Q&A WITH GIRL BOSS JEN ZEANO OF JEN ZEANO DESIGNS
By Lamya Cruz
VIM MOOD CHAT: Founder and Designer, Jen Zeano of jenzeanodesigns.com
How do you get the attention of a well-to-do celebrity, and have them wear your merchandise, you ask? Jen Zeano, 25, operates a fun and stylish lifestyle brand that has attracted the attention from several notable rising starts. Her designs empower women and Latina's. Zeano discusses embracing your passion, perseverance, and the real story behind--producer, entrepreneur and Golden Globe Award winning actress, Gina Rodriguez rocking one of Zeano's best-selling t-shirts.
VM: WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?
JEN ZEANO: I am married, I have been married to my wife, [Veronica] for a little over three years. I'm twenty-five and I have two fur babies; a bunny and a dog. I actually went to school for social work and psychology, which I know is completely different from what I am currently doing, but I tried being in the field and I just didn't like having a boss. (Laughs) So I just decided to do my own thing.
VM: WHAT WAS THE DEFINING MOMENT THAT YOU REALIZED YOU WANTED TO START A WOMEN-LATINA EMPOWERMENT MERCHANDISING BRAND?
JEN ZEANO:When I was in high school I thought, 'I wanted to be a psychologist—that’s what I want to do. I want to be a marriage counselor--that's my calling in life. I have to do it!' So, I went four years in college, and I got an associate’s in social work, so that I could start working in the field. But, I couldn’t land a job. So I was like, ‘that’s okay, I’m gonna get my bachelors.’ I ended up getting my bachelors back in 2014 and I still couldn’t land a job... I live in a small town. I live in a border town, actually. So, Mexico is just a few minutes away. But because of that same reason, I think that’s why there wasn’t many job opportunities. I just couldn’t find a job that I felt I was going to love. So, I actually started working for the state of Texas and I did that for about a year and it was so draining—having to work eight to five, and it was just the same thing over and over again; I just hated it. I hated it. Then I started working for a foster care agency and I really actually enjoyed that, but I just didn’t like having a boss. I didn’t like having a schedule, and the routine was just so boring for me that I had to find something else to do with my life that was actually going to bring me happiness, and that I could be able to bring that happiness to other people. I quit my job and thought, ‘what can I do that was going to bring me happiness and either help other people out or bring them happiness as well.’ And that’s when I was like, I have to create something that is all about positivity and girl power! So I just did it, and it’s kind of just has been taking off and I can’t even believe where we are right now.
VM: AND YOU STARTED YOUR COMPANY LAST YEAR, CORRECT?
JEN ZEANO: Yes, I believe it was May of last year, so it’s been a little bit over a year… I was so determined to make this work. I said to myself, ‘this is what is going to make me happy and I have to make this work.’ So I have just been hustling, because I refuse for it not to work.
VM: WHAT INSPIRES YOUR DESIGNS AND WAS THIS ALWAYS YOUR PASSION?
JEN ZEANO: I can’t say that it was always something that I wanted to do. It was just something that caught my attention. But then once I started doing it, I just wanted to keep doing it! It’s like my favorite part of the job; having new designs and new ideas, that's my favorite part of owning my business. Everything is usually inspired by my culture. So, like I mentioned, I am on a border town. We have Montemorelos literally a few minutes away and my whole family is over there. My parents go all the time, so sometimes I’ll like tag along. That’s usually where most of my inspiration comes from, I mean music… just our entire culture. Even food sometimes.
VM: YOUR ‘LATINA POWER’ T-SHIRT IS YOUR TOP SELLER, HOW DOES THAT FEEL?
JEN ZEANO: I think our ‘Latina Power’ shirt really made our business take off. That shirt has been our best seller for months. I think it is going to continue to be our best seller for a while.
VM: WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE IMPORTANCE OF YOUR BRAND?
JEN ZEANO: My whole mission behind having the clothing line is to empower women. Because I am Latina, I tend to gravitate to encouraging other Latinas. I love to support other women that are running their own businesses and other women who are just supporting us and all of their endeavors. There are so many girls sending me pictures taking off their cap and gown wearing their ‘Latina Power’ t-shirt underneath, and I am just so inspired by that. You know, it keeps me going—it drives me. My whole mission is to keep on spreading girl power and Latina power. I love, love, love when it’s a topic of conversation, when someone sees you wearing the shirt and it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m Latina too!’ Before you know it, you’re bonding over something that’s just so beautiful.
VM: HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT STARTING YOUR OWN COMPANY?
JEN ZEANO: Honestly, I had no idea when I first started. No idea. I just kind of dived right in. We actually started the business back in May with only three mugs and one shirt. We don’t even sell mugs anymore (laughs), because we just wanted to see how it would go and then we had that one shirt—and I think I only ordered about fifteen shirts. I was like, ‘let’s see if this works, let’s see if they sell, let’s see if I can get people to get on board’—and they did. Then, from one shirt we are currently at [I think] ten t-shirts that we have on our website right now. And we’ve added pins, stickers, caps, and it’s just been growing. Honestly, I had no clue what I was doing when I started. Sometimes, I still don’t know what I am doing (laughs), but it’s just been a learning process the whole time.
VM: HAS THE PROCESS EVER BEEN OVERWHELMING FOR YOU?
JEN ZEANO: Totally! It still happens sometimes. Sometimes I’m just so overwhelmed that I’m like, ‘What did I get myself into?’ But, even when I’m so overwhelmed and so stressed I’m still thinking about the next idea. And that’s when I’m like ‘there is no way you are ever going to stop doing this because you are already thinking about a month down the line of what product you are going to release. Especially in the beginning. There were so many times when I was thinking, ‘maybe I shouldn’t be doing this. Maybe I need to find something else.’ Because, I didn’t go to school for like coding or web design or anything like that. So the whole technical aspect was like a nightmare for me. I just did not know where to start or how to start a shop online or how to do taxes… But I love it so much. I just keep pushing and I keep researching and learning; it’s been pretty amazing. But, there is always at some point that doubt that crosses your mind, but I’ve kept at it.
VM: WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE MOST EMPOWERING THING SOMEONE CAN DO FOR THEMSELF?
JEN ZEANO: I think the most empowering thing you can do for yourself is bet on yourself. Believe in yourself, and just whatever you want to do with your life, just go for it! Whether it’s opening up your own business or going to school to be a lawyer, a doctor, you know… You just have to believe in yourself and know that you can do it. If you set your mind to it—go for it. A lot of the time we feel we have to doubt [ourselves] and question if we’re worth it or not. I think the answer should always be, 'Yes! I’m worth it.' And, 'Yes, I can do this!' You know, it’s just knowing in the back of your head no matter what happens you can be successful. Once you believe in yourself or your mission—then other people will believe in you too.
VM: HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE INFLUENTIAL LATINAS LIKE ACTRESS AND PRODUCER, GINA RODRIGUEZ WEARING AND SUPPORTING YOUR MESSAGE?
JEN ZEANO: Oh my God, it was so surreal! I have no other word for it. Sometimes, I still can’t believe that even happened. How did I make that happen?!
VM: WHAT WAS THE PROCESS LIKE TO PULL THAT OFF?
JEN ZEANO: I’m gonna tell the whole story and I don’t even think I’ve ever told the whole story. I actually tweeted her and I said something along the lines of, ‘What do I have to do to get you to wear one of my shirts?’ And she tweeted me back, and she was like, ‘I would love to rock this! Send it to me.’ And you know, I had a major panic attack. The fun part was afterwards because she told me to send it to her, but didn’t tell me where to… So, I was like, ‘Okay’—after I did my happy dance, running around the house, calling everyone [including my mom], I was like, ‘How do I get it to her?’ I mean it wasn’t like I had her home address. So, I did some major stalking (laughs) and I am sure when she hears this she’s going to laugh, because I googled and googled and spent hours trying to figure out where to send the shirt to, and I finally found somebody that was friends with her manager. I contacted her and I shipped the shirt to her and she gave it to her manager and her manager gave it to Gina... Not at all glamorous—it took a while. (Laughs) You know, once she got it, I kid you not, it must have been probably like three or four days after that and she had posted a picture of it. So I was on cloud nine, because she obviously must have remembered that I was going to send her the shirt and she wore it and I was like over the moon excited!
VM: I CAN IMAGINE THAT HAD TO FEEL EXTREMELY GRATIFYING.
JEN ZEANO: Yeah! I mean obviously she has such a huge following and she has such a big message of Latina empowerment and she has been amazing and now she just had that Latina luncheon and all that kind of stuff... It’s just so amazing to see her do well and to share this message of spreading empowerment for Latinas. I wish that I could sit down with her and have some coffee, you know after fan girling (laughs).
VM: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE THINGS TO DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
JEN ZEANO: I like to spend time with my family, go to the park with my dog, Netflix—I tend to be obsessed with Netflix and Hulu. I am obsessed with Stranger Things and it is so good! I love to watch The Mindy Project, which is over. But, it was so good! Jane the Virgin on Netflix too (gotta support Gina!). There are just so many good things to watch. I could literally spend all day watching Netflix, if I had the time.
VM: WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED OVER TIME ABOUT YOURSELF?
JEN ZEANO: I think that I have learned how determined I can be. A lot of times when I was younger I felt like I wasn’t good at sticking to something, like a job—I would quit my jobs. So I would think that I was a quitter, because I didn’t like my job and I would leave. But, I have learned that it’s not that I was being a quitter; I had to just find something that was going to make me happy. Once I found that, I realized how determined I could be. There’s a lot of times when this business gets really hard and I’m like, ‘Is this worth it; to keep going?’ Then I am like, ‘Of course it is because it’s making you happy and other people happy.’ We really need to be heard, especially right now. So I have learned that determination is key and I like to think that I have that. I will literally do everything in my power to make it happen. I had to find my calling and something that was really going to make it okay to spend all day at a desk designing stuff, or all day packaging orders—it makes me happy. And I love sending out packages, and I always write a personalized thank you card on every order, because I want them to feel like I really care about them and the message I’m trying to spread.
Follow Jen Zeano on Twitter and Instagram @jenzeanodesigns also don't forget to shop at www.jenzeanodesigns.com