Kendra Scott's entrepreneurial venture into jewelry began like many startups do: at the intersection of a realized need in the market, and the tenacity to do something about it. Making the decision to create a jewelry brand was simple, really, she told SWAAY.
“I couldn't find the jewelry I was looking for. I saw a white space in the industry for beautiful, quality designs at an affordable price, so I thought, 'Why not make it myself?'" she explained. “I used natural gemstones to create unique, quality pieces that any woman could afford."
Jewelry in tow, she walked door-to-door in Austin, Texas selling the pieces she'd designed and handmade in her spare bedroom. That was back in 2002, and to say the brand has found success would be an enormous understatement. Fifteen years later, and Kendra Scott is now a $1 billion company with no signs of slowing down.
“Each day I wake up to run a company that is bigger than it was the night before," she said. “If someone had told me then — when I was still boxing and shipping each order from my dining table — that I would be running a $1 billion company one day, I wouldn't have believed it. Now, when I look around at the inspiring, dedicated men and women that make up this company, I am not surprised in the least."
She said that she learned early on that in order to find success, you must surround yourself with a group of people who not only believe in your passion, but are just as invested in the outcome as you.
“Their hard work and passion for this brand is so much of the reason we're experiencing success today," she says. “With every collection we launch, and every new design we create, I challenge my team to dream bigger than we ever have before. We have a saying here to 'always go beyond.' Whether it's going beyond for a customer, a colleague, or the design of a new collection, we bring that mindset to work every day."
It wasn't always easy, though, and it takes time to build momentum. In addition to the door-to-door sales, Scott launched her company with zero capital behind her.“[It] was incredibly difficult," she said. “That first phase of my business was a constant struggle, but I put my heart, and every dime I had, into this dream of mine. Even if it meant forgoing my salary to pay everyone else before myself, failure was never an option. Strangely enough, I believe that leap of faith in our earliest days is what has given my company such a strong foundation today."
Today the company boasts 67 stand-alone stores, and counting, and has branched out to sell a nail polish line (inspired by gemstones, of course), and gorgeous home goods. These new offerings have strengthened the brand instead of diluting it, largely because of Scott's ability to stay true to her core values.
“Our pillars of family, fashion, and philanthropy have shaped my business, our culture, and the decisions we make every day," she explained. “Not only do we treat each other like family; we also live out our philanthropy pillar through our dedication to giving back. And no matter how large or successful we become, we will always look to those three core values as our foundation." She said her dream for the company is to create a legacy brand that lasts for the generations to come, and urges fellow entrepreneurs to dream big and be disruptive in their own industries.
“My advice is to take a look at your talents, what makes you unique, and use those differentiators to build a business that stands apart from the rest," she said. “You will most likely find success when you dare to think differently."
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.