,” Erickson said.
The business took a decidedly positive turn in 2005 after Erickson and Thomas showed their garments at the Denver Merchandise Mart.
There, they offered several items — socks, leg warmers, wraps and jackets.
One of the exhibitors told them to consider themselves lucky if they got two to three orders.
They ended the event with 17 orders, including one from the buyer for The Broadmoor’s boutique.
“All of a sudden, we realized we had a garment for women that was fashionable and comfortable,” Erickson said.
Sales grow, kudos
An ongoing challenge is continuing to “try to learn and to be better,” Thomas said.
“I personally try to improve,” Erickson said.
The business made $2.4 million in sales last year. This year, the goal is to increase that figure by 20 percent to $2.9 million.
“We think it would be pretty sweet to hit $3 [million],” Erickson said.
“We think it would be pretty sweet to hit $3 [million].”
—Jan Erickson, owner
[/pullquote]As a result of being named the state’s Small Business Person of the Year, in May, she, Thomas and Janska will be feted in Washington, D.C., where one business person will be chosen from among the 50 state winners and those from Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam.
“It makes me feel great,” Erickson said. “But it’s really about the team — all the people who have shown up since the beginning.”
The team consists of clothing designers, web designers, the business office staff, seamstresses, warehouse workers, SCORE counselors and “most importantly, Jon as my partner,” she said. “It’s definitely a team win. It’s not about one person.”
“It’s really gratifying and also humbling,” he said. “It’s wonderful to be recognized. It’s not all easy and it’s not all fun.”