When I was in grade school and played basketball, my dad used to “incentivize” my sister and I with one dollar per foul and $10 if we fouled out of a game. While that might seem a little aggressive, I think that taught me to be assertive and go for what I want. My coach loved my style of play.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Christopher.
As a lifelong sports fan with a spirited love for fashion, Julie Christopher breaks the mold of a modern-day entrepreneur, blending her two passions to create an entirely new accessories and apparel category for women. Christopher is CEO and Founder of Best of Seven, a new lifestyle brand offering sophisticated and versatile leather goods, accessories and apparel made for game day and every day.
Christopher grew up in the Western suburbs of Chicago, actively participating in school, sports and social activities while discovering early-on her passion for attending sporting events with her tight-knit family. She remained an avid sports fan while attending Indiana University and through post-graduation, when she moved back to Chicago to pursue her professional journey in corporate communications. After building her resume at several notable companies, including e-commerce kitchenware brand The Pampered Chef (founded by her mother), Christopher found herself driven by her entrepreneurial family roots to explore starting something of her own.
As she grew more involved with team affinities and cause-specific organizations, Christopher remained dedicated to her sense of style in boasting bold color palettes with a sophisticated edge, but was missing a direct link between her fashion choices and day-to-day interests. So, she set out to create Best of Seven to marry her greatest passions — sports and fashion. The brand, which launched its first collection in Fall 2020, features elevated, versatile accessories and apparel for stylish women looking to connect with their allegiances or simply wear their favorite color in an expressive, untraditional way. Comprised of versatile leather accessories that can be customized with the choice of colors and adjustable straps and flaps, the line caters seamlessly to every woman’s personal style on game day and every day.
In her personal time, Christopher enjoys traveling with family and friends, staying on-trend with fashion and interior design, collecting art, playing violin, writing, and of course, cheering on and attending sporting events (especially the NHL Chicago Blackhawks and tennis star Roger Federer). A longtime resident of Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, giving back to her local community is a top priority, serving on many organizations’ boards, including at The Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Boys & Girls Club of Chicago, Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Council at Indiana University and CSC Partners.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I’ve enjoyed playing and watching sports — at all levels — all my life. As a little girl, my dad, uncle and grandfather (all big sports fans and hobby athletes) encouraged my sister, cousins and I (all girls) to watch and play a wide variety of sports. On the flip side, I’ve loved and informally studied fashion for as long as I can remember. As an adult when attending a game, I struggled with what to wear to represent my team but dress in sync with my everyday style. Not finding great “fan wear” options, especially in the women’s range, I gravitated towards purchasing pieces from my favorite brands that represented colors of the teams I cheered for. I wondered why more brands didn’t focus on fashionable items in team colors, sans logos, and thought, perhaps it’s up to me to fill that void.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
We’re filling a void by offering females well-made, versatile, stylish options that can be worn game day and every day. As a female founded brand, we’re contradicting the “shrink it and pink it” mentality often adopted by traditional sportswear brands when creating apparel and accessories for women. The notion of game day, every day also disrupts the idea that fanwear is only to be worn to the game. Why spend money on something that can only be worn a few times a year? Because we don’t utilize logos, our styles can easily be integrated from workday to weekend.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
So. Many. Mistakes. And no doubt, I’ll continue making them. At this point I can laugh at some of the early mistakes, which were clearly the result of inexperience or, perhaps, optimistic naivete — however, many are still a little raw.
Here’s one I can laugh at…When we were building out our office and design center in Chicago, I was adamant we include a space where we could host groups for sports watch parties and “in-store” shopping events, to introduce friends and potential customers to the brand on a more personal level. We decked it out with custom millwork, a huge TV, a special ice bucket built into the counter, an “Instagram Wall” and a beautiful hand-painted rendition of the Best of Seven logo and a signature stripe pattern we use in our branding. We imagined all sorts of fun gatherings and parties. Now, for the punchline: COVID. We’re going to throw one heck of a celebration in that space once this is all over.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I’ve been blessed with many role models in my life. I always admired women who knew what they were born to do and did it, and those who cut a clear (or even jagged) path “to the top.” In life, and now in business, I’ve drawn upon what I’ve learned from and by family and friends who I respect and admire. Like my parents, for instance, who are entrepreneurs themselves. They started their business in a very different time and space, yet there were translatable lessons to be learned and applied to my own business. I also admire my late grandmother, who treated every single person she encountered with kindness and hospitality, whether she was cooking them a meal at a homeless shelter, throwing a bridal shower for the new pastor’s wife, or taking in her nieces for a year while her sister sorted out her marriage. I keep my eye on successful female founders, like Tory Burch, the late Kate Spade, Sara Blakley (Spanx) and Nell Diamond (Hill House Home), to see how they handle(d) things, taking notes on their successes, challenges and learnings. While I don’t know them personally, their stories inspire me.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
I think disruption is most always positive when it causes us to look or think about something in a new way. We should honor things that stand the test of time, but think disruptively, even when something is working “the way it’s always been done.” Good leaders or “disruptors” are continuously looking at new ways to do things, whether related to design, manufacturing, distribution, communication, customer experience, community engagement, etc. Disruptive thinking leads to disruptive action, which is what moves things forward, or at least gives us the opportunity to.
For instance, with our color-based assortment, Best of Seven is disrupting the “fanwear industry” by offering options beyond team names and logos. That doesn’t make logos bad. In fact, we hope that fans who like to dress in jerseys and tees proudly bearing team names will look at our products as a wonderful add-on to their game day look. We’re all about making fans feel and look good when they’re cheering on something or someone they love.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- When I was in grade school and played basketball, my dad used to “incentivize” my sister and I with one dollar per foul and $10 if we fouled out of a game. While that might seem a little aggressive, I think that taught me to be assertive and go for what I want. My coach loved my style of play.
- While observing and working in our family business, I learned from my parents to focus on the things you’re really good at and know when to bring in experts to help guide the rest. I’ve built my Best of Seven team based on that philosophy — I know a little about a lot, but my team knows more than I ever will about their individual areas of expertise. I need to lean on their collective expertise to move the business forward.
- Never say or do something you wouldn’t want printed in your local paper the next day (or, by current standards, posted to social media or the Internet). ‘Nough said.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
First things first, let’s start with surviving the launch of a social and sporting events-driven business in a global pandemic. I always tell my team, if we can survive this, the rest will be a piece of cake. We’ve had to balance the difficult task of staying on brand while being relevant in the current atmosphere with empty stadiums, campuses, and workplaces — all places people would gather wearing Best of Seven. Game day looks completely different right now, as does workday, every day and the holidays. But teams are still playing, and we’re learning to look our best in Zoom classrooms, boardrooms and cocktail parties. We still walk the dog and perhaps stop for coffee. Best of Seven is creating new ways to remain relevant, while maintaining a spirited, colorful outlook. Eventually, we’ll all get back to doing the things we love, and because of the challenges faced in this pandemic, we’re learning even more about ourselves and our capacities than we would have if things had been smooth sailing from the get go. We started in bumpy waters but are holding steady until the storm passes.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I look forward to (and will work toward) the day when we talk merely about challenges faced by disruptors, without the preceding gender clarification. I’ve been surrounded by strong, creative disruptors my entire life, some of whom happen to be women. One thing I’ve learned is that women need to support other women in any way possible. Whether through mentorship, opportunity, purchasing from women-owned businesses, having a point of view on issues that affect women, good things happen when we support each other.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
I soak up the stories on Guy Raz’s “How I Built This,” broadcast through National Public Radio. His questions are so good and dig deep into how creators create. The podcast was recommended by a friend as a source of inspiration in the early days of Best of Seven. I think I’ve listened to his interview with the late Kate (and Andy) Spade a dozen times. The stories Guy draws out of founders are inspirational and reassuring.
Another podcast that particularly impacted me this year is, GirlTrek’s “Black History Bootcamp,” which tells the stories of 21 Black women who helped shape history. GirlTrek is one of the leading health organizations for Black women, which builds on a 30 minute “walk and talk” as the basis for making positive changes to one’s health, family and world. The stories and the ensuring dialogue between GirlTrek’s founders who host the podcast, Vanessa and Morgan, opened my eyes to perspectives and lessons one couldn’t possibly learn without metaphorically walking in their shoes, alongside them. It was my privilege, as a White woman, to lean in with them, while acknowledging the fact that their experience, and that of their ancestors, is one I will never fully feel or comprehend.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
There’s been a lot of research surrounding color theory; what different colors mean or how they make us feel. Color has such a deep impact on the world. Color can be representative of something important to us — a team, a school, a cause, a holiday, an organization. I hope Best of Seven inspires more people to adopt a colorful, spirited, representative outlook!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My faith is important to me, and in it I find great strength. When I’m feeling challenged or overwhelmed, I’ll often reference bible verses I’ve earmarked over the years. One that I keep coming back to, especially in times like these, is “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” — Philippians 4:13. In this time of tremendous uncertainty and upheaval, I encourage others to find whatever it is that strengthens and encourages them, and allow themselves a daily dose.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find us on Facebook and Instagram @bestofsevenshop, or via our website www.bestofseven.com.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!