People 11 February 2019
You may know Katie Cleary from the first season of America's Next Top Model or from popular dramas like How to Get Away with Murder, but her successful career extends far beyond entertainment. As the founder of Peace 4 Animals, Cleary channels her abundant compassion for wildlife into a welfare organization that amplifies the issues of all animals (tigers being her favorite). These important issues are touched upon further in the news platform she launched called World Animal News and in her two documentaries, one of which is still in production. Below, Cleary discusses her lifelong connection with animals and her devotion towards them that has inspired her to set out on a philanthropic journey.
- What inspired you to found Peace 4 Animals? How did the process of getting it off the ground go?
I was inspired to create Peace 4 Animals when I was young because of my passion to protect endangered species. I wanted to be a veterinarian but knew that I wouldn't be able to see the animals in pain and perform surgery, so I thought another way I could make a big impact would be to start my own organization. I was going back and forth with names, and was thinking of including something with the word wildlife in the title, but that would exclude other species, so I decided to go with something that would speak for all animals. That's when I came up with Peace 4 Animals. The logo came to mind right away. I knew I wanted a peace sign with a tiger because tigers are my favorite species, and sadly one of the most endangered big cats on the planet. I had someone create the logo and began the process of filing my 501c3 status, and so my foundation began.
- Where does your passion for helping animals stem from?
From the time I was a child, my connection with animals was so strong, and I knew I wanted to be involved in helping them for the rest of my life. It wasn't until 2012 that that calling became a reality…when it was time to start my foundation and cultivate partnerships around the world with like-minded organizations and individuals who share the same passion to help save animals.
- What makes World Animal News a unique and important platform for its readers? When did you notice there was a lack of coverage on other platforms?
It was around the same time that I founded Peace 4 Animals when I knew that there was a void in the news for animal and environmental topics. One morning I woke up and had an epiphany about developing an animal news network, this was how World Animal News (WAN) started. It began as a filmed podcast and turned into a popular new site with help from a team of dedicated writers and animal lovers who help me bring our readers the latest breaking news in animal welfare from around the world every day.
- Could you tell me a little bit about your in-production film, “We Are One"? When should we expect to see it premiere?
“We Are One" is my second documentary, and the first film that I am directing. I'm really excited. It's such a unique project, and I get to travel and interview leaders in animal welfare around the world who are dedicating their lives to protecting animals. We are highlighting many issues that the public is not aware of and that need to be brought to light. The topics in the film include: factory farming, undercover investigations, anti-poaching, the ivory and rhino horn trade, palm oil/saving orangutans and animal welfare legislation. Hoping to premiere beginning of 2020.
- Have you faced any challenges as a woman in the film industry? If so, how did you overcome them?
I have faced many challenges, as a young woman who began as a model and actress and now who is producing and directing. You feel like you must constantly prove that you're just as worthy of creating important films that can make an impact in this world for the greater good. I had to persevere and overcome fears and obstacles, people saying that it's too hard or difficult, and people who tried to discourage me. I know that this is what I'm here for and what I'm meant to do. I just have to keep focused full-steam ahead and not let anything throw me off my path, so I can be a voice for the animals.
- What advice would you give to other women hoping to found their own organizations? Likewise, who has been a role model to you in the world of animal advocacy?
I would say that if you have a passion and mission in this life, that you should do everything in your power to make that dream a reality. Never give up despite what anyone tells you. This is all a test and those who stay focused and driven on something for the greater good will always succeed.
My role model growing up was Jane Goodall because of her ambition, strength and determination to make her dream of working with chimpanzees in the wild a reality, as well as becoming a global voice for animals. We need more women like her to be able to bring to light what is needed, not only to save the rest of the species that we share this planet with, but to protect our earth before it's too late.
- What has been the most gratifying moment of pursuing your mission to protect animals thus far?
The most gratifying moment is rescuing an animal, and when they look at you and know that you have saved their life!
- What is your biggest dream for Peace 4 Animals? What goals do you hope to achieve over the next few years?
My biggest dream for Peace 4 Animals is to continue growing my organization to help save millions of animals every year and be one of the largest animal welfare organization worldwide. I would also like to build the Peace 4 Animals Rescue & Rehab for Endangered Species in Africa, as well as have World Animal News become a show on a major news network like BBC so that we can mainstream animal welfare on a global scale.
"Steal the mesh underwear you get from the hospital," a friend said upon learning I was pregnant with my first daughter.
It was the single best piece of advice I received before giving birth in December 2013. My best friend delivered her daughter eight months previously, and she was the first to pass along this shared code among new moms: you'll need mesh underwear for your at-home postpartum recovery, and you can't find them anywhere for purchase. End result: steal them. And tell your friends.
My delivery and subsequent recovery were not easy. To my unexpected surprise, after almost 24 hours of labor, I had an emergency C-section. Thankfully, my daughter was healthy; however, my recovery was quite a journey. The shock to my system caused my bloated and swollen body to need weeks of recovery time. Luckily, I had trusted my friend and followed her instructions: I had stolen some mesh underwear from the hospital to bring home with me.
Unfortunately, I needed those disposable underwear for much longer than I anticipated and quickly ran out. As I still wasn't quite mobile, my mother went to the store to find more underwear for me. Unfortunately, she couldn't find them anywhere and ended up buying me oversized granny panties. Sure, they were big enough, but I had to cut the waistband for comfort.
I eventually recovered from my C-section, survived those first few sleepless months, and returned to work. At the time, I was working for a Fortune 100 company and happily contributing to the corporate world. But becoming a new mom brought with it an internal struggle and search for something “more" out of my life--a desire to have a bigger impact. A flashback to my friend's golden piece of advice got me thinking: Why aren't mesh underwear readily available for women in recovery? What if I could make the magical mesh underwear available to new moms everywhere? Did I know much about designing, selling, or marketing clothing? Not really. But I also didn't know much about motherhood when I started that journey, either, and that seemed to be working out well. And so, Brief Transitions was born.
My quest began. With my manufacturing and engineering background I naively thought, It's one product. How hard could it be? While it may not have been “hard," it definitely took a lot of work. I slowly started to do some research on the possibilities. What would it take to start a company and bring these underwear to market? How are they made and what type of manufacturer do I need? With each step forward I learned a little more--I spoke with suppliers, researched materials, and experimented with packaging. I started to really believe that I was meant to bring these underwear to other moms in need.
Then I realized that I needed to learn more about the online business and ecommerce world as well. Google was my new best friend. On my one hour commute (each way), I listened to a lot of podcasts to learn about topics I wasn't familiar with--how to setup a website, social media platforms, email marketing, etc. I worked in the evenings and inbetween business trips to plan what I called Execution Phase. In 2016, I had a website with a Shopify cart up and running. I also delivered my second daughter via C-section (and handily also supplied myself with all the mesh underwear I needed).
They say, “If you build it, they will come." But I've learned that the saying should really go more like this: “If you build it, and tell everyone about it, they might come." I had a 3-month-old, an almost 3 year old and my business was up and running. I had an occasional sale; however, my processes were extremely manual and having a day job while trying to ship product out proved to be challenging. I was manually processing and filling orders and then going to the post office on Saturday mornings to ship to customers. I eventually decided to go where the moms shop...hello, Amazon Prime! I started to research what I needed to do to list products with Amazon and the benefits of Amazon fulfillment (hint: they take care of it for you).
Fast forward to 2018...
While I started to build this side business and saw a potential for it to grow way beyond my expectations, my corporate job became more demanding with respect to travel and time away from home. I was on the road 70% of the time during first quarter 2018. My normally “go with the flow" 4-year-old started to cry every time I left for a trip and asked why I wasn't home for bedtime. That was a low point for me and even though bedtime with young kids has its own challenges, I realized I didn't want to miss out on this time in their lives. My desire for more scheduling flexibility and less corporate travel time pushed me to work the nights and weekends needed to build and scale my side hustle to a full-time business. If anyone tries to tell you it's “easy" to build “passive" income, don't believe them. Starting and building a business takes a lot of grit, hustle and hard work. After months of agonizing, changing my mind, and wondering if I should really leave my job (and a steady paycheck!), I ultimately left my corporate job in April 2018 to pursue Brief Transitions full-time.
In building Brief Transitions, I reached out to like-minded women to see if they were experiencing similar challenges to my own--balancing creating and building a business while raising children--and I realized that many women are on the quest for flexible, meaningful work. I realized that we can advance the movement of female entrepreneurs by leveraging community to inspire, empower, and connect these trailblazers. For that reason, I recently launched a new project, The Transitions Collective, a platform for connecting community-driven women entrepreneurs.
As is the case with many entrepreneurs, I find myself working on multiple projects at a time. I am now working on a members-only community for The Transitions Collective that will provide access to experts and resources for women who want to leave corporate and work in their business full-time. Connecting and supporting women in this movement makes us a force in the future of work. At the same time, I had my most profitable sales quarter to date and best of all, I am able to drop my daughter off at school in the morning.
Mesh underwear started me on a journey much bigger than I ever imagined. They sparked an idea, ignited a passion, and drove me to find fulfillment in a different type of work. That stolen underwear was just the beginning.