GET TO KNOW WBENC STUDENT ENTREPRENEUR PROGRAM FINALIST WHITNEY JONES OF LIV
Like many entrepreneurs, Whitney Jones identified a need based on her own life experiences. She was frustrated with clothing options available in her size and found that plus-size clothing was majorly lacking in quality, fit, and versatility. So she took matters into her own hands (literally) and started sewing her own line of clothing.
Today, Whitney is owner and CEO of Liv, a wholesale women’s apparel manufacturer catered to everyday women who wear sizes 14 to 36. All of Liv’s garments are created, designed, produced and manufactured in-house, with a proven and test-true size chart to ensure proper fit. Liv specializes in garments that easily transition from day to night, from the board room to the parent teacher conference, and everywhere in between.
Whitney was a finalist in the 2018 WBENC Student Entrepreneur Program (SEP), which took place in June during the WBENC National Conference & Business Fair in Detroit, Michigan. As the premier startup program for collegiate female founders, SEP fosters growth for the next generation of women-owned businesses through a tailored entrepreneurial curriculum, mentorship, and a pitch competition, where students compete for $20k in seed capital. Whitney came in fifth place out of 22 incredible female founders.
We interviewed Whitney to learn more about the inspiration behind business, her advice for other entrepreneurs, and what’s next for Liv.
What inspired you to start your business?
Being plus size my entire life, I understand how hard it is finding simple garments that can be worn to multiple events. When 97% of the garments sold are made in other countries, sizing, fit and quality are always an issue. Being that no woman is made the same size, we often have to go up multiple sizes for a garment to fit a certain body part. However, once you get to a certain size, the garment is too big in other areas. Knowing I wasn't alone in this situation I took my love for fashion and sewing and created Liv. Liv started as a B2C business but when I saw the bigger need I knew I had to do something about it. When I receive emails, testimonials and calls about women telling me how my garments made them feel amazing, it lets me know I’m on the right track and I’m helping make a difference in the world of fashion.
What has been the most rewarding part of being a young female entrepreneur?
My entrepreneur journey has been all over the place. There are times when business is amazing and growing, and I then think to myself, “YES!! I got this.” There are other times when it's slow and I start to second guess what I'm doing. Then there are times that I want to expand, but I'm having a hard time figuring out the next step. I have to remind myself often that when I get to be 80 years old, I don't want to look back in my life and say what I should have done. Being an entrepreneur has good days and bad days but the knowledge that I'm gaining along the way is beyond amazing.
What three traits define you?
Three traits that I would use to define me is God-fearing, Overachiever and Compassion.
What or who inspires you?
When asked who inspires me I don’t have one answer. My grandmother had eight children, two boys and six girls. My mother, aunts and grandmother inspire me the most. Words can’t describe them at all. These women are beautiful inside and out. They dress with an amount of class that is indescribable. They are all God-fearing women who have touched the lives of many in their various careers. These women have been in my corner since day one and they all want me to succeed in everything that I do in life.
What is one thing you wish the people better understood about your industry or business?
When it comes to my business I wish people would understand that I am not a business to consumer company. Often people will contact me on social media and ask to purchase a garment. Since we are only B2B, I have to turn them down. When it comes to the industry I wish people would understand what companies are formfitting by buying all of their garments overseas. Depending on who you buy from, the quality and fit of garments are off. This not only makes the company who is selling the pieces look bad, it also gives the consumer a bad shopping experience.
Where do you see yourself in one year? How about 5 years?
Of course we will continue selling our garments at apparel tradeshows around the U.S. We have added another venture to Liv. In one year we will hopefully be listed on Walmart.com and Amazon.com as a drop shipment vender. In 5 years I would like Liv to have a permanent home in Walmart, Target and Macy’s stores around the globe. We are already accomplishing our old 5-year goals in 2 years. Let’s see if we can accomplish the new 5-year goals in 3 years.
What advice would you give to other female founders just starting their business?
The advice that I would give to female founders who are just starting out would be JUST DO IT!! No one knows everything about running a business. You are going to fail, you are going to make mistakes. You are not going to know all of the answers. Trust me, that is ok. If you fail, fail quick, learn what you shouldn’t do next time and move on. When it comes to not knowing something, ask someone who is in your field or doing the same thing you are doing. If they don’t want to help, move on and ask someone else. Don’t wait on someone who really doesn’t want to help you. I would rather you try and fail instead of never trying. What if it works?
How did you first learn about the WBENC Student Entrepreneur Program?
I learned about the WBENC SEP program by seeing WBENC on websites of those companies that I want to sell my clothing on. I went to everyone's favorite search engine Google and I saw information about the SEP program and I knew I had to apply.
What did it feel like getting up in front of an audience and judges to pitch your business?
Pitching in front of a crowd is an amazing feeling. Have the ability to tell others what you’re doing and why you’re doing it and seeing their head nod with agreement.
What did you learn during the program that will help you grow your business?
For me, just being able to meet the decision makers at companies such as Walmart and Macy's is a big deal, especially being able to explain to them what I'm doing and why I need to be on their store
What’s next for you and Liv?
Of course, we are going to continue selling pieces to boutique owners at two tradeshows a year. However, we are now looking for opportunities to be sold in stores such as Walmart and Target. Both stores need fashionable but comfortable pieces for their plus size customers to choose. Liv offers that and more, not to mention we are a U.S.-based company.