In only 1 year, not every entrepreneur goes from bare-bones startup to having her designs on the runway at Chicago Fashion Week, but Fox Valley Score client Valerie Johnson has done just that.
Valerie came to FV SCORE newly retired. She had 40 years of experience in Federal Government contracting, building management and real estate. She knew she was now ready to follow her dream and start her own business, but what business? She needed help deciding among ideas based on skills developed during her former career and others involving her lifetime practice of creative arts. Mentor Cheryl Stoneking encouraged her to focus on “pursuing what she loved”. The answer was fiber-based fashion design and multimedia art.
In September, 2020, following completion of the Fox Valley SCORE 6- week Business Plan Workshop, Valerie wasted no time before creating unique, handmade items for potential sale. Despite the pandemic, she hit the pavement and began knocking on doors in person. Her first break was with the Hinsdale, IL consignment boutique The Work+Shop, whose owner gave her a featured spot in their Christmas displays.
Valerie’s outfits for infants and young children were a success and she was offered a permanent display space for winter and spring.
In-store shopping for clothing continued to be limited in 2021 as the Delta Variant came on the scene. In April, the Hinsdale boutique announced it was closing, so Valerie needed to quickly expand her client base. Cheryl had brought in co-mentors Doug Murphy, with a background in high-end fashion marketing and Toni Greathouse, who has experience with department store buyers and purchasing protocols. The mentoring team helped Valerie with contracts, trademark protection, tech packs; to learn about customer tracking and how to approach a buyer.
Valerie took in all of the education and advice that SCORE could provide and never missed a beat. By the summer of 2021, she was in talks with Chicago boutiques for both her children and adult lines of hand-knit sweaters and coats. Then she connected with the owner of Bella Niecele at 900 North Michigan Avenue, who featured her garments in their runway show during this October’s Chicago Fashion Week.
2022: What comes next? For 2022, Val J Collection will continue to follow the dream, incorporating a wider variety of artistic media into the offerings and developing the social media outreach.
Client Statement: I could not have gotten this far in entrepreneurship so quickly without the help of the three mentors from SCORE Fox Valley, The “Think Tank”, each in their own special way, helped me to tap into all my talents…