The Mentor Network Founder Feature – Jeanette Knittel

Following GEW and the Thanksgiving holiday, we’re back with the Founder Feature Series!  Within this series, we chat with the founders of the 5th Cohort of The Mentor Network to learn more about them as individuals, as well as their entrepreneurial journeys.  They have some great wisdom and experience to share with the rest of the community!

This week, we spent a little time with Jeanette Knittel, President and Chief Cooling Officer of alvöru clothing llc.  Alvöru is an Icelandic word that means ‘real’ and Jeanette is certainly solving a real problem. Her clothing is for women who want feminine, classic and comfortable clothes that balance career and casual with challenges of hormonal fluctuations that cause hot flashes and night sweats. Proactive fabric technology adapts and changes based on body temperature, managing heat to reduce overheating and perspiration: alvöru clothing – real women. real comfort. real cool.  Jeanette has gone through Kauffman’s FastTrac for Women, was in the Top 20 (out of 105 ventures) at the UMKC Bloch School Venture Creation Challenge in 2013 and was even featured on Better KC Live August 2016!

What did you do before you were the Founder of your startup?

Last ‘paying’ job was as Major Account & Program Manager for the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

Why this startup?  A.k.a. what is your ‘why’?

Definitely an ah-ha moment in early 2000’s when felt like I was drowning in a swimming pool at night! The dreaded night sweats!!!!  I did some online research for clothing that would help with hot flashes & night sweats.  I purchased, but was mainly appalled at how matronly and grandma-like the clothing (primarily sleepwear) was. Wheels started turning that I could do something better ;-).  In 2004, I took the Kauffman FastTrac New Ventures for Women.  With that, I really felt there was a business based on that class process, but I had a huge hangup around how to actually sew/manufacture clothing. While I’ve been a home-sewer since I was a very young girl, the idea of making clothing for others was totally unappealing!  I did make a number of different designs & prototypes using either natural fibers or ‘high-performance’ wicking fabric.  I even made a few garments for friends using the wicking fabric and got a favorable response in how that fabric worked, BUT…the manufacturing process caused me to stall.


What was your first milestone/win that let you know you were on the right track to build this business?

Testimonials from my customers:
1. Martha a 65+ yo woman in KCMO who has never experienced hot flashes and/or night sweats, but ended up buying a top and said that she has literally changed her top when she realizes that she’s not wearing the alvöru top because it makes her feel ‘safe and secure’.
2. Suzanne a 60+ yo woman in Ft. Lauderdale, FL that purchased a tank and says ‘I am so glad to have found your clothing line and the existence of the outlast cloth.  In the two or three weeks that I have been wearing your shirt it has transformed the way I sleep.  And it has changed the way my body responds to heat during the day as well. I am sleeping well for the first time in years, and having read the latest studies on the connection between sleep and brain health, am happy to have a better chance on that front at the same time.’
3. Joyce a 59 yo woman in OPKS says ‘I wore my tank to church Sunday morning.  I see why you believe in what you’re doing so much.  I usually wear a jacket all the time because I struggle with being cold, but I was never freezing that day.  Later I had my jacket around my shoulders and then got warm enough again to remove it!!  My husband couldn’t believe it.  I’ll be spreading the word about alvöru!’

Why did The Mentor Network stand out to you as a positive program to be involved with?

Was referred by Nikki Hughey with Azalea Sage.

What have your big wins been so far within The Mentor Network?

I believe these things take time – especially when building relationships with executives.  I do believe that I’ve been paired with two amazing mentors, but both are extremely busy in their corporate jobs that scheduling time to meet can be difficult.  I appreciate what The Mentor Network is meant to do and I hope to continue to build on the relationships that were formed through the program well after the 6 months are completed.

How do you maintain sanity in this crazy, insane startup world?

I’m a glass half-full kinda gal, but saying that, I have an amazing tribe of other entrepreneurial women that are encouragers, listening ears, bullshit detectors, etc.  I also believe strongly in God, devotion and prayer in asking God and the Universe for blessings and guidance.

KC has so many resources and people to help entrepreneurs.  What are we still missing?  What gaps do you think we need to fill?

I feel we are missing resources for entrepreneurs who make something.  Between FastTrac, UMKC, K-State LAB, that I’ve been a part of since my starting my business, I feel that the KC resources seem to get excited when it comes to tech. That’s especially apparent when it comes to opportunities to pitch for serious funding. Making clothes doesn’t seem to get anyone excited like they do for the next hottest app, etc.  Instead, I get comments like ‘you’ll have to go to China’ or ‘what keeps anyone else from doing what you do?’  More negative statements and comments to me and my business (along with other entrepreneurs that I know also making something), rather than something like ‘you know, I don’t know anything about the fashion industry, but educate me on what you’ve learned and then I’ll work to help you with my knowledge and expertise’.  Honestly, I get angry that there seems to be a focus only on software, apps, technology and not on an industry that is at the base of what we all need – clothing!  No, not angry…pissed.

Regarding the KC startup ecosystem, what has been your favorite service/resource that you would like to share with other founders to take advantage of?

I truly believe that UMKC Bloch School has been my best resource. Although at times the classes were more academic than real-world, I met some amazing professors, program coordinators, mentors that I know even now, 4 years later.  If I see them, they’ll ask me how things are going and be interested.

If you could go back to the day you started this journey and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?

Only one piece of advice…that’s tough!  Done is better than perfect. I say that because since my first production run in 2014, I’m still tweaking and changing the patterns and the process for the finished product to be what I consider to be my ‘perfect’. But, I got product done and it’s being sold versus continuing to tweak until ‘perfect’. And, when I’ve had the opportunities to talk with professionals in the fashion industry, I’ve been told that I’ve accomplished an immense amount as a sole owner in an industry that is not very inclusive and still has an old school mentality. That is another thing that has also kept me going because I’ve been told by those who have done it. Make sense? 😉

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Also published on Medium.

About the author: Ari DeGrote