Janessa Leone started her business with $10,000. The brand is now worth more than eight figures, he says (aka, more than $10 million). It is still self-funded and more mission-oriented than ever.
The California native first discovered the beauty of handmade hats on a visit to Paris. He wanted to bring this quality craftsmanship to a category that had been overlooked. In 2013, it started mainly with hats and some leather accessories. But over the past 10 years, he’s been building a brand that’s squarely focused on rebirth. “It’s not easy. This is not the typical way of doing business. But I can’t imagine doing it any other way,” he says.
Leone, who grew up in southern California, spent years battling chronic health issues. The health care system, he says, was good at two things: health maintenance and emergency health, but not health restoration. “The body is a well-designed machine that can heal itself if given the right nutrients.”
So, to help herself heal, she turned to food and nature. By eating more nutrient-dense foods, he discovered regenerative agriculture. “The way food is grown affects its nutrients. The richer the soils, the more nutritious that fruit or vegetable will be.”
So building a brand with a regenerative spirit came through an unusual path. “I was an animal lover. I was eager for nutrient dense foods. And I was interested in slow fashion. All roads led me to regenerative agriculture. It’s a slower way of doing things, for sure. But as I could heal my body, so the earth could be healed and yield more in dividends.”
With the guidance and support of Rachel Cantu, who was VP of Supply Chain at Patagonia for 5 years, Leone set out to create a supply chain from the ground up for all materials used in the products. And she’s added one more staple to her line: wool sweaters made from regenerative wool that’s grown, sourced and spun entirely in the USA.
They connected with Jeanne Carver of Shaniko Wool Company in Oregon. Carver worked with ranchers like herself to create a ranching group that practiced regenerative agriculture. To qualify to join the ranch group, a farm had to demonstrate that it was already incorporating regenerative practices (no-till, rotational grazing, rangeland management, etc.). In addition, it should be part of the Responsible Wool Standard.
For these breeders, it would be beneficial to sell this wool to brands such as Janessa Leone and not in the commodity market, but there aren’t enough companies sourcing directly yet.
In fact, Leone says, “When I first asked leather suppliers where the hides came from, few, if any, could trace it back to the animal. So many brands don’t know where the ingredients come from because the middlemen in the supply chain themselves don’t know.”
For her, however, it was imperative to have a fully traceable supply chain, as she wants to source more than 80% of her ingredients from regenerative farms in the near future.
There are concerns about greenwashing with regenerative agriculture, Leone admits. “That’s why we focus on traceability and data. Our suppliers monitor the carbon content of soils, take samples annually and monitor activity. Granted, they are already starting from a stronger place than a conventional farm. But they prove it with data.”
Carver, for example, has reported this data at Textile Exchange gatherings, where Leone also shares feedback and helps the organization develop its regenerative model. The last update was that the ranches had sequestered carbon equivalent to 43,600 cars in a year. (The U.S. EPA found that a typical 22 MPG gas car emits about 5 tons of carbon dioxide per year, it adds. What’s more, this data has been verified by a third party.)
Today, however, Leone reiterates that Carver and ranchers need more support. Thus, it encourages other like-minded brands to work with it and its suppliers. For example, it works with denim brand Citizens of Humanity to source regenerative cotton, and conversely, they’ve discovered wool supply chains thanks to it.
“Many companies need to come together to make this happen. It’s not going to be just one company that can do it all.”