Entreprenista Julia DeNey on Elavating Sensory-Friendly Clothing through Sense-ational You
Hi Julia! Please share a brief introduction about yourself and your business:
I attended Cornell University, where I majored in Fashion Design. In my junior year, I began an independent study on clothing for autistic children after volunteering at a local special education preschool led to many parents and therapists asking if I knew the struggle their children faced with clothing. After two years of work in this area, I graduated into the pandemic in 2020. With the fashion industry largely shut down, I had to decide whether to pivot my career or take a leap and turn my independent study into a much-needed brand. From that, Sense-ational You was created. Sense-ational You focuses on the aesthetic and functional needs of autistic children and all children with sensory processing differences. All styles offered are sensory-friendly, which means they are free of common irritants such as tags and bulky seams. Some of our designs go further than this, creating discrete and convenient sensory tools from our sound-reducing hoodie to our compression-lined t-shirt.
So Julia, what excites you about being an Entreprenista League member?
I am a young solopreneur in need of a community! I am excited to learn from other members and gain knowledge from all sides of running a business, from marketing to legal to inventory management. I am also so drawn to the community aspect. I am excited to forge meaningful relationships with other women that get it! Business ownership is not easy, but it is incredible to have people around you that genuinely get it. So many of my friends are in salaried jobs at companies, and while SO supportive, it isn’t always the same as talking to others who have been there and know your experiences or needs.
Starting a business of your own takes a lot of courage. What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I didn’t want to give up my passion! I felt so purposeful, driven, and excited every time I got to focus on my research and designs. Every job I looked into filled me with dread that I wouldn’t be able to work on and share with families these needed clothes. After searching for grad programs and alternative job opportunities that left me less than inspired, I knew I had to take the chance and follow what was driving me. I knew there was nothing I would want to do more than this, and that was the moment I knew I had to start my own business.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
Before Sense-ational You, I was a student at Cornell University majoring in Fashion Design and minoring in Business and Human Development. My main focus in school was on childrenswear, but I did various internships, from Paul Carroll in NYC to Fashion Loves You in Florence to Justice in Columbus. After graduating, I was working on building Sense-ational You and simultaneously working in special education with autistic children getting first-hand experience with the children I was designing for and therapists and teachers who would use the products. I did this at a private preschool in Maine and in the Boston Public Schools.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
No, actually! When I was in high school and told anyone I wanted to be a fashion design major, the first response you get is either, “Oh, you want to be on Project Runway?” or “So, one day you want to have your own label in New York Fashion Week?” to which I always replied, “No!” I never wanted to own my own label because, in my head, I was way more secure working for a company under a salary, and honestly could just never see myself in the high fashion world. But that all changed when I discovered a significant gap in the apparel market that I was passionate about designing. So while entrepreneurship was never the goal, filling a greater purpose with my designs was, and it just happened to be most effective by building my own company.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
Our main focus was on social media and organic word of mouth. I began growing our following and engagement years before launching and continued pushing a lot of content and engaging lives before our official launch. I also directly reached out to therapists and developmental pediatricians to let them know about our new products that are now available to their clients that need them. It didn’t go exactly to plan because social media has many ebbs and flows. Sense-ational You had high-view and engagement videos leading up to the launch, but when the official launch happened, the account was stuck in a low-view rut that took some time to come out of. This is just the nature of content like TikToks and Reels that I hadn’t accounted for in how I saw the launch going.
Entreprenistas overcome daily challenges. What is the biggest challenge you have encountered along the way and what did you learn from it?
One of the biggest challenges has been balancing everything else going on with figuring out how to grow a new business. While launching and growing the company, I was working in special education full-time in a public school setting, babysitting, and building my life in a new city. Balance was HARD. And I often felt like I was letting the ball drop on Sense-ational You. At every turn, there was something new to figure out, from how to ship internationally to how to set up ads when every platform’s ad manager is so different, to how to edit a website and add the Shopify Apps I needed. I felt like there were not enough hours in the day. But one of the biggest things I learned was to ask for help! Everything is new when you are starting your first business, but there is always someone who that thing is second nature to. Feeling empowered to reach out and get help from experts and more knowledgeable founders is crucial. It helped save time and stress when I could ask someone how to do something rather than searching the internet and trial and erroring it myself. I also learned you can’t do it all! Something has to give, and you have to prioritize. This business is my biggest passion, and I needed to shape my life to prioritize that and give it a chance to grow!
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I am most proud that the business has been launched for a whole year. A year where I was not only working on the business but also working a full-time job in the public schools, babysitting, and settling into a new city.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Work/ life balance is SO important, but is hardest as an entrepreneur because the work is never done, and the work is wherever you are! I think it’s important to block off times not for work and just for you to recenter and reset. From an hour for the workout class you love to an afternoon with a friend you haven’t seen, it’s crucial to have these times to feel like a whole person, not just a business owner, to not just burned out. The way I can ensure this happens in my life is to put these activities into my calendar, even just friend hangouts!
What’s a piece of advice you can share that you wish you’d known when you first started your Entreprenista journey?
I wish I knew to join sooner! To have a place for your questions to be answered and new connections to be made all in one place is amazing and so needed!
Julia, you have lots to celebrate! What have you achieved recently that you’d like to celebrate with our community?
We just had our highest sales month to date (by far!) in May! It was a huge win and a big boost heading into summer. This was my last school year working in special education so that I can focus on the business, so this win was a big motivator in this shift!
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
Growth! Sensory processing disorder and autism look different for every person. Everyone has different needs; I want our product line to reflect that. I want to have more different styles so everyone can find something their child will LOVE and make them comfortable. Not only physically comfortable but comfortable enough to be who they are wherever they are! My dream is for parents or kids to be able to go to our website, filter by their sensory need and then simply shop for looks and styles that fit who they are and what they need in their closet like so many take for granted we get to do.