12/31/2014 10:05 am ET Updated Mar 02, 2015

Women in Business Q&A: Jody Barrett, Seriously Funny Gowns

Jody Barrett is a businesswoman and lover of the arts. Throughout Jody's life, creating and connecting have been Jody's passions. Seriously Funny Gowns is her inspired creation -- a fun brand for friends, loved ones, and patients everywhere!

Seriously Funny Gowns -- Hospital Gowns and Treatment Tops featuring fun, meaningful, vibrant designs that delight people of all ages. That's right, the time-worn, stodgy patient gown we all know so well has been reimagined to give joy and purpose to patients -- offering respite and comic relief during a stressful time.

The idea is simple, yet powerful. Jody has taken her love of the arts, compassion and creativity, and used it to bring dignity to lives of patients everywhere. But it is her own difficult personal experiences that motivated her to take action.

The daughter of two remarkable parents, both of whom suffered with Alzheimer's, Jody was determined to create something positive after something so emotionally draining. She learned much from those years, and when her best friend Anna suffered her own medical struggles, Jody again saw how humor could brighten an otherwise dark day. Drawing from both her late father's business acumen and her late mother's creative flair, Jody was ready to take action. She came up with Seriously Funny Gowns -- giving all patients a tiny piece of her heart.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
After living through years of grief and heartache watching and caring for two parents slowly slipping away concurrently with Alzheimer's, I discovered that in order to endure the horrors of what I was dealing with that I need to come up with a plan that I now refer to as "self-preservation" in order to cope with my predicament. I call it survival mode; when you need to make the decision as to whether you are going to sink or swim.

By nature, I am an incredibly optimistic individual so I was able to tap into that aspect of myself and use it to harness my grief and sadness and turn it into positive, relentless, unstoppable determination. My parent's would not have wanted it any other way.

I believe it is extremely important to now help others find their way out of the darkness by rising above the despair. Leading with my heart is a lesson learned from my late mother. My compassion for others, combined with a sense of eternal optimism and determination are components of my past that have propelled me into my future.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Seriously Funny Gowns?
Not only has my prior employment in retail working for international luxury brands built a solid foundation for launching my own e-commerce business, but the enormous success that I have achieved working on the Board of Directors for non-profits as well as numerous Chair positions have all given me the tools, abilities and confidence to lead my business straight to the top. Every position that I have ever held was treated with the same hard-work and respect as if it was my own business.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Seriously Funny Gowns?
Initially, the biggest challenge was learning to oil the machine, so-to-speak, in order to create an efficient e-commerce business. There are many moving parts that all must run smoothly at any given time. Since I am the first to create printable artwork designed specifically for hospital gowns as get well gifts, I needed to find a facility that would be able to understand the vision and go against the grain of what their business typically handles. Perfecting the process was no easy task although it's safe to say we are there now!

The greatest, although completely unexpected, highlight for me has been the honor that the customers, patients, friends and family bestow upon me in sharing their stories. Whether it is a talk about their personal health, their enjoyment in receiving a Seriously Funny Gown, news about being the most popular patient on the hospital floor, heartwarming stories of recovery after lengthy battles with various illness, and sometimes the sad news of the loss of a loved one, the "Dear Jody" component of my business is not only an honor, but the most rewarding part of my business.

What I enjoy most as a small business owner is the ability to add my own personal touch.

What advice can you offer women who want to start their own business?
The most important advice that I could offer women is to do you research. During the planning stages, I asked myself, "what do I need to do in order to be successful?" and then proceeded to made a list and began my research.

Read as much as you can about your niche. Seek guidance from experts in your field, find a mentor, make sure you clearly define your initial investment and related expenses, explore your marketing options and even while still in the planning stages, get your feet wet within the social media arena.

I cannot emphasize enough the significance and the importance of social media in the world of business today. My success on social media in and of itself has presented numerous opportunities that I would have never imagined.

I understand all too well how overwhelming the notion of social media can be, especially if it is like a foreign language to you! If you do nothing else on social media in the early stages, I would secure your name or your brand name across all platforms.

Personally, my style is best suited for twitter because I love connecting instantaneously with people from around the world. The connections are truly remarkable. Once you find your comfort zone and platform that fulfills your business needs, it will soon discover that it is actually fun!

What is the most important lesson that you've learned in your career to date?
I have learned that I need to be patient. Sadly, this is no easy feat for me. In business, I am a quick decision maker and like to get things done quickly and make things happen. However, not everyone moves lightening fast and I'm adjusting, well kind of! Let's just say that it's a "work in progress."

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I set my own rules and guidelines for myself prior to launching my business. Twelve hour weekdays days are the norm although the weekends are for enjoyment. It is extremely important for me to enjoy life, especially being here in New York and all it has to offer. My only exception to the rule is twitter. I cannot go without tweeting!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Salary equality and career advancement have long been issues in the workplace that I foresee changing in the near future. The time is now for women to thrive in business. The recent publicity is sure to turn the tides.

How has mentorship made a difference in your personal and professional life?
Having mentors in your life is priceless. I have been mentored in both my personal and professional life as a young adult and now I am thrilled to be mentoring myself. The advice, trust and long-term relationship as a mentor can truly have a huge impact on someone's life. I see it as a "passing on the torch" type of responsibility.

Which other female leader do you admire and why?
Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx embodies the spirit of today's female entrepreneurial leader. Her simple idea to create something flattering for her own body to wear beneath white slacks was actually filling a yet undiscovered void in the marketplace. With minimal investment and a great idea she has become an entrepreneurial powerhouse with approximately $250 million in annual revenue. Is there a woman you know that does not want to improve her figure? Exactly!

Traveling down the entrepreneurial road less traveled by creating a new get well gift concept that never existed before in the marketplace, was actually answering two simple questions, " is there a need for hospital patients to have a fun distraction?" and "is there there any other hospital gown that offers comic relief for patients?" Both answers were no. Who needs a fun distraction more than the patients? Exactly!

What do you want Seriously Funny Gowns to accomplish in the next year?
My goal is to be a household name in the get well gift industry. I will expand within the next year into children's designs and we hope to secure affiliations with Veteran's hospitals and facilities so we can donate our custom "My Hero" design to our wounded and recovering soldiers and veterans.

Delivering each Seriously Funny Gown is like delivering a tiny piece of my heart. It's going to be a great year!