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Q&A With the CEO

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I recently had sat down with Jala Clothing mastermind Kelly Kolterman to get a glimpse of what's going on behind the scenes at Jala and to peak into her busy, creative world.  

Q: Why did you start Jala Clothing?

Kelly: I was getting into yoga in the mid 90's I realized something was very different about yoga and the fitness movement that was going on at the time. Fitness clothes just didn't represent the "yoga" state of mind. When I opened my yoga studios in the early 2000's this became even more apparent. That was everyone's first question: "what do I wear?" I also noticed that there was kind of an unspoken language that represented yoga. There were symbols, emotions and certain energies that related to yoga. At the time, there weren't a lot of words in the english vocabulary to express this state of being. Yoga has so many positive effects on the mind, body and our relationships with others: it unites people, it brings peace and happiness. I started to realize people really liked seeing these symbols and liked using them to identify their own personal state of being. I loved the idea of infusing inspirational images with fashionable clothing.

Me: You wanted to wear the art?

Kelly: Yeah, but I wanted the clothing to have more than just a superficial fashion sense. I wanted you to feel proud, like the clothing had some meaning and related to you on a personal level. So, about twice a year, I had an opportunity to create a line of clothing and it would sell out. But I was always so busy with my studios and art gallery that I didn't have time to do much more. I called my line 'Jala Clothing' when I started, but it wasn't much of a business. It was just for my studios.

I also had a big interest in fashion when I was young. My family are all artists and I was always inspired. I remember buying my first sewing machine in the third grade. I sewed constantly! I used to collect patterns like trophies. I also began working in fashion when I was 15. I became an assistant to our store buyer and merchandiser when I was 16. When I began Jala I didn't really have an interest in the superficial, commercial side of fashion, so it really gave me the opportunity to explore fashion as a medium of art. For me, Jala Clothing tied closely into the lifestyle that I was living and teaching.

Me: It's almost as if - I don't know if this is how I feel about it or if this is just how I perceive the fashion world - you're like a separate entity in the way that you focus more on the spirituality and the happy side rather than the competitive side, and I think it's really beautiful. It's gotten to the point where I feel like in the fashion industry, it's just competition, where as, although those are key factors in any retailer's success, it's different in the way that you're catering to a completely different audience.

Kelly: I always called it "conscious clothing" because it made you conscious about what you were wearing, and it made you feel good to be wearing it. 

Me: And not only that, but you feel good doing it. It's a little bit different than saying, you know, 'I'm just forcing all this stuff out because I want to be better than the other person.' It's more of a giving kind of job.

Kelly: Yes, it definitely is! 

Q: What from your past do you think aided you in creating a business as successful as Jala has become?

A: Being a yoga studio owner myself, I knew that most studio owners don't make a lot of money. They own studios because they genuinely want to help people, they want to help the community. They give a lot and can't afford to buy some of the big brand clothing because of the large minimums, which to a small studio owner could make or break their month. And, they are taking a risk not knowing for sure if it's going to sell.

When I sold my studios and I moved out to California, and I took a year off and really thought about what I wanted to do. I still wanted to teach here and there but I wanted to focus on my personal practice, so I spent about a year becoming a student again and thinking about starting Jala Clothing in LA.

I wanted to create a business that was really different from most fashion businesses in the industry. I wanted to stay connected to studios and support small business owners. That was my number one intention, and I started with that. I focused on clothing being appealing, comfortable, positive, conscious clothing, and learned about the business. My other thought was I started with the wholesale first. I really focused on creating programs that would allow the small business owner to test out Jala Clothing with very little risk and of course in turn begin to sell and support the business owner. 

Q: What was your initial goal with starting Jala? Has it changed?

Kelly: My goal was to create a yoga inspired apparel brand that people liked to wear and could personally relate to. I wanted our business to offer the old school customer service values that seem to be lacking in so many business these days. I wanted to create designs that were comfortable, unique, flattering, positive and inspiring.

Jala hasn't changed, it's just improved. As we've grown we've had more resources. We've been able to expand our collection to cater to customer needs. Our sewing manufacturers are here in Los Angeles and are a great company. It was really important to me when creating Jala to partner with vendors that were family run, so for example our dye house, right here in L.A., is family owned. Our screen printers started in a tiny 200 square foot room, and they're family owned. They've grown with us and been with us the whole time. They hand paint all our clothing with love and extra care. They also do things to help their community in the inner city.  

Q: Where do you think Jala will be in the next three years? Where do you want it to be? Is there any way specifically you want the business to expand?

Kelly: I'm not sure where Jala will be in 3 years. I always believe in giving back and have done this with Jala Clothing from the beginning. I hope that Jala will still be growing, creating local jobs and continuing to offer global and community charities and services. We offer several free community yoga classes at our store. We also partnered with YogaGivesBack.org., an inspiring organization that supports Mothers of India to start their own business and keep their daughters in school instead of being sold in to marriage at a very young age. When we first started working with this organization it was just a few women and their children in India that were being given micro loans to start their own business and send their children to school. Now it's hundreds of women & children whose lives are being changed. This change will affect many generations to come for those families. It's amazing and our customers are helping make this happen! 

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