The pantsuit designed for working from home
This is an installment of Startup Year One, a special series of interviews with founders about the major lessons they have learned in the immediate aftermath of their businesses’ first year of operation.
Turns out choosing what to wear when you work from home isn’t as simple as staying in your pajamas. Some people might choose to do that. Others, especially those on Zoom video conference calls all day, might have to dress up a little more (at least from the waist up, à la TV news anchors). And a growing number of people are fed up with settling for workout clothes and are looking for some sweet spot in the middle: striving to look presentable while staying comfortable.
Logan Brown, now in her second year at Harvard Law School, founded her own label, Spencer Jane, during her first semester after a frustrating quest to find a comfortable pantsuit when navigating job interviews last year. Brown says she wanted something that made her feel confident, comfortable in her own skin, and ready to be herself in an interview.
Since the pandemic lockdowns started, Brown has been running the company her parents’ basement in Kansas. While at home, Brown was inspired to produce the “Ultimate Work-From-Home Blazer,” made from performance fabric that is stretchy, machine-washable, and comfortable. Made in the same factory used by Gucci, the blazer is touted to be easy to maintain, inducing a sense of wellness when working from home.
Fortune recently spoke with Spencer Jane founder Logan Brown about what it’s like establishing and running a retail startup while balancing going to law school.
The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Fortune: What inspired you to launch Spencer Jane? Is there any significance behind the name of the label?
Brown: Spencer Jane was founded out of my own personal frustration. During my first year of law school, I went out to purchase a pantsuit in preparation for my first round of legal interviews. I couldn’t find anything that was comfortable, made me feel confident and was high quality. The time that I should have spent preparing for class was spent trekking around Boston. I was frustratedly sending texts to my mom asking if it looked like something fit. I texted my friends to ask where they purchase their pantsuits. Rather than providing a solution, they echoed my frustration. That is when I realized this was a common problem.
I decided to write a blog post about the time women spend searching for professional clothing. I created a survey to find out more about women’s experiences and shared it with my friends. The survey ended up being filled out by over 2,000 professional women. I decided to use the data to solve the problem and got to work on Spencer Jane.
Spencer Jane is named after two of my grandparents. On both sides of my family tree, my relatives have overcome many obstacles. I grew up in Kansas around my grandparent’s family farm. I am inspired by their work ethic and ability to create opportunities for themselves. I want Spencer Jane to represent women turning their dreams into reality.
A core component to Spencer Jane’s workwear—notably the new Work-From-Home Blazer—is an emphasis on comfort for all-day wear. What was the design process like? How did you narrow down fabrics and cuts? Have you received any feedback from customers for your initial collection?
I started working on Spencer Jane in 2019 before the pandemic. I had no clue how the world and the nature of work was going to change. I started the process with a lot of informational interviews. I interviewed potential customers, manufacturers, designers, and anyone with any relevant experience. I used survey results and informational interviews to determine that women wanted a stylish pantsuit but also something practical and comfortable. I picked up on a lot of small details like most young professionals don’t get their suits tailored and don’t want to budget for dry cleaning.
With that information in mind, I became a student of design, fabrics, and pattern making. I read every book I could find and used Google to understand the design process. I would also go to LinkedIn, find relevant experts, and request 15 minutes so I could ask them questions as a student. Based on my research, I knew that I wanted to use a luxury technical fabric. Technical fabrics are engineered to satisfy specific needs. I wanted a fabric that was comfortable, breathable, machine-washable, but still formal enough for a boardroom. I had to learn the technical terms, production process, and capabilities of textile engineers.
I scoured the Internet, fabric shops, and materials in the market. I found a pair of pants made out of a fabric I loved. I did informational interviews with everyone I could find from the company until I was able to locate the fabric manufacturer. I connected with them and we tried out a few fabrics. They also connected me with a luxury factory in Italy. I feel like I found the dream team. They were able to help me refine my design ideas and we created several samples. I asked potential customers to participate in wear tests. Based on their feedback, we decided to launch with a single-button design. It creates an hourglass shape on every body type. We also confirmed the fabric meets all of the desired specifications.
We’ve received positive feedback so far. One woman has even purchased a Spencer Jane blazer for her wedding. It’s been the most rewarding seeing Spencer Jane out in the world. There are a lot of requests for additional colors, sizes, and of course, pants.
You launched Spencer Jane while starting law school and have been running it not only while in school but also during lockdown while living at home. What has it been like to balance studying for an advanced degree while also launching a startup? And what has your experience been like while working at your family home during lockdown?
It’s definitely tough. However, I have been lucky. I’ve been able to utilize my degree to help start Spencer Jane. I’ve taken law classes that have helped me understand the corporate structure and intellectual property. Applying the knowledge to Spencer Jane has probably made me a better law student and a better businesswoman. I have also been able to cross-enroll at Harvard Business School and have learned so much from my professors there.
Aside from trying to bring Spencer Jane into my classwork, I try to focus on staying productive and limiting my social media time. It’s not always easy to prioritize my work. I do think living at home has given me more time to focus on Spencer Jane and eliminated many distractions.
At first, my family was skeptical of me starting a suit business while in law school. However, they have come to embrace the idea and are my biggest supporters. I have turned much of the house into a Spencer Jane warehouse and my mom has helped me ship the goods. I am grateful for their support and couldn’t have done this without them.
Financing a startup is challenging at any time, but it sounds impossible during an economic crisis. What has fundraising been like for you? Are you relying on investors, crowdfunding, or is the company privately funded?
I used my summer internship savings from 1L legal internship to fund the first production run. The only thing more difficult than launching a professional women’s clothing line during a pandemic is trying to find investors for a professional women’s clothing line during a pandemic. We launched the original collection at a discounted price for pre-sale and were overwhelmed with the response. We were able to utilize those funds to expand the order. It was unintentional crowdfunding.
Looking ahead, where do you see Spencer Jane in five years? Do you have plans to expand the collection to other garments or products?
In five years, I see Spencer Jane as the go-to brand for professional women. I also see Spencer Jane as a community. The goal of Spencer Jane is to support women chasing their dreams. I have no idea what the world is going to look like in five years or how the nature of work will have changed. I do know that women will be at the forefront, and I want Spencer Jane to serve them. I hope we’re able to have a full collection of products and services to aid in that mission.
In the short term, I am hoping to release work pants and a shirt over the summer. We’re also partnering with Wichita State University to contribute to a women’s entrepreneurship scholarship. A portion of every blazer sold through the partnership will support a women’s entrepreneurial journey. I hope to find more partnerships to support women.