By Lisa Brown
St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
During two decades working in corporate America, Johnna Beckham noticed a problem she shared with many female colleagues: the inability to find business suits that fit well.
The apparel industry has long offered services to buy custom-tailored men’s business shirts, pants and jackets, but for women, tailoring beyond getting off-the-rack pants hemmed is rare.
“You can find tons of stuff for men, but for women, it’s so difficult,” Beckham said.
While traveling to China as an executive MBA student at Washington University two years ago, Beckham had an “aha” moment that sparked the idea to start her own business: Johnna Marie, a company based in south St. Louis that makes custom-tailored women’s suits, skirts and dresses for the workplace.
At a Chinese market during her 2013 trip, Beckham and other students had their measurements taken. By the end of the week, pants and jackets they had bought that were tailored to their exact measurements were delivered to them.
“The process was great, but the product was not that good,” she said, adding she couldn’t find a similar service available to St. Louis customers when she returned to the U.S.
Beckham, who is CEO of Johnna Marie, began developing her business in the basement of her Wildwood home in 2013, then moved her offices in February to the Cortex Innovation Community co-working facility in the Central West End for six months. At CIC, she met other entrepreneurs who offered advice that helped in the company’s early stages.
Ron King, Beckham’s accounting professor and director of the Center for Experiential Learning at Washington University’s Olin Business School, was so impressed with Johnna Marie’s business model, he became an investor in the company.
King also is an angel investor in other companies, including Maryland Heights-based AppNotch, which converts websites to mobile apps, and the Napa, Calif.-based Wine Tasting Network, an online wine distributor.