Entrepreneurs in the Heartland: Janay A Mallela


I started a women’s clothing line when I was 18, and I was selling custom clothing and wholesale to some stores... People kept asking me to make wedding dresses, and I resisted so hard! Brides always sounded so crazy. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get into that.”

Once she gave in, Janay resolved to use eco-friendly fabrics for wedding dresses. What she found was the type of people attracted to having a quality, handmade dress from responsibly grown fibers were not the "bridezilla" stereotype that's well-documented in pop culture. In fact, they were the complete opposite: easy-going, creative, and quirky. 

For the past 10 years, Janay has operated her bridal business, Janay A Eco Bridal, now in downtown Mission, KS. She has been running the business her whole adult life, and grew up sewing and making patterns in her teens. Today, clients come to her for custom made dresses made from organic cotton, hemp/silk or for reinventions of their mothers' or grandmothers' "heirloom dresses". She also offers alterations for dresses from other shops between custom orders when possible, and loves adding just the right handmade adornments to finish off a look perfectly (but still remaining on the minimal side as far as typical bridal style is concerned).

What is your ideal client?

I have a bunch of different clients. I'll have clients who are conservative and want a custom dress because they're more modest, and then I have the opposite end of the spectrum-people who are riskier and want to show a slit up to here and show off a lot of skin. All of our dresses are custom-made, and it attracts people who have a lot of different ideas. I get a lot of quirky and creative brides: someone who knows what they want and has a strong independent sense of style. They're clear on who they are and clear on wanting something special. 

How do you balance your own style with a bride's custom requests?

It's all about compromise and being clear about what the bride wants from her dress and what is realistic for her to expect.  I may point out that a different fit that may look better on her body type, for example, so they are happy with the end product. Seeing a picture of a gown on a model onPinterest vs. actually wearing it all day can be two very different things. It's important to be able to sit down, raise your arms, etc.  So, we work through these questions together. 

I walk this fine line where I want people to get what they want, but also be true to our style. But in the end, I really want to give her what she wants on her day and work really hard to bring that to fruition.

What is something you've learned that you wish you knew when you started? 

In the beginning, I spent a lot of time trying to come up with designs for new collections every year since that's what the fashion industry pushes-- having the newest, best things. But that's not what works for me.

Bridal style doesn't change that quickly.  I don't have to adhere to this idea of making a new collection and showing that off each season. My customers aren't the type of person who wants something off the rack as is exists anyway. They'll always be tweaking and customizing, so I roll with that and have some basic styles that are easily customizable platforms for expression. 

What was it like when you first launched? 

I definitely had high hopes of having dresses in all these different stores, and I did do a lot of that for a while. My team and I were making tons of dresses, but with selling to stores it's a really hard business to thrive in and so impersonal. Plus, they want things exactly the same for each order-- definitely not fun! We're always improving processes, so it kept us stuck in the old way of doing things.  I realized over the last year I'd rather do less quantity and give my clients my personal attention they deserve at every fitting.

What do your days look like now?

I spend most of my time working with brides, for their "dream dress" consultations and for every fitting, or working with them long distance over Skype.  Supply and material acquisition is a big part of my day.  Most of the actual sewing is delegated to my assistants. I select the fun parts I enjoy working on, like making accessories and hand-sewing. Being the boss is fun like that- I don't have to do zippers if I don't want to.  I can, but I don't. Also other people are just plain better at patterns and more mathematically precise things than I am! 

We've also been designing a lot of color and ombre effects on gowns, and I do the fabric dyeing. I end up getting more making done when I go home. In here, it's all about the customer. 

What are your long term goals for your business? 

I tend to get hyped on these epic ideas. I'm such a dreamer. It's easy to lose perspective in what my actual reality is right now.  Like, what if I had a mobile RV and took this show on the road? What if I had a TV show that featured brides creating their dream dresses? Such great, big ideas!  When I started, I had this idea that business would just scale quickly, multiple locations, etc.  I did that for a while. It was kinda a nightmare. Slow-Fashion is definitely more my speed.

The business is alive, breathing, full of expansions and contractions. When it's smaller it almost seems to function better and I can personally work with each client now that I've scaled back on doing wholesale.   I've realized that the business just need to grow organically. 

You're from southern Missouri, and have lived in KC for awhile. Why stick around? 

I can't imagine living anywhere else. I've showed at some bridal shows in New York City, and now I'm working to get into the Colorado, Oregon, and California markets with specialty eco wedding shows.  

 I like the hometown feel of Kansas City. I like running into people I know, and being immersed in this supportive network here.  In KC, you can make your art and run your business and still be able to afford a home, have a garden, get lost in the woods, those things are really vital to me and my process.

Janay's work can be seen on her website or to see the dresses in real life, make an appointment.