There was the 500-square-foot apartment in San Francisco. The long days working as a film production assistant. The obsession with the growing internet in the late 1990s, surrounded by ambitious Silicon Valley start-ups. There was the office manager job. The higher ed job. The user interface job.
And then there were the unicorns and rainbows.
Jaimee Newberry, ’98 BA Art, has always had an eye for design. But it is her love of learning — and determination — that’s taken her on a wild career ride.
After graduating from UNLV's College of Fine Arts and moving to San Francisco, she fell in love with emerging technology. “I was enamored with the internet. So I taught myself to code websites,” she says, sitting in her Las Vegas office today, her bright yellow hair complementing hundreds of crayon drawings printed on yards of fabric all around her. “Back then, I would view the source codes on web pages and reverse engineer in BBEdit until I could create what I wanted.”
Creating what you want turned out to be a major theme in Newberry’s life, though she didn’t fully realize it back in San Francisco.
She honed her skills through freelance work, helping people build sites or create their logos, hopping from one gig to the next, making ends meet.
“I was so hungry for it,” she says. “At times when I didn’t have a job, my job was learning. I structured it. I would set the hours to study and schedule my breaks.”
She soon landed a full-time web design position with a promising start-up — right about the time the first dot-com bubble showed signs of bursting. Two years later, her degree and growing skillset brought her back to her alma mater in 2001 as the designer in UNLV’s two-person web office.
Ever energetic, she soon was teaching management information systems and graphic design on the side. From there she went to a small design agency with offices in Las Vegas and Chicago, and then on to Zappos before launching her own tech-industry leadership consultancy and becoming a global keynote speaker.
“I had learned so much along the way, from office management to user interface design,” she says. “But then I thought, after having kids (Sophia and Zia), that maybe it was time to work from home, be a more present mom, and slow down for a while.”
But when you talk to Newberry, you get the sense there is no slowing down.
"One winter break my daughter Zia, then almost 7, drew a picture of a rainbow dress. When I saw it I said, ‘I can make that!’ I thought ‘This is a thing I can do with her.’ … Nearly $100 of fabric and 12 hours of sewing work later, Zia put on the finished dress and her face lit up. She said, ‘I’m wearing my imagination!’”
Zia wore her dress nearly daily for three months before Newberry’s business and life partner, Ken Finney, realized there was something more to that one moment.
Thus began PictureThisClothing.com. “We set out to solve how to recreate the magic of a kid wearing their imagination,” Newberry says.
After a few months working through approaches and costs, the concept was simplified: Child designs their dream on a downloadable template. Adult uploads a cellphone shot of it to place the order. PictureThis ships back a ready-wear, one-of-a-kind piece.
They tapped into the expertise of two friends to get the website and manufacturing ready. On Aug. 17, 2016, Newberry tweeted a link to picturethisclothing.com. with a pretty simple message to her following of some 7,000 people, built up through her tech-industry connections.
Then the web site started crashing. A little digital sleuthing led them back to a Tech Crunch article as the source of all the traffic: “Picture This Clothing turns your kid’s crayon art into a sweet dress.”
Suddenly they were going viral. Over the next three months they appeared in: Disney’s Babble.com; BoredPanda.com; INSIDER; ScaryMommy.com; Essential Kids (Australia) and HuffingtonPost. TV appearances came too: Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls; HARRY with Harry Connick Jr.; HLN’s Michaela; NowThis (with 40 million views); Fatherly; Earthables; Did You Know; and Good Day Sacramento with Julissa Ortiz.
Their new challenge became handling success.
While filling thousands of orders, the small team spent their first two years working with a third-party manufacturer, building their custom software, and expanding their offerings into T-shirts and dresses for all ages (and dolls).
In 2018, they focused on lowering costs and turnaround time, buying the right equipment to bring manufacturing in house, and expanding their small manufacturing space in central Las Vegas — all with capital the company had earned.
“My days are literally filled with unicorns and rainbows now,” she says, holding up a small dress with a pink unicorn, five rainbows, and two suns.
In 2019, the company started tackling a much-more-challenging product: leggings. Inspired by a friend, they launched designable, but very soft, beanies for chemotherapy patients. Another new project had them team up with web-beloved sweater designer Sam Barsky.
“We have a lot of ideas we want to design and test,” says Newberry, as she trims a piece of fabric next to an employee working a sewing machine, across the room from her partner manning the computers. The team is six people now, including logistics and shipping staff.
She marvels at it all.
“If I can teach my children one thing, it is: Create. Put positive things into the world. Work to finish your creations.
“For me, an idea is just an idea — until it isn’t. That is, until you see it through. And then what happens in your imagination becomes reality.”