We’ve all done it—arrive at an event, just to find someone else in exact same dress. IVY Innovator Finalist Jia Li is here to tell you that you’ll never have to worry again. With her innovative reversible/multifunctional designs, Jia’s dresses can be easily flipped for an entirely new look, making the “same dress disaster” a worry of the past.

Jia believes her designs are helping modern busy women save time, money, space and energy. (And maybe even embarrassment too.) People these days don’t use Google to search for “reversible dress” or “multifunctional jacket,” because over the history, clothes are not typically designed as reversible. But Jia is here to change that trend with the conviction that fashion should be a lot more functional than it is now.

Jia was a 2014 IVY Innovator Finalist in Design, and her most audacious life goal is to “become the go-to lifestyle brand and leader for multifunctional fashion.” By combining sleek silhouettes with versatile designs, she’s certainly well on her way. All of Jia’s designs can be literally reversed or altered to create multiple looks within one fashion piece. “It’s not easy,” she says, “but this is what makes it more worthwhile because by breaking through how consumers perceive clothing more value can be created and delivered.”

Jia sat down with IVY Magazine to tell us more about what has driven her to make such choice of design perspective, and what is coming next.

Jia is an IVY Member (DC). Connect with her on IVY.com if you’d like to:

  • Discuss fashion and learn more about what she’s working on.
  • Collaborate and share ideas about her work and fashion.
  • Recommend the world’s greatest dark chocolate. (She’s always in pursuit.)

Jia Li at IVY Innovator Dinner, December 2015 ​

If you could collaborate with anyone on your next project, who would it be and why?

Definitely, Richard Branson—he is the ultimate business guru and my idol.  I truly admire how he dreams, pursues, and accomplishes relentlessly and passionately everything he sets his mind to, how he is very open and generous in sharing his wisdom, how he always encourages us to dream big, and how he fuels his interest in humanitarian and ecological issues.  His businesses thrive on these key words “efficiency, travel, future, dream, innovation, fun, value,” and these are the things I believe in and build my business on as well.

Richard Branson definitely knows how to dream big.

Absolutely. He’s said, “Don’t betray your dreams for the sake of fitting in. Dreaming is one of humanity’s greatest gifts – it champions aspiration, spurs innovation, leads to change, and propels the world forward. “

I have been a dreamer my whole life. Also a doer. But the dreamer comes first. By pursuing my dreams, I am a much happier person because I am always sure I am committed to giving something my best. And being happy is the ultimate goal of living a life.

Starting a business can be incredibly difficult. What has been one of your biggest challenges with Jia?

In business, I felt I had no control over reaching my customers when I was working with retail store buyers. Whenever customers try on my designs, they love them for the comfort and unique value I provide.  But for retail store buyers, they are very hesitant t pick up a new brand which has not become mainstream yet.  Sales is the lifeblood of any business, and I had very little of it.

But now I pivoted my business to solely focus on e-commerce only, and I am glad that social media and online advertising make it easy to reach my target audience directly without relying on retailers.

Jia Li with Ivy Connect Director of Strategic Relationships Sarah Zapp at Ivy Innovator Award for Design Award Ceremony 2015

You’re really creating a whole new market in fashion. How did you dream up your idea?

I am always driven by innovation, efficiency, providing value and helping people. When I was getting my Master of International Business degree from Norwegian School of Economics, I wrote my thesis with title “Value Creation for the Fashion-Marketing Firms” which explored how fashion companies should provide maximum value to consumers through all possible channels and touchpoints. Fashion changes, but the core principle of providing value will never change.

When I started my business, I saw a niche where I can provide fashion that is not available in the market: the kind of fashion that is quality, stylish, and versatile all at once. After working for other fashion companies for a few years, I felt very frustrated that I kept seeing the same wheel being reinvented again and again. So I decided to start my own company to change the status quo.

I feel very fortunate to be able to have my own business because now I am able to provide maximum value not only through customer service, but more importantly through my designs. And I am taking advantage of the advancement of textile production technology and sewing/manufacturing techniques to make reversible/multifunctional fashion designs which would have been impossible to make years ago.

As a fashion designer, do you consider yourself very fashionable?

I am more practical than fashionable. I don’t believe in trends; I don’t encourage shopping and spending money unnecessarily. There is no need to buy new shoes and clothes every month if what you have already is good enough.

I believe everything we wear should be comfortable, functional and ethically made from the best materials. I care more about making truly functional products that offer great value than making money. By offering four looks in one design, I am probably losing some opportunities in making money, but I am ok with that. With that said, designing fashionable silhouettes that are classic with a modern edge is still quite important, if all other criteria mentioned above are already met.

What’s your best piece of advice for entrepreneurs? Best life advice?

I would like to share some wise words from writer Jeff Haden that I identify with 100%:

“Embrace every failure, and don’t be afraid.”

We’re all afraid of what might or might not happen, what we can’t change, what we won’t be able to do, or how other people might perceive us. So it’s easier to hesitate… and think a little longer, do more research, or explore more alternatives. Meanwhile, days, weeks, months, and even years pass us by. And so do our dreams. Whatever you’ve been planning or imagining or dreaming of, get started today. Put your fears aside. Do something. Do anything. Once tomorrow comes, today is lost forever.

Today is the most precious asset you own, and is the one thing you should truly fear wasting. Embrace every failure: own it, learn from it, and take full responsibility for making sure that next time, things will turn out differently.”

I have learned to embrace failures and take actions upon them to transform failure into success. Failure is just part of the journey to success, and you’ll learn a lot from it. I embrace and learn from all my mistakes, and I’ve come to realize that they are actually critical in developing your skills and perspective. Nobody gets it ‘right’ right away.

Preston Conrad, celebrity stylist and co-host for “Style by Jury” on TLC, congratulated Jia Li on being last year’s finalist and commended her multifunctional concept.

How can IVY members help support you?

First of all, I want to say a big thank you to the IVY Founders Beri and Phillip, and the IVY staff. Without you, I would not have had this opportunity to become a finalist of the IVY Innovator Award for Design, and to reach out to IVY members.

I would like to welcome anyone interested in my business to reach out to me for possible collaborations. And when you check out our website, if you think that there are any areas we can improve on to better serve our customers, I would love to hear your advice and recommendations. I am also looking for a mentor who has great experience in e-commerce, fashion, and sales. I know IVY is full of brilliant, driven people, and if anyone is interested, I would love for them to contact me at jia@jiacollection.com.

Jia Collection is designed specifically for busy career women who are juggling many tasks and travel often, which describes most IVY female members.  I would like to exclusively offer IVY members 20% off to try our products. Please visit my website for more details. Or you can simply just use code IVY to get 20% off from jiacollection.com

We are also launching a men’s collection of reversible sweaters. If you are interested, please email us at info@jiacollection.com with subject “Interested in men’s reversible sweaters – IVY member” and you will be the first one to know when the collection is out.

IVY is a social university dedicated to inspiring connection, collaboration, and growth. To learn more, visit IVY.com.