When Penny Goffman gave birth to her first child, a daughter she named Jolie, she didn’t know that she was also naming another baby: the mobile fashion business she started in 2015, Jolie Gotique. Penny’s kids are now ten and seven, but they were still toddlers when she hatched her first business plan. With an eye for fashion, the former consultant who’s originally from Canada had friends turning to her for style advice. Where did you get that top? How did you put that look together? Can you help me edit my closet? At the same time, she was noticing the growing popularity of food trucks in our area and thought, What about a fashion truck?
Soon Jolie Gotique was born and the rolling boutique hit the road at events, outfitting busy moms and their daughters. “The whole motherhood industry, whether it’s working mothers or self-care, has exploded,” says Penny. This energetic entrepreneur has grown her business via savvy social media and has since started a second company, That Penny Life (TPL), while also becoming regional head of a working-mom networking group, HeyMama.
As she expanded, Penny joined forces with like-minded mom Stacy Danow of Rye Brook and Lauren Stiner of Armonk who help run the businesses. We caught up with Penny to learn more about the secrets to her success and how the current climate has impacted her businesses.
BOUTIQUE ON WHEELS
Before influencers were even a thing, Penny chose to take a personal/lifestyle approach to business, sharing her story on social media. She couldn’t afford models at the time, so she opted to model the clothing herself along with her daughter and post their outfits on Instagram—all pieces for sale through Jolie Gotique. Penny hired a sixteen-year-old from Greenwich High to teach her the ins and outs of social media platforms, boosting her tech smarts.
Prior to the need for social distancing, she would bring her truck to women’s homes and events, showcasing affordable style. “People are not going to come onto a truck and pay what they would at Saks,” says Penny. “I was realistic about that. Everything on the truck is under $200.” Most of the women’s pieces are between $50 and $150 and girls’ clothes range from $20 to $80. For the women, it’s about fashion rather than basics. “Something to wear on a girls’ night or date night. Even if it’s athleisure, it’s not a plain black T-shirt. There’s something interesting or edgy about it, the color, shape or pattern.” Six months after the truck got rolling, the Jolie Gotique website with ecommerce was launched so customers could also shop online.
April 1 was supposed to mark the opening of the fashion truck’s 2020 season, which would have run through November for parties, private events and personal in-home shopping. For now Penny relies on her social media presence for online shopping. “The beauty is that inadvertently we have been preparing for this day for the past five years. We have worked tirelessly on our social media presence,” says Penny. “Our Instagram community is able to shop directly by tapping on a post that directs them to checkout on our website.” Penny is currently offering 20 percent off with free shipping and returns.
Giving back is important to Penny and she’s brought the truck to numerous events, donating a percentage of sales to organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club, Make-A-Wish, Junior League, Susan G. Komen and the Linda W. Daniel Foundation. The company ran a major campaign to support the Breast Cancer Alliance, creating a special hot pink shirt worn by actresses and models around the country. And she looks forward to doing it all again.
“As soon as it is safe and approved by government regulations, we plan on rebooking some of our events. Many of the hostesses have already contacted us and are dedicated to selecting a future date, with fewer guests—even if we are all wearing masks while we style and shop!”
STYLE IN STORE
In 2018 Alice & Olivia, a national line with a store on Greenwich Avenue, noticed Penny’s presence in town and on Instagram and asked her to manage an in-store event and photo shoot. After taking the gigm, Penny had a feed’s worth of photos unrelated to the lines she sells via Jolie Gotique, so she created a new Instagram channel, That Penny Life. She used TPL to post her own lifestyle shots—say, the family on vacation—and things that didn’t fit under the Jolie Gotique umbrella. Soon she was receiving requests from other retailers and this became a second business—styling photo shoots and running fashion shows for well-known brands. “It happened organically with one opportunity leading to another. And I wound up loving it,” says Penny. Recently she handled a large fashion show for the opening of Bloomingdale’s at the SoNo Collection, styling models from head to toe, directing and organizing the event.
Though all of these events are on hold, she is in talks with a department store to produce, style and moderate a “Cheers to Our Moms” event when it is safe to be out again. “The idea is that moms are spread very thin during this crisis and wearing more hats than ever. We’d like to take a moment to celebrate mothers everywhere.”
While Penny was busy balancing the three businesses with motherhood, she wound up joining a members-only group for working moms called HeyMama. The group was founded by two Brooklyn moms in 2015, the same year Penny started Jolie Gotique. It helps working moms connect with each other through monthly social events such as a brunch or mom’s night out and also at expert panel events with topics relating to career (building a marketing strategy) and motherhood (parenting for social and emotional health).
“I’ve recruited a lot of local moms into HeyMama because I believe in it so much,” Penny says. Soon enough she was recruited herself—to be the community organizer for the Westchester and Fairfield County regions. Penny sets up all the events, arranging for speakers and fun activities, some with corporate sponsors like Lincoln Motor Cars. To join, women need to fill out an application, get references and pay a monthly or annual fee.
“People are really engaged, because they pay for it and they see the value,” she says. In January Penny planned an event at Inner Light Wellness in Darien with a spiritual guidance expert who helped the ladies set intentions for 2020. The group quickly pivoted to fit with our “new normal.” HeyMama expanded its virtual communications with Zoom webinars and events. Penny hosts Mama Meetups so moms in neighboring towns in Fairfield and Westchester can connect and discuss both the challenges and silver linings of our situation. She is also heading up an industry group called Fashion Moms. Moms from around the country in the fashion world discuss the future of the industry, provide resources and brainstorm ways to navigate the changing business environment.
So what’s in the cards for this hard-working mama? “No one could have prepared us for this time when we would become teachers, caretakers, housekeepers and carry on with work daily. It’s all made me reflect how I want to live my life. While I yearn to socialize, hug customers, style fashion shows, I want to do so with greater purpose. I want to practice being present on a deeper level,” says Penny. “I want to bask in my professional accomplishments, not just move from one to the next. I want to unwind while reading my children books in bed, not rush to reply to work emails. If there’s anything I have learned, it’s to deeply appreciate all the freedoms and gifts in my life, give them love, revel in them and never forget this intention.”