Anne shares the story behind her ethical biz – James & Co

In today’s Behind the Biz interview, I’m chatting with Anne, the founder of James&Co.

James&Co is a brand with an ethical focus on feeling good while looking good. They’re 100% vegan and 100% sustainable with 5% of each sale going to world organisations who work for improved mental health and suicide prevention.

Where did the inspiration for James&Co come from?

Quite a journey really. It was in 2011 and my world had taken a huge personal upheaval. My husband died suddenly in May and then 5 months later in October my beautiful 24-year-old son James died. He took his own life.

As I worked through the grief and change I needed to do something new and something that would sort of immortalise James. I had always loved leather jackets and treated myself to one every year. But it was at the time that live export of animals from Australia to other markets was being exposed as intensely cruel. So as I had narrowed down the ‘something’ to an e-commerce business selling women’s outerwear, it became cruelty-free women’s outerwear. And I became vegan at the same time.

In addition to sending the cruelty-free message that style was not a casualty of exercising conscience choices in clothing, we have the objective of raising awareness of youth mental health issues and suicide prevention.

How did you decide upon the name of your brand?

The name of my son. 

Not totally unique but the taglines we use – Style With Conscience, Eco.Vegan.Style – call it out. 

How did you approach your first stockist?

We are based in Sydney and there is a Vegan Cruelty-free Market here in October. We wanted to be part in the first year we had started, but missed out on getting a booth. So a booth that wanted us to be part of it offered to showcase them for us. They asked us to drop stock into the leading vegan store in Sydney- The Cruelty-free Shop – which is owned by the lovely Jess Bailey. Which we did. And then The Cruelty Free Shop became our first stockist!

What did you do before starting James&Co?

I started my professional life as a lawyer, which led me into the world of telecommunications, broadband and the digital economy. Which is another connection for starting James&Co as an online business. I had always advocated – and still do – but the best broadband networks to support the growing digital economy. It was a case of ‘don’t just talk about it, do it’!

Did you always plan to be self-employed?

Not really. But life had other plans for me.

Please share a business high and low with us.

More highs than lows I’m pleased to say.

The low was really in the start which I had absolutely no idea about how to quantify the stock numbers I would need. And I over-invested big time. I had to find a clearance outlet and sell at a really low rate in order to keep cash coming in. Big learning! The latest high is being accepted to sell on Macy’s online store. We’re thrilled about that.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs in the ethical clothing industry?

Keep going. Things are always changing and opening opportunities for sustainable contributions to the world. When we started, the fabric we used was polyurethane which has a number of names. Faux leather, vegan leather and such. Better than real leather but also was created using chemicals. So whilst ethical and vegan, we weren’t eco-friendly. Now technology has developed polyurethane using water rather than chemicals, and a leather alternative made out of pineapple leaves. So now we are both vegan and sustainable.

Where do you hope to take your business in the year ahead?

We are focussing on growing the markets we sell James&Co vegan eco-friendly products in. We are still Sydney-based, but the beauty of the digital economy is that geographical borders don’t hold business growth back. The US and the UK are the focus for the year ahead.

Find out more about James&Co and shop their latest collection. You can also support the brand over on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube.

I want to say a massive thank you to Anne for taking the time to share her business journey with us.

My heart goes out to Anne with the passing of her husband and son. She has managed to create a brand with a clear and heartfelt vision that they would be proud of. I can’t wait to see her business grow throughout 2019.