Jan Erickson began her career in the restaurant industry, but it was her volunteer work as a hospital caregiver that inspired a career that is her life calling. While working with her local church, Erickson met Jean Jauchen, who had become disabled after having several strokes. Erickson made Jauchen a special jacket — one that would keep her warm but was attractive — and best of all, easy to get on and off. The success of that jacket eventually led Erickson to launch her own company, Janska, making clothes that feature "universal design." Erickson explains what that means.
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Tell us what your approach to clothing design is.
We want to create stylish, colorful and comfortable clothing — things that you grab and put on when you get home from work that are nice enough to wear out to dinner. Janska Wellness garments have universal design, meaning everyone can wear them. They have more ease in the arm and are lightweight. We use larger buttons for people with arthritic hands. It's pretty effortless to get things off and on, not only for the person wearing the clothes but also for the caregiver.
Besides clothing being a necessity for everyday life, what do clothes represent to you?
It's not only the identity of how we present ourselves to the world and the physical comfort of the clothes that we wear, but there's also an emotional factor. When I put something on that feels good and I know it's appealing to the eye, I feel better about myself. Someone who's in a hospital gown can't do that.
When Jean had something pretty on, people would talk to her and say, "Oh, you look so nice today, Jean," or "That's such a pretty color on you," and all of a sudden there was an engagement. If somebody is sitting there in a hospital gown, there is a tendency for us to turn away rather than to engage. So I knew this was very critical in terms of Jean's own dignity because she was extremely bright and her mind was fine; it was her body that wasn't.
What led you from wellness wear to fashion?
All these ideas just bubbled up; we made a lap blanket, "MocSocks," leg warmers and another jacket with a larger sleeve. We starting looking around thinking there must be somebody else doing this, but my husband Jon and I couldn't find anyone who was really trying to bring ease and fashion together. We decided to take our garments to the Denver Merchandise Mart to see if there were hospital gift shops interested in purchasing them — that's when we got our first shock. Regular boutiques loved our designs, loved the color, loved the concept and started buying. We realized, wow, we have universal design.
Your company and clothing are environmentally friendly?
We use 100 percent recycled Polartec fleece. The manufacturing of our products is outsourced to small, locally owned, mostly family businesses that are chosen partly based on the physical location of the facility to minimize transportation of raw and finished goods, thus reducing the environmental impact of moving goods across the country. We oversee the manufacturers closely to make sure we are as efficient as possible in minimizing or eliminating any fabric waste. Our leftover fabric is used either in the handmade production of our flower pins and artisan details or donated to nonprofit organizations.
What has been the most gratifying result of your reinvention?
When we receive notes, cards, letters and emails from people saying how much they love our garments. We get cards from people saying, "I loved my jacket that I took to Europe" or "My mom wore your things while she was in the hospital and the comfort was amazing." A woman recently said, "I wear your MocSocks every single night. They are the only things that have kept my feet warm." That to me is success.
Also of interest: Universal design for a long-term home.