It’s Wedding Pro Wednesday! A time to spotlight an incredible wedding professional, their startup story, specific industry expertise for brides, and their marriage advice for newlyweds! Today I am delighted to introduce you to Jennifer Lavallee, the founder of Bellajenna. Bellajenna is a small, woman-owned business that designs custom stationery and greeting cards. Jennifer’s designs are inspired by beauty, fashion and a whimsy for life. I love that she used her background in fashion to launch a company in a totally different industry that allowed her design skills to take flight.
So, if you are interested in starting a stationary company, or simply love stories of women turning personal hobbies and creativity into businesses, don’t miss Jennifer’s answers to my questions below!
Have you always been a wedding professional? If not, what was your previous career?
No. Before starting Bellajenna, I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC which lead to a career in the Fashion Industry. Starting as a merchandiser at Tommy Hilfiger, I went on to be the fashion editor for a popular fashion magazine. I would be fortunate enough throughout my career to work with a number of designers and creatives, and spent my final 7 years in the industry as a merchandiser at Calvin Klein Jeans.
What inspired you to create your company?
While at CKJ I got engaged. I didn’t design our invitations (admittedly we ordered from a big stationery company) but I did notice I had a thing for stationery. I enjoyed envisioning our storyboard, colors and all the things that go into design. Which made me realize that my background in fashion could also be applied to designing stationery. I started playing around with creating invitations and cards. Eventually making wedding shower invitations and other stationery as a hobby for my New York and fashion industry friends.
Two years after getting married, my husband and I (along with our little longhaired dachshund Sienna) decided to move to the DC area. This was a move that made me nervous at first. NYC had been my home for 15 years! And, not to mention, DC wasn’t a place rooted around the fashion industry and its corporate offices like NYC.
But, we made the move and I fell in love with DC! And just after 2 months of being here I decided to turn my hobby and love of stationery into my new career. So, in early 2009 Bellajenna was born.
What was your biggest obstacle and failure in going from idea to business?
I would have to say I was very fortunate when I started Bellajenna. Within the first month of launching the business and on a whim, I set up a booth in Capital Hill’s Eastern Market. That very first weekend one of my customers turned out to be the manager of a boutique store near the White House. She ended up placing an order for the store on the spot! Selling at Eastern Market gave me such great exposure. There I sold my greeting cards and stationery on the weekends and Bellajenna started growing organically. From my line of greeting cards clients started requesting wedding invitations, baby invitations and so on.
What do you love most about your job?
This might sound cliché but the best part of owning my own business is doing what I love to do, and making a living doing it. And the bonus is being a part of my clients very special moments.
What is your best advice for brides related to your area of expertise?
Planning your wedding and dealing with all the choices does not have to be overwhelming. For me, I actually found deciding on our venue and cake easier than picking out our invitation design! My advice, and I’ll keep it simple, is first have a budget in mind. As with all your wedding planning, having an idea of how much you can or want to spend will guide you better through this process. Choosing your wedding paper is most often one of your first big decisions. Don’t fret, there are wonderful options that suit all budgets.
Second, think about your style – are you traditional or modern, what wedding colors are you considering, and so on.
Thirdly, if you have the option, work with a designer. Working with a stationer will at least make your life much easier. Whether you know from the beginning or not that you want to work with a stationer, a little planning with this decision will go a long way too. The internet makes everything easier today. And this includes researching your wedding paper and stationer. My advice is to look at online sources like top wedding websites and blogs. These resources are a good source for information about stationery companies and other wedding vendors. You can check reviews and even see some designs. Then contact the stationer/s. Conduct your own interview – If they are local, is it an option to meet in person? Are they open about their pricing and services? Do you connect with this person? Do they seem easy to work with, or will every request be met with a fee? At the end of the day, you should get the feeling that your wedding and invitations are as important to the stationer as to you. Pick a good professional with great style and they will guide you through this process with ease and care.
What is your best of advice for newlyweds?
My advice for newlyweds is to always remember the happiness and love you shared together on your wedding day. The love you build together should also be reinforced by the strong friendship you build with one another.