Eileen Szymanski Chen Of Rastaclat: “Family is first, never forget that”

Even if I still have more work to do in the evening, my husband Kevin and I block off 2 hours to have dinner with our daughter Daxton without watching tv or looking at our phones so that we stay present in the moment and enjoy our time together. As a part of our series […]

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Even if I still have more work to do in the evening, my husband Kevin and I block off 2 hours to have dinner with our daughter Daxton without watching tv or looking at our phones so that we stay present in the moment and enjoy our time together.

As a part of our series about the things you need to successfully work remotely, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eileen Szymanski Chen.

Eileen Szymanski Chen is Co-Owner and President of Rastaclat, a purpose led brand with the mission of inspiring the world to Seek the Positive. Founded in 2010, the vision of Rastaclat is to encourage people to do good for themselves and others. Now distributed in over 45 countries with collaborations and licenses including the Olympics, NBA, MLB, Hello Kitty and Bruce Lee to name a few, Rastaclat has turned a daydream into reality supporting positive action that can change lives, inspire confidence and unite human beings. #SEEKTHEPOSITIVE


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I received a Bachelor of Arts in both Economics and Studio Art and a Minor in Digital Art from the University of California, Irvine (UCI). I later returned to receive my Executive Masters of Business Administration at UCI and became a guest speaker at the Paul Merage School of Business. I’m a Founding Member of the Entrepreneurs Organization, Inland Empire as well as a member of EO Las Vegas and I am deeply involved in the community. I co-founded the Seek the Positive Foundation along with my partner, Daniel Kasidi, in September 2020 with the pillars of equality and personal development and have donated my time to various charities and organizations including the Boys and Girls Club of Los Angeles, 211 OC, Keep a Breast, as well as the numerous philanthropic partnerships with Rastaclat throughout the years.

I was awarded Female Executive of the Year, Silver Winner for the National Stevie Awards for Women in Business, am a two time semifinalist for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and listed on the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Companies in America for the past three years. I’m also currently a finalist for the 2021 Los Angeles Business Journal Women’s Leadership Awards: Woman to Watch category.

I am very passionate about putting family first and in my free time, I enjoy spending time with my husband Kevin, traveling, reading, listening to music, dancing and love being a new mommy to her daughter Daxton Harlow, who was born on February 22, 2020.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

*Going through IVF while managing an eight-figure, international business all the way up to delivery day. Losing one of the twins early on but having one baby through an emergency C-section. Planned a 3 months maternity leave but 2 weeks later, COVID hits.*

The impact of Covid-19 was definitely something new for Rastaclat and made us rethink how we work as a brand and a team. Before the pandemic, we had major plans to renovate and expand our office, hire ten more employees, invest in domestic retail expansion and sports licensing (NBA, MLB and the Olympics), all while I was nine months pregnant. Almost immediately after having my daughter in an emergency C-section, I was hurdled instantly into contingency planning for the pending changes that needed to be made. My partner, Daniel Kasidi, and I have always been very progressive with our systems, almost to the point where the team would comment that we had too many systems and it was challenging to catch on with the various software. We had also just fast-tracked the move of all of our inventory to a new third-party logistics center (3PL) in January 2020, and we were still working through integration issues. Looking back, despite how difficult the move to the 3PL was, it was the best decision we have ever made or we would not have been able to ship during Covid. On March 13, 2020, in between breast pumping sessions and taking care of my newborn, we held a company-wide Slack video training session for the company, followed by a team lunch. We didn’t realize that would officially be the last day in our office.

We were always a little hesitant to have team members work remotely simply because we were unsure how we could truly hold everyone accountable if they weren’t in the office. This experience has completely turned that notion upside down. Thanks to our various systems, we were able to flip the switch and transition instantly into virtual team meetings without a hiccup on Microsoft Teams for video conferencing, Slack for instant communication, Project Management via Monday and File Sharing on Box, to name a few. We have never been stronger.

We also further expanded our marketing communications to focus on our message, launching our #PositivityChallenge on social media. The campaign encourages people to do good for themselves and others on a daily basis and also a give-back campaign, donating 1 dollar for every Rastaclat.com order to Meals on Wheels to help provide food and supplies to the underserved elderly once the pandemic hit.

We also responded immediately to the events surrounding George Floyd’s death by using our platform to take a stand against racism and social injustice and donated over 20k dollars to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASLAH).

Additionally, in honor of PRIDE month, we partnered with the “It Gets Better Project” to inspire people across the globe and remind the next generation of LGBTQ+ youth that hope is out there. We donated 1 dollar of every bracelet sold from the collection.

After the pandemic, some major epiphanies were not renewing our lease, which ended in September, and shifting to a complete remote work environment. We also decided to double down our focus on our Digital / Ecommerce platforms. Despite this pandemic, our mission as a brand to inspire the world to “Seek the Positive” remains stronger than ever. We hope we can continue to provide inspiration to our Clatlifers in a time where positivity is needed the most in the world!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I honestly cannot think of one.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees thrive and avoid burnout?

We hold monthly company meetings where members from each department share their wins from the past month and what is on the horizon. This helps promote positivity, communication, and transparency especially since we are all working remote. We have a shared GrubHub account where each team member can order their own lunch and we start the meeting 30 minutes early for anyone that wants to eat lunch together virtually. We also play a team building game at the end of each meeting where prizes are awarded to the winners.

To encourage work life balance, each month we hit our goal, we offer half day Fridays for the team the following month. We just hit May, so we will be having a fun summer of half days in June which really boosts morale for the team!

In order to further promote wellness, we hold a quarterly info session where the team can learn more about Ergonomics with a Chiropractor. We also have sessions about Mental Health Awareness to provide practical tools for the team to promote a sound mind, body and soul.

It is also critical for me to stay engaged with other experienced business leaders. As a member of Entrepreneurs Organization of Inland Empire, I have been able to expand my knowledge through various webinars and learning events that have helped me to understand different methods of how other entrepreneurs are approaching burnout in their companies and implement some of their ideas to encourage employees to thrive in my organization as well.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits and opportunities of working remotely?

In a recent survey we held this month:

1. Increased Work/Life Balance — 81% agreed they have a better work-life balance working remotely versus in the office.

2. More Focus — 81% agreed they are more focused on their work while they are remote.

3. Less Commute — 67% had a commute of 40mins+ and feel like they have more time in the day without having to drive to an office.

Things we thought would be challenges:

4. Teamwork — 91% agreed that they are comfortable coordinating with their manager and team members from a remote work environment.

5. System/Equipment — 97% agreed that they have the necessary equipment and systems to work in a remote work environment for a more extended period.

Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding working remotely? Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? Can you give a story or example for each?

Inspiration — We used to have an amazing office that had our mission and vision statement decorating the walls along with custom artwork we’ve collected over the years for the brand. Once you walked in, you would immediately feel the inspiration, buzz, and passion of the team. That is difficult to replicate in a digital world, but we have made sure to continue to engage the team by sharing our vision and mission in team meetings and by reading inspirational stories sent by our Clatlifers around the world. Examples below:

Communication — At our monthly town hall meeting we share educational insights. Recently, we shared a video and key excerpts from the book “Crucial Conversations” to encourage an open and honest environment, finding a mutual purpose and working towards resolutions together. We also use a Project Management Tool called Monday that has really helped to streamline projects and break down the action items for each contributor. It is an excellent way to stay on track and provide updates to the respective stakeholders. Last but definitely not least, all team members use Slack for quick communication throughout the day. Different departments have their own channels and it is easy to follow respective conversations to keep abreast of updates. We even have fun channels including:

#SneakerTalk — All things related to sneaker enthusiasts

#PawsofthePride — For all Pride Members who have pets

#CubsofthePride — For all Pride Members who have kids

#LionessesofthePride — For all of the Female Pride Members

#Keto — All things related to Keto recipes

#Blockchain — All things related to Crypto Currency

#Gametime — All things related to sports

These channels keep the water cooler talk going throughout the day since we don’t have the passing hall conversations anymore. (*We call our team members the PRIDE because our logo is a lion and lions are the only cat in the Panthera family who do not leave their cubs behind, instead they create a family unit and protect each other. Our values also spell out PRIDE: Passion, Righteousness, Integrity, Discovery and Excellence)

Focus (Productivity) — We had each team member write down all the meetings they are in during the week into one Google Sheet and discovered that we were having too many meetings across the board. We consolidated the quantity of meetings, ensured the right team members were in each and created an overarching meeting schedule cadence to help the team manage their time. We left room for empty time that they can spend thinking and working on projects instead of filling their day with meetings. We also wanted to make sure that the team members are not forgetting to have lunch so we made a mandatory block in everyone’s calendars between 12–1 p.m., so that we do not schedule meetings during that time and everyone has a chance to take a break.

Camaraderie — Since we are unable to see each other in person, we wanted to recreate the concept of “water cooler talk” so we started an optional “Discovery Group” that meets monthly and helps internal team members hold each other accountable for weekly personal goals they are trying to achieve such as working out, eating healthy or even reading a book. We created a Slack Channel where participants will post daily photos when they accomplish their goals and we keep track of their success on our Monday Project Management tool. Those that achieve their goals receive a gift prize at the end of each month. This not only builds camaraderie, but allows employees to share their passions with each other, motivating them to do good things for themselves and others!

Fun — When the pandemic started we hosted virtual happy hours where team members would take turns thinking of a game to play including trivia and even testing out SnapChat video filters where everyone turned into baby faces! It helped to bring a lot of laughter and smiles to everyone, especially when the world was in severe lock down. We were able to recover quickly and started hiring some new team members. Since onboarding was completely virtual, we made sure to schedule a town hall meeting to introduce the new team member where we would ask a fun question that everyone had a chance to answer. Questions included “What song would you karaoke to?”, “What was your biggest fashion regret?” and “What is the first restaurant you would eat at once the lockdown lifts?”. This really helped everyone get to know one another more and helped throw a little fun in the day.

Do you have any suggestions specifically for people who work at home? What are a few ways to be most productive when you work at home?

1. Create a set routine.

  • Despite skipping the commute, I’ve kept the same work schedule every day and have gained back my time by working remote which I now fill with working out or journaling.

2. Organize your workspace.

  • At the end of each day I make sure to tidy up my desk so that when I return the next morning it is a fresh start to the day without any clutter.

3. Take a break and get some sun.

  • During lunch I take a moment to go outside and walk around the block to get my steps in and breathe in some fresh air.

4. Family is first, never forget that!

  • Even if I still have more work to do in the evening, my husband Kevin and I block off 2 hours to have dinner with our daughter Daxton without watching tv or looking at our phones so that we stay present in the moment and enjoy our time together.

5. Join a supportive organization/club/group.

  • By joining the Entrepreneurs Organization of Inland Empire and Las Vegas, I was able to keep my community connections strong throughout the pandemic and continue to expand my knowledge throughout the year.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic? Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

Since we decided to shift to a complete remote work environment we were able to land a great deal with WeWork in downtown Long Beach to set up our Product Design and Development Teams. In order to keep the business flowing, it was important that the team was still able to receive tangible samples and provide comments throughout the development process. We also needed to ensure that the creative team could photograph the products for marketing materials. The team adapted instantly and developed a drop off schedule with minimal contact at the WeWork location to ensure that our families would stay safe and we could continue pushing forward throughout the pandemic. Our Art Director also set up a home studio to shoot all of the products and continue delivering beautiful imagery that enhanced our messaging to the world. Staying nimble in adversity was key. Change is inevitable and although it can be challenging, we have an incredibly passionate and talented team who were able to overcome the obstacles and continue to push our mission forward and deliver positivity to the world!

What do you suggest can be done to create an empowering work culture and team culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

  • Communication is key. Monthly company meetings to share company updates, wins and Horizon. Company meetings whenever we have a new hire. We ask an ice breaker question and have the entire company answer.
  • Team building games and social virtual hours to just have fun and be silly.
  • Discovery Group — helps promote socializing and open banter.
  • Half day Fridays when we hit a goal.
  • Lunch hour block from 12–1 p.m. to promote breaks and avoid Zoom fatigue!
  • Slack channels for specific interests to promote cross functional conversations that might not be had if there wasn’t a channel to encourage the conversation.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m dedicated to impacting humankind through service and awareness to causes that I’m passionate about. I believe that every human should strive for personal development and have the tools to achieve it daily. Every human of every race, gender and socioeconomic status should be treated equally and have equal opportunity. This translates into how I manage the business and the philanthropic partnerships that Rastaclat has embarked on in order to utilize the brand as a positive platform to continue to educate and empower people around the world. This led to the launch of the Seek the Positive Foundation in September 2020 with my longtime friend and partner, Daniel Kasidi. The Seek the Positive Foundation is focused on Equality and Personal Development and prioritizes the philosophy that the mind and body are interconnected and need to be aligned to live a purposeful and positive life. We believe in educating the emotional skill sets that empower us to have dedication, perseverance, commitment, and discipline throughout our journey on this planet.

Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Du91WI484uw

https://www.instagram.com/seekthepositivefoundation/

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Trust the Journey”

There have been so many times where I felt like I wasn’t good enough or I would never make it through a very challenging predicament, but on the other side of fear, is strength. There will always be things that happen which are out of your control, but when you have trust in yourself and truly believe in the journey you are on, you will one day realize that everything that has happened to you was meant to be and it has made you stronger each step of the way.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

https://rastaclat.com/
https://www.instagram.com/rastaclat/
https://www.instagram.com/seekthepositivefoundation/
https://www.eonetwork.org/inlandempire

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success

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