This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Jovana Mullins, a woman who has served as my mentor, friend, and inspiration over the years. I met Jovana while working at my first fashion internship in NYC. She was a print designer for the same company at the time, and I remember looking across the office, seeing her painting, and thinking - wow, what is her job? I want to do that!! Jovana introduced me to the world of textile design, and I have her mentorship to thank for my career in print design today!
What always stood out to me about Jovana is her huge heart and the way she leads with kindness, so it came as no surprise to me when she launched such a purposeful clothing company this past year. Alivia encompasses all that Jovana has always stood for: Awareness, Love, Inclusion, Voice, Individuality, and Acceptance.
Every Alivia garment begins with artwork created by an individual with disabilities while participating in art therapy. Each artist is paid for their artwork, and 10% of every purchase is donated to their associated nonprofit art therapy program.
Alivia aims to give purpose and voice to the previously unheard, showcasing the many talents and abilities of people with disabilities — and pushing the fashion industry further towards inclusivity.
I'm delighted to share Jovana's amazing brand and story with you today!
Use Code ULABLOOM10 for 10% any Alivia purchase
Where did your career begin?
I came to NYC in 2008 to attend Parsons School of Design, and upon graduation moved to London to work for Mathew Williamson (my favorite designer at the time). After working in London for 2 years I moved back to NYC to work for Alice and Olivia. Since then I've spent the past decade as a print and embroidery designer for many contemporary and luxury brands such as Coach, Amur, and Sam Edelman.
How did Alivia take form?
For years I felt that heart and purpose was missing from my career in the fashion industry. Recently, many fashion brands have moved towards sustainability, social impact, and positive change. While I’ve been thrilled to see this change happen, most of these brands don’t resonate with my aesthetic or have the visible social impact that I wanted to see. After leaving my full time job at Sam Edelman in 2018 to focus on freelance design, I began volunteering as a mentor with The Center for All Abilities. The Center for All Abilities is a nonprofit in NYC supporting youth and young adults who have developmental disabilities through creative art therapy, mentorship, and vocational training. I experienced the incredible creative talents of these individuals and was blown away by their artworks. As a print and textile designer for the past 10 years, I was the one creating artwork and transforming it into prints for garments, but when I saw the artwork that came from this group a lightbulb went off — what if we used these artworks and transformed them into prints and embroidery across beautiful silhouettes?
Which piece from your clothing collection is your favorite and why?
That's such a hard question, because I truly love everything! I think my current favorite is the Alex Pajama Set in the Happy Strokes print....I'm living it 24/7! The fabric is made from bamboo fibers, so not only does it feel like butter on my skin, it also keeps me cool during these hot NYC days and nights.
What has been the most challenging part about starting your own clothing line? What has been the most rewarding part?
Brand awareness has been a big struggle, and something I didn't really anticipate before launching. As a creative (and behind the scenes person) I tend to get so caught up in creating a beautiful brand and designing a product, that I forget people need to know about the brand in order to be a customer. We are completely self funded through our savings and haven't had the budget to put towards digital marketing. We rely solely on organic press (I do all the PR myself) and word of mouth for customer acquisition. It's definitely a challenge to be a DTC brand without funding.
The most rewarding part of starting Alivia has been showing the creators the garments that feature their artwork. It's truly a priceless and emotional moment (I tear up thinking about it every time). I can't wait to partner with new nonprofits and more creators as our company grows, and continue to see these beautiful reactions. It makes every hardship or problem we encounter worth it.
What's on the horizon for Alivia?
Our long-term goal is to operate fashion’s first fully-inclusive supply and value chains — from garment design, to modeling, to manufacturing, to administration, through to adaptable versions of our clothing. We’ve begun this journey through our vocational training program, Project A, in partnership with Center for All Abilities. Project A’s mission is to provide specialized education for individuals with disabilities, teaching valuable skills that will prepare them to work within the fashion and retail industry. From sewing and garment construction, to sales and customer service, we plan to develop different pathways that will lead to meaningful employment throughout Alivia and other brands in the future. Still in the early stages, Project A has already allowed us to create part-time employment for three adults who have autism in the creation of our tees and sweatshirts—and we're about to launch some new accessories they've been working on!
We were also featured on Good Morning America during Autism Awareness Month (April), it was a dream come true!
What is your go-to outfit when you need an infusion of confidence?
My absolute favorite outfit is the Lanna Camisole paired with the Nikki Skirt in the Whimsical Floral print. I pair it with my favorite Keds to go to brunch or shopping on the weekend, and pair with heels for a night out or event.
Favorite sources for inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere...from nature, to industrial textures, you name it. For Alivia my biggest source of inspiration comes from the artists we work with. Their creativity and personalities are what inspire each collection—from the actual art itself that's used in the prints, to the seasonal color palette, I want every piece to reflect their unique personalities.
What’s your morning routine?
I wake up around 6am and my husband and I have breakfast (my favorite meal of the day) and coffee while watching the news (or lately we've been watching the show Married at First Sight). Then I get ready for the day and we take our dog out for a 20-30 minute walk. When I get back I prepare mentally for the day by doing a daily devotional (right now I'm doing It Is Well by The Daily Grace Co.). Doing a devotional before starting work for the day helps me to declutter my mind and realign my focus for the day with fulfilling God's purpose for my life.
Tea or coffee?
Coffee (only one in the morning or I get shaky!) Oat milk cappuccino is my go-to!
One thing you do to stay grounded as a busy entrepreneur.
Remember the WHY of Alivia. It's so easy for me to get caught up in the day to day of running the company, but when things start to get chaotic I step back and remember the purpose behind our brand. The purpose of Alivia is so much bigger than just making sales, becoming a recognized brand, etc. Our purpose is to provide purpose and voice to people who have been previously unheard, and bring awareness to the talents and abilities of people with disabilities.
How do you separate your work and home life?
This has always been a challenge for me, as I'm so passionate about my work I do tend to have it spill over into my personal life. It's something I'm constantly working on (and found to be really difficult during quarantine), but what I've found to be most helpful is setting boundaries. When 6.30pm hits, that's cut-off time for work. I put my laptop away, shut my office door, and retreat to the living room. My husband and I love binging on series (we're currently watching Schitt's Creek) and this is always a great way for me to unwind and push the anxiety of work out of my mind while I focus on being present for my family (my husband and pup!).
A simple pleasure…
A nap. Everyone who knows me knows I love a good nap (sometimes it turns into more of a 3-hr siesta, but hey sometimes a girls gotta rest!).
Bird & Branch (they're a mission driven company and have a job-training program for people with barriers to employment...including individuals with disabilities. They also make the most delicious treats AND gorgeous lattes!)
Quality Italian (can't go wrong with their chicken parm pizza!)
Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City
Best advice you’ve ever received?
Best advice has come from my parents, they always encouraged me that any dream is possible to achieve with hard work, determination, and kindness. One of my favorite sayings is: ‘Helping one person might not change the world, but it could change the world for one person.