In our series LABELS TO MEET we present you fashion labels and designers that we admire for their business style and have added to our Styles4Work offer.
This series starts with Jovan Oberleithner, founder of the fashion label j.jackman. Already that sounds incredibly interesting! But it gets even better: As a New Yorker, how did Jovan come to design and produce a totally chic fashion line for statement wear in Berlin of all places? A fashion line that is also produced sustainably! And all of this without knowing neither city nor country, without really speaking the country’s language.
Power Dresses in Statement Colours
The fact that the manufacture of clothing damages the environment and is mostly produced under inhumane conditions by women and children worldwide was the reason for Jovan to try it differently. The result is her own fashion label.
In our interview the amazing power woman Jovan tells us her inspiring story. Why she lives the right values and not just talks about them. What obstacles she had to overcome ever since. We learn her opinion on the founding scene in Germany, especially for women, and further, she reveals her favourite business outfit. Last but not least, she says what else is important to her in life.
Before you started j.jackman, you were a management consultant, most recently on Ebay. What was the reason for your change to self-employment?
I wanted to make a difference. I felt like what I was doing was meaningless. The work was interesting, but I could not really see how anything was becoming better off. Also, I kind of wanted the challenge of starting something, and oh boy has it been challenging!
Three years ago you founded the fashion label j.jackman. How did you come up with the idea for your own fashion line, a completely new profession for you?
I grew up in New York and spent the beginning of my work life in a very corporate environment. At the time, the concept of sustainability was a non-topic for me. I just never thought about it. When I moved to Germany, that changed. I started reading more about choices we can make in our consumption, and I started to make these kinds changes in my everyday shopping habits. But – I realized I could not find what I wanted when it came to clothes. So I thought (very naively I must admit) – I will do that.
Which challenged were there for you in the first time and which ones might still exist?
There were so many challenges – hard to start with which one! I started j.jackman with 0 knowledge of how to design or make a dress, very little German, and only a really faint idea of what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to make nice pieces with values I believed in. The first challenge was finding the right people to make our pieces. That took me a year, because I needed to find someone who could be flexible in enough to work in small quantities and who could get the quality right (my seamstresses will argue about the best way to sew in a zipper). Now we have different challenges. The main one is spreading our message.
You come from New York City. Why Berlin, off all places, to realize your vision of your own label?
I came to Berlin because of my corporate job. I thought it would be maximum 2 years, but I really love living in Berlin and in Germany. As a city, there is a freedom that I did not feel when I was in New York. I also love this focus on balance here. Also, on a very practical level, it is really easier here to start something than in NYC because the cost of living is a lot lower.
What does the name j.jackman stand for?
“Jackman” is the maiden name of my mother. We have a very strong connection as I was raised by her, and pretty much everything I am today is a result of all the sacrifices she made for me.
What makes the collection special and what are your goals for j.jackman?
What I like best about our pieces is that they are eye-catching, without having to do too much. Walk into a room in one of our dresses, and you will get complimented :-). I also love, that behind all of that are values that matter.
Sustainability plays an important role for you, as does fair working conditions for your employees. But your fashion is anything but “eco” – how do you manage this balancing act?
I think that believing clothing cannot be fabulous and fairly made is like thinking a woman cannot be a total boss at work and still stylish. We are a bit more limited in the materials and cuts, but we try to find a balance. Also, by selling directly to our customers for the most part, we are able to keep our prices reasonable.
How did the collaboration with Styles4Work come about?
Honestly – I cannot remember. I guess either you reached out to me, or I reached out to you in the summer. I have to say – I LOVE LOVE LOVE your style. It is exactly what I like, and I am so happy to be part of this.
Both j.jackman and Styles4Work are niche online shops. How do you assess the importance of suchspecialized platforms in the coming years?
I think more and more women want to identify with the brands and the platforms they buy from. There is so much out there, you kind of have to feel a connection with what you buy to make a difference. Hence, I think that niche players will be a huge aspect of what’s to come.
What is your opinion of the founder scene in Germany, especially for female founders?
There can be more, especially female VCs. But it’s proven that start-ups with female founders are more effective on average. I am not sure what is holding us back, but it would be nice to have more women to connect with in this space.
Do you have any advice for young female founders?
Trust in yourself. You will get a lot of “no’s” and a lot of people who do not see the vision. But keep focusing on the big picture and what your customers say, and you will get through it.
How would you describe your personal style?
My favourite styles are simple pieces that still make a statement. I like to go for relatively simple cuts with a great colour and fit, and a few details that make it all a bit special.
Do you have a favourite outfit that always fits your job?
The AKASHA dress or long vest over anything. Always works!
Do you have a tip for women who are still looking for their style?
Yes – less is more. Buy a few pieces that fit well and make you feel great. Also, If it does not fit, don’t buy it.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
That changes! Right now, I find inspiration in anything that does that tells a story or has a meaning, but in an understated and elegant way. That can be from paintings to movies and books. Expressing an emotion without saying it but showing it.
Which social topic is close to your heart?
The rising gap between rich and poor. Don’t get me wrong, I feel that if you work hard, you should be rewarded. But that is not always the case – there are many who do work hard, and still get the short end of the stick systematically. Growing up with my single mother, I saw this first hand. That is why it is super important to me to pay decent wages to our team. We start with about 2x the minimum wage, and as we grow, I hope we can add to that.