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Q&A: Janae Smith, the Apparel Architect in Ames


Janae Smith can literally see her future.

From her current second-story location in the corner of a building off Ames Main Street, she looks ahead to moving her business, Threadit, to a new street-level space this April. Exposure is everything for a tailoring, custom design and clothing repair business built on style and happy customers.  

Shortly after graduating from the Iowa State University Apparel, Merchandising and Design program in 2016, Smith founded Threadit. She uses her business as a way to help hire marginalized Iowans while providing a service and filling a need for the Ames community.

“I’m passionate about design, art and serving my local community,”  Smith, 24, says.

Before she moves to her new studio space next month, we met with Smith to discuss her first year in business, her passion for social justice, the role it plays in her business and what will make her happy in the future. 

The interview has been edited for conciseness:

Talk about how Threadit got started.

JS: So first, I started in biology at Iowa State University.  I thought I was going to be a doctor. Soon I realized I didn’t want to go to school for ten years and it wasn’t something I necessarily loved.

Growing up, I was always doing something creative. During college, I would go home (to Albert City, Iowa) on weekends and bring sewing projects with me. My mom would ask me, ‘Why are you sewing all the time?’ It was a question that stuck with me.

I’ve always had a heart for social justice and helping people. A few years ago I met a woman who owns a fair-trade business in Bangladesh. This was when the seeds of this business started. I thought I was going to work in fair-trade overseas, which morphed into realizing the need I saw in the community here in Ames for tailoring. I also work part-time at ACCESS, an organization serving domestic and sexually abused survivors. Through my involvement in these organizations, I’ve seen the need for jobs and meaningful work that helps rebuild people’s lives. I love people. And this is the tool I use to engage with people.

What prompted your interest in social justice?

JS:  I found my interest in social justice was from my own desire to make an impact, globally, for anti-human trafficking purposes. In high school, I remember feeling really passionate about it.

Where that translates in our local community is often in shelters and as well as in prisons. There’s another piece of it. The Mitchellville women’s prison has a production facility where they sew and make clothes. When any of the women are released out of the facility or have served their time, they don’t have jobs and it’s hard to find a job.  There is a shelter in Ames that is a transitional house for women called the Butterfly House.

Partnering with organizations like the Butterfly House and the Mitchellville facility is a dream of mine.

What types of clothing to you typically design or fix?

JS: Any mend it, fix it kind of thing, we do. From casual and formal dresses, gowns (excluding wedding gowns), to men’s suits and custom bow-ties. We can replace and repair linings of coats, zippers, hem pants, and even add pockets. For design, we have made custom suits, dresses, tops, and skirts.  

Right now, I’m working on a three-piece women’s suit (skirt, vest, jacket) made from Scottish wool from Hebrides, an island around Northern Scotland.  The customer owns and raises sheep. Each piece we create always has a story behind it – special to each customer.

Talk about your first year in business…

JS: Sometimes it’s slower than you expect and then there’s learning, a lot of learning including learning to ask for help and to adapt to change.  

The biggest challenge? Juggling everything. In a small business, you do everything. You figure out your calendar and schedule of production, fix machines, remodeling the new space. I have an employee so being a boss. Going out and marketing myself in the community.

And I’m also sewing.

What do you find rewarding?

JS: The most rewarding thing is a happy customer, someone who feels good about what they look like after something is adjusted or made for them.

I would add: teaching and seeing the growth in my associate; and connecting with people—that’s really rewarding.  

What would make you the happiest three years from now?

JS:  I see Threadit running with systems and processes strong enough to bring in someone who has a different background, complimentary to my own. I see a strong partnership with Iowa State University with interns and growing the custom design side.  I see our space is going to grow. I’m a visionary, so I already see phase three that isn’t even there yet! I see a well-oiled machine–

My role would be managerial and I would be delegating probably more things…I wouldn’t run to the bank every week or Joann’s Fabric.  I would be the face of the business bringing business in. Networking, teaching and training employees to do quality work would be my focus.

Talking about community, why participate in groups like Startup Ames?

JS:  I think that business is all about relationships. It’s all about connection and people. I really do believe that people want to help other people. The connections made at Startup Ames are really resourceful for me. Not just in a business aspect, but in a personal growth aspect. It’s taught me that when in doubt, just ask for help.

How should others find and connect with you?

JS:  Follow me on Instagram, like my page on Facebook and come see the new space. The new studio is located on 330 Main Street, Suite 100 (next to Random Goods).   

Connect with me. I want to meet you and if someone has the same passion similar to my heartstrings, come and talk to me. I would love to grow the vision and team.

Diana Wright is the Director of Marketing and Programs at the Iowa State University Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship and a contributor to Clay & Milk

1 Comment

  • jazz110
    Posted March 29, 2018 at 11:15 am

    What a great story. I hope you extend your operations and business in your support of social justice!

Comments are closed.

Q&A: Janae Smith, the Apparel Architect in Ames | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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