Meet The Woman Rewriting The Rules of Denim

Having to choose between fit and comfort should be a non-negotiable. Kelly Urban—one half of the founding-duo of AMO—is on a mission to fulfill your denim-dreams, all in a sustainable fashion.

By Anna Jornlid

Kelly, can you explain your company in one sentence?

We design and manufacture women’s clothing that is vintage-inspired with a modern, feminine twist.

What was the vision behind your company? When did you start it, and why?

We launched AMO in Spring 2015 with the intention of making a “real” pair of jeans. At the time, most denim was super-stretch legging-like fabric, and we longed for a pair of vintage-looking jeans that were comfortable to wear and had a substantial quality to the denim itself. We didn’t like how modern jeans in the marketplace were thin and bagged out after a day of wear, but our vintage rigid jeans weren’t always comfortable. We wanted the best of both worlds and searched the globe for an indigo denim fabric that was genuinely vintage looking, yet still comfortable with just a hint of stretch. That original denim fabric remains what the majority of our denim collection is made from today.

You have previously spoken to the fact that it is very unique to be a denim company entirely run by women. In what ways do you feel like you’ve had a competitive advantage entering this space as two female founders?

I feel like being female founders and an all-female team has given us a tremendous advantage, mostly with the product itself. As women, we know what it’s like to put on a pair of jeans—how they lift or flatten your bum, whether they bag out throughout the day or not, and how comfortable they are. No one wants to unbutton their top waistband in order to sit down for lunch! We had all these little details about the perfect fit in mind when we originally created the collection, and we were determined to make the best jean which checked all our wish list boxes. We continue to take a very personal approach to fit today. For example, when adopting a new fabric we will do a personal wear test to see how the fabric holds up with multiple washes and wears. I also personally try on every single item before we ship it to make sure it’s perfect.

I know that sustainability is a very important mission for you, and it’s definitely a global issue we all should be investing more time and effort in to. Tell me about your current efforts in regard to being a sustainable company?

For starters, we produce 100% of all our clothing right here in Los Angeles, and we have done so since our inception in 2015. All of our factories are within 10 miles of our office, which allows us to make sure workers are given access to clean working environments and fair wages. Having our production so close by also means that our processes require fewer transportation costs and waste. We have also been mindful of our fabric choices—our indigo denim fabric is made with over 35% of cotton from the Better Cotton Initiative and we use Pure Indigo in our denim, meaning that the color used in the dyeing process is chemical-free.

Beyond that, we are constantly pushing ourselves to be even more sustainable. There are definitely things we’ve done since day one that are already very environmentally friendly, but we still have more work to do. We are currently working on getting rid of all plastic in our supply chain and working with water-saving techniques for our denim washes. The thing I love about sustainability is once you make a few changes it almost becomes addicting. I find myself constantly asking what more I can do, and asking our suppliers and contractors what they are doing to help also. I’m excited that so many brands are making an effort, it’s really how global change begins.

All of our factories are within 10 miles of our office, which allows us to make sure workers are given access to clean working environments and fair wages.

If you were starting the business today, what would you do differently?

I don’t think I’d do anything differently, but I would like to go back and remind myself to follow my instincts. That would have saved a lot of stress, sweat and tears in launching our company! There were decisions early on that I really struggled over, like, Should we open up a big department store right away? Should we offer more fits, more options? Deep down I knew the answers to these questions: I knew starting small with a super edited collection and selling to boutiques was the best way to start, but I second guessed myself constantly. I’d go back and tell myself to have confidence in the decisions that feel right, whether you can explain them to others or not. At the end of the day, as long as they feel right to you then you’ve made the right decision.

What is a bad habit you’ve had to break on your entrepreneurial journey?

Doing everything myself! I love being hands-on and sometimes that has worked really well, especially during the first two years when my business partner Misty and I were doing everything ourselves from design, production, even calling accounts to get credit card approvals to ship. Eventually, I learned that doing it all was ultimately slowing me down. Making a few good hires and growing our team was a bigger help than I ever imagined. I learned it’s important to remember what your personal talents are and to try to spend the majority of your workday focusing on those parts of the business, rather than doing it all.

...I second guessed myself constantly. I’d go back and tell myself to have confidence in the decisions that feel right, whether you can explain them to others or not.

What would you say the biggest misconception is about what you do or your industry?

That you have to have a lot of money to start a clothing brand. Money helps, sure, but if you’ve got the experience and a new idea there really isn’t any reason you can’t succeed. I remember early on a vendor I met with said that to start a denim company you need at least half a million dollars in order to be “taken seriously.” That’s not what I’ve found at all. I think it’s more about the design and innovation of the collection that sets you apart, not how big your marketing budget is.

So how did you originally go about raising your startup capital and what has your funding process been like since then?

My business partner and I each saved a small sum of money to launch our company. We also saved enough to live on for a year, since we knew we couldn’t pay ourselves for the first year. We then started really small, with just one fabric and five styles, no employees, and we were very mindful to keep overhead costs as low as possible. After our first season, we reinvested the profits we’d made and we kept doing that over and over, which allowed us to grow the collection and eventually hire a small team.

How do you invest in women around you?

Hiring women is one way in which we invest in women (we’re 100% women-owned and operated!), but supporting other women-owned companies is something I’m very passionate about, as well. Sites like The Helm and the Female Founder Collective have really opened my eyes to so many other wonderful women-owned brands and products.

How do you invest in yourself?

I set time aside to do a few things I enjoy each week. Lately that has been my 6 am hot-yoga class. It’s always hard getting up that early, but I’ve found it’s always worth it.

What productivity tool would you be lost without?

Google Keep, an app on my iPhone. It helps me keep track of a lot of ideas, like making notes about new ideas for the collection, and a separate list with “to-dos” for the week. I love that there is a little checkbox next to each item that you can click, it makes me feel good getting things done. Oh, and it also syncs with your computer!

What is your favorite female-founded product, service, or company?

I can’t pick just one! A few of my favorites are ROEN Candles (made here in Los Angeles), LESSE Ritual Serum (best face oil I’ve ever used!) and Paravel Bags for traveling.

Lastly, what’s one piece of advice you would give to early-stage female entrepreneurs?

Be prepared to answer the question “What sets your brand apart from the others on the
market?” Your product should be unique and hopefully offers a solution to a problem. You most likely already know what makes your product or service unique and different, but you’ll need to be able to communicate that in just a few quick sentences on the fly to a variety of different people so it helps to have those lines ready to go in your back pocket.

Invest in a woman. Buy AMO here.

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