Who's That Gal: Jana Ross of Janji

Name: Jana Ross
Occupation: General Manager, Janji
Hometown: Darnestown, MD
Age: 27
Current Hood: Brookline
Currently Reading: How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald

Tell us about Janji. How is the brand different from other athletic outfitters?

Janji is a local running apparel brand with a mission to explore, connect, and improve the world through running. Every season we travel to a different country and collaborate with local designers and models to draw inspiration for the collection. We then donate 10% of our sales to clean water foundations in that country. This season we’re supporting Kenya through our partner, Evidence Action. Our global inspiration, clean water mission, local roots, and community-driven initiatives set us apart from other athletic brands.

How did you get involved with Janji?

I met one of the founders, Mike Burnstein, through November Project, a local fitness community. I loved everything I heard about the company so I joined the Janji Corps ambassador program. When Mike and I were catching up over coffee this summer, he mentioned that they were looking for a general manager for their new store on Newbury Street. The store’s goal was to become a hub for the running community in Boston, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to blend my background in marketing, public relations, and community engagement.

What is your favorite Janji piece?

My favorite all-around piece is the Rift Valley Tank from our Kenya Collection. I wear it for running just as much as I wear it with jeans, boots and a chunky sweater. I’m also a sucker for a cozy hat and wear our Ethiopia Beanie nearly every day.

What does a “general manager” do? Tell us what you do day-to-day.

While we’re sold in many running specialty shops across the country, we only have one Janji store so it’s our best opportunity to introduce the brand to the community. The retail operations piece involves managing the sales team, maintaining inventory, building partnerships with other complementary brands that we carry in-stores, and handling visual merchandising. I share the workload with a fantastic assistant manager, and we’re the only full-time team members at the store so we wear many hats day-to-day.

The other element of the job, and largely the more time-consuming side, is community engagement. We spend much of our days planning events, brainstorming collaborations with other local brands, managing the social media channels, engaging local media, and figuring out different ways to drive people to the store.

Our store isn’t simply a retail space – it’s a community space for runners. Nearly every day we host some kind of fitness class, run club, fundraiser or other special event. For example, we host a Saturday morning run group every week called the Nomadic Run Crew. We explore different neighborhoods each week and always incorporate street art along the way. This gets people exploring the city in new ways and venturing a little more off the beaten path than they probably would alone. Runners choose from 5 mile or 10 mile routes, and everyone ends back at the store for coffee and bagels.

Another one of our most successful events is our Runners’ Tales series, an open-mic storytelling night. We invite 10 speakers to share 5 minute stories around a common theme like Firsts or Connections. Events like this are critical to building a community around our store.

What are some of the challenges of working at a clothing startup?

One of the challenges on the retail side is simply getting people inside the door when we’re sandwiched between well-known brands like North Face, Patagonia and lululemon. We’re constantly testing out ways to explain Janji to the diverse range of Newbury Street customers – the tourists, the locals, the brand loyalists, the new customers and everyone in between. We also experiment with different events to understand not only which ones draw the largest crowds but also the events that convert to sales.

Which do you think shoppers are most drawn to: Janji’s meaningful story, the cool designs, or the practical functionality of the clothing?

I think this varies widely by customer – some love the prints, some love that we’re a local company, and some find a strong connection with our clean water mission. People are always looking to discover the next new brand or wear something a little different than the next person on the street. We also love hearing that customers feel as though they’re part of the Janji family and enjoy seeing our growth as much as we do. Every day we’re asking our customers what they’re training for, where they love running, how we can improve our products, and how we can create a stronger community.

What’s next for Janji? And of course, what’s next for YOU?

We’re planning some great events for 2017, and the Boston Marathon season in April will be a huge month for us. I’m excited to see how Nomadic Run Crew grows and would love for it to be something that lives beyond this store. Our lease ends in June so we’re exploring different options to continue having a retail presence in Boston. We’re also talking about launch pop-ups in other cities across the country.

On the personal side, I’ve taken the last two months off running thanks to a stress fracture. I’m just starting to get back on the roads and can’t wait for the day I get to participate in Run Crew, November Project, and those weekly run dates with my training buddies. Running is such a huge part of who I am so it’s tough being sidelined but I’m so thankful that I get to stay connected to the running community through Janji.