Jacquelyn Zoeller | Heartman Clothing

If there is one thing I learned in college, it is exactly what I don’t want to do. As a senior at the University of Wisconsin, I learned a little too late in the game that I was going down the totally wrong path for myself. It was quite an expensive realization to have. I felt like I just wasted four critical years, and I was now left with a degree in something I wanted nothing to do with.

I realized I could either continue down a career path I knew I’d be unhappy with, or I could take action to pursue a career I wanted.

In June of 2015, my mom and I began working on Heartman Clothing. We thought we could launch within two months. We were totally wrong. We completely underestimated the amount of time and detail that goes into starting a business. After months of pushing back deadlines, we finally launched in January of 2016.

We knew we wanted to incorporate an element of charity into the business because volunteering and giving back has always been a big part of both of our lives. My family has always been actively involved with JDRF, one of Heartman’s featured charities, since my sister has Type 1 Diabetes. My mom is also extremely active in volunteering in our hometown, and she has led various committees dedicated to improving our school system. Growing up with a mother so dedicated to giving back, I also began actively volunteering. I joined the Service Club of Milwaukee and the Relay For Life committee at my high school. However, when I got to college, I became so overwhelmed that volunteering was one of the first activities I stopped doing.

I think we are growing up in one of the most stressful times to be a young adult. We are expected to do everything – go to school, get perfect grades, have a job, get an amazing internship, participate in extracurricular activities, and somehow maintain a social life.

"We get so busy building our resume, that we think we don’t have time for the aspects of life that build our character – giving back, volunteering, and fighting for causes that we are passionate about." 

With Heartman, we want to shed light on charities in a way that is fun and engaging. We want to make giving back feel effortless.

Working with my mom has many benefits, but also several challenges. One of the most difficult aspects that we are still working on is maintaining boundaries. We both have our distinct responsibilities, but occasionally one of us has trouble not overstepping our roles since we are both very strong-willed and opinionated women. Letting go and allowing the other to control their aspect of the company has been a challenge for both of us. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, it is important to recognize and respect each other’s separate talents, and that is something we are still working on.

However, we have also experienced many benefits from working together. Our complementary skill sets allow us to contribute something the other cannot. As a CPA, my mom handles all accounting and organizational aspects of Heartman. I control the more creative aspects, including t-shirt design and social media. Together, we make a more complete and effective team. It’s almost like she is the left-brain and I am the right-brain, and together we make one complete brain. It works for us because we balance each other. We also communicate with each other very openly – sometimes a bit too openly – which enables us to be honest and blunt about our thoughts. We don’t beat around the bush or act passive aggressive – we express our ideas and give honest feedback, which helps us improve and evolve.    

I think we are both starting a business at a unique part in our lives – for me, a young adult fresh out of college, and for her, a middle-aged woman determined to create a new beginning. Seeing the response from the people in our lives is always interesting, almost as if they don’t take us entirely seriously. I still get asked, “but what are you actually going to do after you graduate?” *eye roll* Sometimes I wonder if it is because we are women, because of where we are in our lives, or perhaps a combination of both. Either way, we are determined to prove them wrong and become a force to be reckoned with because we are so passionate and believe so strongly in our cause.

I have already learned so much over the past year from starting a business, but the most important lesson I have learned is to live outside your comfort zone. I used to be so afraid to fail that I wouldn’t even try. Now I know that failure can often be the best thing to happen. It forces you to reevaluate yourself, to learn, and to grow in ways you didn’t know you could. So fail, and fail often. Do not be discouraged by your failures, but take them and use them to your advantage. Oftentimes, it’s a blessing in disguise. 

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