Neontrepreneur: Sydney Izen of Unemployed Denim

Is it mid-April already?! Seriously, where does the time go? 

This month’s Neon-trepreneur is Sydney Izen, the founder and HBIC of Unemployed Denim, a local brand of reworked vintage items. Sydney’s is one of those amazing stories where good luck and good style lead to a super successful brand. Here’s the short version of the story: Sydney reworked a pair of jean shorts for Coachella, the shorts got a lot of coverage and thus, a business idea was born! Since then, Sydney has expanded her offering to include jean jackets, tshirts, flannels, hats, and more. Plus, she’s established a successful on-campus brand ambassador program to help spread the good word. 

Before we dive deeper into Sydney’s story & entrepreneurship advice, I’m excited to announce that The Neon Tea Party and Unemployed Denim will be teaming up on a vintage TEE party on Sunday, April 30th at 5:30pm. (Think: ripping, snipping, painting, and patching a bunch of sweet worn-in tshirts.) Tickets are available here! Be sure to snag yours soon in order to get the early bird price of $45.

Now without further ado, take it away Sydney!


Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit? If so, can you share any early entrepreneurial endeavors?

Yes – it definitely runs in my family! When I was in middle school I would buy different bracelets and sell them at school. I loved incorporating fashion and business and was always looking for new opportunities to optimize. I have also always been into making and reworking clothing as well as vintage shopping. For my friends birthdays I used to make them t-shirts to represent their personality and all the things they loved. It’s funny because I am essentially still doing this just on jean jackets!

What drove you to launch Unemployed Denim? How did you know it was “the right time” (if there is such a thing)?

It kind of happened by accident. I made a pair of shorts for myself to wear at Coachella 2016 and the shorts got a lot of media attention. I was featured in blogs and after that I went on to rework more vintage items for myself. The items caught on and everyone wanted them – that was the start of Unemployed Denim. Didn’t think about timing, just went for it!


unemployed denim’s customizable jean jackets

What inspires you in regards to your business?

A few things! One is designing clothes that excite the customer and that help them to express their personality. I get so excited every time I see an Instagram post of someone wearing an Unemployed Denim product. Second is the brand ambassador program. Our brand ambassador program is growing daily and the ideas our ambassadors have is truly incredible. They are constantly thinking of new ways to improve as a representative for the company and this inspires me to work even harder!

Was there a moment when you felt like you’d “made it?” Or at least that you were truly onto something?

As a startup, I would say Unemployed Denim still has a long way to go, but each person that buys something or tells me how great they think the company is reassures me that I’m “on to something.”

What are the best and hardest parts about owning your own business?

One of the hardest parts about starting my own company, is everything I do is trial and error and everything I do is for the first time – finding product, perfecting production, figuring out inventory, etc. Although it’s the hardest part, when it is accomplished it becomes the best part of owning my own business. The other hardest thing I have found from owning my own company is there is nobody telling you what to do, when to do it or if what you are doing is right. I really have to be good at prioritizing what needs to get done and just go with it!


To what do you attribute your success thus far?

Unemployed Denim’s success has come from myself and my team’s extremely hard work. It is the hard work we put in during the days, nights and weekends that has gotten Unemployed Denim to where it is today. Meredith Keller, VP of Social Media Marketing and Technology, does all of Unemployed Denim’s social media, digital content creation, building and updating of the website and everything in between! She is my go-to and we talk through almost everything together. It is the motivation, passion, and teamwork we share for Unemployed Denim that has gotten us here.

What have been your most successful marketing outlets/endeavors/strategies? 

Almost all of our marketing comes organically from people posting themselves in our product on social media channels. This has really helped to spread the word about Unemployed Denim in a natural way. Our brand ambassadors are also responsible for posting about Unemployed Denim on their campuses, which has really helped attract the college networks.

Which entrepreneurs and/or brands do you look up to?

One entrepreneur and brand I look up to is Jennifer Fisher Jewelry. Her story is extremely inspiring and very relatable – the company started by her just making jewelry for herself. You always know you have a good idea when people ask you to buy your items that aren’t for sale!

What is your dream project?

My dream project is for Unemployed Denim to have a collaboration with an established designer and/or artist. I can’t even name just one because there are so many I would die to work with! I think we could create some really cool pieces. 

Where do you see your business in 3-5 years?

I always find this question extremely difficult to answer. I think it is hard to predict where Unemployed Denim will be in 3-5 years because right now the fashion industry is drastically changing at rapid speed. Who knows what will be relevant in the future, but I hope for Unemployed Denim to be a very recognizable and respected company.

Based on your experience, what advice would you offer other young, female entrepreneurs?

The biggest advice I would offer to young, female entrepreneurs is do whatever you have to do to accomplish your goal. Unemployed Denim started in my dorm room while I was still a student at Cornell. After graduating I did it at night and on the weekends while I worked another job until I was finally able to do it full time. There is nothing easy about being an entrepreneur, but I can’t even explain how rewarding it makes me feel – I get excited from even the littlest accomplishments. There will never be a perfect moment to take the leap into starting your own company, so start it whenever you have the idea!


A huge thank you to Sydney Izen for an awesome interview. Be sure to check out Unemployed Denim on their site + super cheeky Instagram page.

peace, love & neon