By Michael Hinkelman Philadelphia Daily News.
Jessica X. Simmons, 24, is founder and owner of Moiselle Jes, which makes and sells handcrafted aprons. She started the business in August as a way to provide sustainable jobs for Nicaraguan seamstresses. Simmons, daughter of a Nicaraguan-born woman, is a master's degree candidate at Temple University's Fox School of Business.
Q: How'd you come up with the idea?
A: I traveled with my mother at a young age back to Nicaragua. A lot of her brothers and sisters still live there, so she visits frequently. I was exposed early on to all the artisans there and we'd buy things you couldn't find here. This was in a small town called Matagalpa, where my mother was born. I love cooking and experimenting in the kitchen, and I always wear my apron and it makes me feel great. So the idea was to have really well-made aprons from Nicaragua. I made sketches and my cousin put me in touch with my aunt and she's been in the sewing business for more than 25 years. I work with her and she lives in Matagalpa.
Q: The startup money?
A: It came from my own pocket, about $1,500. Then I got accepted into Blackstone LaunchPad Temple (an entrepreneurship program) and they helped me get my website, register a trademark and get incorporated.
Q: What's the biz do?
A: We make handcrafted aprons in Nicaragua while we promote job creation. We want to showcase the craftsmanship of artisans and seamstresses in Nicaragua. The aprons are shipped here to me and I sell them.
Q: The biz model?
A: I sell from my website and on Etsy. I also sell aprons at craft shows and to friends. I use social media to drive traffic to my website. It went live in December and I've sold 15 aprons.
Q: What's special about the aprons?
A: They're retro, 1950s-style, kind of bringing back a tradition. They're well-made, 100 percent cotton, and the detailing and stitching are excellent. People are interested in where a product comes from, given the horrible working conditions in some countries. I wanted to help women in Nicaragua make a sustainable living. Generally, seamstresses make $8 to $12 a day in Nicaragua, but women who make my aprons are getting more like $10 to $15.
Q: Who's buying them?
A: When I started, I wanted to sell to people who like to cook and entertain, to look and feel good in the kitchen. I market to women who have little girls, because I have matching aprons for mothers and daughters. These women want to have memories of baking cookies with their girls.
Q: The cost?
A: The adult aprons are $40, a child's apron is $25, and half-aprons are $35.