“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.” - William Blake
by Gina Biber
- The Capitol Hill Times -
My heart goes out to inventors and entrepreneurs. There is an endless supply of good ideas, but only few make it through the cracks to success. Ann DeOtte Kaufman, a Capitol Hill resident and the founder of Iva Jean, combined answering a real need within the city and sharp marketing to make her line of women’s bike gear and apparel stick.
“I grew up riding bikes,” says DeOtte. “When I moved to Seattle, I tried to get around by bike, bus and walking, which led to me realizing that there wasn’t much out there for me. Clothing and gear were either too expensive, not an aesthetic that I liked, or just didn’t meet my needs. That’s when I started Iva Jean.”
Conceptualizing began in 2010. DeOtte recruited fashion designer Katie Walag and Sewn Product Services to execute the brand, and Iva Jean’s first product, the Rain Cape, was launched in 2011. These days, Iva Jean offers a handful of staple pieces—like an everyday blouse that integrates pleating in the back to allow for extra movement while riding, a skirt that is cut high for coverage and unzips partially at the back to offer more space for pedaling, and a two-way reflective vest that provides styled visibility—that make commuting by bike more practical, safe and desirable for women.
“What we have done is create a really sophisticated solution; timeless, well-thought-out pieces,” says DeOtte.
The other leading factor contributing towards Iva Jean’s success is DeOtte’s talent in marketing.
“Before Iva Jean, I was doing marketing for professional design firms, like architects, urban planners, landscape architects and interior designers. That experience gave me the skills to further my brand,” says DeOtte. “A lot of our design reflects what I’m passionate about. It’s the way that I look at and how I do things, and I have been really lucky to work with Kyle Johnson, a Capitol Hill-based photographer. He does a great job of capturing the look and the feeling of Iva Jean. Our brand and our imagery are really strong, which appeals to people, and especially women. We want that emotional pull.”
What worked for DeOtte, and what she recommends to aspiring designers is to start slow. She says, “Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions. Test what you’re trying to do, and learn a lot along the way. It doesn’t have to be an overnight success.”
At the start of its third year, Iva Jean continues to pick up speed. Its headquarters have outgrown DeOtte’s Capitol Hill apartment, and is moving into Pioneer Square this week. “We would have loved to stay on Capitol Hill, but it was one of those things where a friend had an opportunity to rent from someone who was moving out, and we got a really great deal.” Those sorts of deals don’t grow on the trees lining the Hill.
When asked if the brand was considering creating a line of menswear too, DeOtte stated, “I feel like there are a lot of people catering to men, and until that playing field is evened a little bit, I’d like to focus on women.” From a business perspective, DeOtte added, “It’s appealing to consider men because they are a bigger market and more likely to buy high-functioning gear. They think they deserve it, whereas women are like, ‘well, it’s just for my bike; maybe I shouldn’t.’ Women are worthy of some extra attention right now.”
As Iva Jean continues to develop its line and offer products that make Seattle more bike-friendly to women, the city can play its part by improving infrastructure. “If Seattle can be aggressive and implement better infrastructure, like cycle tracks, greenways and protected bike lanes, we would see a major growth in the bicycling community, superior retail experiences and safety, as well as less injury and accidents,” concludes DeOtte.