A cutting edge business plan in today’s crowded marketplace must be more than simply spreadsheets, quarterly growth and profit margins. True success is measured by collectively using every avenue available for growing a vibrant community of customers, suppliers, distributors and artisans, and committing to a corporate culture of trust, quality and compassion. When I found Nashelle Jewelry and learned of their long-standing track record of doing all the right things, I fell in love.
As the new managing partner for Nashelle Jewelry, I firmly embrace the company’s signature mission of donating one plate of food for every piece of jewelry sold. I strongly believe that all responsible business entities have a unique calling to give back to our society in a tangible and meaningful way. Our company has a targeted legacy of providing those in need with nutritional help through a variety of nonprofit, neighborhood-based programs including Feeding America and NeighborImpact.
When Heather, my friend and business partner, first started Nashelle Jewelry in 1999, her goal was to use her talent simply to make enough money to support herself and her children. She wrapped jewelry in her living room, marketed at local festivals and was an iconic presence at a makeshift table with a handmade sign in the town square of Bend, Oregon. Word quickly spread throughout the region about her beautiful creations and enamored shoppers stood in line to purchase her newest designs. Often, a local bride would have Heather design a unique necklace to perfectly complement the theme, dress and style for her wedding day.
Not surprisingly, given Heather’s talent and popularity in her hometown, word spread through the Northwest about this budding, young jewelry designer, and over the past 17 years, she has been featured in major publications such as Vogue, Glamor and Cosmopolitan. Her stunning creations have graced the runways of major fashion weeks and star-studded award ceremonies across the globe and are carried in thousands of independent retailers and specialty boutiques. Heather’s keen eye for beauty grew a very successful business in a very competitive marketplace.
In tandem with Nashelle’s increasing popularity and profits, Heather made a heartfelt and courageous decision that she wanted to share her company’s success with children and families in need of the very basics of life. As a woman, a mother and an entrepreneur, she deftly focused on the needs of low-income families and banked in karma the knowing smiles of her children as they learned by her example with every dollar she passed along.
While Heather was busy creating Nashelle Jewelry, I was working on growing my own companies in a variety of industries, including retail sales of children’s clothes, a restaurant, a rapid delivery shipping company and investment real estate. My favorite business ventures are those where I have the opportunity to form connections with passionate, creative, smart entrepreneurs with crystal clear visions of what they want their business to become. It’s a unique personal bonus when I have a piece of the marketing puzzle from my own past experiences coupled with the financial resources to be able to help extraordinary people achieve their goals.
Nashelle Jewelry came to my attention in 2014 through social media after I recognized and respected many of the people who were commenting on, liking and promoting this unique brand. Surprisingly, I learned that Heather was also a product of Juneau, Alaska, and we had even attended the same high school. It’s fun to follow and celebrate success stories from your “homies,” and I was immediately drawn to Nashelle’s no-frills mission of giving back. I contacted her and congratulated her on the success of her brand, letting her know that if she were ever looking for investors, I would like to explore that opportunity.
We started following each other through social media, discovering that we both were newly married with large families. (We have 11 kids between the two of us!) It was fun to keep up with the posted adventures of our two families, and I stayed keenly aware of Nashelle’s progress.
By 2016, Nashelle found ever greater success in worldwide markets and was filling more plates of food than Heather had ever dreamed of, but growth offers new and often unforeseen challenges. Heather reached out to me last December during a stressful Christmas season and told me that she was ready to talk about taking on investors to help manage the remarkable growth of the business.
My husband and I journeyed to Bend just after Christmas and met Heather and her family for the first time. I immediately knew that she was the exact person with whom I wanted to be in business. Most impressive was her dedication to the mission of donating “one plate of food for every piece of jewelry sold,” which was fulfilled even during times when she wasn’t able to take a paycheck for herself. That sacrifice was one of many she made to maintain the integrity of her business culture during the 17 years of growing her brand.
When we first sat down to discuss the vision for the future of Nashelle, we immediately agreed that growth and profits, while critically important, are secondary to promoting the charitable mission on which Nashelle was built. In early 2017, Heather and I decided to write the next chapter of Nashelle as a partnership, and we are diving headfirst into our respective roles. Heather is, and always will be, the designing force and creative director behind the brand. I have taken over the day-to-day management of the business activities to support the ongoing sales and growth. Nashelle is rapidly approaching 500,000 plates of food donated, and with significant orders and new large retail partnerships coming online every day, we hope to sustain and expand this effort exponentially in the years to come.
Being a woman in business isn't easy. The constant demands of family along with the pressures that we all put on ourselves daily to succeed in business is a tough rodeo ride. We are all striving to be the best mother, wife, friend, sister, daughter and business partner we can be. The task is often overwhelming. One solution I’ve found to that relentless nagging feeling of “I’m not doing anything well enough” is to build my own daily report card on two strategies that are at the very core of my professional career.
The first criteria for my well-being is to support amazing women in their kaleidoscope of daily tasks by making sure that we can always share openly those irksome pressure points that we face around every corner, every day. I work diligently at creating and refining a personal culture of compassion and uncompromising support for those women experiencing the very real fears of failing to be perfect in everything we do.
The second component of a meaningful life is in finding creative and business-friendly ways for giving back. My own investment of time and resources into Nashelle has been one of the most emotionally rewarding ventures of my career. Sharing success with others in need of your skills and resources goes together like a wink and a smile. It just feels good to give back to those who haven’t found their own path to success yet.
Victoria's Secret is best known for what it has to offer women. However, a few days ago as I was strolling around the flagship store on Bond Street, I discovered that the store also has a lot to offer men as well. Just not exactly what you'd think.
My experience began like many other shopping excursions, casually browsing for a few practical items. The store was bustling with women who were relaxed but focused on their own purchases. The women in the store all displayed a quiet confidence in knowing what to do and how to do it. My browsing journey took me into another room where I noticed a man behaving quite awkwardly while being guided around by one of the many well-trained twenty-something shop assistants. My first thought was: "Good for him coming in here alone! I imagine it isn't the most comfortable experience for a man." It was clear he felt out of place. His discomfort was obvious by the way he was shuffling around and avoiding eye contact with any women nearby.
This otherwise unremarkable experience sent a spark through my mind. This man was professional and smartly dressed; perhaps he could have worked for one of the many private equity, hedge fund or banking firms in the nearby area. I imagined that he was confident in his own world of work, but in this female haven he was not. He was the only man in the room, and it showed.
This world - that of Victoria's Secret - was not created to make someone like him feel comfortable. In this environment—a store catering to women, filled by women and selling feminine merchandise—the familiar patriarchal dynamics of the world had completely shifted.
This was a world that can transform an otherwise confident professional into an introverted, self-conscious and indecisive man who needed the help of a twenty-something female to make one simple purchase.
I have seen this story play out with the gender roles reversed many times throughout my career in the corporate world. Today, the culture of many companies are built and sustained by men, for men. Traditional male characteristics are still encouraged, rewarded and expected from female professionals, especially if they expect to reach the executive suite. Being the only woman in the room is still an everyday reality for so many women in business; most men do not understand how corrosive this situation can be to a person's confidence.
I have often heard men say that they believe gender inequality is not an issue in their firm. They hire women and now even have some women on their teams. Well, on those terms this man should not have experienced any issue either. There is no sign at the door of Victoria's Secret barring men from entry. Men are allowed to freely enter and buy whatever they choose. No woman in there would tell them to leave or suggest that to get to the front of the queue they must behave in a certain way. So, what was the problem? Why did this man appear so uncomfortable? Why did he suddenly lack the confidence he seemed to have in the outside world?
It's all in the numbers. If that store catered towards the needs of men, or if there were simply more men in the store (either equivalent to or greater than the number of women), then it is likely that man would have felt a greater sense of belonging.
Just because women are allowed into the workplace now, does not mean their experiences are equivalent to those of their male peers. Women, as the minority, simply do not have the same sense of freedom to be their true authentic selves in many corporate environments, even today.
Just like that Victoria's Secret shop assistant guiding the lone man through an ostensibly unwelcoming environment, so, too, do women benefit from the guidance of sponsors, helping them navigate the male dominated corporate world.
Before a man talks about gender parity, perhaps he first needs to take a trip to a lingerie store and experience what it is like to be the only one in the room. Maybe if more men had experiences like this, they may begin to understand what it is to feel so out of place. Maybe they would join us in creating greater gender equality in the workplace.