Episode 84 – Special Ethical Holiday Shopping Episode!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – to shop! Happy Holidays! Today we’re going to spend time with four incredible women who are at the helm of ethical and amazing businesses. Our hope is that their passion will inspire you to use your purchasing power for good!


Jessica: Hey, everyone. Happy holidays and welcome back to the Going Scared podcast. This is your host, Jessica Honegger, founder of the social impact fashion brand Noonday Collection. Join me here every week for conversations on living lives of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared.

OK. Today, we are breaking the format a bit to share with you a few incredible female founders and social impact brands who are helping us to use our purchasing power for good. I wanted to bring you these conversations because our heartbeat at Noonday is that we exist to create dignified jobs in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, and we do this by partnering with Artisan Businesses that share our passion for building a flourishing world. So, this is a season for gifting, and we wanted to bring you conversations with like-minded businesses who are also creating an impact, businesses that are not only run by incredible women and are creating beautiful products, but that are changing the world, too.


Imperfectly Conscious & Chic with Kathleen Elie

Hopefully, you’ll be inspired to use your purchasing power for good this season. To kick it off, I wanted to ask you, "Have you ever wanted to shop more ethically but felt like you had to be perfect in order to make a difference?" If so, my first conversation with Kathleen Elie is for you. Kathleen is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Conscious & Chic, a thoughtful lifestyle blog that creates content showcasing ethical fashion, beauty, food and travel. Kathleen is also a fashion design graduate from LaSalle College and spent several years working in the fashion industry. During her time working in fashion, she decided she needed to raise awareness about how we can bring social good into the fashion industry. So, in this conversation, we discuss how we can take steps to be more conscious consumers without letting perfectionism hold us back. Well, Kathleen, I’m so excited to chat with you today and get to know you a little better.

Kathleen: Me too, same.

Jessica: I know that you are passionate about conscious consumerism and ethical fashion. And ironically, that is not something we have really talked about on the Going Scared podcast, which is funny considering…

Kathleen: Look at that.

Jessica: …that I own Noonday Collection and I just do want to explore this topic a little bit more. So, tell me a little bit then about how you frame ethical fashion or sustainable fashion. Because it’s not like organic food where it’s USDA approved, and it goes through the standard and there’s a lot of transparency. I mean, there’s still just a lot of nomenclature out there. So, how do you define it?

Kathleen: There are different values when it comes to shopping that you can look at or that you can decide to ascribe to. My content is really geared towards exploring all those different sets of values, whether it’s things that are cruelty-free, vegan, things that are ethically made, ethically sourced, things that are environmentally friendly, eco-friendly, things that are sustainable. And really showing people that one, their dollar has power in terms of what their values are, to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak. And then to be able to make choices based on those sets of values. I avoid striving for perfection because sometimes I feel like perfection is the enemy of progress and that anyone who only looks at it from a purely a perfection standpoint and saying, "I have to be perfect in all these areas. Everything that I buy has to fit in all of these different values." It’s easy to use that as a cop-out. It’s always impossible. So, I’m not gonna do anything and I’m going to continue living the way that I’m living as opposed to the same way it was for me in my journey. It started with people. It started with, "I don’t want to purchase things that are made by people who are being exploited."

“There are different values when it comes to shopping that you can look at or that you can decide to ascribe to. My content is really geared towards exploring all those different sets of values. … And really showing people that one, their dollar has power in terms of what their values are. … then to be able to make choices based on those sets of values. I avoid striving for perfection.” Kathleen Elie


Hidden Costs and Hidden Value

Jessica: And how do we really figure that out? Because you can’t say, I mean, so, I shop at Madewell, I shop at Anthro … I mean, I do shop a lot of mainstream brands. I do avoid fast fashion places. So, how do we go about that?

Kathleen: And I love that you asked this question because people would often ask me about specific brands. So, "What about this brand? What about that brand? What about … should I shop these brands, or should I not shop these brands?" And my goal has always been not to guilt people into shopping according to their values, but to inspire them to do so. And you probably noticed this for my content, it’s never bashing or calling out any brand in particular, but telling you, "Hey, here are your alternatives. Here’s how you can still have the lifestyle that you want and look good."

And maybe you can’t buy as many because we do have this consumptionism which is ingrained in the way that you view buying things that makes us feel wealthy. The more we can buy, the more wealthy we feel. Although we’re not more wealthy because we’re not actually owning things that are investments or that have value. And so, when it comes to my platform it’s really about helping people make that first step and see how it could be done in real life and to take that first step could be through buying things that are ethically made or things that are sustainable.

Because it started with people with me. It did not start with the environment. It’s not where I was at the time. And as I was making more conscious decisions on one end of the spectrum or towards one of my values, I started to learn more about how the fashion industry then was also being detrimental to the environment and that’s when I started to care about that as well. So, it wasn’t all in one day. It started with one thing. And I think that once you start making those conscious decisions and then it went to … I remember when I started eating more organic foods, then I started thinking about, well, if I’m paying so much attention to what I’m putting in my body, maybe I should pay attention to what I’m putting on my skin, which also makes it into my body and my bloodstream.

And that’s when I started to learn more about non-toxic beauty. So, it was a journey. It still is because the issues that we face as a society are multiple. They are multiple, they are complex, they’re nuanced and if somebody, as I was alluding to earlier, is trying to tackle all of them at once, it’s very overwhelming. And, it can immobilize people, it can paralyze people because it’s so many things to think about, it’s so many things to look at. But if we can just get them to care about one thing and really start living according and I am very intentional when I say live according to your values because I’m sure if you tell someone, "Well, the shirt that you’re wearing was actually made by a child who was trafficked and taken away from his family." People will say, "I don’t want that shirt." Right?

“The issues that we face as a society are multiple. They are multiple, they are complex, they’re nuanced and if somebody … is trying to tackle all of them at once, it’s very overwhelming. And, it can immobilize people.” Kathleen Elie

Jessica: Right.

Kathleen: And so, it’s really for people to understand that, “Hey, there are certain actions that you’re taking unbeknownst to you for the most part, which are helping support a system that if you knew what it was like, you wouldn’t want to support it.” And so, let’s educate you. And one thing that I wanted to allude to is, I never wanna forget about the worker who is currently in a bad situation. I never wanna forget. I never want to say, “Hey, shop these brands exclusively, give up every other brand that’s not being vocal or that’s not being really obvious about the fact that their goods are made ethically.” That’s not what I’m saying. I want to advocate for that worker as well. And so, asking the brands that you already like, that you already shop, "Who made my clothes? Who made my stuff?" Is so important. Letting them know that beyond the clothing, beyond just the styles that they create, you also care about something else which pertains to their business model.

And I think that the more that we do that, then we’ll be able to not only keep buying the things that we love but also help the person who is at the end of that chain who’s making the things that we wear. At the end of the day, businesses do care more about the bottom line and I don’t fault them for that per se because they still have to pay salaries. They still to help the economy and so on and so forth. However, I think that as consumers, we do have the opportunity and the capacity to help the businesses understand where we stand and what we care about. And so, it’s not one-sided. It’s not only on the consumer side, it’s not only on the supplier side or the corporation side, it takes everybody.


Carly Burson: Employing to Empower

Jessica: I hope this conversation resonated with you as much as it did with me. Remember, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. OK. Up next we’ll hear from Carly Burson, founder of Tribe Alive and a fellow adoptive mom. She and I are such kindred spirits. It was awesome to finally get to sit down and talk with her for a few minutes. So, let me hear a little bit about the 101 on Tribe Alive.

Carly: Yes. So, Tribe Alive, I mean, we’re a fashion brand but we really exist mainly to employ and empower women in parts of the world where they don’t have access to education, opportunity, safe and meaningful jobs. So, really everything we do is rooted in the mission of working alongside women and building female entrepreneurs all over the world. So, we work now in six different countries where all of our products are ethically manufactured via … whether it be small scale artists and teams working out of their homes or small scale co-opts in either Haiti or India. We have a few different channels and models for how we do produce, but the majority of our workforce is female and every organization, non-profit or maker group that we work with is completely female led.

So, that’s something that we’re really proud about is just being a part of kind of breaking the gender gap for women all over the world. We also, because we’re a fashion brand, we see that the majority of women all over the world are employed through manufacturing and through fashion. But unfortunately, it’s an industry that really keeps women in poverty and perpetuates poverty. So, our brand looks to change that issue in the industry and flip it on its head and really serve as a catalyst to lift women up and to empower them to grow not only personally but professionally as well.

“We see that the majority of women all over the world are employed through manufacturing and through fashion. But unfortunately, it’s an industry that really keeps women in poverty and perpetuates poverty. So, our brand looks to … serve as a catalyst to lift women up and to empower them to grow not only personally but professionally as well.” Carly Burson

Jessica: I love that so much because when I think of the Noonday Story, it really was, it was to fund our adoption and then it was really to create economic opportunity for vulnerable communities. But it sounds like for you, it’s almost a reformation position where you were looking to reform the fashion industry, which I’m getting a little bit more into that as I have gotten to know a lot more traditional manufacturing practices. Tell me a little bit about what led you to found the Tribe Alive. Because do you have a fashion background?


Tribe Alive: A Fashion Reformation

Carly: I do. Yeah. That’s a great question. I mean really, I think you and I, we know we have so many things in common, but I was working in traditional fashion and worked for a lot of really large specialty name labels and brands and designed for brands like J.Crew and Ann Taylor. But after the adoption of my daughter, Ellie, I just had a really hard time going back to an industry that I knew was perpetuating poverty. I had a personal experience of just seeing adoption for all that it is the gift of adoption for my family and the tragedy of adoption for my daughter’s birth mother and witnessed a lot of birth parents visiting their children in orphanages while we were in Ethiopia trying to finalize my adoption and just realized it was the greatest injustice I had ever seen.

That poverty was a reason that people were not able to raise their children. And it just felt like injustice that I as a privileged person was able to raise someone else’s child merely because of poverty. And I just had a hard time getting back into my career once I came home from maternity leave and just realized I needed to utilize my skills and my experience to do something that would honor my daughter’s birth mother and to show my daughter that people like her birth mother really deeply mattered and that people like her should be invested in and should be empowered and should have had an opportunity to raise her own child.

And the word reformation definitely resonates with me really deeply because I do feel like all those years of working in traditional fashion and seeing the industry for what it is and knowing what it was then and even recognizing it at an even deeper level now, we just have a lot of work to do to kind of make-up for all the damage that’s been caused and continues to be caused.

“I do feel like all those years of working in traditional fashion and seeing the industry for what it is and knowing what it was … we just have a lot of work to do to kind of make-up for all the damage that’s been caused and continues to be caused.” Carly Burson

So, our brand really our pillars of impact and our pillars of improvement for the industry are all very much aligned with what the industry isn’t doing well and the harm that the industry is creating. So, first and foremost, we try to be a brand where women don’t have to compromise style for ethics. I think that’s a really important thing that ethical fashion brands need to look at. So, we really think about design. We really think about product development, but we do it really intentionally and really well. And our motto is that we’re honoring the earth and we’re honoring the maker, just like the consumer is honored. And that all of it goes together and should come together where everything is considered equally.

Jessica: I love how you’re working within the industry though, in a way, because you have sold through more traditional retail outlets like Madewell, and you’ve done … you’re in other retail spots as well. I’ve just, that’s where I’ve seen you guys. How have you held that tension of kind of being a reformer within the industry and still selling through traditional retail but then having this radically different approach?


A Shared a Story

Carly: Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s something that I struggled with at first. The brands that we would align with and the brands that we would work with. But for us, at the end of the day, for me it all comes down to employment. It all comes down to employing people well, being able to maintain sustainable orders and meet commitments to artisan partners that we’ve had relationships with now for over five years. So, I’m really deeply committed to that first and foremost. So, I mean, there are brands that we’ll align with that may not have the exact same outlook on the industry or the exact same ethics as us. But we really see it as an opportunity to one, employ people and two, to reach a larger audience to introduce more women to what ethical and sustainable fashion means and what it can mean not only for their own lifestyle and their own consciousness of how they choose to live their life, but also what it can mean for the world.

So, it’s also been really amazing to be able to be a part of educating buyers and working with different buyers and companies that may not even know. I think so many of us, I think we all do the best we can with what we know. And there’s still such an opportunity to educate people within other fashion brands, to educate consumers, and for us to be able to tell our story and share our story with different buyers that are used to buying product that’s mass-manufactured in factories that they’ve never visited. It just gives them a whole other look at the industry and then it’s our hope that those buyers will go and support other brands like us and invite other brands like us into these large platforms that have really been pretty life-changing for a lot of our partners and life-changing for the face of our business and what our success looks like. So, I think we’re really open to collaborate with and work with so many different types of companies, brands, people because we just see it as an opportunity to reach more people with our message.

“I think so many of us, I think we all do the best we can with what we know. And there’s still such an opportunity to educate people within other fashion brands, to educate consumers, and for us to be able to tell our story and share our story with different buyers.” Carly Burson

Jessica: Even though I also own a social impact fashion brand, I have been more hesitant to embrace conscious fashion when it comes to my clothing. Because, and some of that comes from my long history with my body image and I know certain brands are gonna fit a certain way and I know how I’m gonna feel when something fits. And so, I have been more hesitant to branch out and try different brands. But that is what I love about Tribe Alive. Your silhouettes are so beautiful and they fit so well. And honestly, shopping Tribe Alive has been a little bit of an impetus for me to realize I have got to go deeper into my embracing conscious fashion, which is so ironic I realize coming from a founder of a conscious fashion brand, but tell me a little bit about your design and what are your top-selling styles right now.

Carly: Yeah, I mean, I love what you had to say about just recognizing that I think it’s a journey for so many of us. Even I own an ethical fashion brand and it’s still something I work on every day to be more responsible and to really recognize who the brands are that I’m shopping and what their ethics are. So, I think I love when women, especially women in our space, are honest about that being a journey because I think so many women don’t know where to start and they think it has to be all or nothing. So, I think when women like us who are in the space and can still say, it’s a journey for us and it’s a journey to step away from some of these other brands that we’ve felt good in for so many years. And starting somewhere is really how people can engage in this type of shopping and consciousness.


Making Sustainability Stylish

For us, we really care about … we’re definitely a brand that’s rooted in minimalism. We’re rooted in the every day. We’re obviously rooted in sustainable materials, materials that are good for the … healthier for the earth, that are non-synthetic. And our designer Katie, she’s amazing and she’s just constantly thinking about how women can live their life with ease.

And we’re constantly thinking about just comfort and women are so busy and we have. So, we make so many decisions every day and we feel like making a decision about fashion and making a decision about your wardrobe should be something you’re really not even thinking about in the morning. So, we build collections that can really be mixed and matched where you can buy 10 pieces and wear it 25 different ways and it’s our hope that women will buy less. We’re really rooted in the idea of lessening, which is interesting as a fashion brand, wanting women to buy less, but we want them to invest in better pieces that will last for years to come.

“We’re really rooted in the idea of lessening, which is interesting as a fashion brand, wanting women to buy less, but we want them to invest in better pieces that will last for years to come.” Carly Burson

So, we really don’t lean into trends. We focus mainly on like classic silhouettes with a few trend pieces each year for a customer that might align with that. But our goal is if you buy something this season that you’ll be wearing it four seasons later. Not only from a quality perspective but also from a fashion perspective where it’s not going to go out of style, and it’s intended to live in your closet for years and years to come so that women don’t have to feel like they’re constantly having to consume in order to keep up with this sort of fast trend-based industry that we’re all operating in.

Jessica: You’ve heard me say recently a few times on the podcast that I am becoming more conscious myself. I realize it’s ironic because I run a social impact fashion brand but there are always ways that we can keep on a learning journey and look for ways to just be more mindful in how we are purchasing and how we are clothing ourselves. And like Carly, it really doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing when it comes to ethical fashion. We can start somewhere in how we can all move closer and closer to living out our values. A link for Tribe Alive is in the show notes and definitely go check out their brand.


Dignified Home Décor with Rachel Bentley

All right. Up next we have Rachel Bentley who is the co-founder of The Citizenry. You guys, I have fallen in love with The Citizenry as we have been moving back into our house and now starting the decorating process. I’m like, oh, it’s one thing to remodel. It’s a whole other thing to actually decorate. I can’t wait to show my home reveal to you in January where we will have many of our purchases from The Citizenry. Give it a listen. All right, Rachel, I am a huge fan of The Citizenry so it’s so much fun to have you on the show.

Rachel: Of course, we’re happy to be here. Thanks for having us.

Jessica: I recently remodeled our house and although I get to travel the world and fill my home with global fines, I don’t have enough room to haul back large pieces of furniture and your furniture collection is gorgeous.

Rachel: Well, that was the concept behind The Citizenry. I think we very much wanted to bring the world’s best craftsmanship for people that couldn’t necessarily hop on a plane and haul back these beautiful pieces with them but bring it directly to you and make it easy to shop online.

Jessica: Well, and I’m probably your most discerning customer when it comes to artisan goods because…

Rachel: True. You have seen a few.

Jessica: …you keep developing artisan new goods. I’ve seen a few and have been in all of the countries where you produce, and I just cannot speak highly enough to the craftsmanship and the beauty of your products. Tell me a little bit about the inception of your brand?

Rachel: So, The Citizenry really came out of Carly and I, my co-founder, our own frustration with what we could find when we were decorating and designing our own homes. And I think we realized that the pieces that we loved in our homes the most were things that we had found on our travels, things that we had met the maker, had been inspired by the culture and really wanted to bring that memory and that inspiration back into our own lives. We’re definitely the types of people that think long and hard about anything that comes into our lives and particularly into our home and definitely put a lot of thought into choosing those pieces and didn’t want something that was produced in a way that wasn’t fair trade, wasn’t sustainable. And also, was inauthentic to the people that were actually making the product. And so, we began to look for a brand that offered these types of products, globally inspired modern home goods and really didn’t find it. And so, we started thinking a little bit more about creating that brand and it was definitely something that took several years. I had to really do the research, lay the groundwork and build it … as you know, it’s not an easy business to grow and build.

“The pieces that we loved in our homes the most were things that we had found on our travels, things that we had met the maker, had been inspired by the culture and really wanted to bring that memory and that inspiration back into our own lives.” Rachele Bentley

Jessica: It is not, it is not but obviously it is so, so worth it. That’s interesting to hear that you all worked several years previous to actually launching the brand. Mine was kind of the opposite, it sort of started as a one night fundraiser for our adoption and then grew from there. Tell me a little bit of that process leading up to the launch.

Rachel: We did a lot of research on what already existed in the home decor market, who the brands were, who they were serving, what they were offering. We did a lot of research on what customers like us might be looking for. What they valued of their purchases, what they were willing to spend, who the brands were that they loved and didn’t love. And I think one of the things that really stood out to us was just this dissatisfaction from Gen-X and millennial consumers when it came to home goods and they wanted to move past the West Elms, Targets, IKEA’s of the world and move to something that was higher quality, more considerate, and something that was actually having an impact in the world. And we spent a decent amount of that time also doing the research on the ground talking with artisans, talking with supply chain experts.

I had spent quite a bit of time working in global supply chains prior to starting The Citizenry to understand the problems and the issues there. And I think that was probably the why for us, more than anything else was, I think we saw the impact that global supply chains are having on human rights and on the environment. And it really stood out to me as potentially the most pressing issue in the world today because we live in a world where we can buy anything so cheaply, but because that production is removed from us and is being made tens of thousands of miles away, we’re not seeing the impact of what producing those cheap goods is having, the types of labor conditions that people are working in, the waste that is being created, the toxins that are being dumped into the environment due to the materials or to the process. We’re keeping that all safely out of view. And we really, when we began to understand that and began to see the lack of options for products that are created in a beautiful environment and are contributing to the world in a positive way, we felt that we had to start The Citizenry.

Jessica: And when you think about, I mean, all of us still shop traditional retail no matter how passionate those of us are in this conscious consumerism space, it’s impossible to get around. Well, maybe not impossible. OK. That is not true. I’m sure there’s some purists out there. I’m not a purist, let’s just put it that way. What are some ways that we can continue to shop more consciously outside of purchasing from brands like ours?

Rachel: I think being very considerate about what you actually need and buying things that last. I think that’s probably the most important thing we can do. I love the phrase fewer better things, right? And I’ve always been a believer that quality will take care of itself over time, quantity never will, right? If I fill my room with a host of cheap goods that I intend to replace one day, then I’ve just … I have a room full of cheap goods. They never get better. They never, they’re not going to last. They’re going to have to be replaced. If I buy one piece, that couch, a rug, a pillow, a mirror, whatever it may be, I buy one piece that is a really quality piece, maybe I buy that vintage, maybe I buy it from a thoughtful maker and build on it. I can do that over time and eventually, I will have a room or a home or a wardrobe full of quality pieces that will last and stay with me rather than having this disposable mentality of, "Well, I’ll just buy it. I need to buy it all now and then I’ll replace it over time." It’s not an efficient use of resources, of money. And, it definitely contributes I think to a lot of the human rights and environmental issues that we’re seeing escalate.

Jessica: OK. So, we are market driven. We’re not living off of donation dollars or charity. And I know Noonday started on two necklaces that were top sellers. That is what gave me the clue that the marketplace was having a conversation with me and wanted this product. Tell us about some of your favorite products that have been drivers for you?


Furnishings That Flourish

Rachel: We started The Citizenry really to create pieces that would have a transformative impact on somebody’s home and really be the statement pieces, right? When you put a new rug in your living room, it completely changes the look and feel of the room. And so, if you buy something that is made with care and quality and naturally dyed wools, it’s hand-woven, that quality instantly comes through and spreads throughout the room, right? Even if that gray couch is something that’s from IKEA, it instantly elevates the situation. And so, when we launched The Citizenry, we were really focused on those types of pieces that were just instant room lifters and things that would elevate your room right away. And so, pillows and blankets were two of the things that we really invested in. And I think as someone that had not paid as much attention to what my home looked like and the pieces that I was filling it with prior to getting a little bit further into my 20s, getting married and really wanting to create a space that felt like home and we could entertain it. I don’t think I realized what a wild difference there was between just like a cheap cotton printed pillow versus something that was woven with a beautiful wool or alpaca blend and maybe had natural dyes and just a richness of color and texture and meaning to it.

That was very, very different. And I think once you have experienced that and see that, you come back. And so, I think that was very true for us is that people bought a pillow or two pillows and then realized, “Oh, wow, this is way beyond anything else I have in my house, let’s see what the throws are like or what the rugs are like,” and we’ve just continued to be able to build with a very strong group of engaged fans and design lovers that want to fill their homes with beautiful things and are doing that thoughtfully and over time as they continue to design a space that they love.


Bethany Tran and the Root Collective

Jessica: Ah, thanks, Rachel. I am obsessed with The Citizenry for home decor. Their products really allow you to give your home that globally curated feel without necessarily having to fly all the way to Kenya or to India to shop the markets yourself. You can go and check out their products for yourself at the link in the show notes. And finally, I’m excited for you to hear from Bethany Tran, founder, and CEO of the Root Collective. If there is any other thing I am obsessed with outside of jewelry, it has to be shoes and I absolutely love, love, love the Root Collective’s boot selection. So, if you haven’t bought your fall booties yet, head on over to the Root Collective. First, give this conversation a listen to learn the heart behind the company. Well, Bethany, I would love for you to just give the 101 on the Root Collective.

Bethany: Yeah. So, we are an ethically handmade footwear and accessory company. So, we’ve been around for, we actually just celebrated our sixth anniversary about two weeks ago. So, we have made it past the hump. It’s amazing we’re still alive. So, we work with artisans in Guatemala where we are sourcing, all of our textiles are handwoven in Guatemala. So, we’re working primarily with women on that. And then we’re really just looking to support community jobs and empower local business leaders to be able to provide jobs within their communities. So, we’re working with shoemakers there. We kind of, honestly, fell into shoes. That was never really the plan, but you know how life just so rarely goes as you think it’s going to. Never thought I was going to have a shoe company and yet here we are.

Jessica: Here we are. I can relate to this and I just, I have loved following your brand over the years and congratulations on making it over the hump. And I think the reason you’ve made it over the hump is because you truly have adapted and followed the market and done a really good job of serving your customers in addition to serving your mission. I think a lot of social impact companies, that’s where they get it wrong and eventually go under because they serve their mission more than their customer and you really have to treat both as equal stakeholders. But on that note, I’d love to know a little bit more about what prompted you to start the Root Collective.

Bethany: So, it all started, really, it was almost 11 years ago now, which is crazy. Friends of mine started a non-profit called Lemonade International that works in a slum community in Guatemala City. It is one of the largest urban slums in Central America and honestly considered one of the most dangerous in the world because of the gang violence that’s there. And it’ll be 11 years ago this February, one of my really good friends moved down there for a year to kinda help get things off the ground. What they were doing was partnering with a local Guatemalan non-profit who was starting essentially academies, schools in the slum. And the reason being is the school system in Guatemala is actually kind of like a half a day. So, they have two sessions, you either go to a morning session or an afternoon session.

And as they were really looking at all of the gang activity that was there and the gangs were targeting the kids very specifically and trying to recruit them into the gangs. And the issue was if the kid was going to school in the morning, they’d be done by 1:00 in the afternoon. And if their parents were lucky enough to have a job, they would be essentially on their own which made them very, very easy targets or they just didn’t have a great home life and these kids really wanted to just feel like they belonged and had some kind of a family and the gangs absolutely took advantage of that as well. So, what they were doing was starting these academies in the slums. So, if the kids went to the morning session at the public school, they could go to the academy in the afternoon.

So, it was keeping them off the streets. They were helping them with their homework, feeding them a meal. For a lot of these kids, it was the only meal that they were getting that day. Teaching them things like hygiene, like brushing your teeth and washing your hands, which seems to be just common sense for us, but that’s a learned habit of doing that. So, they were really just trying to love on these kids and essentially it was gang prevention. That was really what they were doing. So, I ended up going down and visiting my friend for about a week right after she moved to Guatemala and spent time hanging out in the slum and really just realized that non-profits are focusing on education, which is great and needed, very necessary. But if there were no jobs for these kids after they graduated, then nothing had changed.


Noticing the Problem …

And again, this was 11 years ago, I mean, this was, social enterprise was not a thing back then. People weren’t talking about this and yet I’m watching it and I’m going, there’s a really big hole in the way that we’re approaching poverty alleviation just as a culture and somebody really has to do something about it. And so, I went back down a few times over the course of the next few years and every time just kinda coming back, going man, somebody really needs to do something about this. And I learned very quickly that normally if you see a problem a lot of times you think it’s common sense, but the fact of the matter is, is that you’re seeing a problem that a lot of people just aren’t seeing. They just don’t really know that it exists. And that normally means it’s because you’re the one who’s supposed to do something about it.

So, I had a few things kinda happen all at once. I started a job at Comcast, which at this point, I’ve made it in terms of American standards. I’m working for one of the largest corporations in the country on the 40th floor downtown Philadelphia, I’m supposed to be super happy because I’ve made it. And I was miserable. It’s like I’m not supposed to be here. This isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing. And then I turned 30 about three weeks after I started that job and I just went through this major quarter-life crisis of just like, what am I doing, what am I doing here? And then about two months after that PBS aired the documentary, "Half the Sky" which if you haven’t seen it, I don’t even know where you can find it online anymore.

It used to be on Netflix, but it’s not. And it’s a book that was written by Nicholas Kristof and his wife. They’re both journalists with The New York Times and they followed these women. Six women, I believe around the world who are just doing incredible things. Working in the red light district in India, one of them is working in one of these tiny African countries where there’s, like, one doctor for 2 million people and women are dying in childbirth because they don’t have access to proper medical care. And she was going around training midwives and the mortality rate was just tanking. And I’m sitting here watching this documentary I remember very specifically I was sitting in bed, just bawling my eyes out going, "I have no excuse anymore. Just none." I have been seeing this problem for several years at this point. I have an idea of how to fix it. No one else is doing something about it. So, I guess that means that I am that somebody. I have to do something.

“I have been seeing this problem for several years at this point. I have an idea of how to fix it. No one else is doing something about it. So, I guess that means that I am that somebody. I have to do something.” Bethany Tran


… Becoming the Solution

So, I think it was like the next day I was, like, hiding in a conference room at Comcast picking up the phone, I called my friend Bill Cummings, who was the Executive Director of Lemonade International at the time. And basically just said I’ve had this idea for this business for years, "Who do you know that makes stuff?" So, I had no contacts. I had no idea of what product I wanted to get into. None of that. It was just like, I’ve got a business idea, let’s do something about it. So, it took about 13 months, I think, to get it off the ground. And then we launched November, six years ago. So, here we are.

Jessica: Wow. I love how you tagged yourself. You know, like tag, I’m it. I think there’s that moment you see a problem, and you’re kind of looking around like, OK, well, who else is gonna get on this? And then you had that moment of realization and you’re like, oh, it’s me.

Bethany: Yeah, yeah.

Jessica: It’s me. So, you have a shoe company and let me tell you, your products are so divine, and you have adapted so well over the years. They, I mean, the leather is luscious. They are so comfortable. I mean, I can wear your boots all day. I get so many compliments on them. I have the burgundy, they’re half burgundy, half kind of that tan suede. So, tell us what is your favorite product right now? What’s your top seller and what is a great gift for someone to give this holiday season?

Bethany: Oh, gosh. My current favorite, I’m going to say, is our new Lizzie boot that we just launched. It’s one of our only all-leather boots that we have. Right now, you have one of the other pairs that’s all leather, so most of our shoes have some element of fabric on it. Which has been fun because it’s really given us a very visual brand where if people know the Root Collective, as soon as they see that fabric, they know that it’s our shoes. But this is one of our only leather pairs, but it’s got this really fun diagonal zipper on the side. And we just launched it in this really fun rose gold leather, and it’s like having a party on your feet. I mean, it’s just, it’s so fun.

Jessica: Oh, my gosh. Truly, truly.

Bethany: So, yeah, it really is. So, that has been … this season that’s been one of our really good sellers. But then honestly, what’s really funny is our original boot, which is called the Espe that we launched, gosh I think it was four years ago, is consistently one of our top selling shoes four years later. Which is awesome. It was fun that we started off our boots with something that’s still going strong. So, and I would say for a gift this holiday season, we actually have gift cards, which is super fun because if you’re not sure what size somebody is or what style that they might like, those gift cards really just allow them to be able to pick their own pair. And you’ll probably have a better chance of them getting the right size.

Jessica: Awesome. Well, I am so excited for your newest collection, and I love also your little ballet flats that are embroidered. I mean you just have so many beautiful things. So, if we can close, I would love for you to tell us something that you are most proud of and the impact that you’ve been able to make over the last six years.


From Consumers to Community

Bethany: My most proud thing honestly is the community that we’ve built around, even around, I guess just the brand. We have a really, really committed community and following of people who not only just believe in what we’re trying to do, but they actively want to be a part of it. They understand the impact that their purchases can make and they actively are looking to use their dollars every single day to make a difference in the world. And we’ve really been able to grow that community of people who not only come back and buy pretty much every time we launch a new collection, which is important for us as a brand, but they’ve really become just incredible ambassadors.

“We have a really, really committed community and following of people who not only just believe in what we’re trying to do, but they actively want to be a part of it. They understand the impact that their purchases can make. … And we’ve really been able to grow that community of people.” Bethany Tran

They love telling the story, you said how you get compliments every single time that you wear your shoes. That’s one of our biggest goals is if you put a pair of our shoes on, every time you walk out the door, somebody’s gonna be like, "Oh, my gosh, where did you get them?" We were actually visiting with a friend yesterday who I haven’t seen in a while, and her husband was like, "Oh, my God. It’s almost annoying when she walks out of the house with those shoes on because every single time people are like, ‘I love your shoes. Where did you get them from?’” And I was like, "Dude, you shouldn’t be annoyed by that. That’s awesome." So, but it’s really, it’s our community that it makes my heart just burst with joy just knowing that these women are just claiming the power that they have as consumers and making a difference.

Jessica: Thanks Bethany and all of our guests today. These women are empowering consumers to use their purchasing power for good and it’s always so inspiring to me personally to get to connect with other entrepreneurs in this space. I hope that you’re feeling inspired to gift with purpose this season as well. And I just wanted to say as we wrap up 2019, thank you. Thank you so much for being a part of the Going Scared family and engaging in these powerful conversations. It’s such a joy to know that you’re connecting and resonating with the show. So, as we end our 2019 season, I would love for you to, I don’t know, give me a little holiday gift and head on over to drop us a review on iTunes. Also, find me on Facebook or Instagram and shoot me a message. Let me know what you would like to hear more of in 2020. We already have some exciting interviews on the books, and I’m just excited to continue to create content that is encouraging you towards action, towards leaving perfectionism behind, towards leaving comfort and going scared.

As a reminder, all the links to all of our guests’ companies are in the show notes, so we’d love to know what you do with your purchasing power this holiday season. And one more thing, happy holidays. I hope you get some great time with the people you love and geared up for an incredible new year and new decade.

Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my good friend, Ellie Holcomb, Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz, and I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next year, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.