- Cheryl Duddy Lentine ’86 with daughter Kate.
Cheryl Duddy Lentine ’86 is the cofounder, co-owner, and CEO of joluka, a two-year-old company that creates uniquely embellished denim jackets, designed with beaded fringe, fabrics, and genuine Swarovski crystal buttons. joluka jackets are sold in more than 70 boutiques in 30 states, as well as internationally, distributed from a 13,000-square-foot facility in Walpole, Massachusetts. Celebrities such as Martina McBride, Annette Bening, Julia Roberts, and Debra Messing have joluka jackets.
Lentine started joluka with Shannon Casey Sheehan, whom she met at UMass Amherst after finding a bracelet in the dorm laundry room and returning it to Sheehan, its rightful owner. They’ve been best friends ever since. Lentine is married with three children and operates joluka from her home office near Boston.
A Naming Opportunity: I came up with the name, “joluka” (the first two letters of my children’s names, John, Luke, and Kate) in the middle of the night. I thought, this would be such a neat name if I ever started a business.” So, I had the name before I came up with the actual business to go with it.
Business Savvy: After I graduated from UMass Amherst, one of my cheerleading teammates kept encouraging me to interview with the company he was working for, Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I kept telling him, “I’m not renting cars as a career” (even though I was a waitress at the time). I finally interviewed with Enterprise. I was there for 10 years and absolutely loved it. It was a phenomenal learning experience, filled with growth opportunities. It gave me an education on how to run a business.
Identity Theft: After having my first child, I felt there was nothing more important than being home with him. So I jumped off the corporate ladder and became a full-time mom. I loved being home, but a part of me missed the challenge of my career and the identity I’d built for myself. My mind was always crazy-busy with the question, “What can I do from home?”
Blue Jean Baby: Pregnant with my second child, I was shopping one day and found a tiny denim baby jacket. Luke was born eight months later and I forgot about the jacket. But two years later, after the birth of my daughter, Kate, I embellished the jacket with trim and made myself a coordinating one. Friends and even strangers—at the grocery store, school, Wal-Mart, the airport—asked me about my jacket.
Sophisticated Market Research: Shannon came up for a visit and took some jackets home with her to Hilton Head to see if she would get the same reaction I was getting. It was very sophisticated market research we were doing . . . take the jackets back and see if anybody likes them. Luckily she got the same fabulous response.
Off the Rack: In the beginning, we bought jackets off store shelves and recrafted them with our embellishments. Then we decided to start a company with our own private label. Neither of us had any professional sewing experience, so we cut out scraps of material and pinned a jacket together. We tapered the sides for a figure-flattering fit and added two big inside pockets to store cell phones, keys, wallets, lipstick, etc. Then we contracted a company overseas to manufacture our prototype.
Family Versus Business: People always ask me what the most challenging thing is about the business; it’s leaving home for a couple of days. This past year we’ve had several opportunities to travel: joluka jackets were the official denim jacket of the 2006 Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas, part of the 2006 Emmys gift bags, and were featured on the CBS Early Show in October. Everything on the business side has a logical answer, but nobody can fix how my heart feels being away from the children. Luckily, I have a wonderful husband and strong family support.
Just Ask: It’s been such an exciting and fun-filled year. Shannon and I have met so many amazing and talented people who have helped our business grow. If I’ve learned anything, or could give any advice, it’s that people are really kind and generous and willing to help if you just ask.
The Bottom Line: My oldest son asked me recently, “Mommy, are we rich?” And I said, “Jack, we’re rich in so many ways that have nothing to do with money.” And I believe that. I am so blessed to have a wonderful marriage, healthy children, and supportive friends and family. Everything else, as they say, is icing on the cake.
Helping Others: When we started this business, Shannon and I felt strongly that we wanted to partner with a philanthropic entity that supports women. We created the pink ribbon joluka jacket, embroidered with the pink breast-cancer ribbon. A five-dollar donation from every sale of this jacket goes toward supporting breast cancer research.
Visit www.joluka.com for more information.