Owner-operator Julie Jackson has grown her apparel company in downtown Salida sewing one quality garment at a time.
"I get a lot of people coming back into the store and they're like, 'We want to get another jacket but the one we've got won't wear out. We can't justify getting another one,'" says Jackson.
At first glance, J2 Softwear sounds like the name of a tech company -- it's anything but. "I've refused to have a website all these years and now I have to do that," Jackson admits. She doesn't advertise. "It is just me and it's hard to keep up with what I've got going," she says. People stumbling into the store and locals are enough to keep her busy, she explains and as Salida grows and becomes more touristy she's getting busier.
As such it's one of those worst-kept secrets type of places. Reviews of her clothes fetch five stars, with people saying things like: "Had a jacket and vest made in 2001. . . . Best purchase I ever made!"
"I'm really proud of what I make. I have a lifetime guarantee and if a seam gets blown out by a tree I'm right here to fix it." Jackson says. "The fabric I use, I get leftovers from when the production is done with Arc'Teryx, Patagonia, and the big guys. They sell it to jobbers and I buy it. It's the same exact fabric at often half the price and twice as good, and I use this bomber thread."
Jackson migrated to Salida from California in the '80s to become a raft guide, but another skill set launched her career in apparel. "The outfit I was working for had a lot of equipment that was just sort of limping along on its last legs. I had a sewing background and had brought my sewing machine with me. I helped repair all that stuff," she explains. "I bought my first roll of polar fleece and started making stuff for the other guides and it just sort of took off from there."
With her rafting heritage and Salida's access to world-class rafting and kayaking, she makes boofs, big robes that allow kayakers and rafters to change out of wet clothes after they get off the river without needing a place to change. "They're big and roomy and they can warm up in them," Jackson says. "People often wear them in front of the TV, too."
That was in 1989. She was making gear in her garage. In 1994, she became "official" and bought a building in the historic downtown. "When I first moved to Salida, half of the downtown buildings were boarded up. It was a dying community," she explains. "I bought the building for $58,000 and it was owner-financed. . . . Now who knows what it's worth. I just wanted a bigger place to work -- I wasn't thinking about foot traffic. Now that's where the majority of my business comes from."
Today roughly half of J2's business is custom. "I have probably a couple hundred things on the rack in the store," she says. "Sometimes people need instant gratification and grab something right there, it fits them, and they're good to go. The other half are kind of intrigued in having something custom or just different than what's out there. . . . To be able to have something that's uniquely theirs is a bonus."
During her slow season, she can make a custom piece within a few days, but Jackson needs a month or two of advance notice for holiday gifts.
"The locals are really good at keeping me busy, too. I've done uniforms for Monarch, I've done their snowcat uniforms," Jackson says. "There's actually a guy on the snowcat tours who has a jacket I made probably 10 years ago, it used to be red for ski patrol and everybody teases him because now it's pink. He won't wear anything else."
Challenges: Transitioning to new business models and "growing the business into this century," says Jackson. "The challenge is updating it. They're bringing me kicking and screaming," Jackson says, referring to creating a website.
Opportunities: "People can't believe I'm not doing more," says Jackson. "The potential is there." She adds that she's already helped two other women launch businesses based on her model.
Needs: Someone to take over the business. Now 51, Jackson is looking at retiring in the future and wants to find someone to run J2 when she leaves, she says.