Featured Member: Jennifer Cole Followed Her Dreams and Now Designs Wedding Gowns in NYC
Jennifer Cole, Designer/Tailor at JennCole Designs, has had a love of fashion and passion for design since she was only 12.
Small Town, Big Dreams
I am originally from the small town of Prentiss, MS. Since the age of 12, I could sew just about anything. I learned to sew from watching my mom sew for the pubic to help raise myself and my six siblings. She made school uniforms for Piney Wood school and I would do all the pant hems. I grew up with my mother and father in the home, but it was still hard for them raising seven kids especially in the south, so we grew up very poor.
My mom made most of our clothes or we were given used clothes from people in the community. I hated this and would always change the style of what I was given because I knew how to sew. I can remember watching TV and always fantasizing about the fashion and what was worn on the red carpet by the stars. I always dreamed about New York and wished I could be there because I knew it was the ‘fashion capital.’
I attended college at Alcorn State University and majored in Fashion Merchandising because there were no fashion design schools nor classes in Mississippi back then. After college, I moved to Jackson, MS. I worked several jobs there before deciding to start my own alteration business from home. After two years, I outgrew my home business and moved into a commercial building. It was all history after that!
I soon expanded and opened the first African American bridal salon in the whole state of Mississippi. I expanded twice after into a full-fledged bridal and formalwear salon (wedding gowns, prom gowns, tuxedo rentals, shoes, jewelry, alterations, etc.). I ran a successful business for 14 years and raised two sons as a single mother, both of whom are now successful businessmen.
New York, New York
In 2010, after my sons were off to college, I decided I didn’t want my business anymore. I had a very good life, but something was missing. My heart was longing for something more, something exciting, something I had dreamed of all my life! And that was New York!
Although I had never been to New York, had never flown on a plane and didn’t have a friend nor family member there, I prayed about it and made up my mind to move. I put a sign on my door saying last day of business was Dec. 1st, 2010.
At 42 years old, I enrolled in school at the Art Institute of NYC and the only person I knew was Rita Bagala in Registration, and that was just by phone.
A Strong Faith
I sold my house and everything in it, shut down my successful, 14-year business, sold my cars, made sure my sons were good and moved. I had $3,000 dollars left to my name. I wanted to change my mind again, wondering how I would make it in NY with such a small amount of cash. Well this is where my faith in God kicked in. On Dec. 28th, 2010, I got on that plane for the first time and when I landed in NY, all I could say was I made it.
Rita at my school arranged for housing for me in downtown Brooklyn. I had one roommate. At The Art Institute, Rita was waiting for me. She was so excited for me and had told everyone about me. When I got to the school it was like a welcome party! Afterwards, she asked me if I wanted to get a car back to the apartment and I told her no, I wanted to get on the subway and find my way back, and that’s what I did on my first day in New York.
Get By With a Little Help
How did I make it off $3,000? God is so good! My tuition and room and board were $1900 a month. It was my faithful customers of 14 years and my Godparents who believed in me. They checked on me daily, sent me money regularly, paid my tuition without me even knowing. Every day I was excited about what the next day would bring. There were times when I was a little down and missed my sons but that’s where my play brother “Big Mike” and some of my other customers and associates stepped in and talked me through those rough times.
Once school started, I was so excited! When the instructors saw I knew how to do pretty much everything in the classes, they asked me if I wanted to be a tutor, then recommended me for a job tutoring sewing. It wasn’t that much but it was my first job here. Next, I started networking and met a stylist, Nick Clemente, and his associate, Danielle. They arranged for my first photoshoot and for me to do alterations for Jay-Z’s nieces on their dresses for their Sweet 16 Birthday party. I got to attend the party also. Jay-Z, Kanye and Diggy was there. Next I received a call for a job at Ralph Lauren’s Historical Library as a Tailor. I worked there for about a year and a half. Ralph Lauren has always been one of my favorite designers along with Coco Channel. I love Channel’s story on her life, it reminds me of myself. Then I was called for a job with Top Hat Imagewear as their Head Tailor/Fitter, and I still work for them while building my business on the side for seven years now. They make custom uniforms for all the high-end hotels, casinos, resorts, residential buildings in Manhattan, etc.
Above and Beyond
I’ve now flown all over the US and to the Caribbean Islands. Most of the hotels in Manhattan know me when I walk through their doors. To go from never flying on a plane to flying all over the world is just amazing! God said in his words with your gifts he will take you above and beyond anything you could ever imagine, and he did just that. I’ve still managed to stay focused and work on my designs on the side. In 2016, I had my first 20-piece bridal collection ready to be produced. I had the finished product in hand March of 2017. I flew to MS in April of 2017 and did the photo shoot there because I didn’t know any photographers here.
I finally launched my website July of 2018, www.jenncole.design. I have my collection in sizes 2-30 or made-to-measurements with the option for custom designs. I took yet another Wedding Business class with Debbie Shadid and worked with Claudia Strenger who is a Caligrapher to learn more about branding, marketing, social media, how to target the ideal bride, etc., and revamped the website. Currently, I’m doing my marketing and advertising to build my business and design label “JennCole Designs.” I am a part of The Knot Wedding Organization. I’m on their website and have a full page in The Knot New York spring summer and fall/winter magazines.
Never Give Up
If you believe it, you can achieve it. Always believe in yourself, don’t just settle for whatever. If it’s in your heart, go for it and never let anyone talk you out of it. Surround yourself with positive people who want to see you do well. Keep God first and he will see you through. Know that it takes a strong person to run a business, especially women who have children and families. There are a lot of long hours, late nights and a lot of sacrificing. It takes a lot of prayer, humbleness, patience and persistence because it doesn’t happen overnight.
Challenges and Rewards
Challenges I’ve faced is balancing my business, personal life and family life. Sometimes I wish there were three of me so I can be in three places at one time, lol. Right now I’m doing everything myself and it gets frustrating but dealing with other people who don’t see your vision can be just as bad.
The most rewarding thing about my career is knowing I’m doing what I love for a living and for my future. Also, to know I am putting a smile on someone’s face for their special day and seeing their eyes light up when they try on their dress means the world to me. For a Designer to see their design come to life is the best feeling ever. The biggest reward is I am living my dream and hope to help someone else along the way!
Looking to the Future
Within the next few years, I plan to work completely for myself, and open a small showroom/alterations department in NY. Right now, everything is online. I want to start an annual bridal show held every year in a different state where a bride who can’t afford a wedding gown would win a JennCole Design gown. I will start selling prom gowns in the future.
The Many Benefits of IAW Membership
I just joined IAW but have been researching and keeping up with them for two years now. I know the networking is going to help me a lot with getting my name out there. Also, all the events, workshops and classes will be beneficial for my business as well. You can never learn too much and the industries are always changing. To be a part of a group of like-minded businesswomen supporting each other and cheering each other on is a plus and needed for any woman in business. I am happy and excited to be a part of IAW!
My advice to other members is to take advantage of the workshops and classes. Network as much as possible because it is a necessity for any business. Word of mouth is the best advertising anyone could get. Learn as much as possible about what you do because you can never know too much. Surround yourself with these positive women to keep you motivated.