Alison Barnard, Owner, in-jean-ius: on Making Inc Magazine's "Top 30 Under 30"

With a lifelong interest in fashion, Alison Barnard used the skills she learned while attending Babson's business school to start her own retail store, in-jean-ius, centered on the one must-have clothing item for women: the perfect-fitting pair of jeans.

Alison stocks the store, which is located in Boston's newest hip neighborhood, the North End, with more than 30 brands of jeans in order to accommodate the many body types and personalities of her customers.

When Barnard isn't at her flagship store helping women find their perfect fit, she's down the street at Twilight, her newest store, which focuses on other style staples beyond denim including dresses, tops, accessories, and handbags.

Alison’s accomplishments earned her a spot on Inc. magazine’s “Top 30 Under 30”.  She was named one of Boston’s 25 Most Stylish according to the Boston Globe and in 2008, 2009 and 2010 was put on the 100 Best Dressed Bostonians list by Fashion Boston.  Barnard received one of five Winning Women awards at the 2008 Entrepreneur of the Year Awards hosted by Ernst & Young. 

Most recently, Alison Barnard teamed up with fashion expert, Stacy London from TLC’s “What Not to Wear” and Woolite to participate in the Find the Look Keep the Look Program.  Barnard’s store, in-jean-ius was hand selected by Stacy London and Woolite as one of the top 10 most fashionable boutiques in the country.

We spoke to Alison about the biggest challenges she's faced as an entrepreneur; about owning officially one of the "best boutiques in the country"; and the benefits of all-women networks.

TNW: What was the inspired moment that led you to launch in-jean-ius?

AB: It was 2003 and I was working on my MBA at Babson College.  I worked part-time at a clothing store as a sales associate, because fashion is something that always interested me.  I consider myself the ultimate consumer and shopping has always been something that I very much enjoy.  I had a couple of ideas for a boutique floating in my head, but I always quickly found a reason those ideas would never work. 

I observed the buying behavior of boutique shoppers and noticed that they came in year round looking for the perfect pair of jeans. 

At a boutique you are able to provide top-notch customer service, but you don’t always have the selection a customer might need.  On the flip side department stores offer a broad, but sometimes generic selection and most often customer services is severely lacking.  By focusing on the one must-have item in every women’s closet, in-jean-ius is able to give women the best of both worlds.  However, it cannot stop there!!!  The average women buys two tops for every one bottom, therefore in-jean-ius offers a wide assortment of t-shirts, date night tops, sweaters and jackets to complete your look. 

TNW: In a saturated fashion retail market, and especially during a recession, how do your brands distinguish themselves?

AB: The assortment of styles and brands is based on fitting the maximum number of body types.  The brands we carry in the store represent well-edited selection.  Certainly many of the brands are recognizable and known for their styles and fits, but what separates in-jean-ius in a crowded retail environment is our commitment to customer service. 

TNW: How important is technology to the success of your stores?

AB: We rely on monthly data reports on sales and inventory levels, as well as customer spending.  These numbers are vital to everyday decisions. 

TNW: What is next for in-jean-ius and Twilight? How do you see technology as a key growth driver?

We have recently launched an e-commerce site for Twilight and hope to grow that part of the business.  At in-jean-ius we hope to launch an e-commerce site as well as open additional locations in the Massachusetts market.

TNW: When founding your second brand, which aspects of the in-jean-ius launch strategy did you keep the same because they worked well, and what did you do differently?

AB: Twilight is also committed to providing the highest level of customer service as in-jean-ius.  We feel that this is essential to the success of both brands.  The product assortment is the main difference between the two brands.  Twilight offers contemporary clothing with a heavy focus on dresses for any type of occasion, while also featuring an extensive accessory selection—from jewelry to hand bags and from scarves to undergarments.

TNW: What was the most useful lesson that you learned whilst at Babson's business school and how did you apply it to launching in-jean-ius?

My time at Babson taught me problem solving and resourcefulness, as well as adaptability.  These are invaluable skills to an entrepreneur. 

You cannot anticipate the problems that might arise on a daily basis but you can stop and consider all of your options when fixing that problem. 

TNW: What has been your biggest challenge throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it?

AB: There are challenges everyday, which keep things interesting!  Certainly funding, planning and build out were a challenge in the beginning, but now that I have passed that hurdle, my biggest challenge is finding and managing people. 

My best advice is to not only love what you do, but believe in what you do!  It gets you through those rough patches in the road. 

TNW: Is there a moment in the history of your company which you remember as the highlight so far?

AB: Being selected by Woolite and Stacy London as one of the best boutiques in the country and being a brand ambassador.  Also, being selected for Inc. Magazine’s 30 under 30. 

TNW: What do you see as the benefits of all-women networks such as DWEN? 

AB: Often times women’s groups get a bad rap and can be considered a bunch of man hating bra burners……I invite women to throw away that stereotype and support each other.  I have met some incredibly inspiring women through various women’s group. 

We are a tenacious bunch with invaluable knowledge.  It is about uplifting and supporting one another! 

The Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) celebrates the wonderful accomplishments of women in business, whilst looking forward at how we can progress and learn from each other. Natural networkers and relationship builders, women have innate flair for entrepreneurship. With DWEN, Dell is helping women in business to expand their networks while offering technology capabilities designed to help them innovate and grow their businesses.

The NextWomen is in partnership with DWEN to bring you a series of 40 interviews with the world's most influential female founders, investors and decision makers: The NextWomen DWEN Interview Series.

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