Entrepreneurship Is a Romp

DSC_0511As a busy neuroscience graduate student and teacher of undergrad psychology courses at Duke University, Stephanie Santistevan-Swett needed a versatile outfit to get her through busy days. Rompers—loose, one-piece garments combining a shirt and pants or shorts—were the perfect mix of comfy and cute, but she was having a hard time finding any with sleeves. So she took her love of fashion and her 2009 BYU marketing degree, patched together with some imagination and passion, and stitched together her own company, Eva Jo, to design, manufacture, and sell comfortable and fashionable clothing.

With zero experience in the fashion industry, Santistevan-Swett taught herself how to sketch designs, find a manufacturer, and navigate the clothing world. She started by watching YouTube videos to learn how to draw fashion sketches well enough to communicate what she wanted.

Not sure exactly where to go from there, she reached out to others who had started their own clothing lines, including Athelia LeSueur of Shabby Apple, an online fashion retailer. LeSueur’s advice: head over to Los Angeles and consult with people in the business. So Santistevan-Swett flew out west, spending a couple of days wandering through the fashion district and, as LeSueur advised, talking to manufacturers, showroom representatives, and wholesalers—everyone she could find who might be able to help.

“It was really challenging to learn how that world works because it’s so different from what I’m used to,” Santistevan-Swett says.

Eva Jo’s designs feature several styles of rompers for women in a variety of solids and florals. They’re short-sleeved with a long pant and a drawstring waist, designed for comfort and versatility, some with shoulder snaps to make them easier to wear. “They can be loose and flowing without looking oversized or messy,” she says.

With her designs finally produced and a retailing website launched, Santistevan-Swett opened a Kickstarter in 2015 to get the business off the ground—and it was a resounding success. It turns out she wasn’t the only one looking for a new kind of day wear. Eva Jo raised half the money it needed in the first three days and hit its fundraising goal a week before the Kickstarter ended.

“As soon as it funded, I was able to take a step back and kind of realize the magnitude of what we had done,” Santistevan-Swett says. “I was so happy and overwhelmed with gratitude.”

With classes to teach, a dissertation to write, and a personal life to stay on top of, Santistevan-Swett has to work hard to keep her life balanced. Her days are better when she can fit in even a short morning jog. She enjoys exploring Durham, North Carolina, with her husband, Keaton Swett, on the weekends. Taking care of their Leonberger puppy, Fezzik, also helps her stay balanced. And she has help from her first employee, Haley Santistevan—her sister and a BYU alum who is handling the social media and marketing work.

Over the next few years, Santistevan-Swett plans to grow the company and expand Eva Jo’s line of rompers to include plus sizes and designs for children.

Running against the trend of ever skinnier pants, Santistevan-Swett hasn’t worn a pair of jeans in more than two years. “I just got tired of them being so tight,” she explains. “I don’t do tight.” She hopes the growth of Eva Jo will bring comfort and style to other women, combating the myth that beauty is pain. “Beauty can be a little bit of work, but I don’t think it should be painful,” she says. “Fashion is really just about finding what works for you.”