Behind the Blues: Leah from Jean Therapy

by Jaime on April 20, 2010

When I first wrote about Jean Therapy, I already adored Leah. So, when I decided to start this series, Leah was one of the first I contacted. And not just because she owns a denim boutique – though that does give her an interesting opinion about jeans – but because she’s funny, intelligent and has a whole ton of information that you need to know. Enjoy!

How did you start Jean Therapy and what do you think sets your shop apart from others?

I started Jean Therapy after really being honest with myself about what I wanted in life. I was on my way to applying to b-schools and taking the gmat. I got maybe half way into the process and had a mini melt down. I didn’t want to go to business school and I didn’t want the path I was taking. It wasn’t easy for me to look myself in the eye and say, “I think I want to be a business owner but I have no idea how to do that”…Little did I know that actually becoming a business owner would be even tougher. I was really afraid of what my parents would say too. But when I told them, they were completely delighted and onboard. It wasn’t the answer I expected from either of them but it was proof that I had to at least try. So I wrote a business plan, secured an SBA backed bank loan and went from there. Jean Therapy is completely self financed and that is something that I’m really proud of. There were many other steps along the way that include tears, more melt downs and total uncertainty but I’m skipping those parts for your readers ;)

I think what sets Jean Therapy apart from other stores are a couple of really important details. The first one is that employees go through three months (sometimes more and sometimes less) of denim training before they can work with a customer on their own. Whenever I tell other business owners that or even just our customers, they’re all surprised. It’s a really big investment and one that is important to me. I want every person who comes to Jean Therapy to feel like they’re getting help from people who understand what their needs are but also who understand the denim industry as well. So what is denim training? It’s everything from how to care for jeans, to knowing the brands to quizzes. For example, I might ask a new employee, “Ok, a woman walks into the store and she says she’s a size 14 and never finds anything that fits. What do you do? Go!”. Or, “A customer wants a going out jean, ok what are you going to give her, go!”. And from there the employee has to tell me what brands she’d give the customer and why, to how a size 14 would translate into waist size. Also, perhaps what further questions she might ask the customer perhaps about what “going out” means to her. We take what we do seriously. It should be a really fun process but one that is steeped in an understanding that customers are coming to us and expecting us to know what to give them to look amazing. And it’s really up to us to not let them down.

Secondly, Jean Therapy is really and truly a labor of love. I love the denim industry so much and spent three years researching the industry before I even began writing my business plan. Part of that research was me literally ripping apart pairs of jeans and studying them. Sometimes I’d even sit and sew them back up again so I understood what it took to engineer a pair of jeans. I wanted to understand what I’m selling to people and for them to understand that Jean Therapy does what it does, not to make a quick buck, but because it wants to be a part of a larger denim culture/ fashion culture and as a result we want you as a customer to be a part of that as well. We and I want you to love what you buy from us and also to love your experience with us.

Thirdly, most of our money gets put right back into inventory. One of the first things we hear from a new customer when they walk into the shop is, “OMG you guys have a lot of jeans”. Damn straight! There are so many different bodies out there that we need to be able to stock enough brands for every individual person. And if we don’t have what you need, well we’re not beyond sending you to where we think you might find it. Again, not we’re not about the fast sell at Jean Therapy.

And perhaps lastly what sets us apart is that I really do hope to be 90 years and still own Jean Therapy and still helping people find amazing jeans. I’ll be the little old lady in the dressing room yelling at you to turn for me so I can make sure your tushy looks awesome!

What’s the denim brand that you most want in the shop? How about the one you most recommend to clients?

Every single brand/style that comes to Jean Therapy is important to us for any variety of reasons. We don’t carry any slouches! I think Paige is amazing because that brand tends to have a smaller back pocket so it’s good for overall proportion for a smaller frame. Earnest Sewn in amazing because it fits curvy bodies so damn well. We love Red Engines because they made a lot of our our voluptuous customers realize that they can totally rock skinny jeans! We just recently brought AG into the store and we’re finding that the fit has been fantastic for our customer as well.

I wish I could give a straight forward answer as to “this” is the jean that we sell but I can’t. Some days, we blow thru Hudsons because the back pocket is too darn cute and other days, I sell 3 size 33 in Hello! Skinny Jeans.

… and your favorite pair of jeans overall?

This is a tough question for me because at last count, I owned about 85 pairs of jeans. I had an employee once who accused me of never wearing a pair of jeans more than once. I’m sure it could seem that way but I do have favorites :)

My all time favorite jean shape is the Dojo by 7 For All Mankind. It has more to do with nostalgia than anything else. It was my first really expensive jean and I just love the trouser shape. It feels very Jane Birkin to me. I like the idea of being this 1960/70′s cool girl with long hair and amazing bangs and of course that image can’t be complete without really neat trouser-y jeans. And b/c I’m wicked short, the rise is perfect for me.

But what I’m wearing and obsessing over right now is my boyfriend cut jeans from Jean Shop. They’re a selvage denim jean and are perfect for what’s happening in terms of trends these days.

And I will say that I’m really excited about Denim and Thread coming into Jean Therapy Fall 2010 and can’t wait to try on a pair of those.

What about your dream pair?

Oh gosh, if I could combine the back pocket of Paige jeans in the Las Palmas (which I think they’re going to discontinue) with the body of the Dojo, have Pur do the sanding, fading, finishing work and the fabric of Raven jeans or Jean Shop jeans , I’d be a happy, happy lady!!

Do you wish women in Boston would try new denim? What kind?

Actually what I wish that is more women would be willing to try new denim and not get too stuck on what they think or are told they should be wearing. For example, we have a lot of curvy customers who dismiss skinnies or jeggings because they believe that they can’t look good in them. Gotta be honest, I hate that! One of the new brands we just got in is CJ by Cookie Johnson and why I’ve loving this brand is that we got a jegging from them that totally works for curvy ladies and this brand goes up to size 38 waist. Or I get told “oh I can’t wear that jean because the pocket is too big/small/faded/ fill in the blank”. What?!? Just try it. I wish more women would just try it, no matter what “it” might be.

If you had one personal tip for DD readers, what would it be?

Be open minded in every sense of the word! It’s good to have an idea of what you’re looking for but I’ve seen too many women come into the shop and say, “My friend has this jean and it looks amazing on her and I want that jean too”. What the customer failed to mention what that her friend is a completely different shape than her. So our job is to find something that works for you and for you to not compare yourself to your friend, to models, to whomever. Oh and ladies, your supposed “thunder thighs” are so non existent as well!!!!!! Trust us, we’ve seen a lot of bodies over the course of 5+ years :)

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