I like any kind of entrepreneurial success story, but the kind I really like is the one where the protaganist is self-made, works hard and chooses to make a leap and follow their passion. I like those stories because they inspire me that I can do the same!
This is exactly the kind of story that Jene Luciani's is. I actually met Jene years ago when I first started Red Branch PR and she was a fashion reporter. Over the past six or so years I've watched her go from behind the scenes to right, smack dab in front of the (national) television camera, being featured as a bra and fashion expert everywhere from Bravo's Mad Fashion to The Today Show.
It'd be one thing if that is where it ended, and I'd still probably be writing this, because who doesn't want to delve into the mind of someone who can get that much done in a few years, but it didn't end there. Jene also wrote a book, had a baby, became a spokesperson for multiple brands...you get it...
I asked Jene if she had time out of her uber-busy schedule to chat with us about her success story as an expert and personality-based brand, which I find fascinating, and to let us in on some of the secrets to her success. She literally had the answers back to me by the end of the day. Okay, so one secret to success - promptness & being easy to work with - is revealed there. Find out the rest of her story below!
Your name is very often linked to all things Bra's. You're a regular bra-preneur! What led you to building a brand, writing a book, and becoming an expert on all things brassieres?
Love that – Bra-Preneur! I’ve been called a Bra-lebrity, a Brackstar and a Brastrocity LOL..but at this point, I am running a business, and bra-preneur seems suitable!
It was a long journey that didn’t happen overnight. I began my career in broadcast journalism at the NBC affiliate in Albany, NY, where I was hired full-time right out of a college internship. A few years later, I moved to NYC and continued to work in TV news but I tired of the stories and always yearned for something more positive. I started working for a production company in NY covering fashion weeks in NY and Paris and realized that’s what I truly loved. Around that time, I started researching magazines I could write for as I had been writing for TV for so long, why not? I stumbled upon The WAG, a regional luxury publication outside of NYC and set up a meeting with the editor. After writing a couple of articles, they liked my work and offered me a position as a columnist. I’d always loved fashion because my parents owned a clothing boutique growing up so you can say it was in my “jeans.”
I wrote that fashion and beauty column for WAG for nearly 5 years and became their Fashion and Beauty Editor. During that time, I was working production and doing freelance PR for various people, media training and booking them to be on air as fashion experts. One day I said, "maybe I would like to do that??" I booked myself and realized I truly loved it and was very good at it too!
Five years later, I’m a regular on shows like TODAY on NBC and a number of other outlets in NYC and elsewhere. During that time, I wrote an article for WAG on bras and realized there were such little info out there and so many women who wanted help… It was 2006 and OPRAH had just done her first “bra intervention” show so everyone was talking about it. I decided I should write a book on bras and began the proposal process. Three years later, it was published by BenBella Books and available in retail outlets via a private label with the bra company Fashion Forms. A dream come true! Now I’m one of the country’s top three bra experts in the media. I love helping women and truly have my dream job!
Besides the aforementioned article, I had a personal reason to want to help other women with bras and body image issues related to their breasts. I suffered from Tubular Breast Deformity and had 2 reconstruction surgeries in my twenties. Before my surgeries made my breasts look “normal,” I used to use a Victoria Secret Miracle Bra and take out the padding on one side and leave it in the other, and at least my breasts appeared even and symmetrical under my clothing. It had a major impact on my life and I wanted to share my story to help other women. I tell the whole story in the introduction to The Bra Book.
When and why did you decide to write a book, and how long did the entire process take?
I got the idea for the book in 2006 and it was published in 2009. It started with a lengthy and well-researched non-fiction proposal that I worked on fine-tuning for approximately 9 months with my literary agents, Ebeling and Associates. During that time, my agent, Michael, came up with the idea to partner up with a bra company so that the book could be offered in retail outlets directly to bra consumers and even used as a sales tool. I had run into Ann Deal, CEO of Fashion Forms, around the time I was in the early stages of my proposal, and told her about my idea. She LOVED it and thought it was needed in the industry. So, when Michael said we should get a bra company on board, she was my first phone call. It was daunting to think about getting the CEO of a major bra company on the phone, but a family friend of mine who invented the backless strapless bra was working with Ann at the time and she made the call.
Next thing I knew, Ann was excitedly agreeing to a private label of 20,000 copies and she also wrote the foreword and collaborated on some of the content. This was groundbreaking and a first of its kind – the intimate apparel department in any store for that matter had never sold books before.
Some retailers were hesitant (and also in part because I objectively mention several brands and retailers in the book, not just one) but Dillard’s opted to carry it in all their 200+ stores as well as a few of the Lord and Taylor locations.
Once we secured the deal with Fashion Forms, we had interest from several large publishers and opted to go with a publisher out of Dallas called BenBella Books. Glenn, the publisher, had one NY Times bestseller under his belt but had never forayed into the fashion genre. This was a first for him as well, but he took a chance.
The Bra Book received much buzz leading up to its December 2009 release and a full two years later, people including celebrities are still buzzing about it. An entire episode of the hit Bravo show Mad Fashion revolved around my book. People are very receptive to my work and I think my passion shows through. I’m grateful. Recently I learned that 12 professors at FIT are using The Bra Book as a textbook in their classes. What’s better than that??!!
Over the past few years you've gone from "behind the camera" and reporting about stories for print, online and tv, to being in front of the camera and a feature story in your own right. When did you know you wanted to make the transition (was it always) and how did you begin making this change?
It’s funny because when I was a TV news producer, people would always say “why aren’t you on camera” and “don’t you want to be on camera?” To be honest, I was just happy to be working in a field that I loved. The transition to moving in front of the camera happened organically. I started doing regional appearances and realized that I was actually good at giving advice on TV. That led to spokesperson jobs and bigger and bigger and eventually national markets.
But, I’m a journalist first and foremost and I still write for a number of national outlets so I can keep that creative outlet in my life. I can’t wait to write my second book, although my work with The Bra Book just never seems “done” enough to move on to something else. I’m a real-life busy mom, so surely it’ll relate to that.
How tenacious would you say you've had to be to get your voice heard and rise up in a city as competitive as New York City?
People always think you have to be cutthroat to make it in this market. I’m in two competitive industries – TV and fashion- no make that three, publishing too. I’ve managed to make a name for myself in all areas all while staying true to who I am and trying to mentor and help people along the way, as I was.
I always say I am proof that nice guys really do finish first! But, I’m not going to disillusion anyone – it takes rolling up your sleeves, creative thinking and many hours of hard work to get to where I want to be (still not there yet!) I gave up a lot of holidays, nights and weekends and sacrificed in other areas to fulfill my career dreams. My husband has been supportive over the last 9 years and he patiently waited for me to say I was ready to start a family. Once I had my book deal signed and sealed, we started trying for a baby and she was born exactly one month before The Bra Book was released. How’s that for timing??!
How difficult is it for you to balance all the hats you wear every day – on-air expert, host, reporter, personality, writer, etc?
It’s definitely not easy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Keeping myself involved in so many different areas not only makes me feel fulfilled, it also makes me more educated and well-rounded. Best part of all facets of my job is that I basically get to be myself and speak and write about things I’m passionate about.
What do you do to stay motivated and keep going when the load gets heavy or you are running low on energy and inspiration?
It sounds cheesy but I literally give myself daily pep talks like “you can do this.” I look to those who inspire me and I know their journeys weren’t easy either. It’s not a race to the top; it’s a steady climb, with a few missteps along the way that just make you stronger.
How do you manage to "turn off" for time as a mom, friend and wife?
As hard as it is for me to “turn off,” family comes first. I make sure I have one day a week that I spend solely with my daughter (checking Blackberry periodically, of course!) where I don’t schedule anything. I also make sure we have a vacation scheduled once a year and a one weekend a month upstate with my family helps me re-charge.
Okay tell us, how much do you actually sleep every night?
I like to say I get nine hours a sleep a night but it’s probably more like seven. When I was writing my book, make that about five. But I’m not a person who can function on little sleep. So it’s important no matter how busy I get, I squeeze it in. I do a lot of morning show appearances so those 4 or 5 am mornings really hurt. I’ve also done travel jobs where I’ve gotten off a plane and been on the air the next morning which is essentially 3 hours later. Those aren’t easy.
What would you say are some key pieces of advice for others who are hoping to become a personality like you in the world of their own expertise?
I would say everyone likes to think they are an “expert” but it takes time. I’ve put in my time…I’ve been at this twelve years. It took three years of research to write The Bra Book and I've been working with women and giving advice nearly every day since then. I can now eyeball a pair of breasts and tell a woman a pretty accurate assessment of her bra size. I can also tell her the best clothing items for her body shape and how she can work with what she’s already got. My family owned a clothing store; I’d always loved fashion and was always good at helping friends or giving them advice. Those qualities together make me a good style expert, without having had any formal training or education. Look at Rachael Ray – she’s a great example too. Bottom line is you don’t necessarily have to have a fancy degree or a million accolades under your belt. You just have to have a passion for what you do and sharing that with others.
Where would you like to see the Jene Luciani brand go in the next five years?
There are big plans for the JL brand. I’m speaking with licensing and branding experts and companies regarding launching product lines (naturally, bras would be a fit and I have tons of ideas!) and eventually I’d like to have my own television show. For now, I’m happy and fulfilled with spreading a positive message and helping women look and feel better about themselves. The sky’s the limit!!