Starting her own brand just one year after graduation, Jo Lam has managed to grow Jamlos and Rustea from a one-person business to a team of passionate young people with branches in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city. The RMIT Alumni Team had a chance to sit down with her for an intimate conversation and listened to her journey of founding a brand with no academic background in fashion and business, and how she has stayed positive amid COVID-19 and more.
Alumni Team: I can see that you have a deep passion for fashion, especially hand-made and eco-friendly products. Has it always been your dream job since you were little to be a fashion entrepreneur?
Jo Lam: (laugh) My hobbies were all over the place. I have interests in different things at various times. Even before entering RMIT, I did not really think of fashion as a future career. But since my childhood, I have enjoyed drawing, dressing up dolls, decorating, … anything that requires me to create a playground out of my own hand.
I also took drawing classes when I was in 7th grade up until senior year of high school but then changed my plan and applied for Professional Communication at RMIT. At the time, it was just an instinctive thought that this would be the right major for me. The years spent in our university then gradually shaped my understanding of the industry, of what I could do with the knowledge I have learnt in my profession.
So, to any readers who are still new to your fashion brands, can you briefly describe Jamlos and Rustea?
Jamlos’ products are all made of canvas, where bags are defined as ‘container solutions’ and applicability in everyday usage is focused. Every item and collection have a story to share to the public as well as inspire users to live happily each day.
As for Rustea, we want to provide consumers with a fashion solution with comfortability as our priority. As I did not come from a fashion background, I do not create items with industry standards in my mind but instead try to come up with products that can encourage self-love. I want consumers to feel confident and comfortable choosing our items and from there find happiness in what they are wearing.
I can see that both brands share the keyword ‘happy.’
After all, everything I do comes from the wish for happiness, so I want that people who use my products can also feel that sense of positivity. Every item hopes to make users empathize with my messages and find happiness from them.
You founded Jamlos almost immediately after graduating. Did you have any challenges being an entrepreneur at such a young age?
I must admit I was stubborn at that time as I just followed what I wanted. I spent one year working at agencies and a communication department of a French fashion brand. So, during that period, I tried to gather hands-on experience of how the industry works. However, it was still a risky decision to establish a brand of my own without much academic knowledge about fashion and business. I tried using what I learned in communication, the field that lies right between them, to bridge that gap.
So, I guess the most challenging thing for me was learning step by step as I go. I comprehended everything by practicing and observed what works and what doesn’t, which also means that I will always take longer compared to others. But for all that, the journey really gave me many opportunities to grow and train as a person.
In that process of learning from your mistakes, is there any episode that you remember the most?
When I first started, I only sold my products online. And about one or two months after the first collection, I started receiving more support from everyone but haven’t had an official team. I did everything on my own, from choosing the material to shooting products and posting content online. Then suddenly there was an order from Spain asking for 1000 bags!
The manufacturing part wasn’t too difficult, but I had a hard time figuring out how to ship 1000 bags to Spain. I went around asking people I know but of course, there was no definite answer to whether my choice for the logistics firm was right. I did manage to pick one whose price was the most reasonable with a not-so-complicated paperwork process. However, even after all that research, there were still unexpected incidents in the way I calculated the mass or tax fee because of the differences between two nations. That was a memorable lesson on logistics for me, but also left a great impression as it marked the beginning of expansion for my business.
Let’s talk about the material that you use for Jamlos and Rustea. They are all eco-friendly right?
Yes! But I did not only choose them with the mindset that I am contributing to society or anything like that. Besides the environmental factor, I also chose canvas as the key material for Jamlos’ products for the way the fabric feels. I love the plainness, rough texture of the fabric as it brings a sense of familiarity. It needs no additional substance to adapt to the external force of the environment as well.
Rustea on the other hand, has linen as its main material besides cotton and silk. However, this fabric is a more high-end material often used to export out of Vietnam so on average it can cost 3 to 4 times more than canvas. That leads to the overall higher price of Rustea’s items compared to Jamlos’. Despite that contrast, I want to design friendly goods from both materials while maintaining their authenticity.
I am impressed that you can take advantage of your major to make up for what you did not know about fashion and business. With all that effort, I would say this business is truly a passion for you?
I do not dare to say this is my life-long passion as I am interested in many other things (giggle). But it is the thing that provides my main income, so I am dedicating all my time and effort to it. Aside from that, there are many other ‘passions’ that support it. When this job feels too tiring, taking part in those activities will, in a way, motivate me to keep going with it.
As you know, the current pandemic is putting pressure on many businesses. Just like you, there are many young people who own a brand and are currently struggling. How are you dealing with the hardships that come within this period?
I understand that this would be a hard time for small business owners mentally as they cannot proceed with their plan on time. On the bright side, since they are starting there is a smaller burden on their financial profile, and they can use this time for a more strategic preparation. Because you know, when running a project, no matter how careful the planning is, there will always be obstacles nearing the D-day and the deadlines become too tight. I think they can view this as an extension for their deadlines and adjust their project according to the changes that COVID-19 brings about for better results.
For enterprises that have been in the industry for several years, they are like ships sailing in the middle of a storm. Turning back to the land is not a choice so we just have to keep traveling and fight through it. I perceive each problem as a new set of waves and conquer them one by one instead of trying to guess when the storm will end.
One way to get through the wave is having new strategies to adapt. In my case, I’m releasing a new product line: Jamlos Home as a new approach during this pandemic. What I did was connect the fact that people are opting for home products more as they cannot go out with the main product line of Jamlos, which is bags, to create a ‘contain solution’. Breaking away from the common idea that bags are only used outdoors, Jamlos Home provides bags that can be adopted as decorations, containers at home. The team is now working hard to come up with new products each week and complete the big picture for this line.
It is amazing how you put creativity and distinguished the new line with the available products of Jamlos. From your experience, can you give some advice to people who are starting out with their fashion brand?
It will be different for people who have a background in fashion since they have their own perspective on the industry, so this would just be general sharing for young people who had a similar start as me.
In this period, it is best to not give up, and to try hard every day. I believe that if we keep trying then no matter how hard it gets, there will always be a solution. One way to do that is to not follow what others are doing but revise carefully what is the core value of your brand. That gives you a clear guideline of where to go so that you don’t stray away from your initial vision. So in case there is another storm and you got drifted on another island, you will know how to get back to your original route.
And you don’t have to rush and feel pressure to get results on the first try. Be experimental and learn by trial and error.
That is an inspiring message for viewers! Since we have been talking a lot about storms and islands and stuff, just one final question: If you were stuck on an island and could only bring one item, what would it be and why?
Mmmhm… I guess I would bring a knife (giggle). I have visited islands, only as traveling, but I believe that a knife is useful as it can help build a shelter, find food and defend myself. I am convinced that in such a situation, protecting yourself is the most important thing. Just like our current life, it is necessary to protect and take care of ourselves and our beliefs before we want to proceed with our plan.
Thank you Jo Lam for all the inspiring stories that you share today.
Credits: RMIT Alumni Relations
28 Jul 2021
Author: Duong Nguyen