How Designer Jana Lam Mastered Moving in Her Own Space
Jana has mastered how to move in her own space.
This confidence and authenticity in herself have led her namesake brand to be carried in Nordstrom, have its own flagship store, collaborations with Jamba Juice and most recently a Jana Lam cabana at the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina.
She openly tells her story of feeling bullied as an insecure teen to how she found her passion, purpose and life’s work completely by accident.
Jana’s journey, women can use as a road map (if they so choose), of how she continued to grow and scale her business all while carrying two babies on her hips. It is inspiring and affirming.
You will love Jana’s vulnerability and comfort in her own skin just as much as you love her cheerful, uncopiable, whimsical designs. It’s impossible not to smile when you hold a Jana Lam clutch and its equally impossible not to smile and cheer for Jana’s success when you read this interview. Enjoy ladies!
1. Tell me the story of how the Jana Lam brand came to life?
It was totally by accident. I went to school for interior design, but when I graduated in 2010, the economy was down, and there were no jobs available in Hawaii. Josh (Jana’s husband) was like, ‘Just set up a table and start screen printing. You loved printing in school and then at least you’re doing something.’ My dad built a printing table in my parents’ garage and I started experimenting and learning how to screen-print on my own (without school printing facilities) till I had put together a couple portfolios of my original fabrics. I was just dreaming, I had no idea what I was going to do. But I carried the portfolios around with me just in case I met someone.
Then one day I went into a shop downtown and I started talking to the owner. She liked my portfolio and said, “If you can make something out of your fabrics and get it to me by Black Friday I’ll sell it.”
The only thing I could make on my own was a pillow. But my mom sews, so I showed her a clutch, she made a pattern and taught me how to sew it. I practiced and practiced till I had a few decent products that I took to the store for Black Friday. They actually didn’t sell well there, but I got better and better and was able to get into more and more boutiques pretty quickly and here we are eight years later. . .
Photo taken for Honolulu Magazine
2. Confidence is so important to pursuing big dreams and/or becoming an entrepreneur. Tell me about your confidence journey.
I think confidence is at the core of everything. I feel like my confidence is still always fluctuating.
In high school I didn’t have a lot of confidence. I didn't want to stand out. I just wanted to stay under the radar and not have anyone really notice me. In middle school I had been bullied to a point where I lost the desire to be myself, instead I wanted to just fit in.
But I did work hard in school, that was one thing I had confidence in. I attended Davidson College in North Carolina (where Stephen Curry went to school). There I really worked on myself as a person, socially rather than focusing on academics. I learned how to get comfortable being by myself, I didn’t need to constantly be surrounded by friends. I would go to parties by myself, I would eat in the cafeteria by myself, I wasn't part of a clique, and it helped me gain confidence to move in my own space. I really grew into a more independent and confident-in-who-I-am person in college, but I didn't focus on my studies as much as I did in high school.
Then I got out of college and though I was happy socially, I didn’t have confidence in my resume. The New York job market was tough and overwhelming. It’s not that I didn’t think I was good enough or smart enough, but my college GPA didn’t reflect my abilities. My confidence was at a low point. I finally got a stable job in Advertising, but I was in a cubicle crunching numbers, and that was about the last thing that I wanted to be doing.
After a couple years in New York, it was time for a change. Josh (Jana's husband) and I moved to San Francisco and I decided to take the leap into Interior design school, which is where I discovered screen printing.
In my final semester my teacher entered me into a surface design contest hosted by Surtex in New York City. The contest was to create an interior with your designs. I entered the contest and was selected as one of four finalists. That was a real turning point for me. When I sat down with each judge I felt totally comfortable and in my element. I wasn’t intimidated because I knew what my collection was all about and I knew how strong it was. There was no fear and no self-doubt. It was the first time I felt like myself and felt at ease doing an interview. My confidence then was at an all-time high, and I won the grand prize.
3. What is a daily/weekly/or monthly routine you do to manage stress and provide yourself with self-care?
I’m sorry, you can’t learn anything from me. You literally can’t, as we’re sitting here I’m recovering from an eye thing. Josh was like, ‘it's stress,’ and I was like, ‘I'm not stressed out more than I normally am. I'm always at this level.’ But that might be the problem.
Once kids came into my life it felt like I don't have any time anymore. It became especially hard to carve out time for myself even though I know it is the most important thing. After I became a mother I was told, you have to put yourself first, you have to take care of yourself, because you can't take care of someone else if you're not taking care of yourself.
The business works the same way. I know I get warning signs if I’m trying to do too much, like my eye right now. It means I may need to make an adjustment if this is too much for me and my body.
I'm still figuring it out, at one point just to get a work out in I would exercise (running on our treadmill) at 9 pm. I'd put the kids to bed and work out. But then I felt like I was running myself ragged. I was trying to do something for myself, but then I was so tired it was hurting more than helping.
I think Josh was proud of me last night. I didn't work I sat down and started doing a 750-piece puzzle. I really enjoyed it and that was a little self-care for me. Relaxing and de-stressing. We are also taking a family vacation together which is our first trip in forever. For me it’s just one day at a time trying to figure out how to manage my stress and be good to myself so I can be good to everyone else.
4. How did you transition your business from a full-time entrepreneur to be a full-time entrepreneur and mother of two young babies?
When I got pregnant I got to the point where I couldn't print anymore. I needed people to help me print. So I brought in Kelly (@ladyelliphant). I had to or else, I couldn't go on. And then, when my son was born, pretty much immediately Josh was like, ‘You need to bring in more help because you can't do it alone. You have a newborn, this is too much you need help or else you won’t have a business anymore.’ It was scary financially to bring on help, but I had to do it, or the business might’ve gone under.
When my son was three months old, Megan, who was my fellow classmate in interior design school at the Academy of Art University, joined my team. That was a pivotal point for my business as well.
It was a crazy time, I would be in my pajamas caring for my infant and trying to teach Kellie and Megan how to run my business at the same time. I was such a mess, so they basically had to start from nothing and learn everything themselves. They took it and ran with it, systematized everything so it was much easier, and things just grew from there. I got really lucky to have found such an amazing team. I credit Josh again for pushing me to do it. I think getting help is one of the biggest leaps for most business-owners. It’s SO scary! But once you do you’ll be able to see your potential for growth.
I have a team now who are better than me, smarter than me, and more creative than me. I just bring in the ideas, throw everything in, and they manage it. So now this is finally the first time, even with our new shop, when I'm like, okay we’ve got our arms around this. There’s so much work to do, but I can see where this is going.
In a sense I’m still transitioning. Having kids, especially a 2-and-a-half-year-old that still doesn’t sleep well at night, makes your brain constantly stay at half mast, and sometimes when I’m especially exhausted, things start to seem impossible. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Having my two babies makes me even more motivated to bring something good into their lives and to show them what’s possible.
5. The 2018 household is a new territory. How do you handle being a business owner, mother of two, wife and manager of a household?
When I had my first child, my son, my mom came and helped. She would watch him in the house so I was able to work but still see him all the time. But then when I had my daughter it got to be too much for my mom with her health. So I stayed home with Aili, my daughter, till she was about one-and-a-half-years-old. It was crazy and pure survival mode for the business.
Josh is always supportive and always wants to help me to make good decisions. He wants the business to be successful, so he challenges me and pushes me. He would ask me financial and growth questions about the business and I'd be like, ‘I'm taking care of our 5-month-old, full-time, I’m rocking her while giving directions to the girls, what I get done is maybe an hour's worth of work, so no I haven't done this, I haven't done that, I have no time.’
At a certain point we made the decision to get a nanny and that was just the biggest blessing. The nanny would come and watch Aili at our house while I would work. The thought of sending my babies to daycare just wasn't for me. But having the nanny I didn't feel that guilt as I could still stay home and be near the baby if I needed to be. Aili was still getting that on one on attention that my son had, and she had this person always paying attention to her.
I’m lucky, Josh cooks most of the time or we buy easy dinners. We both clean, I do the indoors he does the outdoors and we have someone come to help us do a deep clean every few weeks. It’s important to be open to getting help. You can’t do everything alone. When I’ve been open to getting help my business and life have both improved.
6. What decision process helps you most to balance work demands with having healthy relationships?
It's been very nice having the shop, because it's away from home. Before, when I was running things out of my house, the lines between work and family were blurred and it was hard to keep them separated. But now when I'm at home, I try to be 100% focused on my kids and the balance is clearer because the two things are separate.
Only if it’s totally necessary will I work on the computer after the kids have gone to sleep-- but I do sketch while watching TV at night. It seems like such a waste just to veg out and do nothing! One other nice thing though, is Lyon (Jana’s son) loves art, he loves drawing, so now I don't feel bad sitting there and drawing alongside him. He'll watch, even be inspired by me, and it’s a way for us to spend time together, both using our creative juices.
I definitely want and need to spend more time with Josh though, just the two of us. We are good at doing special occasions, but we need to plan more date nights just us. It sounds kind of crazy but I probably need to figure out a more systematized approach to making that happen.
I’ve also gotten a lot clearer recently on what events to say yes to and what to say no to. If I’m away from my family the event and my time really needs to be worth it. I say no a lot more than I used to and I am much more selective with what I will commit my time to. Time is everything, that’s one key thing I’ve learned as a business owner- don’t waste your time, and don’t waste others’ time.
7. What are your favorite pair of Mohala shades and how would you style them?
The Pikake in Guava Mimosa is my favorite. I would style it with my denim jumper, my big gold hoop earrings, and the brand new Jana Lam Slouchy Cross Body Bag in Retro Blooms in the color radioactive jelly for $148.