I’ve said it time and again but one of the best parts about my job and journey as an entrepreneur are all the incredible people I get to meet along the way. Case in point- Julia Kastner, founder of Eva & Paul Denim, a brand new organic denim line. I dropped by Julia’s studio a few weeks back to learn more about her incredible products, how she got her start, and even try on a few pairs myself! I can tell you first hand- my legs, hips, and rear have never looked better!
Learn how Julia broke into the highly complex world of denim (let alone fashion), the process behind creating an organic/fair trade product, her invaluable advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, and more after the jump!
Denim! What a world. What inspired you to specifically start a denim company?
Most importantly, I’ve always hated jeans shopping. While at HBS (Harvard Business School) I was studying companies like Bonobos, Lululemon and Athleta that targeted niche body shapes and I thought to myself, why do my yoga pants fit so much better than my jeans? I set about answering this question.
I was also thinking about organic and fair trade concepts and I decided more products should be made with organic cotton. When thinking about the ideal product, it was something that could be premium, the way organic chocolate or coffee tend to be premium. I decided to go into jeans because they can be expensive enough to cover the costs of organic/fairly traded materials.
You started the process of building your product and brand while in business school. How did you balance both?
I got school credit for starting my business! In fact, around a third of my classes my second year at HBS were used to work on different parts of the company - understanding customer behavior through surveys, interviewing denim designers, and applying to the business plan competition. HBS also gave me funds to research my idea. But it was still hard - I had to hop back and forth between New York and Boston frequently and I’d schedule my interviews around classes and exams. One great benefit was the Harvard Innovation Lab - an on-campus incubator that allowed me conference rooms and mentors while I was getting going - an amazing resource!
While I was working in the New York City Economic Development Corporation under mayor Bloomberg I was exposed to the city’s initiatives on entrepreneurship. I learned about tech companies changing the world - and they were young forward-thinking folks like
me! Working as a fellow at Kiva.org, a non-profit tech startup in Silicon Valley, I absolutely decided that I was meant for entrepreneurship - I love new things, coming up with ideas, and solving problems quickly. I also love working on many projects at the same time!
What’s behind the name Eva & Paul?
Eva is my middle name. Paul is my mother’s middle name - her maiden name. It’s also my grandfather’s last name, Harry Paul. He was a soldier in WW2 and loved travel. I think of E&P as an international romantic brand -the spirit of adventure and making connections abroad. Like Out of Africa or Eat Pray Love.
Eva & Paul has an incredible social mission. Can you tell us a little more about that?
The apparel industry has struggled with social and environmental issues since the industrial revolution. Around the turn of the century, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City showed the world how poor working conditions had gotten for apparel workers,and slavery in the US was based around the burdensome labor-intensive process of picking cotton. While the United States has generally improved conditions for workers, globalization is now spreading similar affects around the world. There have been a series of fires in Bangladesh that demonstrate that there are places in the world 100 years behind us in worker safety. Children in Uzbekistan are rounded up out of school during cotton harvesting season and are forced to work the fields - no different than American slaves. Cotton accounts for 25% of the world’s pesticide use, leading to land degradation and contamination, and some rivers in China run blue due to the run-off of denim manufacturing.
Eva & Paul is making apparel differently. We source organic cotton (grown without pesticides using drip irrigation and other sustainable farming practices) that allows family farms in India to increase their incomes by 50% (or sometimes double, triple…). Our partners in India, Arvind Ltd, guarantees these farms income by purchasing their organic cotton, and helps certify the cotton as organic. We also source fair trade handprinted fabrics in India to share our mission and story with customers through beautiful prints, and we sew all our jeans in the USA, ensuring environmental and social responsibility.
How do you go about testing the size and fit of your products?
We start by testing on a “fit model”. Then we test on small and larger fit models. Finally, we make a full range of sizes and have as many women as possible try them on through “trunk shows”. During our Kickstarter, hundreds of women tried our jeans on at our launch party, at events at my mother’s house in Boston, a space in SF, a boutique in Brooklyn, and my aunt’s house in DC.
“Look good. Feel good. Journey on.” I love that motto! How does that drive the nature of your brand?
Our aspirational brand is about empowering women to make connections - with each other, with the people who make their clothes, and with themselves. How many of us feel worse about ourselves when we go jeans shopping? I know nothing makes me feel worse! I wanted to make truly friendly jeans - pants that fit and flatter, stretch enough to allow you to do the things you love to do, and make it through a long day without falling apart - jeans you could wear from a plane to the office to the park without worrying about them at all! And I wanted the jeans to inspire the international connection - the international prints on the inside serve as a reminder to think about the rest of the world and the far-off places that make so many of the things we surround ourselves with.
What advice would you give to a young woman looking to go out on their own or start a product based business?
Be fearless! It’s so much harder to work on a female-focused product because investors just won’t understand the value you bring, but if we don’t make products for women, no one will!
Wow. Thank you so much, Julia! Your words and mission are such an inspiration. Don’t you all agree? Now go on and discover the jeans for yourself. Eva & Paul will begin shipping product in December, so be sure to secure your piece now- I’ve got my eye on the Anise Slim- sheer perfection!