#57 Heather Sullivan: Founder of Vincent James Designs

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Vincent James is a collection of elevated essentials with a sustainable approach. The brand creates the foundational pieces for a chic, timeless and minimal capsule wardrobe that allows you to get dressed with confidence and ease every time and for everything your day brings. Each piece is made using the highest quality natural fabrics and sourced and sewn sustainably and ethically.

What do you consider your top 3 core values and how do they affect how you lead your business?

My top 3 core values are empowering women, using as sustainable a process and product as possible and producing those products ethically.  
The concept of Vincent James was conceived from my own desire to feel empowered again.  I was emerging from a fog of having 3 children under 4 and in a funk emotionally. I wanted to feel like myself again and have something for me besides my family.  Expressing myself through style and design and feeling good in my clothes was something I had always valued but had lost in the chaos of raising my children. I wanted and needed a capsule collection of functional and sustainable clothing that was still chic, made me feel put-together and could take on all that my busy days held but I didn’t have the time to think much about what to wear let alone stand in front of my closet and play with styles like I used to do.  I know how much better my day can be when I feel good in what I’m wearing and I hope that by designing timeless, elevated essential pieces, women can build a capsule wardrobe that helps them express their personal style and feel good in their own skin. Ultimately I hope Vincent James pieces empower women to be better, kinder and more creative themselves. I honestly know they’re doing that for me.

Another core value is sustainability which is rooted in compassion and concern for our Mother Earth.  I grew up very close to my grandparents (Vincent James and Mary Alice Blandina) who grew a beautiful garden and instilled in me a sense of responsibility for our environment, health and quality of our food.  I lived in New Zealand in college where the appreciation and reliance on the land was a strong value and part of the Kiwi livelihood. It was also the place where I was initially introduced to merino wool. I studied nutrition and believe strongly in the quality of our diet and the more I read the more convinced I am that our health can only be as strong as our environment. And when I started having children I was awakened to the damage our clothing and consumption can have on our (or actually their) world - particularly all the synthetic polyester clothing. But I still love to make and I love fashion so I choose to design pieces that are as natural, respectful, timeless and high-quality as possible so that we can consume less but better.  The clothing is all made in Chicago by people who make a living wage and can make a life with what they make. To me, that’s another important piece of sustainability.  

Ethical production, my 3rd core value for my business, compliments and completes the other values of sustainability and empowering women.  Most of our clothes are made by women but unfortunately under less than ideal working conditions and less than living wages. I know that as women we have so much power in our purchases and can cast a vote with every dollar we spend for the world we want.  I’m not perfect and no one expects perfection, but if you want to help people, particularly helpless children who deserve more, the best way to do that is by empowering women who will then put the money they make back into their families and communities. Choosing ethically produced clothing and goods trickles down to those who can’t yet help themselves or who might not have all the opportunities at their fingertips that many of us are fortunate to have.

Can you share a time you either thought you failed or actually did fail?  How did you react and move past it, and what impact did it have on business decisions?

I’ve always felt like an entrepreneur at heart.  I’m also drawn to design and the way good design can enhance your life…and I’ve come up with a few ideas in my day!  Before Vincent James, I was working on a project making gloves for children and told everyone about it, got really close to making it a business and then it didn’t work out.  I was embarrassed, deflated and questioned if I really had it in me to start my own thing. Ultimately I think I lacked real passion for that particular product, but in the process of trying something, I started learning about fabrics, sustainability, talking to people in the industry and figuring out my true passions. I took time to just think and create freely without the pressure of building a business and ended up using some of the fabric I found and loved from the glove process and making a few pieces of clothing.  The joy I got from this creative outlet sparked the desire to build a business again and I promised myself one day that I was going to make this one work! By no means has Vincent James been easy or quick, but I’ve learned that you have to be able to pivot, bounce back, listen to what your heart is really telling you and ultimately be fiercely passionate about the product if you’re going to last through all the ups and downs of building your own business.     

What types of projects do you have coming up that we can look forward to seeing in the future?

Since Vincent James just launched 6 weeks ago I’m still very much in the production and fulfillment stage and learning everything that goes with that.  I can’t wait to get back to the design process and have a few pieces that I’ve been sketching and making with my limited sewing skills. All the new pieces will coordinate with or compliment the existing collection and since the styles are timeless, won’t push the “old” collection out of relevance.  My goal in the next year is to find fabrics that are sourced and made in the US (not just designed, cut and sewn here). There are more and more resources to help makers find the farmers who grow the fibers and I would love to be a part of this ultimate sustainable process.