Lemon water. I drink a quart of water with one lemon every morning to wake up and alkalize my blood. I learned to do this a little over two years ago after reading a book about the pH of your blood and it has been a game changer for me personally!
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brianna Kilcullen.
Brianna Kilcullen is the founder and CEO of Anact, an activist brand making impact one sustainable towel at a time. Anact was successfully funded on Kickstarter in 2019 and is now a direct to e-commerce brand. Previously, Kilcullen ran sustainability initiatives at prAna, a subsidiary of Columbia Sportswear and Under Armour. Kilcullen helped legalize hemp in Florida while building Anact and has traveled to over 40+ countries and has worked in factories on almost every continent.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I have spent most of my career working in supply chain and sustainability for big-name companies like Under Armour, where I carved out the company’s first sustainability role and built a program to audit its factories globally. Then I transitioned to a position with prAna, a subsidiary of Columbia Sportswear, running its sustainability initiatives. But it wasn’t until the 2016 presidential election that I started to think seriously about how to make real change.
I realized that if I wanted to see something get done in this world, I had to do it myself and not wait for someone else to do it. For me, that meant seeing the textile industry evolve and take responsibility for its social and environmental impact.
I started ANACT because I believe that businesses within the textile industry will have one of the biggest responsibilities to combat the climate crisis and also because I had an idea to design a product that was better than what was available on the market that was sustainable without any quality sacrifices. I’m definitely not the type of business owner who wants to push products just because a piece of that product is trendy at the moment. I won’t sell you anything I don’t use or wouldn’t buy myself. At the end of the day, we are here to build products and a movement because the climate crisis and the lack of Patagonia-esque brands in the textile space demands it of us.
After I witnessed the hemp harvest in China and conducted a few unfruitful searches to solve a problem I’d been having — mildewy towels — I put two and two together.
Because of hemp’s molecular structure, it’s hollow, which means it resists the growth of bacteria because water can’t stick. It’s also a regenerative fiber, using little to no insecticides, pesticides or water. It clicked for me that I should have a hemp towel.
Since that moment in 2017, ANACT was successfully funded on Kickstarter, surpassing our initial goal, and has been featured in places like Oprah Magazine, Washington Times, Miami Herald, and Florida Today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
I’m not sure if you would define this as interesting but definitely a moment that sticks out that I’ll cherish forever was during our campaign for our limited-edition “Black Lives Matter movement not a moment” tote bag. We partnered with a local non-profit owner, GiGi Lucas, who creates access for young girls of color to learn how to surf. We donated 10% of the bag’s sales towards her organization to create aquatic equality in our local community of Jacksonville. The photo that we put on the bag was one of GiGi, shot by a local (now NY Times photographer) Malcolm Jackson, on American Beach, a historically black beach in north Florida.
When we went live with the bag, it really took people’s breath away to see a photo of a black woman holding a surfboard because it was not an image you see often. The campaign and the bag created an incredibly positive response, which was beautiful to be a part of. One of the most beautiful moments was after I gave a presentation to local entrepreneurs about Anact and the bag and had a woman come up afterwards and thank me for taking a stance on racism as a business owner.
I think in the past we have often seen that businesses have shied away from expressing their values about what is going on in the world for fear of alienating customers. My takeaway was that if you aim to please everybody, you’ll please nobody, especially yourself. Even though it might be hard, scary and not done before, it’s our job at Anact to stand up for those who don’t have a voice and for what we believe instead of trying to appease everyone. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I can’t say any are mistakes because I have learned from all of them and would only classify as a mistake if I didn’t learn. That being said, one of the lessons that I wished that I had learned perhaps a little bit sooner was managing my finances better and taking a couple more Quickbooks courses! As someone who has a lot of passion, I have used that to drive Anact the past several years, which means that I was only concerned about having enough cash in the bank to do what needed to get done.
That has worked for a while but is not a sustainable model. It’s very difficult to grow and scale when all you’re working with is 1–2 months working capital. I have had to change my headspace to think strategically and sit down and become acquainted with financial modeling and forecasting to pair my passion with reality to serve Anact appropriately. I’ve actually started getting really into it because it provides a sound structure to everything I want to do. As a start-up, there are a million things to do but unless they are converting sales, it’s a moot point. Building financial models around your passion helps you vet those options sooner and better protect yourself and your business.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I couldn’t agree more. I am super grateful to have a group of close-knit advisors around myself and Anact. One of my advisors, David Green, serves as a personal mentor for me as well. I met David when I was 6 months into building Anact and he helped me prepare mentally and physically for being a business owner. David’s an ultra-runner and entrepreneur. I mentioned to him that I was thinking of running the NYC marathon in combination with launching a Kickstarter to fund Anact’s first round of inventory. Most people would tell me I was crazy, but David told me he thought it was a great idea and that running in combination with starting a business would provide a balance that would keep me mentally and physically healthy for anything that comes my way. At first, I thought he was crazy, but he was completely right. My training plan for the marathon required me to eat healthy and stop drinking, which kept my head clear to handle anything that came my way with Anact.
I’m proud to report that our Kickstarter was successfully funded in September 2019 and that I successfully ran and completed the NYC marathon in November 2019. A couple weeks after I got back from NY (I trained in Florida by the way!), I ran into David, quite literally, on the one bridge that exists at the beaches with his dog Lucky. It was a really cool experience that felt like we had come full circle on one era of the business, and it was time to graduate to the next.
David continues to provide a plethora of amazing wisdom and insights for myself and Anact. Businesses are not just created overnight. They are created by people who see the vision. I can’t recommend enough having a strong group of people around you who want to see you achieve personally and professionally.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
The work that I am doing is helping make a bigger impact in the world because we are connecting our customer with the process of how their towels are made and what goes into that process, which is directly connected with their personal health but also the health of the planet. For example, we do not dye any of the Anact towels. We do not do this process because these dyes are typically made up of harmful chemicals that are bad for the garment workers, the planet and the customer once they put them on their skin. We get requests all the time from customers about certain colors they would like but until we can unequivocally stand behind the dyeing process — I won’t do it. We are starting to play around with natural dyes so stay tuned for that small batch product collection!
At this time, I’ve also made a commitment to only use natural plant fibers in our products, which is why we use hemp and organic cotton. Most towels are made out of conventional cotton or synthetic fibers such as rayon (which is bamboo) and are bad for the farmers growing the cotton as well as the customer who is using these towels that can carry insecticides and pesticides.
One of the misconceptions that we fight all the time is the misnomer that bamboo towels are sustainable and good for you. Bamboo towels are actually rayon towels and are classified as a synthetic fiber. During the textile process, a chemical solvent is used on the bamboo, effectively leaving no bamboo left in the yarn. We are constantly educating on this type of greenwashing and the reality of the textile industry because we believe it is our responsibility to leave this world better than how we found it knowing what we know from our own experiences.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Lemon water. I drink a quart of water with one lemon every morning to wake up and alkalize my blood. I learned to do this a little over two years ago after reading a book about the pH of your blood and it has been a game changer for me personally!
- Prayer & meditation. I can’t stress this enough. Meditation has been a godsend. It’s a place that I can go where no one can reach me and I can reset my batteries.
- Running. I love moving my body and getting to feel free. It has helped me through so much when I need to change up what I am working on and get clarity. Some of my best ideas or a-ha moments have come post-run in the shower.
- Reading. I love to read and learn about others’ human experiences on this planet. There are moments I feel incredibly alone on this journey. However, reading and connecting with others helps that greatly.
- Writing. Journaling has become super therapeutic for me and allows me a creative outlet to release what I have going on when it doesn’t make sense in my head.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
One of the things we do at Anact is partner with activists and changemakers around the world to bring awareness to work they are doing to make the world a better place for all people and the planet. Our focus is disrupting the textile industry but we realize there are many other issues and movements that have equal importance which is why we want to create a movement around activism so we can support one another and create an uplifting and positive community that holds each other accountable to taking simple acts every day.
If there is one movement that I am especially keen on it is bringing awareness to mental illness among the homeless community. I spent the past two years living in downtown Jacksonville, which has a very high population of humans impacted by mental illness. Living amongst those facing that type of wellness challenge broke my heart on a daily basis. I think before COVID, a lot of people laughed when you talked about the value of mental health but now six months later, it’s totally acceptable to discuss how valuable your physical and mental health are to your sanity. My hope is that people will make that connection to those facing certain socio-economic challenges and see that perhaps the two are connected and that there are treatments possible to help.
The movement I would start would be to partner with the local government to create an outreach program specifically around mental health for people living on the street. There would be services to talk to trained therapist doing somatic work, addressing childhood wounds and trained nutritionist specializing in plant-based foods. I am also very intrigued by the work they are doing on the west coast with psychedelics so having someone trained in facilitating those types of experiences would be awesome.
The goal with this movement and work would be to create a community where people are heard and seen, and we don’t use the prison system to address mental illness anymore.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Only have one credit card for business transactions.
- Patience is a virtue.
- The future of e-commerce is data and tech.
- You’re going to need a lot of help. More help than you can even imagine.
- Building a loyal customer base does not happen overnight.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
I see all of these topics as interconnected but what I have to prioritize (and recommend for others to prioritize) is your mental health. If you don’t put yourself first and feel present in each moment, then it’s very difficult to live a sustainable lifestyle. I learned that the hard way this year with COVID. I’m super grateful to be able to find peace within myself at any time which allows me to impact and put energy towards all of the issues that I hold near and dear to my heart.
Once your mental health is in a good headspace, I think you naturally start to see that what you eat and drink impacts that which is why going plant based and organic are complimentary.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Follow us on all social media channels @anactglobal and sign-up for our email at anact.com.
Thank you for these fantastic insights!