Today we’d like to introduce you to Ivy Ponce.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Ivy. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
ivylove was inadvertently born when I was in high school, from 1996-2000. I spent the majority of my high school years drawing on friends’ book covers, designing their prom dresses, painting our school banners in our ASB classroom, or sitting in my bedroom floor, puffy painting tees or hand-painting sneakers for my cheer squad or any other school club.
Everyone knew I was the girl who loved to draw and would commission me for any art project they could think of.
I would sign my name back then with a little asymmetrical heart next to it. That little heart became my trademark, and now represents the ivyLove brand.
Decades later, many of those childhood friends STILL celebrate and support my passion, which is now in the form of tee shirt collections or #ivyLoveSketches, and custom denim jackets.
From a very young age, I was the girl gifting drawings and homemade cards. I was the kid who carried art supplies in my fanny pack to birthday parties and drew pictures for the parents, while the kids played. I was THAT kid.
During my senior year in high school, I was chosen to design and paint our graduation class logo on the side of one of our school buildings. I did the same for my college major. Art had been a passion of mine for decades, which eventually became my only source of income.
I gave birth to my daughter a couple months after graduating high school at 17 years old, which created urgency in beginning a career for the sake of providing for her. I enrolled in the first fashion school that would allow me the schedule to work, attend classes, while raising an infant. It was one of those trade schools you hear on the radio. I called, made the appointment, took a tour the following day, and just like Ariel did when she signs her voice away to Ursula, I closed my eyes, signed paperwork, and took the plunge. $35k in loans, and a single mom on public assistance. There was no looking back.
I was balancing school at night, motherhood, and a 9-5 at a cheer uniform company, where I settled for a position in their shipping department and dreamed of the day my boss would promote me to Designer. So I impatiently and conspicuously began to work on (and sometimes fake) school assignments where I was in plain sight of anyone who would eventually see my work and give me a shot in the design department.
It worked. I began by cold calling local cheer and dance teams and offering our “new Custom Department”, which was me, some printer paper and a few Prisma colors. I was able to get the attention of new accounts, and began sketching cheer and dance wear for them, that our production team would price out and manufacture. within 2 years, I was designing a full-page catalog for the company, creating a full line of cheer and performance wear, including custom dancewear for the Los Angeles Lakers, and Clippers Dance Team. Thinking that I had made it, I quit school a few weeks before graduation and found myself working weekends, holidays and even bringing my toddler to work. During my lunch breaks, I designed custom pieces for me and my daughter to wear to Dodger games, and had our sample makers and seamstresses put them together sometimes the day of the game. In hindsight, this was the best opportunity I could’ve ever gotten.
Not being able to fully claim credit for any of my designs, because they belonged to the company, I decided to resign and branch out on my own; But like any young entrepreneur with no formal business background, I soon realized that it wasn’t as easy as I had hoped for. I struggled for the next few years, trying to gain exposure. Eventually, I opened and closed my first boutique in less than a year, and created an online shop, simply because I couldn’t bear to fully succumb to failure. I didn’t want to be asked “what happened?” and not have something to show for all the years I had been trying to establish a brand.
For the next few years, I worked an office 9-5 in the trade school and beauty industry, and worked on the website from home, until the wee hours of the morning. Shipping a handful of orders a week, mostly from friends and family. I took every freelance design job I could get, designing logos, invites, business cards, and on the weekends, I face painted at birthday parties. My friends and family would share my business with their friends and I started taking custom tee orders again, for birthdays, concerts, family reunions, and what I would consider an omen: Team inspired tees for opening day, or tailgate parties.
The Team tees were a hit. I was designing collections that would sell out online in a few days, and quickly had customers asking for new designs…. I balanced my 9-5 and ivyLove until I felt confident that if I pushed myself a little more, I could pay bills on ivyLoveshop alone. In 2014, I quit my 9-5 and ivyloveshop.com became my full time.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Not even a little. Being a single mom, and relying on tee shirt sales as my only source of income has inevitably been a challenge, even today, that the brand is doing significantly better than when we first started. I’ve even learned to calculate my cost of living in tee shirt increments whether I’m buying a pair of shoes or giving my daughter money for a school event. I mentally calculate how many tee shirts it costs to cover that. We’re still very frugal and conscious of our spending, because we know one month can bring a comfortable amount in sales, and the next month can be extremely slow.
I say “we” because my daughter has been my business partner since before she could even read and write. She’s helped me from sorting the “blue tee shirts in one pile and the white tee shirts in another” when she was just a little girl, to cleaning my brushes and googling whichever obscure character a kid would request at my face painting gigs on weekends, when she really deserved (and was probably dying) to be in the jumper with the other kids.
When she was in elementary school and Jr high, she would do her homework and have dinner in my car afterschool, because mom had to deliver orders, or meet with clients until past her bedtime. I missed many of her events, because I was either working late at the office, or at home in front of my computer. There were many nights I apologized to her in tears, for selfishly following my dreams as a struggling artist, instead of choosing a more secure career path that would allow me to be a more attentive parent.
Even now, as she is preparing for her senior year as ASB President, she has managed to maintain a high GPA, while being a member of her theater team, track and field, and photography club, she spends many of her evenings doing laundry, washing dishes or helping me prepare for a pop up show, which she still gives up her weekends for, to be my cashier or photographer. She takes on more chores than she deserves, because I’m still the only employee this company has, and I run every department, from design, to sales, customer service, quality control, purchasing… and sometimes even shipping.
She is truly the reason this brand continues to grow. She has and continues to make incredible sacrifices for us.
We recently created a podcast (https://www.spreaker.com/show/jrmadres-show), to document and share our journey with other entrepreneurs, moms, or BOTH! We’ve received an amazing response, and like ivylove, we have another project to work on together. Our goal is to pay it forward through public speaking, share our story in person, through mother-daughter workshops, on how we are able to overcome the challenges of teen parenting, entrepreneurship and even just basic communication between a teenager and a parent. We’ve managed to survive some of the teen subjects that even I couldn’t get past with my mom.
This brand embodies our entire life, and it would be unfortunate to leave out the true essence of it, which is the bond we have as a mother daughter team.
So, let’s switch gears a bit and go into the ivyLove story. Tell us more about the business.
ivyLove is a signature brand of apparel, representing our daily life, and multi-faceted culture.
Each piece is designed by me, using inspiration from a personal experience or a current event; I use many of my favorite things to create full collections, whether it’s a popular Spanish phrase I grew up on, a favorite line from a song, my years working in the beauty industry, or inspiration from our two favorite places: Disneyland and Dodger Stadium.
What sets me apart from other tee shirt brands is the little signature ivyLove heart on the lower left of the back of every tee. It is the same heart that I used to draw on my banners when I was in high school, and I include it in every collection, sometimes in an inconspicuous place, like the lips of my #ivyLoveSketches.
I specialize in small, limited edition collections, to let customers know they are purchasing an exclusive and personal piece, that can’t be found anywhere else but at ivyloveShop.com. I design only high-quality pieces, that last through many washes and get softer with every wear. I’ve even had customers surprise me at an event, wearing an ivyLove piece that is sometimes up to 7 years old, confessing how much they wear and love it. You can imagine what I experience when I see the same little heart I drew on those high school banners, on the back of a stranger’s tee shirt as I stand in line at Disneyland, or while I wait to order my Dodger dog at the stadium. I completely fangirl over these moments, because there was a time I wore a homemade tee to Dodger games, wondering if I’d ever get to design for other fans. I still dream of the day I can walk into a Dodger Stadium shop and see an ivylove tee on display.
Lastly, I only design pieces that represent what’s in my heart. Even when I am collaborating with other brands or companies, I never accept a design opportunity that compromises my beliefs or puts myself or my daughter in a bad light. We have worked so hard to build this brand; So, while many companies rely on current trends or pop culture phrases, even when they express a negative or “edgy” message, I make sure that absolutely everything I design is created with positive energy and purpose. At the end of the day, I feel better turning down a collaboration or commission piece that doesn’t reflect what’s in my heart, then having to justify compromising our integrity. What makes me the proudest as a company is exactly that.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
This is something I constantly think about! While I do feel incredibly fortunate or “lucky” that this brand has allowed me the opportunity to pay the bills and raise my daughter with the hobby of that 8-year-old that carried Lisa Frank rubber stamps and sharpies in her fanny pack, I have to say that timing and people, more than anything, have been the true factor for the development of ivyLove.
I have had the fortune to meet the right people at the right time, to challenge me, to teach me, to support and guide me through most of this journey. everyone I have ever come across while building the brand, has taught me something new about myself, which has enabled me to grow personally and professionally.
I have been fortunate to know some of the truest and most selfless people in and out of this industry. I’ve had amazing artists like Steve Alfaro (from Voto Latino), who I met in middle school, tutor me while he was still a college art student himself! During his last years in college, he would meet with me late in the evenings to show me the world of computer graphic design when I was still hand painting shoes and tees. He walked me through my very first digital design. I credit him for much of ivylove’s success.
Just like with children, building a brand, too, takes a village. I’ve had childhood friends, family members and even colleagues, support, promote and give up their weekends to help me with a show, or drive across town to pick up and deliver a warehouse shipment minutes before will call closes. I get teary eyed, just thinking about the countless unpaid favors I’ve been granted throughout the years.
And then there are fellow brands, artists, and event planners, who have reached out to collaborate with me, sometimes during my lowest moments. The team at sleekhair.com fully embraced me, days after my last boutique was vandalized and robbed. Their marketing director Christina Krasch walked into my little store, flowers in hand, and invited me to showcase at one of their biggest events two years ago, the very same day that my shop had suffered a break in. We’ve been family ever since.
I credit an abundance of people for every ivyLove milestone and accomplishment. Especially our customers, who go out of their way to promote ivylove, we have never paid any bloggers or marketing companies to feature the brand, so when you see someone wearing an ivylove piece, chances are they purchased it, which means the world to us. Most of our customers will never fully understand what an integral part of not just the brand, but of our lives they truly are.
- Limited edition ivyLove tees, hats sweatshirts $24+
- Blue Jean Baby By ivyLove Custom Denim Jackets $100+
- #ivyLoveSketches $65-$300
- Website: ivyLoveshop.com
- Email: info@ivyLoveShop.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ivyloveshop/
- Other: https://www.spreaker.com/show/jrmadres-show
photography by @idalysphotography