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.
In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.
One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.
Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.
When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.
There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.
With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.
Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today
Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.
I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.
Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.
There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.
You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.