Jesse Erin founded Stepforward around the concept of empowering women with fashion-forward, feminine classics in the collegiate clothing realm. Tired of boxy, oversized men’s wear, she set out to design a sleeker, tailored, of-the-times look for women of all sizes and ages to show loyalty for their school.
TURN'S OUT, THE APPLE DOESN'T FALL FAR FROM THE TREE
Erin’s mom, Joan, founded a line of feminine, flattering, functional nurse’s uniforms in a time when women’s voices weren’t prioritized in the workforce.
She says, “I absolutely hated every scrub dress on the market with the exception of one. It was a tie waist, the perfect mid-weight and required no ironing - what more could a nurse ask for? I knew my fellow nurses would feel the same way if they could get their hands on them.
My husband's uncle had a uniform store - I asked if I could purchase these scrub dresses from him at wholesale and try to sell them to my friends. I was a float nurse which meant I knew pretty much every nurse and nurse hang out in the joint.
Over lunch, I slung my samples over my arm and cornered all of my friends at the nurse's stations on each floor. By the end of lunch, I sold 125 uniforms. I ran the math and I decided right then and there that I’ve had it with nursing, I’m going into business.”
LIKE MOTHER LIKE DAUGHTER
Like her mom, Jesse is an entrepreneurial woman who understands her customer because she is her customer. And, just like her mother, Jesse is a woman who’s passionate about a product need in a specific market. She’s unwilling to accept male-normative trends and she’s showing up to prioritize the feminine.
This mother-daughter duo believes in building products based on details that are important to women. Nurses want functional pockets and a flattering silhouette, college women want elegant embellishments and contemporary staples.
THE BEGINNING OF JOAN'S JOURNEY
It was a challenge to convince her gatekeepers to sell her products on sight. That all changed once she showed the hospital personnel how successful her hand-drawn ad in Canadian Nurse had been and explained how it was truly an opportunity to sell uniforms while showing their nurses that they cared about what’s important to them.
“Back then it was very difficult to be an official vendor. I was told you can’t sell in the hospital. I was practically in tears, I explained this isn’t about saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to me as a vendor, this is about your nurses; show them that you care! Believe me, I was a nurse, I understand how much these items would mean to your nurses. By some miracle that seemed to resonate. I practically blew out of everything I had. You know what? The nurses thanked me and the staff.”
Stepforward met with similar challenges in the beginning but, news of a line that’s made for women by women spread, the momentum across campuses built quickly and there’s no looking back.
Joan’s company, Lizzie B, is still around. But Joan moved on years ago to start another business. As she says, “Over the next five years Lizzie B went on to sell millions of uniforms. Eventually, I sold the business and bought my family our first home and was able to invest in a real estate company that changed our future.”
Today Joan is Jesse’s design partner. Together they create pieces that are fun, flattering, and functional for every woman on campus to wear. They keep what women want at the forefront of their creative process. Their collaboration is a passionate, fashion-forward advocacy for their fellow woman.