People 06 March 2017
The prominence and importance of young female entrepreneurs are one of SWAAY's themes this week given the significance of this year's International Women's Day. Maddie and Mackenzie Ziegler are perfect examples of young innovation in girls that we could all only hope to exemplify.
Having first appeared as a duo on the hit TV show Dance Moms, the pair quickly rose to fame and were touted for multiple TV and film projects. The older of the two - Maddie famously starred in Sia's music video for her song 'Elastic Heart' in what was perhaps one of 2015's most singular performances, which she went on to perform live on some of the world's biggest and most widely viewed stages.
Following in her sister's footsteps, Mackenzie has begun to pursue entrepreneurial exploits and the first of those is her breakout T-shirt collection Tee4too. Beginning the line with her close friend Gabi Medvene-Cirigliano, the two have explored their creative talents and the brand has been highly successful since its launch - especially given that proceeds from the brand are shelled out to the girls' favorite charity, the ASPCA.
Maddie is set to take Hollywood by storm this year - starring in Ballerina and The Book of Henry - both set for release in 2017. While Mackenzie has enjoyed stays on top of Itunes and Billboard charts, and has recently starred in Nickelodeon's Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn on top of a nomination for a Teens Choice Award.
This pair is no ordinary duo and Mackenzie talks to SWAAY about branching out from her initial stardom gained from Dance Moms.
How has your appearance on Dance Moms changed your life?
My life has changed a lot! People recognize me just about everywhere I go. It was strange at first but I am used to it now. I have great fans and I love that they support me in everything I do.
Why did you decide to create the clothes line?
My friend Gabi and I love T-shirts and we would do 'DIY' designs at home. We were always asking our moms for supplies. People would comment on our shirts and it sparked the idea that we should start our own line. Now we create T-shirts and have so much fun doing it. We don't let our moms get involved at all. When they come up with any idea, we tell them that this is our company and we can handle it.
Why did you choose ASPCA to receive donations from your brand?
We are big animal lovers! We love all animals. Gabi even has horses! It was just a natural fit. We want to help animals that are in need.
What is your creative process - how do you come up with your designs or videos?
Gabi and I text or FaceTime each other ideas. We think about what's going on in our lives and on social media with kids our age. We also listen to fan ideas that they submit on social media.
You're a YouTube sensation - who was your inspiration for starting your own channel?
I have always loved any type of camera, lights or tech things and I also have always wanted my own TV show. YouTube is kind of like having your own show! I love coming up with video ideas and sharing them with my fans. Once I started making videos, I was hooked!
What are your upcoming business plans? Who helps you with your business?
Next we are doing cute baseball caps and more awesome T-shirts. We are having a new shoot next week! Gabi's mom and my mom do all the financial stuff but that's it. We do the rest. We even email and send messages to all our customers ourselves.
How do you deal with the spotlight?
I'm just a happy-go-lucky kid. I try to stay positive. Kids tell me they look up to me (even though I'm short! Ha ha) so I try to be a good role model.
What's the outlet you most enjoy doing at the moment - Instagram, YouTube, clothes designing?
That's a hard one. I love them all for different reasons! IG because it's quick and easy, YouTube because it's fun coming up with video ideas and clothing because I love to dress cute!!
What app do you use the most?
Maddie and Mackenzie are a testament to their generation that is growing up in a turbulent and uncertain time for women. In the aftermath of the election, much care was taken to inform girls of their age that although Hillary Clinton lost, it was not a loss for women. There would be female presidents and leaders in the future and there's no doubt that these two will be representative of an entire generation of female leaders, unburdened by failures or setbacks - the women of the future.
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.