CEO & Co-Founder Eugena Delman launched Ava James NYC last April with her childhood bestie, Saena Chung. Ava James NYC is a premium, womenswear brand with the motto of “designer dresses for the modern boss babe, in sizes 8-18”.
Tell us about your company. What inspired you to start it?
I was inspired to start this business by my older sis, a size 14 woman, who has always struggled to find clothing that was flattering in her size. I started doing some digging and quickly found that there was a huge mismatch of supply and demand for plus-size clothing. Et voila, Ava James NYC was born.
Who are your cofounders and what makes you a great team?
My co-founder is Saena Chung, a woman that I have known since the mid-1990s. We are both Korean women who grew up in Hong Kong, and that’s about where the similarities end! I was always the data / math geek while Saena was the creative genius who was super passionate about making art. Our totally opposite but complementary experiences and interests makes us the perfect pair to start a fashion business. Also, most importantly, our two decades-long friendship means that there is a fount of love and respect that has built over time.
How is your company making a difference?
When we started doing some research on the plus-size landscape, we couldn’t believe that there was such a gaping hole in the fashion landscape. The average American woman is a size 14-16 (68% of American women are considered plus-size) yet less than 20% of womenswear apparel sales are for plus-size items. Moreover, we started going through some of the most popular e-tailers (Net-A-Porter, ShopBop, Revolve, etc.) and it was completely mind-boggling how the choices available to a size 16 woman was compared to a size 2 woman. Having said that, now there are a few plus-only retailers but we weren’t particularly impressed with the designs or the aesthetic. We want to get rid of the notion that style is limited to slender woman and want to bring beautiful, quality (everything we make is made in NYC) garments to a historically ignored demographic. As cheesy as it sounds, clothing has such a huge impact on a person’s confidence and we believe every woman should feel comfortable and confident.
What are some of the challenges you have faced?
Funding, funding, and did I mention funding? We were bootstrapping and raised a small amount of friends and family money but building a brand takes a ton of time, effort, and cash. We are super-focused on raising funds to expand our reach and get Ava James in front of as many women as possible.
What is your biggest win?
British Vogue reached out to us to include us in their Emerging Designer feature this summer which is incredibly exciting. Look out for us in the August, September, and October print issue and online!
Who is your role model?
Serena Williams. For her to come back to elite tennis and still be in the competitive mix after having a kid is insane. I also have newfound respect for Beyonce after watching the Homecoming documentary. I always thought she was amazing but I saw the creative vision and the sheer hard work that goes into being Beyonce. All of her success is truly earned. Amazing.
What do you wish you had known before starting your company?
I wish I hadn’t underestimated how difficult it was to raise funds. On a similar vein, I wish I hadn’t overestimated the funding I thought I could raise! I’ve since learned that angel investing or even just investing in a friends and family round takes a certain level of investing comfort and risk-taking that most people don’t have. The great thing is, I’ve developed super thick skin so nothing really fazes me anymore.
What is your CEO super power?
I can focus like no other. I’ve found that I’m extremely good at compartmentalizing tasks and just getting it done. It helps that I have two young kids (a 3 year old and a 7 month old) so when I’m at home, I’m somewhat limited in how much I can accomplish at home so I take full advantage of the time I have at work and zoom through my to-do list during the day.
What has been your experience with FFA?
I’m pretty new to the community but I’m so excited to start connecting with incredible women who are going through the same, unique challenges that come with starting a company. What people don’t see is how lonely and challenging the entrepreneur journey is with immense highs and the “troughs of despair” and I’m definitely looking forward to making some meaningful connections!
Anything else you want people to know?
I’m a serious figure skating nerd (my husband’s favorite party trick is quizzing me on who won the bronze medal in which discipline in which Olympics) and I’m obsessed with Broadway.
Not on our mailing list yet? Sign up here!