Her comfortable, colorful store is as welcoming as Jessica Moreland herself. After twelve years in the cozy Chenoweth Lane location, Sassy Fox has a loyal following, a friendly vibe and racks filled with fabulous consignment finds. “I had always said if the perfect location opens up, I’ll open my own store,” Jessica says. “We live two blocks from here, so this was the perfect place.”
It’s a business that has grown up with Jessica’s stepdaughter, Eliza. “She was ten when it opened, so I’d get her off the bus and she’d come back here and do her homework,” says Jessica. “Then I could go home and cook dinner and go back if I had to.” Her dedication and somewhat fanatical work ethic is what makes Jessica successful in both facets of her life: “I grew up the daughter of two business owners, so I knew how committed you have to be and how many hours you have to put in,” she says. “But I also knew that I could have some flexibility and that I could make it work for our family.”
In the last few years, that flexibility has enabled her to continue working through treatment for a rare autoimmune disease. “I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis— a form of autoimmune inflammatory arthritis which causes fusing in the bones,” she says. “It’s very painful and pretty rare especially among women. Some women go years without a diagnosis. I was lucky. After three or four bouts, my doctor sent me to a rheumatologist who did x-rays and diagnosed it. I’m really fortunate because I’ve found a medicine that works.” While she’s getting her infusions, she misses two days of work, but then she’s back at the racks. “Some days I might limp a little, but I’m doing so much better. I’m so lucky to have a store I can’t wait to get back to.”
Here are her thoughts on finding happiness and balance as an entrepreneur and a parent.
"I think some people think it’s going to be a lot more flexible than it is. But if you love what you do, it’s very rewarding to turn it into a way to make a living. Ultimately, it’s something your whole family can be proud of.”
How involved is Eliza in the store?
“She has worked for me over the years, but, now, if she’s here, it’s usually because she’s looking for something to wear. We definitely bond a bit over shopping. She shops here all the time. As a college student, it’s free for her and it’s cheaper for me.”
How has owning a clothing store influenced your wardrobes?
“Oh my gosh.... All of Eliza’s prom dresses came from here. Senior year, she went to three proms. I said you can wear the same dress or you can buy three here. And I rarely shop outside the store. Once you’ve spent eight hours a day looking through clothes, you don’t want to go someplace else and do it.”
Do you have a style uniform?
“Definitely. It’s usually jeans, t-shirt and a blazer. I completely understand why Michael Kors is always in the same thing. I enjoy dressing other people and dressing mannequins, but when it comes to myself, I don’t want to over think it. I wear a lot of black and denim. I only buy clothes that all work together. In my closet, it’s fifty shades of neutral.”
How difficult is it to have your own business when you have a health challenge?
“When you’re sick and you own your own business, you still go to work. You may be stiff and you may be in a little pain, but you still go because it’s your store. But, at the same time, you can also plan around it a little because it’s your call. And as the business has grown, I’ve been able to bring in two people, so now I can take two days off for treatment every month. That’s been a huge help.”
Do retail hours interfere with family time?
“You have to be flexible about your definition of what family time is. I’m lucky because Eliza could be here after school when she was younger. So, we made that family time. But there are those times when I have to put in the hours and I can’t be home with them. My family knows that in the months leading up to Derby, you’re not going to see me a whole lot. I may take time off afterwards to make up for it, but you can’t stop Derby.”
What do you think Eliza has learned from watching you run the store?
“Well, I know she’s learned to be a smart shopper because she sees the expensive clothes that come in here and how they get marked down. She sees regulars who bring in their old things before they shop for new things. It’s definitely been an education in how to shop. But I’m also very proud of her work ethic. I like to think it’s partly that she was raised by someone who owns her own business and she’s seen the work ethic. She knows what a work ethic is.”
What advice do you have for other parents who want to open a store or start a business?
“Go into it with realistic expectations. It depends on what your business is, but I would tell anybody that the first year to two, expect not to have a steady income. You really don’t know when you start, so you have to plan for a lot less flexibility and income in the beginning. As you go on, it becomes easier to become flexible and you can hire some more help. You just have to be really committed and you have to be creative about finding time for family. It can be done. But I think some people think it’s going to be a lot more flexible than it is. But if you love what you do, it’s very rewarding to turn it into a way to make a living. Ultimately, it’s something your whole family can be proud of.”