Employees: 40, including 24 sewers and cutters
Jan Erickson is Colorado’s Small Business Person of the Year. A growing apparel business, with clothes made in Colorado, may be her lasting legacy
[Editor’s note: Janska was originally profiled in September 2013. Recently, the U.S. Small Business Administration named Jan Erickson, founder of the company, Colorado’s Small Business Person of the Year. Erickson and winners of the SBA award from the 49 other states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam will compete for the national Small Business Person Award, presented May 15-16 in Washington, D.C.
In addition, Erickson and co-owner Jon Thomas are working to enhance Colorado’s apparel and textile manufacturing sector, in part through the development of new and accessible sew operations, an acute need for local clothing start-ups and manufacturers. We’re pleased to again feature Jan Erickson and Janska Clothing that Comforts.]
The genesis for Janska women’s outerwear came to Jan Erickson in a dream she had in 2002 that prompted her to leap out of bed in the middle of the night and sketch the object of that dream: a stylish but simple fleece jacket that would be easy to put on and take off for her friend Jean, whose mobility had been impaired by a stroke.
Erickson had never sewn anything, but the thought was so persistent that she took her sketches to Colorado Springs manufacturer Sew & Sew, whose operators told her that, indeed, they could make that fleece jacket.
“Then it was just a whole landslide of ideas,” Erickson says.
In 2004, she took a small collection of her wares to the Denver Merchandise Mart. Orders began trickling in, then pouring in. The company has been growing ever since with a line of 100 percent domestically milled and produced garments that now includes jackets, vests, hats, scarves, leg warmers, wraps and scarves. Janska’s products – roughly half of them fleece -- can be found in more than 900 boutiques in the U.S. and Canada. Last year the company generated $2.2 million in revenue and expects sales of $3 million this year. Since 2010, sales have more than doubled.
“We put our savings and our house on the line,” Erickson says of the company’s start. “When we thought we had something of value – not just making clothes, but something of value that was comforting to people and gave them dignity -- I thought it was what I was supposed to do. And I still think so.”
For most of its history, Janska outsourced all its manufacturing to a number of sewing factories, both in Colorado Springs and outside the state. That changed in 2011 when Janska bought Farfalu, a Colorado Springs sewing factory, inheriting that company’s 14 sewing machines and retaining seven of Farfalu’s sewers and cutters. Today Janska employs 24 sewers and cutters who work in two shifts. As a result, 25 percent to 30 percent of Janska’s garments are now made in-house, with the rest handled by a handful of contract manufacturers.
“We’re still a very small company, but obviously we’re growing,” says Erickson, who owns both the Janska clothing line and the manufacturing operation, Janska In Stitches.
The biggest challenge for Janska and other U.S. manufacturers is competing with offshore factories that pay workers a fraction of what U.S. companies pay.
“Just know that workers who are sewing beautiful garments in the United States are making a livable wage, whereas people in Bangladesh are making $60 a month or something ridiculous like that,” Erickson says. “How do you compete with that? So that’s a challenge as far as taking our garments to the marketplace. It makes us have to do better quality and more interesting styles and to have a story of why they should buy Janska.
“As long as it’s possible and feasible we will continue to do domestic manufacturing 100 percent of the time,” she says.
Janska has forged close ties with other Colorado Springs garment producers. It still contracts with Sew & Sew, the company that Erickson turned to with her initial sketch of a fleece jacket back in 2004; and Janska’s stitchery does contract sewing for Colorado Springs-based Liberts Dancewear.
“We sew for Liberts several months out of the year,” Erickson says. “They’re a much bigger company than we are. There is that seasonality, which is wonderful because it means our stitchers have continuous work, and we’re filling in for their needs, and they’re filling in for ours in some way. There’s collaboration like that.”
Challenges: “It is challenging to compete on price with companies that manufacture offshore,” Erickson says. “Instead of pennies per hour, we are paying a modest, but livable wage. We have not, however, been able to offer the benefits that I believe our skilled sewers need and deserve.” Another challenge: finding sewers. “When everything went offshore in the ’80s and ’90s, a lot of those sewers went to other kinds of jobs. So far we’ve done fine, but I think a lot of those skilled workers are gone who were here 20 years ago.” Janska has had success finding skilled sewers by advertising in local Spanish and Asian newspapers, and word-of-mouth. “We currently rent in an Enterprize Zone area, and that is helpful to us.”
Opportunities: Erickson foresees Janska’s sales reaching $10 million within three or four years, which would be roughly triple the $3 million revenue projected for this year. She hopes to increase Janska’s presence in Canada and is looking into other international markets.