We had the good fortune of connecting with Cynthia Jamin and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Cynthia, have you ever found yourself in a spot where you had to decide whether to give up or keep going? How did you make the choice?
This is a question that comes up frequently, and has steered me in the “right” direction every time I answer it truthfully and as objectively as I can. This pivotal question is not only about soul-searching, but also allowing oneself to truly see what is going on.
So many times, it’s easy to get blinded by sheer desire and will. In those moments, we often find ourselves in unnecessary hardships and/or missing great opportunities for growth. Today, I’m a successful business owner. I built my business without any formal education or knowledge of the fashion industry. I’m extremely proud of TwirlyGirl and it’s been going since 2007. I’m also happily married with 2 almost-adult daughters. If you had asked me when I was 7 if I thought my life would turn out this way, I probably would have said you were crazy.
For 5 years I was sexually abused as child. From the time I was 7 to 12 years old, my life was very dark. My mother was young when she had me and had demons of her own. Being that she wasn’t able to care for me, I stayed with a family “friend.” During that time, I knew that there was more to life than what I was experiencing. I would watch TV and just escape into the fictional worlds of Gilligan’s Island, Bewitched, The Brady Bunch, That Girl, etc. They gave me a glimpse into an alternate reality that I believed actually existed in some way – it KEPT ME GOING. I know that we all can’t hang our hats on fantasy worlds, but honestly, they saved me and I allowed them to do that. My innocent mind had not become jaded. I believed in something grander than what I saw in front of me.
When I was 13, I escaped that situation in Chicago and moved to Los Angeles to live with my father. We really didn’t have much of a relationship, but he didn’t “give up” on having one. He always wanted to know me but found it hard to deal with my mother and all the problems she was having. I was finally in the world of the Beverly Hillbillies and the Partridge family! And eventually, I did go into the acting world out of high school. I chose not to go to college because I wanted to be on my own.
I struggled as an actress in Hollywood for more years than I actually worked as an actress. But during those 13 years of survival jobs and random acting gigs, I was constantly asking myself – should I keep going or give up? What kept me going was that I truly loved acting. And I was learning about myself in the process. The arts were a safe haven of community and I needed that. But towards the end of those 13 years, even though I had landed on some really great sitcoms (like Friends, Just Shoot Me, Suddenly Susan, and more), I started to feel like it wasn’t enough. It was hard to face the reality that I hadn’t achieved my ultimate goal – becoming a regular on a sitcom. I was dreading all the dead end jobs I took to get by, and my self esteem faded along with my aspirations. I was also becoming angry that I had to wait for someone else to allow me to do what I loved.
I allowed myself to come to terms with that truth: I don’t like feeling powerless in my own life and I have more that I want to do. Recognizing this truth gave me permission to give up acting. I freed myself from the waiting game and entered a new chapter where I was able to take control over my own life again. I’ve never regretted that decision and I don’t miss acting at all. My truth was the guiding force, so there was nothing to regret. Unconsciously, I created a void. By leaving behind a life that wasn’t serving me anymore, I was open to find something new.
I happened to take a sewing class and fell in love with the instant gratification of making something and using it! It was creative and immediate. I started making clothes for my daughters, and then my business was born out of one of the dresses I created. I kept following the energy in front of me, I KEPT GOING because it felt natural (challenging, yes) and joyful. When you find yourself banging your head up against the SAME wall over and over, it’s time to think about giving up (or at least switching directions). I’ve come to recognize that when things feel too hard and all the joy has been sucked out of it… it’s time to move on. And it felt better to move on than to stay in a situation where I was so miserable.
TwirlyGirl has not been easy, but I can honestly say that even the hard times are worth it. The satisfaction, fulfillment, and pure joy I get from having my own business and being creative is everything to me. And I have my audience, the customers, cheering me forward. And I get to act! We produce our own fantasy driven commercials. Still, I know there will come a time when I will need to make a change. As long as I’m open to following what is true for me, “giving up” is really a way of moving forward. There is no judgement in either decision if you allow them both to serve you in the moment.
To give up something that doesn’t serve you anymore is a necessary step toward fulfillment and purpose. And to keep going is an affirmation that what you are doing is serving your highest good and those around you.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I didn’t get into designing clothes for kids because I think of myself as a designer. I am not interested in trends or fashion particularly. What interests me is creating an experience. I want the child that is wearing anything I design to be transformed. Childhood is all about imagination and wonder, and in that uninhibited space, they are able to learn about themselves and the world they want to create. Whatever I decide to make must meet this criteria: It has to be fun to wear, it must do something special, and it must be super comfortable to wear all the time and not “precious.”
I don’t do anything the way it “should” be done because my focus isn’t about the bottom line. While I definitely need to make a profit, my goal is to produce something extremely unique. And I want to be able to oversee the quality and keep our standards very high. Those 2 things alone go against the typical way to manufacture goods. I only make a limited amount of every color-way. I use at least 3-15 contrasting fabrics on every style. I manufacture entirely in Los Angeles and only buy from vendors in the United States and locally. None of this is easy but it’s the only way I want to run my business.
What I’ve learned is that there is a trade off for every decision. Because I manufacture locally, I have higher costs. But I would rather do that than lose control over quality. Also, knowing that I’m supporting my local economy is very important to me. I want to make sure the people working for TwirlyGirl are paid fairly and are in safe working conditions. These terms are non-negotiable. And I’ve had many opportunities to be lured away from these core values.
Producing only a limited amount of every style more frequently with so many fabrics and not producing thousands of the same thing is very time consuming and difficult. But if I want TwirlyGirl to be unique, this is way I choose to create my line. I’ve tried selling TwirlyGirl to boutiques and department stores (we were in Nordstrom for a couple of random seasons). We’ve done trade shows and had clothing representatives. In the end, try as I might, I could never break into the wholesale world fully. It’s just not my thing. I don’t like having a middle man between me and my customer. And because I don’t do collections for every season, and don’t make it easy for buyers to pick out our designs in predictable colors, it just wasn’t a good fit for my company. And I’m very ok with that.
Even though it’s really not typical for a clothing company to not want to be in stores, my focus is the end customer, not pleasing the gate keepers. And once that truth was owned, I was able to put all my resources into my retail business, instead of wasting money chasing after something that never felt right for my brand. I know I’m doing something right because of the pictures and reviews we receive all the time. Customers are happy to share how our clothing has made their kids feel, we get fan mail, not just reviews.
Since 2007, we have a return rate of less than 1%. That’s just phenomenal for an e-commerce store where customers never get to feel or try on the clothing before they buy it. TwirlyGirl is not about creating clothing, it’s about creating happy childhood memories. That’s all I care about. When a customer purchases from us, I want the whole experience – from the order confirmation email to the special fabric gift wrap and stories that go with every style to be memorable and bring joy. I want to be a positive force in the world, one dress at a time. And the icing on the cake is that I’m able to donate a portion of our sales to Childhelp.org. A National organization that helps abused children and their families.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I would make sure they got to experience the special little pockets of diversity that Los Angeles offers. Yes we are spread out, but there is so much to see. We would drive to a different neighborhood every day, from Pasadena to Venice Beach. We would first pick an area in that particular neighborhood and just get out of the car and walk around for an hour. Exploring the houses, little businesses etc. Then find a local place to eat lunch/Dinner.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Michael Jamin. He is my husband and business partner. He’s responsible for all of our branding, original stories, and commercials. He taught himself how to utilize social media marketing and catapulted TwirlyGirl to the next level. Without his consistent, and loving support, there is no way I would be able to do this on my own.
I also want to credit Heather Marquardt. She has been an integral part of TwirlyGirl since 2009. She graduated from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles and I immediately snapped her up to start working for TwirlyGirl. I’m grateful for her collaboration and steady demeanor. Riding through all the ups and downs of business and sticking with us, Heather is a constant source of positivity and encouragement. Even though I’m twice her age, we have one of the healthiest relationships I’ve ever had in my life. We push each other to be the best we can be and we respect and enjoy each other. It’s been hard not being able to work in person every day because of the pandemic, only one of us can be in the office at any given time. But we haven’t missed a beat and found creative workarounds. That’s a true team. And for that I’m extremely grateful!
I highly suggest the book Profit First by Mike Michalowicz for those that are starting their own business. And even for those who already have a thriving business. It’s super helpful!
Other: Cynthia’s Personal Story: https://www.twirlygirlshop.com/giving-back/
Time Machine Commercial: https://www.twirlygirlshop.com/time-machine-returns-from-past-with-present-for-future/
Million Dollar Secret Commercial: https://www.twirlygirlshop.com/million-dollar-secret-kept-inside-pickle-jar
Cardboard Rocketship Commercial: https://www.twirlygirlshop.com/cardboard-rocketship-returns-from-jupiter
Louis Felix, Maggie Storm