Julie Novak hugs her daughter, Ruth, while she wears a dress that Julie has designed. Julie said that after having her daughter, she was never satisfied with the clothing available for her. Instead, she began designing clothes for Ruth. She now sells her line of children's designs at Chattanooga Market and online. Staff photo by Jenna Walker/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Julie Novak, 39, has been making her own fashion creations since she was 10 years old.
“My mother taught me the [sewing] basics, but it was when I took home economics in high school that I learned to make things I had to wear,” she said.
Today, the married mother of two is sewing for a living. Nearly two years ago, somewhat on a whim, she started her own little girl’s clothing company, Jules for Kids.
Now a stay-at-home mom, Novak had headed the 4-H program in Hamilton County for a decade and had started teaching school when she became pregnant with her first child, E.J., now 7. Her sewing business was launched a year after the birth of her second child, daughter Ruth, 3.
Hometown: Born in Rome, Ga., now lives in Rossville.
Education: Bachelor of Science in family and child development from Auburn University, and a master’s degree in middle-school education from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Family: Husband, Ed Novak; children E.J., 7, and Ruth, 3.
Hobbies: Gardening, sewing and reading.
Favorite books: Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling; “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving.
Something people would be surprised to learn: “I’m actually an introvert. I’m very outgoing, but I thrive on time alone to rejuvenate and refresh.”
“When Ruth began walking, I started making everything she wore,” Novak said. “I got many compliments. So in the fall of 2009, I decided to make 25 outfits and sell them at the Chattanooga Market.”
The response, she said, was overwhelming.
“I started with an inventory of 25 dresses. Now I have 225,” she said, noting that she spends an average of 50 hours a week sewing. “I do it mostly at night after the children go to bed.”
Novak said she’s living a dream.
“It’s fun and amazing how far you can go in a year.”
Novak also sells her clothing online at julesforkids.com.
Q: Why do you think people are showing an interest in your handmade dresses?
A: I think sewing was a lost art with my generation, but I think we’re experiencing a resurgence. The amount of beautiful fabric available online these days is unbelievable. You don’t have to rely on a fabric store [since there’s not many these days]. Young mothers are wanting to sew burp cloths or protective covers to put on shopping carts or pillows and curtains for their homes. Also, the online world of Etsy has opened crafting to the masses. For 24 hours a day, you can go online to buy something handmade. It has piqued people’s interest.”
Q: Why do you personally prefer your daughter to wear handmade clothing?
A: If something is handmade, I know where the money is going rather than it coming from a foreign country where the workers are not being paid a fair wage. I like knowing that she likes to wear clothing I make for her.
My customers know that everything I sew is one-of-a-kind. I make pieces that a child can grow into, from a dress to a tunic.
Q: Do you make clothes for your son?
A: I have, but he doesn’t like them, other than a Harry Potter shirt and pajama bottoms.
Q: Will you continue making clothes for Ruth throughout her childhood?
A: If she will let me. Right now, I make dresses for girls from about 1 to 10 years old. I think fashions for girls over 10 is a market that the fashion industry has not met. I started sewing for Ruth as a baby because the clothes being marketed for toddlers looked like teeny-bopper clothes. I’ve seen so many baby clothes in leopard-print dresses bedazzled with jewels. I want my child to wear clothes that are simple and classic.
Q: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
A: That’s what I keep asking myself. I would like to be more of a designer and do less hands-on sewing. I’d like to pay people to sew my designs. Sewing, at least the way I’m doing it now, is physically grueling on the neck, back and hands.
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...