Ignite Awards 2023 Honoree: Alexa Jovanovic
- May 16, 2023
- Posted by: WBC
- Category: Stories Success Stories
Alexa Jovanovic, known as The Braille Fashion Designer, just had her company Aille Design named by Newsweek as “the braille clothing brand changing the fashion game.”
Alexa had her ideation phase of her entrepreneurial journey start right in college. Starting from her first year at school she became deeply passionate about how she could create social change through fashion and she focused specifically on disability inclusion. While in her final year of school, the idea for her final research project came to her while window shopping. A beaded jacket instantly brought on an “aha” moment. She made the connection between the similarity in size between small beads and braille and questioned why this beaded jacket couldn’t have a function beyond its aesthetic value. Alexa dove in; she built strong relationships with local blind and visually impaired individuals and had meaningful conversations about their challenges with fashion. Discussing everything from shopping, clothing trends and closet organization, to society’s misconceptions of what it means to be blind. While talking about potential fashion designs, the most desired feature that was mentioned was the need for adaptive clothing that didn’t look adaptive. What if these new designs were so beautiful that absolutely anyone would want to wear them.
The braille fashion created at Aille Design is not only unique to Western New York, but to the entire country. They say, they are one of the very first companies worldwide to create fashion-forward products with braille beadwork as the focal design feature, priding themselves on the high level of braille readability achieved on the product.
Business challenges started early. While in school, fellow fashion peers would make comments such as, “that’s cool, but if you’re blind, why would you care what you look like?”. Since then, Alexa has heard this phrase countless times, and it could not be further from the truth. She quickly learned how much education was required to help change society’s misconceptions about the visually impaired community and their relationships with fashion. To help build conversation and awareness surrounding these topics, she uses Aille Design’s social media presence to educate about the importance of disability representation and highlight mainstream achievements that involve disabled individuals and/or accessible design. Now, as Aille Design continues to grow rapidly, their biggest challenge is keeping up with demand. Though a fantastic problem to be experiencing, obstacles surrounding manufacturing and supply chain are easy to solve. They are currently in the process of growing their team and expanding their manufacturing capabilities.
Also, Alexa made the decision to move operations and headquarters from Toronto, Canada to Buffalo, New York. Moving to the United States was both a business and personal decision. The vast majority of customers are from the US and being closer to them, and a larger market size overall, makes their goals of bringing disability representation and inclusion to mainstream fashion more attainable as they quickly scale the business and continue to grow their international reach. Personally, it was about family. Many of Alexa’s family members live in New York and seeing them more often makes a significant impact on her direct support network. She says, “It has been just over a year now since I moved to Buffalo and I still consider it to be one of the best decisions I have made for the company thus far”.
The most unexpected part of owning Aille Design for Alexa has been experiencing just how quickly everything can change. Alexa says, “It only takes one major bulk order or opportunity to change your current trajectory and sometimes both of those events end up taking place at the exact same time. I’ve now grown to be accustomed to expect the unexpected and always have a plan in place that allows us to pivot when needed”.
Alexa’s advice to others is to know that it is important to be open-minded, passionate and hardworking. Building a business can be difficult, especially when you’re first to market and creating something that has never been done before. Knowing how to remain flexible and view challenges as opportunities is crucial and will propel your success.