Like many entrepreneurs, Jennifer Perry started her company Jelt Belt out of pure necessity, which, in Jen's case was the need for a belt that had a grip to keep her expensive jeans from "showing her crack". Jen thought about the concept for years and recalled the elastic rainbow belts with a buckle that she wore as a kid in the '80's and thought, "where do those exist [now]? I need something like that." So as years passed, Jen decided to go for it, "I thought about it for years and thought, I'm going to do it and I'm going to make it amazing. I'm going to make it super strong and use recycled materials so I'm not contributing to landfill and I'm going to make it really user-friendly for jeans or ski pants or golf shorts or mountain bike shorts."
So in 2014 in a small Rocky Mountain town Jelt Belt, short for "Jen's Belt", was started. Jen's belt is a 100% recyclable belt that uses yarn that is created by the melting of water bottles, is metal free, has an inner gel that provides a grip for the pants – belt loop or not, and perhaps the most notable aspect of Jen's company is her devotion to giving back.
Today, Jelt Belt is a company of 5 employees and Jen describes her company's mission as "working to make a difference, enhancing lives with responsible and sustainable fashion, never being too serious, always ready for a good time" or, to put it simply – Jelting. Jelting is a term Jen trademarked to not only refer to wearing the stylish, grippy, comfortable belts but about living life to the fullest and caring and giving back for the planet and those who protect our freedom.
So in true #Jelting fashion, each year, Jen chooses an organization that supports combat-wounded veterans to donate $1 of every belt sold to (each belt averages $30 at retail). Currently, that organization is Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation, an organization that is dedicated to healing America's injured veterans through fly-fishing in the serene waters of Montana.
In addition to donating to organizations that support American heroes, Jen has also focused her manufacturing efforts to giving back to her local community through her partnership with the Montana Correctional Enterprise (MCE) Program at the Montana Women's Prison. Last year, Jen decided to move her manufacturing for all new belt lines from China to Montana where incarcerated women can apply and interview to work to produce and manufacture Jelt Belts and ultimately develop a strong work ethic, confidence and responsibility – all traits that are typically diminished during an incarceration period.
Jen's commitment to sustainable, charitable products already make her distinctive but what really separates Jen from her competitors is that, unlike other active accessories companies, Jen is not a former male pro-skier or snowboarder. Rather, she is a devoted mom that started a successful, self-funded company that doubles as a charitable platform in a male dominated industry, all from the small town of Bozeman, Montana. But regardless, the entrepreneur sticks to her core values and does so with the most charming demeanor.
Still, being a generous female business owner based out of a small town in Montana was not something Jen referred to as a big business challenge, rather, she says that since her brand makes a belt for anyone and everyone, being so inclusive has proven to be challenging. Since the brand makes belts for all sizes, ages, activities, styles of pants and at an affordable price, Jen notes that "The challenge is how do we narrow it down, how do we figure out, what is our niche?"
While Jelt Belt's inclusivity may pose questions regarding marketing tactics, it has not had an effect at retail, the brand is sold in 20 stores within the U.S., one store in the Phillipines and on sites such as Amazon and Grommet in addition to Jelt Belt.com.
When asked about the future of Jelt Belt, Jen explains that she plans to continue producing the classic Jelt Belt collection on a demand basis and then plans to introduce an additional new collection – like Jelt Extreme - each year.
The Quick 10
1. What app do you most use?
2. Briefly describe your morning routine.
Monday Wednesday Friday tennis in the morning or skiing in the mornings.
3. Name a business mogul you admire.
4. What product do you wish you had invented?
5. What is your spirit animal?
6. What is your life motto?
If not now, when?
7. Name your favorite work day snack.
Expired stuff in the fridge, Snyder's Gluten Free Pretzel Sticks
8. Every entrepreneur must be Confident to be successful.
9. What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?
10. Deserted Island. Three things, go.
Best friend Stacie, unlimited supply of wine, 2 fishing rods.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."