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Exploring Life & Business with Jim Lee of L I V D Apparel

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jim Lee.

Jim, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
My family has always been in the fashion industry and after working in a corporate job for a couple of years, I realized that I prefer to be my own boss.

So in 2016, I decided to go back to school – attending night classes at FIDM Los Angeles after work.

In my last quarter at FIDM, my professor, Sheryl Marcus, asked the class to research a problem with the American fashion industry and I stumbled upon an article written by Tim Gunn.

For those not familiar with Tim Gunn, he’s an American tv personality, author, fashion educator, and mentor with an iconic fashion pedigree. You may have seen him as one of the hosts of Project Runway along with Heidi Klum.

It was a Washington Post article “Tim Gunn: Designers refuse to make clothes to fit American women. It’s a disgrace,” which highlighted the fact that the average American women was a size 16 or 18, but brands were simply not designing more for them. Stating “many designers — dripping with disdain, lacking imagination or simply too cowardly to take a risk — still refuse to make clothes for them.”

And while I was no longer a fluffy bundle of joy, it resonated with me. As a sub 5 foot, 160 lb 5th grader, people used to say I rolled around. In elementary school, I recall being teased for not having clothes that fit me or wearing my dad’s clothes because at the time there wasn’t clothes for plus-size kids. Or if there was, the fit was super terrible, which made me feel self-conscious.

Then puberty hit. I grew a foot taller and my baby weight dissipated. I was finally able to wear styles that were trending. More options were available to me and I was able to make the choices on what type of clothes made me feel good. This was my first introduction to the gift of fashion.

The experience of having no options for clothes to suddenly having a plethora of options to express myself and feel good was life-changing. So when I read Tim Gunn’s article, I knew creating clothes for plus-size women was my calling.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
No, it definitely has not been a smooth journey.

I first started with my own online store, www.livdapparel.com.

At the time, I was buying from the fashion wholesalers in Los Angeles and selling them on my store.

The brand was gaining traction and found its way onto some popular plus-size fashion blogs. In fact, one of my vendors took notice and reached out, offering me a partnership to help him build his retail brand.

I was offered 30% ownership, a title of Vice President, decent salary, health insurance, and a company car. As a twenty-seven years old, this sounded like a great opportunity and I took the position. I’d also gain access to his manufacturing capabilities, which meant margins would be higher and more money could be reinvested into the business to ramp up growth.

However, as time went by I realized that my 30% ownership was not enough. I was doing 90% of the work, but I was not reaping the benefits of it. I’ve cried from exhaustion, I inadvertently started intermittent fasting so I could save money on one less meal, I’ve fixed so many mistakes my partners had made without them even realizing it.

There are so many more struggles that I won’t discuss, but to any entrepreneurs reading this, get everything done in legal writing. When covid 19 spiked in April 2020, I had to leave that business to help my family business. That’s also when I realized that my 30% was never really allocated to my name – it was only given to me verbally.

But it all turned out okay. I brokered some deals with local Congressmen and Assembly people and was able to provide masks early on in the pandemic. With the profits from the masks and PPP loans, And at the request of certain customers, I decided to restart L I V D, but this time I had more manufacturing experience and connections.

So while not a smooth road, I can definitely see the destination on the horizon.

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about L I V D Apparel?
Two of my biggest goals are to show that you can competitively manufacture clothes in the US and to show plus-size women there are more options available to them now.

In a day and age where most companies are making the decision to manufacture their clothes overseas and import them, I’ve decided to invest in manufacturing here in the US. All of our clothes are designed, cut, and sewn here in the Los Angeles area – specifically Montebello, CA. I believe we can competitively make clothes here in the US, providing local jobs w/ fair wages, smaller and less wasteful batches of production, and quicker lead times.

And most importantly, I’m most proud of the ability to create and design clothes for women who have never in their entire lives been given the opportunity to choose more fashionable items to wear.

L I V D, pronounced livid, is basically a play on words for being livid about the lack of plus-size fashion options.

But timing is crucial to all of this. Without the rise of e-commerce, the ability to showcase new styles to plus-size women would be a lot more difficult. I’ve worked with buyers from several national retailers and many of them are afraid of introducing new and different styles to their stores and as a result have rejected some of our best selling styles.

It delights me when customers reach out saying they love our items. That their local stores don’t carry items such as ours.

Curvy women love fashion too and I’m proud to give them another option for their self-expression. Currently, most of our offerings are in a 1X-3X, but as our customer base grows I really want to introduce a 4X and eventually 5X. It comes with other difficulties, but introducing more sizes is at the top of our priorities.

What matters most to you?
Equality is incredibly important to me. It can be suffocating and depressing when you’re not allowed the same rights or options as others. The ability to self-express through fashion shouldn’t be reserved for a certain type of people due to their size.

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