The Founder of Junes Is the Lowest-Paid Employee on the Payroll—and That’s Intentional

December 15, 2021
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We know how daunting it can be to start a new business, especially if you’re disrupting an industry or creating an entirely new one. When there is no path to follow, the biggest question is, where do I start? There is so much to do, but before you get ahead of yourself, let’s start at the beginning. To kick-start the process, and ease some of those first-time founder nerves, we’re asking successful entrepreneurs to share their stories in our series, From Scratch. But this isn’t your typical day in the life profile. We’re getting into the nitty-gritty details—from writing a business plan (or not) to sourcing manufacturers and how much they pay themselves—we’re not holding back. Ahead, Janean Mann, founder of the sustainable bag company Junes, tells us what inspired her to launch her business, how she self-funded the brand in the beginning, and why she is the lowest-paid employee on the payroll.

Tell us about your background and what you were doing professionally before launching Junes.

I studied architecture in college but didn’t want to pursue a career in it after long hours in the studio. I had a handful of various jobs and did photography and web development on the side for a few years until I decided to do front-end dev full time. I worked in NYC for five years, worked on a couple of start-up ideas with friends with no success but always knew I wanted to do my own thing.

What was the “lightbulb moment” for Junes? What inspired you to start your business and pursue this path?

I launched Junes in May 2014 after a trip to Ciudad Juarez opened my eyes to the violence women were experiencing there. I remember walking down the streets of Juarez on a Sunday, I noticed empty storefronts plastered with posters of hundreds of missing women, mostly young girls. I decided right there and then that I wanted to find a way to give back to the women of Juarez. I actually had been working on a better bag for some time, and knew I wanted to create a reusable bag people would want to carry. A chic, practical, and affordable option that would help in the fight against plastic pollution. 

After that trip, I was introduced to an all-women sewing cooperative in Juarez, and eventually found a way to partner with them. And now, our proprietary bio-knit fabric is like nothing else out there in this category: we’re creating a fully biodegradable bag made from recycled plastic bottles, which won’t last forever in a landfill or ocean. With this new fabric, we’re able to fully close the loop and effectively delete plastic from the earth.

How did you come up with the name Junes? What are some of the things you considered during the naming process?

It’s my grandmother’s, mother’s, and my first name. My mother and I were both born in June too. It’s an ode to both my mother and grandmother who are very fashionable and sophisticated and taught me the value of always looking my best.

Did you write a business plan? If so, was it helpful, and if not, what did you use to guide your business instead? Why did you take that approach? 

I had a basic business plan that helped guide the process. It was useful and helped put into perspective what it will take to make the vision of the company come to fruition, which was honestly overwhelming. What I wish I had was a fully detailed marketing plan and being more realistic about meeting my high revenue goals. 

What were the immediate things you had to take care of to set up the business?

1) Trademark, 2) all things website, and 3) business social channels.

Image: Courtesy of Junes

What research did you do for the brand beforehand, and would you recommend it to entrepreneurs starting out today?

After living in NYC, I became very aware of my style and fashion and always needed a bag for when I stopped at the grocery store on my way home. I carried a smallish leather backpack/tote, which I still have today, but it didn’t fit the bulky canvas bags I had for shopping and I didn’t really like what other brands had to offer at the time. 

I did some research about the other reusable bag companies but didn’t find anything new or interesting. Sure, there were some brands making reusable bags from recycled plastic, but the materials were not fully degradable, which doesn’t help close the loop in deleting plastic from the earth. Plus, they weren’t breathable. 

I knew there was a void in the market for a foldable, breathable, fashionable bag that was truly made out of completely sustainable fabric. As I started the business, creating a closed-loop product became a priority and that was a two-year process of research, seeking out vendors, and creating the fabric. 

And yes, research should be the first thing you do when you have an idea!

Junes products are made from a fabric that is entirely biodegradable. How did you find and identify the manufacturers that you work with? What was important to you during this process, and are there any mistakes you made and learned from along the way?

I found out about CiCLO at LA Market, an all-day sustainable fashion forum. I was then referred to a few thread-and-knitting mills. I was able to find someone who was willing to take a chance on me and the CiCLO since it’s fairly new.

How did you fund your business? What were the challenges and what would you change? Would you recommend your route to other entrepreneurs? 

I used my savings and family loans. I think you should definitely use your own money, at least in the beginning. You are then truly invested in it financially. 

Do you pay yourself, and if so, how did you know what to pay yourself?

I didn’t pay myself for a while. I freelanced and would take off for a few months to go work elsewhere. I started paying myself in 2018, but a very low amount, just enough to cover some of my bills. Today, I am the lowest paid employee so I can pay everyone what they deserve. I need the help more than I need a higher paycheck. I live very frugally and don’t need much.

How big is your team now, and what has the hiring process been like? 

It’s a team of four and we are looking at hiring again soon. Hiring has been tough, but at my other jobs, it was hard finding good people too. To find the right person, they need to encompass a variety of traits. Some of the most important ones are a high level of environmental awareness, a strong work ethic, passion for contributing, learning, and doing a good job, and being very well organized. To find all those traits can be difficult.

Did you hire an accountant? Who helped you with the financial decisions and setup? 

I had a friend who’s an accountant who helped set me up, and I was doing everything myself on Quickbooks for a long time until things got too crazy and I couldn’t keep up. I waited too long to find someone and it cost a lot to clear everything up. Definitely start Quickbooks right away and find a good affordable bookkeeper/accountant pretty early on to help. I tend to think I can do it all and know enough, but there was plenty I didn’t know and made mistakes.

Image: Courtesy of Junes

What has been the biggest learning curve during the process of establishing your business?

Getting my brand image nailed down. The brand evolved through my interpretation, friends who are creatives, my sales rep, and paid creatives. We finally honed in on the look and feel. I wish I had been smart and used funds to nail that down in the beginning. I didn’t know what I was doing but was so optimistic I felt it was good enough. It wasn’t and I think it kept me from progressing faster.

Giving back is a major part of what you do at Junes. What advice can you share for entrepreneurs who want to make paying it forward an integral part of their business?

We are a rich country and have enough to give to others, it really should be a staple in every business model. I would say hone in on a niche area that means a lot to you. Being too general is impersonal and doesn’t make an impact like, a specific area, with a specific need that also compliments what you are doing.

How did you promote your company? How did you get people to know who you are and create buzz?

Honestly, this is the thing I dislike the most and wasn’t very good at it. But I think it was a lot of little things all adding up. Some unexpected press stories (including a wonderful feature in Bon Appétit!), my amazing sales rep, Cassie Ebner from Palo Santo Studios, and some IG influencers. I was lucky and had some great people help get the word out, which I think is the most important thing. There is a large population of El Pasoans who live all over and they loved the brand and our brand values so much that they became the “organic” champions for Junes. I believe that’s how we got into Bon Appétit, which helped put us on the map.

Do you have a business coach or mentor? 

Bob Paluzi, the once jeans giant in El Paso, who is my mentor. Alison Gilbert was an early coach who gave me some much-needed support during a very difficult time and I’m very grateful to her. Abbi Miller is a holistic business coach who is full of amazing energy and has an excellent weekly planner guide.

What is one thing you didn’t do during the setup process that ended up being crucial to the business and would advise others to do asap?

Nail down the branding and marketing plan and set up a realistic business plan.

What is your number one piece of financial advice for any new business owner and why?

Set a budget and stick to it. Don’t spend more than you can realistically payback.

Anything else to add?

No matter what you choose to do and the route you take, the journey will be a rollercoaster. Trust your vision and know that you will have to work harder than anything else you’ve ever done in your life.

Featured image: Ale Saldaña Courtesy of Janean Mann

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