It started as a personal quest for the perfect tailgating outfit.
“My friend and I, we could never find any cute clothes to wear tailgating,” said Jessica Stenzel, owner of For the Love of School, 3381 Sage Drive in Forest City.
So, the pair began buying men’s T-shirts and modifying them.
“We would cut them up and embellish them,” Stenzel said.
Soon, she was making the shirts for friends too.
“It was pretty much non-profit,” Stenzel said. “I don’t think we realized what we had until later on.”
But after graduating from the University of Iowa in 2005 with a liberal arts degree, she made the leap. Stenzel founded For the Love of School in 2007 and took it on full-time last year.
Today, you can find her designs in various boutiques across Iowa, including Ames, at Lyla’s, 404 Main St.
For the most part, though, For the Love of School is still a one-woman shop, with Stenzel handling everything from design to production.
She drew the company’s logo, a pink crest flanked by two winged women dressed in black and pink skirts and tank tops.
“It was a doodle,” Stenzel said. “It was a doodle that I put on Adobe Illustrator.”
Last year, she personally screen-printed about 1,500 shirts.
“I did it all myself and was pretty tired at the end of the season,” Stenzel said.
But as the company has grown, she’s brought in outside contractors to help with specific tasks, such as accounting and production.
“Now it’s all contracted out, because my focus is more on marketing and sales,” Stenzel said.
A large part of her job consists of visiting the 13 boutiques — some of which have multiple locations — that carry her product.
In Ames and Iowa City, that’s Lyla’s, which serves as exclusive distributor of For the Love of School products in those locations, said Kelly Stewart, manager of the Ames Lyla’s.
Stewart said the line has been a hot seller.
“We actually carried it last year,” Stewart said. “We sold out of it by last winter.”
She said this year’s order was approximately 15 to 20 of each size, which is an unusual quantity for a boutique.
“For a boutique, we usually get 1 [or] 2 of each size,” Stewart said.
Stenzel works directly with each of the boutiques and often drops by to promote her products or hold events.
“We do different tailgating events throughout the fall,” Stenzel said.
She also handles business development. The company currently has licensing with about 150 schools, but Stenzel said she’s working on more.
“Right now we are primarily working with Iowa [and] Minnesota,” Stenzel said. “We’re just getting into Missouri and Kansas.”
That doesn’t just mean big universities either.
“We’re able to work with any size, from the University of Iowa [to] Iowa State to small, little high schools,” Stenzel said.
Stewart said it’s unusual to see a designer from the Midwest.
“You don’t see many people coming out of Iowa,” Stewart said. “A lot of these people go to New York and work under designers. The fact that she stayed and is starting this business is pretty amazing.”
And for Stenzel, it’s a dream come true.
“I love that I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do, and that’s create awesome clothes for people,” Stenzel said.