Mom Turned Entrepreneur: Founder Florence Luo’s full circle story
Florence Luo, founder of Jan & Jul, a mom turned entrepreneur who grew up in a small, poor village in China. With very few toys and games, she spent much of her childhood playing outside in the dirt and mud.
“It’s one of the reasons I have this focus, encouraging kids to be outside. I think I have gained so much from that period of my life. I’m so strong and tough.”
“It was a happy childhood. A lot of love from my parents even though they were very busy.”
Florence’s parents worked hard to keep their family afloat in a village with no fresh water, no electricity, and little education available. They had to be resourceful, including Florence and her two older siblings. “We always needed to learn how to help out, especially with knitting and sewing.”
The family moved to the city when Florence was in her early teens. She recalls, “I remember staring at a traffic light thinking, what does this thing do?”
Having very little formal education in her village, Florence had to focus hard in school to catch up to her peers in the city. Her hard work paid off. By 17 not only had she caught up, she’d received a competitive scholarship to attend university. “I saw so much poverty,” she explains, “I was very driven. I wanted to go to university and do things that would improve people’s lives.” Florence completed a 4-year program then went on to get her Masters in Engineering.
In 1989 she was a part of the Tiananmen Square protests. Passionate and involved, “we thought by demonstration we could achieve more freedom. But then after that, it got tightened so much more. You get a taste of freedom and then they take it all back.”
So Florence left and went to the United States, continuing her masters degree at the University of Minnesota.
“The pressure was huge. I didn’t have any money. I had to make a living myself. Occasionally I had to send money back when my family needed help.”
In Minnesota she met her husband and they had their first child. The young family then moved to Santa Barbara for work. The hot Californian sun, mixed with her childhood in China spent sewing and crafting, is how the gro-with-me hat was born.
“My daughter Michelle was a few months old and the sun was so intense. She had to have a sun hat with a wider brim. I added straps so it would stay on her. It would get so small within the same season so I modified the back. I opened the back seam and made it adjustable.”
From there she began making all of Michelle’s clothes.
Soon after Florence’s second daughter, Juliet, was born, the family moved again. With two small children in tow, eventually the family ended up in Vancouver, Canada.
Hoping to work from home while her kids were young, Florence started Twinklebelle in 2008. Sun hats soon took over her kitchen table. As local Vancouver stores started stocking her hats, they took over her living room, then the family room. Eventually Twinklebelle opened a shop on Granville and created the brand Jan & Jul – short for January and July – with a focus on all-weather kids clothing.
Florence, mom turned entrepreneur, wanted to help parents protect their kids from the sun in the summer, and from the rain and cold in the winter.
Inspired by her own childhood spent outdoors, Florence says, “I wanted Jan & Jul to play a part in raising nature loving kids.”
From playing in the dirt and making clothes out of necessity in rural China, to creating clothes for children to thrive outdoors worldwide, things have come full circle.
“It’s been a great way for me to connect with my past. I’ve found that very satisfying.”
Click here to learn how Florence is supporting fair trade in her hometown.