Get to Know Sydney Izen, Founder of Unemployed Denim

Photography by: Erin Falter and Rebecca Glasser-Baker

Photography by: Erin Falter and Rebecca Glasser-Baker

By:  Caroline Vazzana

In the spring of your senior year, most soon-to-be-grads are applying to jobs and anticipating life after college. But, instead of sweating her future, Sydney Izen was busy creating her own company. I mean, why wait for a job to find you when you can create one? It all started when Sydney designed a one-of-a-kind pair of shorts to wear to Coachella. She bought a pair of jeans from a local thrift store, she then cut them into shorts and customized them with patches. From there, her personalized denim not only caught the attention of festival goers, but also media outlets, and bloggers, as she started receiving requests for custom jeans. Little did she know, just a few months after her Coachella debut, in May 2016 she would officially launch her company "Unemployed Denim" (fitting name, right?) and be making hundreds of one-of-a-kind designs for customers. From flannels, to jean jackets and accessories, the company reworks vintage pieces into completely custom creations. The customers are involved every step of the way, from choosing designs and personalized names, to even requesting rare patches that are not even on the market.

Since last spring, the company has taken off DIYing over 15 jackets a week, oh and did we mention that this boss babe in charge is under 25? Yea, we know! Read ahead for this young entrepreneurs words of wisdom and how she's Making it in Manhattan. 

When did you first realize you wanted to work in the fashion industry?
Ever since I was little I was fascinated with the fashion industry and knew I wanted to be apart of it. I love the creative aspect of the industry as well as the ability to use fashion to really express yourself and “wear” your personality.

What was your first internship or job in the industry, and how did it impact your career? 
My first internship was at Alison Brod Marketing and Communications and I was in the fashion department. This internship definitely confirmed I wanted to be in the fashion industry, but at a specific fashion house instead of doing marketing for the fashion companies. I loved being near the product and was fascinated with how the item was created. This encouraged me to explore different options within the fashion industry the following summer. The advice I was given at this internship has also really stuck with me. I learned it is important to be persistent and show your capabilities. I have applied this advice to my career now - whether it is trying to get a meeting with a want to be mentor or doing a collaboration with another company. I have remained very close with my supervisor while I was at Alison Brod Marketing and Communications, which has been extremely special. 

What did you wear to your first interview? 
I wore black suede boots with black waxy pants (Rag and Bone), a white blouse and a maroon/black tweed blazer.

Who have been your biggest mentors in this industry and what is the best advice they have ever given you? 
One of my biggest mentors is my brother, Steven Izen, who started Lokai, a bracelet and lifestyle company. As an entrepreneur, who had an idea and executed it his advice has been invaluable. Steven repeatedly tells me to stay focused and work hard. Success doesn’t just come and it is how much time and effort I want to dedicate to Unemployed Denim that will determine its future.

What inspired you to start Unemployed Denim?
I made a pair of vintage shorts out of jeans and put patches on them to wear to a music festival. While at the festival I had numerous people come up to me and ask to take pictures. The shorts were featured on Nordstrom blog. The attention the shorts gained at the festival inspired me to make more clothes for myself which turned into people asking me to make them items and that’s how Unemployed Denim was born!

What are some of the biggest challenges of running your own company that we may not realize from the outside?
One of the biggest challenges of running my own company is learning how to prioritize different aspects of it and learning what I should be focusing on. Our team is small so most of the responsibility is on me. Nobody is telling me how I should spend my days or what I should be working on so figuring this out is a huge challenge.

Where did you come up with the name "Unemployed Denim"?
I came up with the name because I had made the shorts for myself while I was a senior at Cornell University getting ready to graduate. I didn’t have a job yet and was extremely stressed about it. The name just fell into place.

What other designers inspire you and why?
Virgil Abloh, creative designer and founder of Milan-based fashion label Off-White, is one designer that truly inspires me. Abloh didn’t go to design school and wasn’t encouraged by society to go into the fashion industry – he did anyways. I am inspired and motivated by his story to continue to prove myself in the fashion industry. He has shared the negative feedback he encountered when entering the industry and how he has overcome this and made a stand in the industry. I relate to his story, not having gone to fashion school, and his story really inspires me to keep going!

As a busy women on the go, what are three items you never leave home without?
My sunglasses, a granola bar and headphones!

If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before starting your company what would it be? 
Believe in yourself and don’t listen to society. What I have learned now is you can’t doubt yourself or what you are doing. It isn’t productive and doesn’t change anything. Also, everybody has an opinion and it isn’t always positive. While starting the company a lot of people were skeptical of what I was doing and asked questions that they might not have realized but really stressed me out. These questions included, “but what if it doesn’t work, then what are you going to do?” or “You know it’s really hard to start a fashion company?” I have learned to brush these questions aside and be confident in Unemployed Denim and myself.

With the industry changing so quickly, what advice would you give to someone hoping to follow in your footsteps? 
Find a niche and go with it. The customization aspect Unemployed Denim offers to customers was really how we got noticed. Because we are a small company we were able to connect with each customer and really walk them through the customization process of their item. We email back and forth with each customer until they are 100% satisfied with their design creating a true relationship. You just can’t find this in large companies. 

Where do you hope to see Unemployed Denim 5 to 10 years down the road? 
Right now customers can book appointments to come into the studio to design their own pieces. In 5 to 10 years I hope to have storefronts where we can offer this customization experience to more and more people. I want the space to be creative and comfortable. My dream is for people to just want to hang out in the space and bring their dreams to life through clothing. 


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