THE JELT STORY
There is always a wizard behind the curtain of every brand, the person who invented the idea, patented the product and trademarked the name. Some “wizards” use their face to sell the brand, others hide behind the curtain and just push the buttons. I have been sort of a combination of both, mostly because of social pressures and media trends. To me, it’s so much more fun being a mystery persona who just gets to be the puppeteer, but as a small business owner, that is just not realistic. Someone in the business needs to step up and take the spotlight, the responsibility and the reigns, in good times, and more importantly, in tough times.
HOW WE STARTED
Jelt was literally started out of a one-bedroom studio in downtown Bozeman, Montana. It was an idea that came to me after surviving a near-death experience and months in the hospital. As a mother of two sons and a self-proclaimed “professional recreationalist," I knew I wanted to do more with my life. I wanted to give back to the community I loved and show my kids that you can make a difference in the world at any point in your life.
I wanted to create a product that everyone needed, made sustainably from recycled materials and then donate a portion of every sale to charities I believed in. I knew people needed belts because I needed one—not just for my jeans that were always slipping down, but also for my ski pants, hiking shorts and golf clothes. I wanted the belt to be made from recycled plastic that would otherwise end up in our oceans and landfills. I also wanted the belt to be metal-free, so I could wear it through airport security and other security checkpoints. I hated stripping at the airport!!
So, in 2013 I was introduced by my cousin to a man in New York who helped people turn their inventions into an actual product. We prototyped my combination of the rainbow 70’s elastic belts with the strong rubberized elastic on the powder skirt of my technical ski jacket and boom- the Jelt was born! Jelt- short for “Jen’s Belt” would be a comfortable, durable elastic stretch belt with a grippy inner gel that could keep pants on through all activities.
Little did I know that Jelt was actually created as a social enterprise—meaning a for-profit business whose sole mission is to create a product in order to give back. At Jelt, we donate a portion of every sale—not a just a portion of the profits—to organizations supporting combat-wounded veterans, families in need and environmental causes.
HOW IT'S MADE
Jelt elastic is woven out of 100% recycled plastic yarn, called RePET. When plastic is recycled, it is washed and melted into a liquid form, then the liquid is cooled to a unified solid form and tuned into pellets that are then melted again and spun into a fine thread. That thread is woven into polyester yarn which is then used to make our elastic.
The elastic is then printed in large batches with our signature silicone gel to make the elastic strong and grippier. We then bring the raw materials to our “beehive” at Jelt Headquarters where we count, inspect, measure, cut, sew, re-measure, re-inspect and package. Phew! There’s a lot of work to be done there!
We run what I call a “skeleton crew” at Jelt Headquarters. At this current time, there are five in-house employees. We have yours truly, Jen Perry, president; Amanda Schultz, vice president, Mary Spaulding, inventory manager; and Chris Bond, lead producer. We also work with a team of contractors who manage our digital marketing, fulfillment and additional manufacturing. As a small business, we all wear many “hats”. You will find any one of us packaging belts, answering phones or helping customers who stop by our showroom. We all just learn how to help each other out, be aware of what needs to be done immediately and adapt to whatever situation arises. That is teamwork at its best and requires an autonomous, self-motivated crew.
WHY IT MATTERS
Small business in America is dying. I know why—because it’s grueling and extremely difficult to compete with big box stores and Amazon. However, if you are a person who believes that products should be made locally, and that businesses should employ members of their local communities, then you are a person who should Shop Small.
Yes, it’s true that we sell a small selection of Jelt belts on Amazon. This is because we realize some people will only purchase from Amazon and in order to compete in today’s economy, we have to be listed on that platform. However, after Amazon takes their cut from storage, fulfillment, commissions, advertising fees, etc.; we literally make a few cents on every sale. This is true for every small brand listed on Amazon. They are literally the Evil Empire, but that’s a story for another blog.
Sufficed to say, it is best to buy directly from the jeltbelt.com website or from a local brick and mortar store. That way, the small business, like Jelt, have the opportunity to make more money to pay their employees thrivable wages, which they in-turn spend locally, and the cycle continues. It keeps the money flowing in communities, and for Jelt, it also allows us to make more belts out of recycled plastic and then donate more back to worthy causes.
So, the next time you look at a business, think about the wizard behind the curtain. Is it Jeff Bezos or is it someone just a little more like you? Who do you want to support with your hard-earned dollars? As a consumer in America, it is your choice.
Top photo: Jelt team playing paddle ball on a cold winter day.
Middle photo: Throwback photo of the first Jelt photoshoot in 2014.
Bottom photo: Chris Bond, lead producer, sewing and assembling Jelt Venture belts in the "beehive" production area.