Finding positivity with Keep it Vertical's Jhoe Virago
Inspired by the challenges of a childhood in foster care, the LA-based creative entrepreneur launched a lifestyle brand designed to share her message of hope and renewal. Here, she discusses her humble beginnings, the importance of community, and the satisfaction of using her voice to help others.
The best art makes a connection with people, uniting the creator and the observer with a common emotion. For Jhoe Virago, founder and CEO of lifestyle brand Keep it Vertical, that connection is deeply personal. Whether she's designing a fashion-forward T-shirt, filming an inspirational video, or writing a blog post, the LA-based entrepreneur centers her work on a message of positivity through creativity that has guided her throughout her life.
It's a life that's had more than its share of challenges, from a childhood spent in foster care to different types of abuse, self-injury, bullying, and even homelessness. Yet throughout it all, Virago always maintained hope for a brighter future, channeling it into poetry she'd later publish in book form and building the foundation of her future business in the process. After attending college and earning a bachelor's degree in human services, she knew she had the skills and experience to make her dreams a reality.
In 2017, Keep it Vertical grew from simply being Virago's Instagram name to her own small business.
"Keep it Vertical is built on sharing my story with others as I grew from a suicidal and depressed foster child into a businesswoman," says Virago. "I am inspired by inspiring the world, encouraging others, and being who I needed when I was a kid."
Her formula of doing well by doing good has proven to be a winner. Keep it Vertical's website hosts a constantly updated series of inspiring videos, blog posts, podcasts, and photos, and its e-commerce store is filled with trendy looks and accessories. The company's life-affirming designs can be found on everything from shirts, swimsuits, and caps to jewelry and phone cases, and they've made a splash in California and beyond, appearing in museums, fashion editorials, and major charitable campaigns.
The company's fashion-forward designs have been featured in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and have traveled to San Francisco with TrapxArt, notes Virago, while its "Vintage Good Vibes Only Squad" is in current collaboration with the mayor of Los Angeles. Meanwhile, sales from Keep it Vertical's T-shirts go toward supporting homeless women in downtown LA.
It all comes back to that connection. Virago says that her customers have become her community, providing her with motivation, support, and an ongoing dialog. They've become so important that she even gave them a name.
"Since my brand causes me to reveal so much about myself and share my story, my community is my family—they know my deep emotions, they encourage me, motivate me, laugh with me, and we share stories," she says. "I call my community my Lifted Family because not only does Keep it Vertical lift their spirits, but they lift mine as well."
As with most businesses, the coronavirus pandemic had a profound effect on Keep it Vertical, with manufacturing delays leading to a change in product availability. Not surprisingly, her response was to focus on her "Lifted Family" more than ever.
"I began to create more video content and digital content for my business and pick monthly themes that would help our Lifted Family and educate them on important causes," Virago says. "For example, during July, which is Minority Mental Health Month, our theme was Just Be Kind July, and we talked all month long about kindness and mental health."
And while this crisis will eventually end, it's all part of the journey for Virago, who maintains a positive disposition no matter what life brings.
"Every day of this journey is priceless for me," she says. "Some of the traumas I experienced as a kid I never saw myself living through, so to be alive, turn my pain to passion, and inspire others to do the same is so priceless."