Jennifer James turns setbacks into success with plus-size activewear line Active Ego The brand was featured in New York Fashion Week and offers options for the WNBA Dallas Wing’s plus-size fans
When Jennifer James founded the plus-size activewear brand Active Ego, she didn’t know the brand’s continued success would take her all the way to New York Fashion Week and become part of the Dallas Wings. But through dedication, hard work and an unrelenting devotion, it’s reached masses beyond her farthest dreams.
After having her first child in 2013, the Dallas native went into full gym mode to lose her baby weight and noticed a lack of fashionable activewear for plus-size women. James had no formal training or experience in the apparel industry, but she decided to start designing and creating her own durable fashion-forward pieces as a hobby, and the Active Ego brand was born.
In 2016, James was downsized. She worked in the IT business as a business analyst as well as a project manager, implementing electronic health record systems for hospitals and insurance companies.
“I did that, I would say, for a good five to six years before I realized that that just wasn’t a passion of mine,” James said. “So, it wasn’t long after I had my daughter I decided to jump out of the business and pursue the brand.”
The “mompreneur’s” primary mission with Active Ego is to “empower today’s woman to embrace an active and healthy lifestyle, while looking and feeling phenomenal in stylishly flattering apparel.” Since James launched the brand, her line has been showcased at New York Fashion Week, partnered with Neiman Marcus Last Call as its only plus-size activewear brand, and has partnered with the Dallas Wings for the first plus-size WNBA fan apparel collection.
What was your inspiration for starting the brand?
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I gained quite a bit of weight. And, I just really wanted to be able to work out and feel great in just activewear, athleisure wear that I felt like was empowering, that was full of color, full of personality. And, when you’re considered plus-size, which is typically a 12 or anything above, your options are very limited. What inspired me is the fact that, here I am, I didn’t feel like I was old. I was still young, and I just wanted to feel that way when I was working out, and didn’t want to have boring colors, such as the whites, a lot of the sports bras are white, gray and black, and just really dull and lifeless. I just really thought that there was really nothing out there in the markets, or any brands dedicated to this underserved margin of women, and so I just kind of stepped out there and did my own thing.
How did you start the process?
I pumped into high gear with just designing and of figuring out different fabrics and things that I felt would look great, even at the size I was, so I could enjoy my fitness experience a lot better. I work with a manufacturing company in Los Angeles to do a lot of my sewing for the different styles that we have. Our designers and everything are in-house here [Dallas], but depending on the number of units, we definitely work with the company in Los Angeles to do all of the sewing and mailing out of the styles.
How many people are part of the Active Ego team?
We have a team of seven here locally, and then of course our production team ranges anywhere between 10 to 15 people.
How many hours are you personally dedicating to the daily operations?
Oh, my gosh! All the hours. It feels like. But, honestly, when you’re going on this whole entrepreneurship journey, most people think you have a product, it’s going to sell a million dollars, put in two years and that’s it. People really don’t like to sit in the process, because it’s long, nothing’s guaranteed, and it’s lots of hours. I just couldn’t even imagine how many hours, so I would tell you that it’s a balance. And, I’m a wife, I’m a mom, and I’m an entrepreneur. So, between that you don’t really have a set amount of hours. There’s been some days where I’m working 16 to 18 hours, and then there’s some where I work a little lighter, eight to 10 hours. It just depends on what needs to get done and just kind of how strong your team is.
How do you balance being an entrepreneur, a mother and a wife?
I don’t think there’s a balance. No one ever told me that. To be honest, it’s all about how flexible you are, it’s not really about balance, I feel, in a lot of areas. When I’m working on my brand, or dealing with the children, I may be missing out on time with my husband, or vice versa. I just have to try not to fail too much in the same area, that’s kind of how I look at it. But, I’m human. I think that balancing is just overrated. You just kind of have to prioritize some things, and you have to sacrifice some things and sometimes you have to be a little selfish. It really is hard when people say balancing, it’s something you have to just know how to switch gears and be flexible, I would say.
How would you describe your method of switching gears and staying flexible?
I sacrifice a lot of sleep in order to get everything done, typically. I make sure that I stay organized, I have a schedule. I call it the ‘Discipline Schedule,’ where I’m just kind of every hour of the day I’m just kind of doing something, gearing towards the goal for the day. Or, if I have to-do lists, like anybody else, that I’m OK not getting through the list for the day, or even some of the time for a week, or even carrying some things over. I make it a point to be mentally, physically, and spiritually in shape.
What’s been the hardest part of your journey thus far?
When you feel like you’re the only person that kind of sees this vision, you’re trying to convince everyone else to kind of get on board, whether that’s people that you’re hiring. I think just believing in what you’re doing is very important to me. I think the hardest part has been, not making the samples, not making the material, but really just getting the message out there, especially with me being in the plus-size world for women. A lot of women do not identify themselves as plus-size, even if they know that they’re plus-size. It’s almost like this category you don’t want to be in. But, what they don’t realize is that’s the norm these days. I question what plus-size really is. So, I think the hardest part for me, but the most enjoyable, is just being able to provide tangible options for these plus-size women, that they feel empowered in, that they feel great in, that they don’t feel ashamed of wearing, and, that actually provide them a secure fit, and a different mindset in a way of thinking.
How did you get to New York Fashion Week?
I believe it was God’s timing. I was let go of the project that I was working on the end of July, and I remember feeling just kind of like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. At the time I had been doing Active Ego just kind of as a hobby on the side for about a year at that time. So, me being let of the project only gave me the opportunity to be 100 percent at what I was doing. And, I felt like I was ready at the time.
I will never forget, I was sitting in Chick-Fil-A, and I was working and eating, and I received an email from Curvy Magazine. And, it had mentioned that they had been following my social media accounts, and they wanted to see if I was open to participating in the New York Fashion Week last year, and to see if I would mind showcasing a few of my items. Well, at this time it was so funny because I wasn’t even at a 100 percent having inventory, so of course I had samples and I had items, but I wasn’t a full functioning machine.
The theme of the show was ‘Body Image,’ so it just worked well with everything. And, so from then on, I think about eight weeks later, I flew up to New York. I was able to showcase my items, speak about my brand, actually, and things have been moving really fast ever since.
Who has been your biggest cheerleader throughout the process?
Let me start by saying, I do have a lot of cheerleaders. There’s been days that I just want to pull my hair out. But, I would say my husband has been my biggest encourager. He’s an entrepreneur himself, and for him to be able to relate and for me being able to talk to him about certain things. Even when I’m feeling down, or things are going great, he really just keeps me humble and keeps things in perspective.
What future goals do you have?
Wow. I have so many I’m trying to tackle at once. But, I will say that just some of the things we have coming up and future goals, just with the brand I want to be just a nationwide brand that’s dedicated to customer service and great styles and great fit, to be honest with you. I want to be the partner of choice for these plus-size, curvy women’s activewear and athleisure wear. I definitely feel like having a brand dedicated specifically to that category of clothing would be amazing.