Business for a Better World: Joe & Bella
Joe & Bella
Annual revenue: Under $1 million.
Number of employees: 6-10
An interview with Jimmy Zollo, CEO of Joe & Bella.
Q: Describe your company.
A: Joe & Bella is the first contemporary adaptive-apparel brand for older adults. Our fashion-forward adaptive apparel balances form and function, in turn making dressing easier, stress-free and more dignified.
Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?
A: Yes. We're a startup -- celebrating our anniversary in January -- and growing quickly. We have six products in development that will be released next year. Joe & Bella will need a larger team to support the launch of these products as we continue to scale.
Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?
A: We are fortunate that in our first year of operations we have gained an in-depth understanding of the adaptive apparel market, from unique design considerations to manufacturing to marketing. While we will use these key leanings, there are factors outside of our control that could present challenges next year.
For example, we are working with multiple manufacturers and, like other companies, are navigating global supply chains that have been (and still are) impacted by the pandemic and inflation. This could present a challenge as we aim to achieve our timeline goals.
Additionally, we are continually striving to increase both brand and category awareness. Growth of the adaptive apparel market is driven largely by an aging population, and while a significant percentage of people in the United States alone would benefit from adaptive apparel, many people aren't aware that these types of clothes exist. We strive to educate the public about adaptive clothing and its benefits for both end users and caregivers.
Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?
A: Until recently, adaptive apparel has been a niche industry. However, over the past several years, the category has experienced a shift toward the mainstream as concepts around inclusivity become the expectation. To that end, there are several new brands in this space, including Joe & Bella, that are innovating.
Our team of designers recognizes that adaptive clothes need to be functional and fashionable. Perhaps not surprisingly, nearly all the exciting innovation in this space is by brands that specifically cater to younger people living with disabilities. From Target to Kohl's to Kim Kardashian's brand Skims, important new products are being marketed to those under 50. Joe & Bella is one of only a few adaptive clothing brands creating apparel specifically for adults over 50.
Q: What does your company do regarding DE&I (diversity, equity & inclusion)?
A: Before launching Joe & Bella, my co-founder and I worked together as researchers for large corporate clients, including AARP, Procter & Gamble, the NBA and Bank of America to help them deeply understand the needs of their customers. Through a particular major research project, we learned not only the specific words to use when talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion, but also what actions help a brand build genuine, authentic credibility with consumers when showing them that diversity matters.
We gained deep insight from the research and subsequent talks with the diversity leaders at major corporations, including Target and Nike. We've taken these leanings to heart and allow them to guide us at Joe & Bella.
Although we're new and small, diversity is at the core of what we do. Our central mission is to improve the lives of those living with age-related physical and cognitive disabilities. So everything we do is through the lens of inclusion.
For example, our first hire was Taylor, customer success team leader. A former geriatric nurse, Taylor has deep experience working with older adults in hospitals and senior living communities. Additionally, when developing new products, we work with older adults to model prototypes to ensure the design is best for those with aging bodies. We're in the early stages of developing the first-of-its-kind research project to quantify the benefits of adaptive clothing for older adults and their caregivers in senior living communities. We're ensuring the research participants properly represent the diverse population we're serving.
Q: Does your company donate time or money to any philanthropic causes? If so, what causes?
A: Joe & Bella enjoys a few wonderful partnerships that give us an opportunity to give back. Currently, we are working with more than 100 senior-living communities across the country, and through this particular partnership, a portion of all sales generated at a senior community is donated directly to that community in the form of an employee-appreciation fund for their front-line workers.
We've been able to sponsor meals and events at many of these communities to honor and thank their hardworking caregivers and support staff. We've also contributed books and activities to their libraries and activity rooms.
Additionally, we partnered with the Alzheimer's Association on their Longest Day campaign. During the summer of 2022, we sold a T-shirt for caregivers and collected additional donations, with all proceeds benefiting The Longest Day.
Recognizing that care communities benefit from providing our products to their residents, we donated 100 pairs of CareZips by Joe & Bella, our first original product, to Madonna Rehab in Omaha, Nebraska.
Q: Does your company do anything else to make your community better?
A: For us, community includes our Chicagoland neighbors as well as older adults and those who care for them. In addition to our "giveback" program which includes a senior-care community in suburban Northbrook, we're regularly developing and distributing valuable new content to support older adults and family and professional caregivers.
We're also currently collaborating with the Fashion Studies Program at Columbia College in Chicago to develop new and innovative adaptive apparel. Our team is working directly with the instructor and students, and I recently visited the campus where the students presented three unique prototypes.
Fostering the next generation of designers, our team gave plenty of feedback, as we have throughout the entire semester, with the goal of getting one of the prototypes sufficiently finalized for our design team to manufacture. We plan to sell the completed design on JoeAndBella.com, and donate a portion of the proceeds to Columbia College in the form of fashion school scholarships.
Q: What do you do to make your business a good place to work for your employees?
A: We pride ourselves on the culture we have created at Joe & Bella. Our team is passionate about our work and driven by our shared mission of bringing more dignity, joy and ease to the lives of older adults and those who care for them. We encourage employees to work from home and stress the importance of work/life balance
Q: Do you have a business mantra?
A: Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.
This mantra can be applied to both our team and our customers. As a team, we're building a business from the ground up, and it's important to not get lost in the forest. A lot goes into a startup, especially in the first year when competing priorities can pull us in so many different directions. I always remind our team to take it one step at a time.
We can think big and be ambitious, but our execution needs to be detailed and careful. At this stage in our business, we may not be able to do all the exciting things we would like, so it's critical to maximize our resources.
This mantra respects the mindset of older adults who wear our products. As we age, our bodies change, and we feel it is important for older adults to understand how clothing can address their physical changes and lifestyle. And when life gets difficult, Joe & Bella's adaptive apparel can make things a bit easier.
Q: What is one interesting fact about your company that most people may not know?
A: The name Joe & Bella honors two special individuals whose strength of character and sense of humor inspired and comforted my family during an unforgettable evening more than a decade ago. Joe and Bella were widowed Holocaust survivors who found each other later in life. They also found my grandparents while living in a senior care community, and they quickly embraced my family and made the transition from family home to assisted living more comfortable and easy for my grandparents.
These two individuals became part of our family, joining us for holidays and other special occasions. We fell in love with our adopted grandparents, helping them buy shoes and clothes, spending time together and sharing stories.
Bella was a tough customer -- always hard to please since her sense of style, which she never lost, was always a priority. Joe loved stopping off at the nearby Polish bakery for some szarlotka and other pastries. Joe and Bella made such a wonderful, positive difference in our lives that we were thrilled at the opportunity to name our new company after them.
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Annual revenue: Under $1 million.
Number of employees: 6-10