Claire Chambers


 

Claire Chambers

Founder and CEO of Journelle


New York, NY

 

 

Just like Rent the Runway’s co-founders, there are a ton of women who have leapt into the uncharted, often-insane world of entrepreneurship. We’re inviting these risk-takers to be part of a community we’re calling The Real Runway: a collection of voices to motivate and inspire your own runway, whatever that may be.
 

It all started with... a big city with no lovely lingerie stores.
 

A woman’s lingerie drawer can typically be divided into two piles: the everyday and the special occasion. Journelle is bridging the cotton and lace divide with a simple mission: to make you feel good in all of your underwear, all of the time.

 

 

Bag, ZAC Zac Posen

 

 

Tired of the awful experience she had with bra shopping in New York City and hearing women complain of the same problem, Claire Chambers decided to create the solution. In 2007, she opened the first Journelle in New York City’s Union Square. She has since launched three additional locations, an online store and an exclusive collection — all with the hope of making women feel as confident in their undergarments as they are in the clothes that lay over them.

 

 

Was there a particular moment when you decided to go for it?

 

It was more of a gradual process. I’d been thinking about how terrible it was to shop for lingerie for a while, and spent some time trying to figure out what the solution was. Talking to people about my idea helped crystalize it, and lead to the decision to leave my job and go full speed ahead. It was an exciting transition for me because I’ve always been the type to thrive under my own direction — but it’s still an adjustment to wake up, get yourself ready to go to work in your bedroom! Going from a full-time job to working on something alone, you realize how much motivation has to come from within you. I’ve always been pretty self-disciplined, but I definitely prefer working in the company of other people. I was very happy when I was able to move on from the working at home stage to having a store or office to go to. The best thing for me is that I’ve never had that sense of: I have to go to work. It doesn’t feel like work, which sounds cliché but it’s true.

 

 

Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit?

 

Yes, I was always the kid leading the team. One of my first memories is a dog walking business I had with my best friend. We papered the neighborhood with flyers and I think we got one single client. I also had this great job at a store in my hometown in Oregon. The owner realized I was this responsible kid who loved to work, and he’d disappear for the summer and leave me to run the show. That was so much fun for me — I’ve always thrived with more responsibility and independence.

 

 

Dress, BCBGMAXAZRIA

 

 

When you’re starting out, how do you learn what advice to take on board?

 

Everyone will give you advice in the beginning. To selectively hear it is a hard skill, because you don’t want to ignore those with wisdom or experience you don’t have yet. A lot of people warned me against my idea, particularly for a retail store. They were right in that it’s much harder than I thought it would be, but I’m glad I didn’t listen to those who said the idea was a no-go. Who I did listen to were women in my target demographic, who all agreed that there was something missing. I was overwhelmed with how much emotion there was in that response, and it told me I was onto something. After you’ve been in it for a while, you reach a level where you’re the expert for your business. Then it’s a matter of having the confidence to weigh up the advice you receive with what you know best.

 

You can’t listen to everybody, or you’ll never start anything at all.

 
Dress, BCBGMAXAZRIA

 

 

Do you have any tips for staying persistent when things get tough?

 

When you have an idea you believe strongly in, you need to be prepared for the ups and downs that come with that. I remember this period a few months before we launched, when I spent at least 20 hours one week in bed watching Lost. I was just exhausted with the daily roller coaster of it all — that was definitely my low point. Right after that, a bunch of positive stuff hit at once, which was affirmation that it was all worth it.

When things work out, they’re amazing. But when things fall apart, they really fall apart. Being prepared for that is the best way to arm yourself.

 

What’s a key lesson you’ve learned throughout building Journelle?

 

It’s interesting to look back on different stages of the business and see how much my job has changed since day one. When you look back you can see those stages very clearly, but when you’re in it, it’s harder. In the beginning you’re doing everything yourself, but that slowly changes. If you’re still doing everything yourself two years later you’re hurting your company, not helping it. You need to delegate and let people be leaders in their own areas. Your job changes very rapidly in a startup and you always need to be looking ahead, thinking, “What version of me is needed to take this to the next level?”

 

 

Top, FINDERS KEEPERS; Skirt, Tibi

 

 

Starting a business comes with a lot of sacrifice. What makes it all worth it for you?

 

Journelle is driven by women feeling better about themselves — something I see happening on multiple levels. Firstly, whenever I start to feel disconnected, I’ll jump onto our online chat or go to one of the stores to interact with and help customers directly. Secondly, I love seeing how our sales associates benefit from that same experience. When we ask them what they like best about working here, the one thing that stands out to me is about how they connect with the customers. It changes their role from being a retail assistant to being able to help women. Having that meaningful connection with your work is a fantastic feeling.

 

 

How does wearing lovely underthings translate into your personal style?

 

Lingerie has the power to transform how a women feels about herself. You shouldn’t have any underwear in your drawer that doesn’t make you feel great; whether it’s cotton or lace is irrelevant, as long as it allows you to celebrate who you are. That translates to what you wear on top of it also. I wouldn’t say that I’m particularly fashion obsessed. I’ve always been so focused on what’s underneath! But like most women, when I have a big meeting or event, there’s nothing better than putting on a dress that makes me feel really great. Our goal is the same but one layer deeper.

 

 

Earrings, Sarah Magid

 

 

What is one piece of advice you would give to other female entrepreneurs?

 

The best ideas and businesses (particularly by women) come from a deep intuition that something is missing. I don’t think anything can replace that instinct. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into it beyond the intuition phase, but that’s where it starts. Listening to that inner voice that says “Hey, there should be a better way here,” is something that women should embrace, feel confident about, and take seriously.

 

 

 

Refresh your lingerie drawer at journelle.com.

Enjoy 15% off order $100 or more with code RTRJOURNELLE.*

*Exclusions: Offer is one-time use only and must be redeemed before October 16, 2015.

 

 

 

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