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Meet Jenny Brew of Em Dash in Arts District DTLA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jenny Brew.

Jenny, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, a very hot, beautiful city near the Mexican border, in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. It sits in a basin surrounded by mountains and is one of the only places on earth where Saguaro cacti – the tall guys with the arms – grow wild. A great place to grow-up, it has amazing sunsets, a world-class research university, and great food, arts and music scenes, with architecture showing strong Mexican and Spanish influences. It’s got a bit of Wild West lore too – go to Hotel Congress and you can see where Dillinger was finally nabbed by Federal agents. It’s a diverse community—earning the name “The Bay of Tucson” after the 2016 Presidential election—a small blue haven in a sea of angry red.

My dad is a lawyer who, among other things, has specialized in Native American law and commercial litigation, and my mom ran a space education program for NASA and Arizona, so I always did have a bit of talent for both arguing and for striking out into the unknown. When I was very young, I found out I had a gift for singing. At first, it was a kind of a novelty – doing musical theater and participating in performance groups as a kid or impressing family with songs from “Singin’ In the Rain” at holidays. My mom raised me on music from the 60s and 70s and I remember the joy of discovering contemporary pop and R&B in middle school, later a lot of my friends were in punk bands and I grew up going to underground concerts, so I had music all around me growing up.

But I realized I could actually make a career as an opera singer. I got a scholarship to Indiana University, which if you know classical music, has one of the best conservatories in the world. It was a wonderful but brutal experience – training with the best conductors, teachers and peers in the world, getting dolled up in 18th-century powdered wigs and corsets to perform. I’d been preparing for most of my life to move to New York or Europe to perform professionally, and many of my classmates (like Jamie Barton) did. But just about a year before finishing conservatory, I had this gut feeling that while I loved music, I didn’t love the strict structure, hierarchy and all-consuming lifestyle of professional opera. I finished school, but I decided not to pursue opera professionally.

So what next? I grew up poring over Vogue and always loved fashion – both the glamour and the artistic and physicality of clothes. I have always loved to travel and growing up, I would ask to go to garment and textile museums whenever we visited a place with one. I have been obsessed with fabric and fabric care since I was very young. So I worked, saved money, and moved to L.A. to attend the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. There I fell in love with the less-than-glamorous behind-the-scenes aspects of fashion and making clothes: finding the little factories that could do complicated, perfect sewing jobs; the wash houses that could transform a piece of raw denim into a work of art. the sense of accomplishment that could come from taking a designer’s vision and making something you could hold in your hand.

It felt like a more practical and meaningful way to participate in an industry that was also highly creative and challenging, so after a few starts-and-stops with working for others, I started my own business Em Dash, Inc. in 2015 (https://www.emdashinc.com/). Essentially, if you have a fashion line (or even an idea for one) I can take you from your notebook sketches to a box of finished clothes. It’s allowed me work with some really cool brands (Richardson, 424 on Fairfax, Laundered Works Corp, Libertine) and some musicians (YG, Offset, The Weekend) on their own lines and special one of a kind pieces. I still go to shows all the time (and most of my friends are musicians) – or I did when there still were concerts, ugh – but now I run a successful small business that lets me keep a foot in both worlds while being challenged and making something beautiful every day.

Has it been a smooth road?
I picked perhaps the two most ruthless glamour industries on earth to try and break into (music and fashion), so nothing has been easy. I remember starting my business and going on Tinder dates in Echo Park and paying with my EBT card not all that long ago! Fashion is a really volatile industry that depends on a lot of big economic forces that are hard to predict or control as a business owner. Running a business by yourself has its perks, but it can also feel very lonely and overwhelming at times. When it’s time to pay bills or something goes wrong with a project, you are on your own. There is also no one to celebrate the successes with. I am lucky to have strong support in my personal life and family, to help me get through all the ups and downs, but I sometimes wish I had someone by my side in the business. Plus, despite its public image as being run by women, there’s a lot of male ego and misogyny in my end of the industry that makes a tough job tougher. I have worked with a lot of people that I really respect, and I’ve met so many great men and women along the way, but the industry is definitely due for its own reckoning around how women are treated in the manufacturing sphere.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Em Dash Inc story. Tell us more about the business.
At the core of my business is education. I work with companies at all levels but specialize in working with start-ups. Part of the process of working with me and Em Dash, Inc. is learning the ins and outs of development and manufacturing. I want my clients to feel empowered to understand what fair prices are, how timelines work and what makes a quality garment. I also focus on mentorship with my employees and interns. I have always been a very curious person and I look for team members with a thirst to learn and grow in the industry. I have had the opportunity in my career to work with many varied clients and category lines (denim, swim, streetwear, accessories). I have a vast network of people that I call on to develop and produce a wide spread of product concepts. Plus, while I do have employees, pretty much everything runs through me and I have a really unique and specialized knowledge base about where to go and who to call to get even the most complicated jobs done well. I’m really hands on with everyone I work with from start to finish.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I would protect myself more. Early in my career, I had not learned to listen to my gut and I made some bad deals that left me in some pretty serious debt. I have learned to speak up for myself, set stronger boundaries and hold them, and simply put, to say “no” when things are not right. I still struggle with this, the fear of missing out on a paycheck even though the pay is poor and the treatment is even worse. As I have grown in my career, I have learned to communicate better and know when a relationship is right or not right for either party. I also finally reached a point with company growth that I have enough money to hire a lawyer so I can have official contracts with clients. The other thing I learned that has been invaluable seems simple, but for me it was not: Always get a deposit (usually 30%-50%) before beginning a project and collect the remaining balance before delivering any goods. This has always been a rule for my company, but I made exceptions for some clients due to rushed timelines and promises of payment. Sometimes that has worked out, but other times I have lost a lot of precious time and money.

But on the whole, entrepreneurship definitely isn’t for everybody (god knows how many nights I’ve laid awake sweating and worrying about how I was going to pay next month’s rent), but it is a risk that I feel is worth taking. The satisfaction of being in total control and self-reliant is huge. I’d tell my younger self both to be prepared for the panic, but to look forward to the challenges, rewards and a great sense of accomplishment.

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