Looking for a functional belt that doesn’t sacrifice fashion or get in the way?
Jelt Belt will have you lookin’ good AND ready for any adventure, anywhere, any time
To find out more behind how Jelt Belt got its start and what’s in store for the future, Josh interviews Jelt Belt founder, Jen Perry
More about the episode...
Josh sits down with Jelt Belt founder Jen Perry. Jelt Belt makes stylish belts that you can wear with anything, anywhere, anytime. Jelt was originally started out of necessity when Jill-of-all-trades, Jen Perry needed a belt she could wear between outdoor activities, her entrepreneurial endeavors, and being a mother. After being seriously hospitalized due to a ruptured appendix, Jen vowed that she would find a way to give back to her community after recovering. It wasn’t long after that she began her philanthropic career path which would eventually lead her on a new path, creating Jelt Belt. Fast forward a decade and Jen is going STRONG with Jelt Belt with no signs of slowing down.
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What is Jelt Belt all about?
“Jelt is an elastic belt made out of 100% recycled plastic bottles, with a flat buckle and a grippy inner gel that you can wear hiking, biking, skiing, and with everyday jeans. There’s no metal parts so you can wear it through airport security without taking it off…”
Where did the idea of Jelt come from?
“Jelt is a social enterprise, meaning that I started this company as a way to give back to my community. About 10 years ago I had a ruptured appendix and got sepsis and was in the hospital for a lot of months. I told myself if I survived that I would do something to give back to my community...I thought about what business could I start where my profits would go back to the charities that I love…”
Did you have any experience building businesses or products before you started Jelt?
“Absolutely not. None. Zero. Just sort of flying by the seat of my pants learning as I go. I basically started four years ago by myself and have slowly picked up experts along the way that believe in a cause of creating a product that gives back…”
Were you originally from Montana?
“I grew up in southern California and could not wait to get the hell out eben those I had the greatest childhood ever...I went to school in Colorado at CU Boulder, which I loved. Then, moved to New York to get a real job after a little stint as a ski bum…”
How did go from that original idea to a physical product?
“I got really lucky. I sat on the idea for a long time and tried not to spill my guts when I was drinking beers and hanging with my friends. One day my cousin was visiting and I told her about it and she said ‘I know this guy in New York who helps peoples inventions become reality’...She introduced me to Don Hern...because it was only me and not a team of people on it I think I completed the design and had it made within a year…”
What’s something unique about Jelt that makes it stand out in the industry?
“I think we are most unique because we are one o the only companies that uses recycled rePET yarn that’s made out of recycled plastic bottles...Nobody else has the gel on the inside that grips to your pants, you can where this belt with or without belt loops…”
Did you have any mentors while building Jelt?
“There’s so many people that I look up to and respect but as far as inventors or people who have come up with designs...it’s one group of people not one specific person…”
How do you make sure the recycled plastic yarn produces a quality product?
“That might be one of the hardest things that we do, accessing the yarn. So, this yarn can only be purchased as far as I know and as far as I’ve been able to find, in China. China takes our recyclables and melts them down into a liquid then it turns into a bead, then the bead is melted and it turns into yarn. It’s a very fascinating process and the only people doing it right now is China…”
What is your manufacturing process like?
“It took me a long time to get this move from China to Montana but, I now manufacture in the women's prising in Billings, Montana as part of a rehabilitation program called Montana Correctional Enterprises. It’s run by the state of Montana and the women interview, they are trained, and they get paid for the projects. And, the money they make goes to restitute and to pay child support…”
Did you have that idea to begin with?
“I didn’t see any manufacturing that I could jump into...I went to a meeting at the Montana manufacturing extension center which is apart of Montana State University and, at this meeting the Correctional Enterprises people showed up and they talked about the benefits of manufacturing both at the mens and womens facility…It costs a lot more for me than having the whole thing made in China but, it just feels right...”
What is a B Corp?
“A B Corp certification is a private entity that certifies companies that are companies that does good. That exists to do good and give back. And, they scrutinize every aspect of your company; how you treat your employees, how your manufacturing is done, your recycling, your lightbulbs...every aspect of your business is looked at with a fine tooth comb and you have to pass…”
What does a normal day look like for you and your team?
“There’s no such thing as normal...I like to do my sports in the morning, get here until the crack of noon and then I work until whenever it’s done...What's cool about working here is I let people have autonomy and they can come when it works for them as long as it gets done...I want them to go, get outside, or go to their kids game…”
What has growth been like for Jelt Belt when you started in 2015?
“I think we’re about 15%, 20% annual growth and we’re hoping to make a bigger leaps as we venture into Europe and the UK…”
Where do most of your sales come through?
“Our e commerce is our number one platform. We love selling from our website, from jeltbelt.com. But, we do sell in wholesale stores and we have some awesome flagship stores here in Bozeman, in Jackson, we have a cool store Portland. But, it’s really hard to manage with our small team...It’s a relationship that you need to maintain and nurture. We don’t have a sales director right now but, that might be in our future…”
How did you take on investors?
“I bootstrapped absolutely, 100% just me draining my savings account. When I launched my new colors I did a Kickstarter, which I could do a whole podcast on Kickstarter...When you make a product and you have it on Kickstarter, the people who invest actually want it…”
Was there anything that really helped you get rolling from the start?
“It’s just perseverance to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and start to see your business go into the black. It starts with breaking even and then you move forward from there...But, it’s not overnight…”
What has been one of the hardest parts about starting Jelt Belt?
“It’s when you start to feel that you’re not moving forward...but, then you think about these awesome people who work for you, and you think about your customers...There are days where you just don’t want to get out of bed, or you don’t want to get off the ski mountain...then you’ll have an amazing day and realize why you did it…”
What is one of the biggest mistakes you’ve made with Jelt Belt so far?
“You just make a lot of mistakes when you’re in this business. You try not to but, you can have flaws in design, you can have manufacturing hiccups, you can have good press, bad press…”
What advice would you give someone who would want to start a business?
“I think you have to ask yourself ‘why are you doing this?’ And really do some soul searching...don’t kid yourself that it’s all fun and games because it’s a lot of work… Then if you have all the answers and you want to do it then go for it... I always have this motto that I tell myself, ‘If not now then when’...”
Where do you see Jelt Belt headed into the future?
“For next year, we’re really focused on these overseas e-commerce sales and distribution. I’m hoping within the next one to five years we have a really big presence overseas, specifically the UK and Europe…”
What’s the best part about running Jelt Belt?
“Like I was saying before the customer reviews and when I run into people on the street. It’s a bit awkward because they usually lift up their shirt…”