Jia Wertz has always loved fashion.
So much so that in 2013, Wertz created her own socially responsible fashion brand — Studio 15: Conscious by Design. Its mission, along with being a successful, sustainable business, is to promote and collaborate with other female-owned businesses.
The path Wertz took transitioning from employee to boss (a word I suspect she rarely, if ever, uses) is interesting.
“I was very lucky early in my career. I had the opportunity to work for two of the most talented men in the fashion and retail industry,” she explains. “I got my start in retail at the age of 18 at a high-end denim shop in Calgary. The owners gave me a lot of responsibility at a young age and trusted me with major business decisions. Over the years we ended up becoming great friends. They taught me everything about running a retail business.”
She continues, “They believed in me and gave me plenty of responsibility, including hiring, writing training manuals, visual merchandising, making buying decisions, analyzing product sell-through, and even payroll. It was this early experience and exposure to the business world that helped me, eventually, have the courage to go out on my own.”
Wertz stayed at the denim shop for three years. She went on to manage the western district for Aldo Shoes, led corporate operations at Sephora and held positions at bebe’s in sales development, operations and communications. Added to her early hands-on retail shop experience, Wertz has the kind of comprehensive background useful when striking out on one’s own.
Wertz’s dream to open her own shop was brewing long before it came to fruition.
Today, she’s got Studio 15, her own online store with affordable, fashion-forward items. Shoppers can browse categories like ‘Little Black Dress,’ ‘Maxi Dresses’ and ‘Flirty and Flared.’ There are uniquely shaped tees with phrases like ‘The future is female,’ ‘Feminist’ and ‘Nevertheless, she persisted.’
Wertz does pop-up events annually in Calgary, New York City and San Francisco. She sources for her site with buying trips to NYC and Los Angeles.
The entertaining flavor of the site is, of course, a marketing strategy, but it opens a window into Wertz’s political ideals. For every single item sold on the site, Studio 15 donates 5 percent of the proceeds to the nonprofit Kleos Microfinance Group, partner in their philanthropic activity. These donations go directly to female entrepreneurs in developing countries who are starting their own businesses. Kleos and Studio 15 hope to empower women by creating better living conditions, learning new skills and promoting financial freedom.
Wertz also founded “The Mastermind Exchange,” a peer-advisory group designed to give high-achieving entrepreneurs advice and strategies that may help accelerate the growth of their small businesses. It’s a clever way of staying on top of industry trends and staving off the possible isolation of running a small business.
She offers advice to anyone thinking about transitioning into owning their own business, “Commit to where you are, but be ready to make a move when you feel the time is right. Be prepared to work, and then work harder. Keep learning.”