AUGUST 15, 2018
Episode 24 – Making Fair Trade Fashionable
Kirsten Dickerson from Raven + Lily
Kirsten Dickerson founded Raven + Lily, a fair trade fashion and home retailer employing at-risk women from around the world, after years of traveling and working in the nonprofit sector. Her travels brought to light these women’s desire for education and need for a marketplace for their skills and products. With help from friends in the design and fashion industries she established Raven + Lily. Being a fair trade business requires a 360-degree view at every stage of production. Each individual involved in the making of a product must be paid a livable wage, provided with workplace equality, and given access to health care among other things. In this episode, Kirsten explains how she and her team at Raven + Lily measure the impact of their products, apply design principles to ethical fashion, and create impactful relationships with local artisans in Africa and India.
Read the Transcript
Lisa Graham (00:00):
Hi, my name is Lisa Graham, and I’m happy to welcome you to another episode of Change The Rules. I have my cohost Dan Graham with me, and today we’ll be talking to Kirsten Dickerson, who is a speaker on ethical fashion and women empowerment, and the CEO and Founder of Raven + Lily, an ethical fair trade fashion and lifestyle brand that supports global entrepreneurship. Thank you for joining us, Kirsten. We’re really excited to have you here. Can you just start out by telling us how you decided to start Raven + Lily? And the mission and vision for your company?
Kirsten Dickerson (00:32):
Sure. Well, Raven + Lily is an ethical fashion company, but we’re also home. So we’re technically a fair trade fashion and home company that employs at-risk women around the world. But it actually started as a nonprofit when I lived in LA in 2008 and it was a group of volunteer designers that agreed to work with me on this idea I had after doing a lot of nonprofit work in Africa, India, and other parts of the world, I saw this trend towards focusing on women growing as well as design-related skills for women like sewing and jewelry-making. A lot of the nonprofits that I worked with were wanting women to have access to an education and skills, but they didn’t have design input or a market. So being based in LA, I had a lot of connections to designers because my husband’s a filmmaker and I was also a wardrobe stylist and art director for a lot of music videos and commercials.
Kirsten Dickerson (01:23):
So I knew the design community there. So after some of the non-profit work I was doing in these other countries I came back and talked to a lot of these designer friends and some were from fashion, some graphic designers, some jewelry. And I said, would you volunteer with me to figure out what would it look like if we designed the skill these women have in these countries that I have relationships with? So really Raven + Lily started out of relationship. So these non-profits trusted me. I had been working with him for like 10 years at that point. Now it’s like 20 plus years. But this was 2008, and we started as a nonprofit for three years and just figured out what would it look like to apply the idea of fair trade, but on a higher end level fashion-forward designs? And then how would you open up a market for goods? And how would that scale?
Kirsten Dickerson (02:11):
So a lot of questions, because at the time there was really only the model of Ten Thousand Villages, which is a wonderful organization, but does more traditional artists and things. And we were representing more designers and, you know, fashion oriented type things. So we were trying to think, how do you apply that same standard of fair trade to something that looks more competitive in the mainstream market? And once we started figuring it out, three years later, it was around the same time that I moved to Austin. And because Austin is such an entrepreneurial city, and looking at the model of Whole Foods, and the whole farm to table movement really growing out of their efforts through being a for-profit that promoted healthy living and organic food, I felt like the atmosphere was really ripe here to bring in another wave of something that would be sustainable.
Kirsten Dickerson (02:56):
So fun to see what you have done over the years, because this was in 2010 and 2011 that I made the decision around the transfer of the year to move into a for-profit model. So we officially became a for-profit model here in Austin in 2011 in May, and grew from a couple artisans, a couple of dozen artisans, to over 1,500 in the last eight years, I guess. And really took this idea of working with a couple of groups that I knew and expanded it to now 19 groups in 10 different countries. So it was really kind of crazy that once we moved to that for-profit business model, we were able to scale and grow, take on investors, and really experiment a lot with what we learned in the nonprofit stage. So
Dan Graham (03:42):
Was there a particular woman or group of women or a particular product that really inspired you to launch this at the beginning?
Kirsten Dickerson (03:50):
Yeah, I think the idea that when the women would get access to making something that was valued, it really communicated value to them. So to know that women here wanted to buy something they made, not because it was a pity sale, but because it was something they really thought was beautiful. It really, in turn, brought dignity and beauty back into those women lives. And as we, our orders increased, that was how they knew this was popular. And so our first group that has really taken off is from India. And they make these leather leaf earrings that we designed in 2008 and brought into the market in 2009 as a nonprofit. And now, I mean, I think our order next month is for 15,000 of them, so the amount of scale is huge. And it started with one woman in India that I knew, and we knew she had basic jewelry-making skills and had taught her older daughters.
Kirsten Dickerson (04:45):
And when we went to visit her for the first time, we knew that that community was really good at leather working and woodworking. So we created jewelry that they weren’t making out of leather and wood. And it was these simple leather leaf earrings, a designer in LA that was one of the volunteers came up with them, and at first I think they were a little bit too drama for people. So they sold. People liked them. But you had to be a real specific person. But I don’t know what happened, but it became this trend. So as it started growing, she of course, which is what I see everywhere, started training other women in her community. And would give them opportunity to expand on the orders. And they were all connected to a fair trade workshop in the community that was employing men. So this was the first group of women they started to employ.
Dan Graham (05:29):
How did you convince them to make the first? Did you have to pre-buy from them based on faith?
Kirsten Dickerson (05:32):
Always. So fair trade works that way. So we would, you know, decide this is a design we want to bring to the market and we would test it in small quantities just to see what’s the customer response, but also to make sure they were ready. So we always are kind of figuring out like everywhere I’ve ever worked, women will tell you yes, yes, we can deliver on time, yes, yes. And every single group we’ve ever worked with has had some sort of issue with either customs, quality, or something with production of the first order. And so we’ve learned always count on it not coming through on time. And so we start small and then grow with people. So that was a very small group, just really working with Ferdoz and her oldest daughters. And then now it’s grown out like that.
Dan Graham (06:12):
I’m just trying to picture that first conversation where you came and you’re like, no, I’m going to sell a bunch of these. I promise. And they’re like, sure Kirsten.
Kirsten Dickerson (06:20):
She understood enough at that time. So the reason it worked is because she was making designs that I didn’t like personally, like we may have bought it because he just wanted to support her, but you may not have actually worn it. But I knew my company wasn’t going to do that. We weren’t going to sell things that ultimately is a pity sale because it doesn’t grow. It’s not sustainable. So I thought, well, she has the skills. And so she was selling those things to some fair trade store in Canada. So she had like some experience, but it was just enough to help her and her oldest daughter. So, it was slow though. I think once it started taking off, I think it’s caught everyone off guard. And now they’re crazy popular because they’re the earring that Joanna Gaines wears on Magnolia shows and the Fixer Upper shows.
Kirsten Dickerson (07:00):
So it’s just an happy accident. She’s always liked them before the show. She’s always worn them. It just became part of the story. It’s also been featured in tons of magazines. So it’s just always been popular. And you know, of course, we have thousands of designs that we’ve created since then, but that’s become a classic. Kind of like Kendra Scott, she’s one of my mentors, how she had that initial earring that people still always wear. It became sort of the iconic style for her that she built off of and does so many other things. Now I kind of think of the same idea within a sustainable model. But Ferdoz, it’s funny, because I’ve gone back many times and like over the years, she has all daughters, and her husband left her because she had all daughters. So when she had the fifth daughter, he left because he was ashamed of girls and it’s a very conservative Muslim poor community. And so women usually are not educated. They are not business women. And they rarely even leave the house. And they’re usually married at ages like 14 or 15. So that was the road all of her girls were going to go on and they were literally struggling. They couldn’t go to school, because they couldn’t afford it and didn’t have food. So we came in right at a time where they were desperately needing work. So I don’t think she was going to argue with me whatsoever about getting her more income.
Kirsten Dickerson (08:17):
Over the years, she’s improved her house with her daughters and everything in it is pink, so I love going to visit, because they have a pink couch and pink walls and pink decor. It’s a total girl world. It’s amazing.
Lisa Graham (08:31):
You said a little bit earlier the comment, you know, “that’s how it works with fair trade”. Can you define what is fair trade? And then how does that incorporate into your business? How you interact with your artisans? What the products are like?
Kirsten Dickerson (08:47):
Fair tradde is different than free trade. I want to say that because I think a lot of times people think it’s the same thing. It’s not. Fair trade very much follows 9 or 10 principles, depending what chart you’re looking at, that evaluate ensuring that at every stage of production, you’re valuing people in the planet. And specifically people that they’re being paid a livable wage, that there’s no child labor, that women are being treated equally, that they’re in a safe, caring environment. They have access to healthcare. Their children are in school. You’re using eco-friendly materials. You’re not polluting the local community. I mean, it goes on and on, but you’re evaluating everything under those. It’s a full 360 look at how are people being treated and their community and their families when you’re employing them. Whereas, in the West, the majority of the things we buy every day, there’s no accountability on the other end.
Kirsten Dickerson (09:37):
It’s usually mass factory produced. And usually in countries where there’s very little regulation being enforced, even if it says in the laws, there’s not enough support to enforce it. And there’s not enough consumers on this side saying they want to make sure people are treated well, because we have gotten used to liking a good deal and something really cheap. But I’ve always known that on the other end, if we usually get a really good deal on something’s cheap, someone’s probably paying for it on the other side of the world that was not paid well enough and to the extreme that there’s slave labor involved. So that’s the extreme and it is true. So I think for me, fair trade is the opposite of that, where it’s an equitable trade relationship that really values people and is really being thoughtful about the environment because ultimately the environment also values people.
Kirsten Dickerson (10:23):
And so in India, so much of the production that is done that we buy things every day from, there’s no regulation over the dyes and like the way that fabrics are being made or leathers being used. So as they’re producing, even those base like materials that are in things probably surrounding us even in this room, it’s all being polluted into the waterways. And so there’s an incredible amount of babies being born with all kinds of problems because of the exposure that their moms had to the pollution and the water in these communities that are making. So it goes back to looking at the source.
Dan Graham (10:58):
And so how’s that enforced or audited? If you’re an organization or a company that holds themselves out as fair trade, who’s kind of watching that?
Kirsten Dickerson (11:09):
Yeah, we have audits on the ground that go through everything. We do yearly impact reports as a company and then have direct relationships. So we work with smaller artistan groups. And so we work directly with them and have also vetted other groups to come in and vet them as well. If you’re working with more of a fair trade factory, which also exists, then I think those are audited from like a larger kind of organization. But we’re part of the Fair Trade Federation that works more with artisan groups and that’s more of the Raven + Lily model. When you work with women that come from at-risk backgrounds, they’re usually going to be in more of these like co-ops and smaller community groups, because they’re also taking care of children and all kinds of things. They don’t necessarily go to a factory job. And so we have to vet it differently. And we’re also a benefit corporation. And so between those two things, we’re always having to give reports and proof that what we say we’re doing, we are really doing. And so it just requires people on my team keeping track of a lot and us going to visit. I go to visit in a month our groups in Africa and part of our time there is to really do interviews with artisans and really understand from their perspective.
Dan Graham (12:19):
So you’re required to submit reports to the fair trade organization that then gives you the right to say you’re fair trade? So, Apple couldn’t just come in and say, we’re fair trade?
Kirsten Dickerson (12:30):
Yeah, not at all. So we, and even as a company, it has to be a certain percentage of everything I sell has to follow all of those standards. And so whether you’re considered a fair trade retail store or a wholesaler or whatever. And so there’s a lot of people that support fair trade, but they couldn’t be a part of Fair Trade Federation because you have to have, I believe 85% of everything fall follow all of those principles, which is a huge commitment. And then for a benefit corporation, we have won three years in a row ‘Best for the World for Community Impact’. And that’s a hard award to get, but it’s because of our fair trade status. So the work we do there, when we fill out the B Corp audits and everything, we go off the charts in that area because that’s our focus.
Dan Graham (13:15):
And do you get a score every year? For the benefit corporation?
Kirsten Dickerson (13:17):
Yeah, you get scored. And yes, our score is usually really bumped up on the work we do on the ground with people. Because there’s different kinds of benefit corporations. You can be like a really big company like Seventh Generation or others and they’re looking at more of just how you’re transparent, which is like really important. And so they may score a lot higher in a different area than us, but you have to have I think at least an 80 to be a B Corp on their overall report card. And usually if you don’t make it the first go, they really work with you to help you understand what you need to change in your business model. Same with Fair Trade Federation. Not everybody that applies obviously gets accepted, but they work with you and give you the opportunity to apply a year later and give you time to like work on what you need to prove.
Dan Graham (13:57):
So great. Congratulations on those.
Kirsten Dickerson (13:59):
Thanks. I’m actually on the board of the Fair Trade Federation now. I’m learning a lot because that’s like a whole other level that’s new this year. And so, but I wanted to, because the fair trade movement has been very traditional. And I gave a speech a couple of years ago at the yearly conference and really pushed the community to think about design and applying design to fair trade because there’s a movement with ethical fashion, all kinds of things, but no accountability. And so I think you have to, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Why don’t we just look at what the standard is, but also apply design? Like there’s two worlds operating separately and we at Raven + Lily feel like they should be working together. Like there shouldn’t be a separate fair trade movement and ethical fashion. Why aren’t we all talking?
Dan Graham (14:37):
Well, I feel like since you’re part of the leadership I can ask, is the number of fair trade companies growing?
Kirsten Dickerson (14:44):
Yes, it is. But in a way that some of the ones that are applying are going to look more like a Raven + Lily. So they’re thinking about forward design rather than just the tradition. Because I think the market won’t move forward if people just count on the traditional kind of crafts, which usually you don’t really appreciate, unless you’re more of a hippie mindset, number one, or you’ve traveled to these countries. It doesn’t appeal to the masses. But there’s a way to still preserve traditional culture, but also do fashion forward design. So we want to continue to include hand-woven things, hand embroidered things, completely handmade jewelry, but just a more modern version of it. So that’s the traditional craftsmanship, which is what fair trade preserves, but with the design being different. And this is very controversial, but it was interesting. And I didn’t realize how controversial it was until after, but it was good, because I think that now being voted on, the membership voted me on. That tells me people want to figure out how to do this well. And I think that’s going to bring on more groups.
Kirsten Dickerson (15:49):
But I am very excited about the movement with ethical fashion too, which is this idea that fashion should be done differently, but it’s the accountability for that that is still being figured out on the side. So a lot of people that throw those terms out, there’s nothing to prove it like you’re asking, which I think is the challenge. I think you have to be willing to do the hard work to prove that, you know, you mean what you say. You can’t just use the words or it becomes like greenwashing.
Lisa Graham (16:31):
So how do you define ethical compared to fair trade? How is it different?
Kirsten Dickerson (16:34):
Well it should be the same, basically, but ethical can be subjective. So it can mean different things when you use that term because there’s not a defined audit or accountability system applied with the word ethical, but there is with fair trade. So we switched our branding model to actually say fair trade fashion and home a year ago in August.
Kirsten Dickerson (16:55):
There’s no set standard. So I think until there is, that can be a dangerous territory. So there’s a lot of emerging companies, which is super exciting based here in Austin, and actually all across the U.S., that did not exist when I started Raven + Lily 10 years ago. So there’s a movement happening and the majority of it is happening within the ethical fashion versus fair trade. So as I talk to people, I really encourage them to either become a B Corp or be a part of the Fair Trade Federation, depending on their model, because I think there’s a need for accountability. Because as they grow, they should be asked hard questions. And if they can’t really measure or, you know, give proof of what they do, they’re going to enter some difficulties I think. You know, because it’s becoming obvious a lot of bigger brands see that it’s trending and they’re wanting to say that they do things ethical. Or people will just say in their about story, we produce everything ethically. But they don’t give you any other information.
Dan Graham (17:44):
Yeah, that could mean they provide water to their child laborers.
Kirsten Dickerson (17:44):
Right. So I think it’s important as a consumer to pursue companies that are saying they’re ethical or fair trade or B Corp, but then also really vet it and ask questions and try to understand what does that mean for them to say that.
Lisa Graham (18:06):
I would love to hear too your story transitioning from a non-profit to a for-profit company, because I think a lot of organizations who want to have impact, they feel they have to make that decision at the beginning. They don’t know if they can change their minds, so to speak, to change their model. What did that look like for you all? And what questions were you asking?
Kirsten Dickerson (18:29):
Well, for me, the reason I did a non-profit was because that was my background. I’ve been the director of different non-profits. And that was why I did all that work I mentioned in different parts of the world. But I was always a volunteer. So it was some leadership positions, but as a volunteer with a variety of nonprofits based both in the U.S. and globally. And my favorites were always grassroots organizations, because I felt like the impact was so much greater when you worked with something that was based and owned and run by somebody on the ground. So I would really come in and partner as a director of nonprofits and churches or things like that here, and figure out how do we partner with the work you’re doing? How do we support you and be your cheerleader? So really the same thing applied to the mentality of Raven + Lily.
Kirsten Dickerson (19:13):
How can we partner? How can we be your cheerleader? How can we help you grow this effort to empower the community and to break cycles of poverty because you’re focusing on women? I believed in that, which is amazing to see the movement towards women now, too. But this was something we’d been doing for 10 years using the word empowering women, which became a trending word too, but it wasn’t 10 years ago. So it’s amazing. But the nonprofit felt comfortable to me. So the challenge was being in Austin, and that’s actually where I met Dan, was when I said, okay, I know I need to move it into a for-profit model. And we did well for a while, but when we wanted to grow, I didn’t know how to do that. I knew how to talk to donors. I didn’t know how to talk to investors. And so I felt stuck. And that’s where I pursued mentorship from other business owners here in town and where I met Dan.
Kirsten Dickerson (19:56):
And it was genuinely challenging for me because I still am driven by the impact on the women and the story. So we’re a triple bottom line company, which means we’re looking at our impact on people, planet, and profit. We’re having a very strong impact on people and the planet, but we’re still not profitable. So we should be this year actually, but we kept reinvesting back in the impact part. And so I made that choice a couple of years ago, even with our investment rounds, because I knew that if I could scale it and help more women, that we could eventually be profitable. But I could never really have that same impact if I couldn’t figure out how to scale. So we reinvested into the infrastructure with what we were doing around the world, but I think that speaks to my nonprofit background. So the transition was actually really hard.
Kirsten Dickerson (20:42):
I feel like I had on the ground, put on my CEO hat, training, and learning from whoever would give me a chance to figure it out. And I had to ask for a lot of grace from a lot of people, because I genuinely didn’t know what I was doing at all. So it was very challenging for me. Dan probably remembers, because it was new. I am a creative CEO, so, and my husband’s a filmmaker. So we are starters and have started many churches. We have started ministries. We started this company now. So we are really good at starting things. So we’re entrepreneurial, but we’re creative entrepreneurs and we have big visions, but we would need somebody to help us know how to realize that vision. And so waiting to find somebody with the business experience to compliment, it really has not happened until the last couple of years.
Kirsten Dickerson (21:25):
I’ve been having to figure it out on my own for a while. And sometimes I’m like, I think it would have been easier if I stayed in non-profit, but we wouldn’t have grown as much, you know? So I kind of weigh that. And that’s why I’m going back next month to see the women, because I have to remind myself why it’s important to keep growing it and scaling it because I need to see on the ground the impact over the years. So when I go back to places that we’ve been working at since, you know, the non-profit stage to see what’s happened over 10 years and some of those communities is really profound and really inspires me. And then I can come back with fresh stories and inspiration for my team, as well as all of our stakeholders.
Dan Graham (22:02):
Well going from a few pieces to 15,000 is going to have very tangible, visible changes that you’ll see on the ground when you go visit, which has gotta be so exciting.
Kirsten Dickerson (22:12):
I mean, just a few years ago, when my daughter was eight, so she’s 14 now, so this was six years ago, I took her to India with me to meet Ferdoz that I mentioned. And, I mean, the impact has gone I think 50 fold, even since six years ago of how much our orders are. But even back then, she told my daughter and I that they no longer mourn when girls are born in their community, but rejoice, because their community now sees the value that girls add. So I can only imagine the impact because that was just after the first three years. So it’s, you know, grown like that over the years, which to me is the why.
Dan Graham (22:46):
That’s a change beyond just employment. That’s a cultural shift.
Kirsten Dickerson (22:50):
The other example of a cultural shift that we’ve seen is with the Maasai. Maasai are very traditional indigenous people that live in East Africa. We work with Maasai in an area called Amboseli that’s near the Kenya side of Mount Kilimanjaro. And so it’s gorgeous like where you go on Safari, like just amazing, and where people that want to see wild African elephants will go there. So just literally surrounding their huts are just herds of elephants and their babies, which is like my favorite thing in the world. So, I really liked visiting them. But they are these very traditional women that sleep in mud manure huts and wear the jewelry covering their necks. It’s brightly colored and beautiful colors. They sleep in it. It’s like sewn together. It’s not clasped. Just so that it’s always on them. And they’re very talented at beading and they’d normally just sell to tourists that come visit.
Kirsten Dickerson (23:39):
So we partner with them to do more modern designs. We have a few necklaces that I think they’re sold out now and bracelets that we keep selling and they did the beading on some bags. So we’re always kind of reinventing what we can do with them. And they used to not send girls to school. And they used to practice FGM, which is female genital mutilation as a part of their entering womanhood ceremony, which was very important. They’re one of the few tribes that did not westernize in Kenya. They want to protect their cultural heritage. And it’s amazing, but girls were not valued equal as men. But what happened was one of the chiefs was sponsored through an organization to go to school all the way through college. And, he was in line to be a chief. And so after he graduated from college, he went back to be the chief of his tribe.
Kirsten Dickerson (24:22):
But with the knowledge he knew of how important it was to empower women. He began to work with the community and educate them on why FGM wasn’t good and what was harmful and why we need to educate the girls. But you can imagine it was challenging, but Nikai was the one that used to perform the ceremony. So she was the head woman. And when she learned, she felt the courage to stand up with the chief and say, yes, we can no longer do this to our girls. And the men decided to listen because Nikai and all those women had brought in so much income into the community from the sale of their jewelry. Because they had become business woman and there has been so much improvements, they agreed to eradicate FGM from those villages and do a different ceremony that would still honor their tradition, but not do something that was harmful to girls.
Kirsten Dickerson (25:11):
So today, there is no FGM practice in that entire region of Kenya. So her effort to stand up, and she comes up to like my hip practically. I mean, she was like this little lady with the support of the chief, but just because the chief says something, they don’t all do it. I mean, this is like a huge indigenous culture, but over the years, it’s no longer exists in that region, which is amazing. Because before, if you wanted to avoid it, you’d be ostracized from the community and never allowed to come back or they might even kill you if you’re a young girl and wouldn’t go through it. So it was a serious thing. And so the fact that they no longer have that is amazing. And then Nikai and the chief worked with those communities to be the first generation to send girls to school. So when you go visit the school, there’s a plaque when you walk in that proudly states that this school will always be 50% girls and 50% boys. And now it always is. They always make sure that it’s equal.
Kirsten Dickerson (26:00):
The girls and boys going to school there. And I’ve gone many times. So you get to see firsthand what it’s doing and it’s all because of the sale of jewelry. So the power that they had from having income, and using that income for good, which is what women do, 90% is the statistic. When you empower a woman or employ a woman, she’ll reinvest it back in her family and community. And that’s the same as what I’ve seen in India and Peru everywhere we’ve worked, they do, they reinvest it back in their family and community. And that though changed the culture. So they’re still fully Maasai, but women have been elevated to an equal status with the men.
Lisa Graham (26:33):
And it really is incredible how universal that is.
Kirsten Dickerson (26:38):
It is so universal. I think it’s just something in the way women are wired that when they are given opportunity, they help men rise to the occasion too. Honestly, because then what happens is that these men that normally wouldn’t like listen to the women, they, when I’m there, they are sitting with us, they want to know how they can work with us. So it’s like a beautiful shift of like communal decisions and working together, the men and the women, on decisions for their families and community that did not exist like 10 years ago.
Lisa Graham (27:19):
And that’s so important as well, having everyone at the table.
Kirsten Dickerson (27:22):
So I’ve just seen in those two contexts, the stories, that those are the kinds of communities, you would think, how could you actually change the way women are viewed? Or how could you really make a long-term change? So I’m like convinced forever that fair trade works because when you do it under those circumstances over time; it’s not a one-time purchase, it’s not like one design, but it’s a long-term relationship, which is fair trade. You get to see the results over the years, which is pretty awesome.
Lisa Graham (27:53):
A quick question to shift a little bit is, you know, you had mentioned going from a non-profit to a for-profit, you know, you knew how to talk to donors, but you didn’t know how to talk to investors. What were some of the biggest things that you learned in terms of the differences in those conversations? How did you shift to begin talking to an investor versus a donor?
Kirsten Dickerson (28:12):
I had to talk about the numbers.
Lisa Graham (28:15):
Those darn numbers.
Kirsten Dickerson (28:18):
But I mean it becomes empowering I think when I felt more empowered. I think part of it was that I needed to find some people that would spend time with me to empower me to know how to be a CEO that understood how to project a business plan and to grow this idea I had and to put it into practical numbers and goals, and then presentations to talk to investors. And then I have a lot of grit. I don’t give up very easy. So even if something didn’t work, I keep trying. So the amount of people that have turned me down is like 250. But the amount of people that have invested is 25. So I had to go through that many no’s to get a few that said yes. But of those 25, half of them have invested more than once. So I think that says they’re pleased that we may not be profitable, but they can see the growth and they can see the impact.
Kirsten Dickerson (29:09):
So we’ve grown, I think over a thousand percent, since 2011. So that’s a lot of growth when you just look at it, you know, number wise. And we’ve chosen to grow more slowly, which is where we’re different than like a regular company, only because we’re thinking of the triple bottom line concept of the impact on people, on the planet, and never compromising that part of it. But then finding investors that cared about the whole package was the challenge. And sometimes I’d walk into a room of investors that you’d think; I’ve done the whole shark tank experience, not on shark tank, but pretty similar, and I would think that this would be a room of people that would say yes, and they haven’t. And then my biggest investors are really traditional venture groups here in Austin.
Kirsten Dickerson (29:58):
And I pitched at the top of the Four Seasons. Is that what it is on Cesar Chavez? It was at the top penthouse room that’s overlooking the city. And I was so nervous. It was like the craziest thing I ever did. And did my presentation, and five of the 15 in that room invested. And now it’s 10 people from that partners group and five of those 10 now have reinvested multiple times. And they’ve only done traditional tech companies. They’ve never done a social business. And they’d never done a fashion company. So I don’t know what happened when I did my pitch, but it worked on those men, which was amazing.
Kirsten Dickerson (30:39):
It was like 11 in the morning. So I always have wondered I’m like what happened, but they pushed me at the same time. So I have to give a lot of reports and what they want to know now, like they bought in because of the mission too, but they want the numbers. So I have to really be accountable for that and figure that out and make hard decisions sometimes. So when something didn’t work and sometimes it means I’ve had to let people go or I’ve had to pivot in a different direction. Or, you know, like we’re not going to have all the categories online when we launch our new collection in a week, because we’ve learned that it’s so competitive in the online space and to grow as an online company, the spend is ridiculously huge now. When Warby Parker came onto the scene, it wasn’t so crowded. And they were able to really take advantage of that. But today that doesn’t exist.
Kirsten Dickerson (31:23):
Like you’re playing with the big guys who are using the same words that nobody was using five years ago, they’re all using the same, you know, ways to find companies that are doing ethical things. And so the spend is so huge. So I have to like think strategically about what are the things we actually offer online in order to grow that online space compared to our wholesales are huge, or my storefronts do well, but I really want to grow online, because that would be the most interest to my investors. And because the margins are so good, but it’s not easy to do. I wish I had known how to do it five years ago, because I think we could have grown a lot faster. But, you know, since that kind of thing is like working with your investors and trying to do what they want, but also the reality of where you’re at as a company, you know? So I’ve closed a Series A round, sometime in 2019 I’ve got to start my series B, which is a big deal. So we’ll see.
Lisa Graham (32:19):
Well, that’s so exciting. Thank you so much for being here. This has been incredible hearing the impact that you’re making. Thank you for everything that you do.
Kirsten Dickerson (32:24):
Yeah. Thank you. You guys are amazing supporters of companies like Raven + Lily, so I really appreciate that.
Lisa Graham (32:30):
Well, we love what you do. And thank you for being here. This has been really fun. We’re continually inspired by your work, and we would love to know where our listeners can shop for your products at Raven + Lily.
Kirsten Dickerson (32:40):
Well, you can always shop online, which is so beneficial to the company, which is www.ravenandlily.com. But we also have a beautiful flagship store at the domain at north side here in Austin, as well as a really fun store on main street in Fredericksburg. And I’m about to finish my pop-ups in LA and Newport Beach, but we’re always doing pop-up shops and trunk shows, so our website tells you where we’ll be (and) when.
Lisa Graham (33:03):
Great. Thank you again, Kirsten. This has been really fun. The Change The Rules podcast is sponsored by Chez Boom Audio. Chez Boom Audio is the leading audio post-production company for TV, film, advertising, audio books, and podcasts in Austin, Texas. And we’re so honored to work in their studio with the wonderful Shayna Brown. You can find her studio at https://chezboomaudio.com/. And if you want to hear new episodes every week, please subscribe to Change The Rules on iTunes, and we will see you again next week.