Brianna Kilcullen of Anact: “Slow is fast”

Slow is fast. I love this saying. Being a start-up with a big vision, it’s easy to get jumbled up and thrown around and want to go as fast as lightning. I have to remind myself that taking it slow and doing what matters (instead of everything) will get us to our goals faster. As a […]

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Slow is fast. I love this saying. Being a start-up with a big vision, it’s easy to get jumbled up and thrown around and want to go as fast as lightning. I have to remind myself that taking it slow and doing what matters (instead of everything) will get us to our goals faster.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brianna Kilcullen, 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! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

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 and move from linear design to circular design and economy.

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 2016, 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 tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

We are bringing boldness, unisex and activism to the home good space which has traditionally been seen as a soft, feminine and meek. We are openly discussing the negative social and environmental ramifications of the textile industry and the role it plays in the climate crisis and how Anact can disrupt that by creating a circular (not linear) system where we design with product end of life in mind and innovate to create supply chain infrastructure as close as possible to the markets we sell to.

While we are taking responsibility for the textile industry and disrupting the home goods space, we realize we have a responsibly in our local community as well, which is why we partner with activists and changemakers to create platforms for them via our Act Up event series to educate and create a call to action within our community. We especially love educating on the political system, how to run for local office and understand how to create and pass a bill.

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?

One of the funniest mistakes I have made is underestimating the power of social media. Prior to starting Anact, I didn’t have social media for several years. When I was launching Anact, I reactivated my Facebook profile to share with my family and friends. I remember thinking that no one used Facebook anymore so when I posted that I was starting Anact, I also shared that it would be the last update that I would be making on Facebook and to follow me on LinkedIn for future updates.

A month later, I learned that one of the most viable sales channels is Facebook advertising — I had no idea. This idea that I had in my head that social media was just this thing in the past is actually the lifeline of how we now sell and one of our biggest revenue drivers. Crazy!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I am fortunate to be surrounded with some pretty awesome mentors. One of my mentors who has been with me since the beginning of Anact also helped train me to run the NYC marathon. Most people discouraged me to not train for a marathon and start a business at the same time but not David. David was incredibly supportive of taking on both endeavors (he’s an ultra-runner and entrepreneur) and helped me prepare mentally and physically for both.

His belief in me and in what I was taking on helped me get through the hot and humid Florida training and the highs and lows of starting Anact. I can’t stress the importance of surrounding yourself with people who lift you higher and see something in you that you don’t see in yourself. It was the coolest feeling ever last year to be on a run post NYC marathon and run (pun intended) into David and his dog Lucky and celebrate the success of our Kickstarter and the marathon while jogging next to each other. Having a mentor like David has taught me that anything is possible.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Great question. The way that we define disruption at Anact is creating a more environmentally and socially responsible supply chain infrastructure in the textile industry. The textile industry is one of the top contributors to the climate crisis and we believe it is our responsibility to change that narrative. It’s creative destruction that we can stand behind. We also love the concept that disruption doesn’t have to be extravagant. It can be as simple as using earth’s natural resources to make a product instead of a lot of “trendy” ingredients.

Conversely, we have companies such as Amazon that have completely disrupted people’s expectation of delivery of goods. Amazon Prime has created a type of instant gratification that makes it incredibly difficult for small businesses to compete. For example, we have customers who will get frustrated that we can’t deliver in a day or two because we don’t own our own fulfillment center and have to use USPS, UPS etc.,

Constantly disrupting the customer expectation makes it really difficult to communicate the time and hard work that goes behind companies that are not in the Amazon portfolio.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Slow is fast. I love this saying. Being a start-up with a big vision, it’s easy to get jumbled up and thrown around and want to go as fast as lightning. I have to remind myself that taking it slow and doing what matters (instead of everything) will get us to our goals faster.

You want teammates who you would go to war for. This might sound a bit intense but sometimes because you’re a business, people think they can shake you down for everything you have. You want to surround yourself with people you trust 100% and will have you back no matter what. I have learned that it’s one thing to get along when things are going well and another thing when they don’t and more often than not in start-ups and in business — things don’t get as planned so you might as well surround yourself with people that you can trust will be able to get through the good and the bad.

Failure is not failing — it’s just not doing. This saying was coined by one of my best friends. It has carried me (and continues to carry me) through all that life entails. You often hear people say what they could have, would have, should have done with ideas they thought of but were too afraid to fail. Reframing execution of those ideas as failure being that you just don’t do them has pushed me to believe and try some of my craziest ideas.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Oh la la. I have a running list on my iPhone on all of the broken systems that I would love to innovate. The airline industry is definitely one of them from an environmental perspective because I love to travel, and I hate the carbon emissions. I also think it is archaic that you cannot lay down in economy. That should be a given.

From a social perspective, I would love to make voting digital and accessible by phone to increase voter turnout.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

That we are not capable of disruption and thinking big and that we are not financially driven. I can’t tell you how many times I have refrained from sharing my ideas and thoughts because I was told that I was crazy for thinking outside of the box. It’s like everyone wants me to be the practical one instead of the disruptor. I remember sitting at a conference dinner in Milan, Italy and saying that I wanted to be the Elon of the textile industry. I had someone next to me spit out their food and almost choke telling me that was preposterous. Looking back, I think he is the one that is preposterous for not connecting that type of disruption is so heavily needed to move the industry forward.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

I recently read The One Thing and that has been an amazing addition to my life. There were a lot of questions I had swirling around in my head and Gary’s book covered them all in one fell swoop. For example, when you have a mind that thinks about disruption all the time, it can be really hard to prioritize. Gary’s book tells you point blank you will not get everything done that you want to in this lifetime so let go of that notion now. Focus on the one thing that is tied with your purpose that will get you to where you want to go. I have been recommending this book to everyone and their mother since I read it.

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. 🙂

Anact is it, baby.

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

My high school quote was “Life’s tough, get a helmet”. The quote is from Boy Meets World, one of my favorite TV shows growing up. It’s a quote that I think about all the time and I believe still applies.

How can our readers follow you online?

Follow us on all social media channels @anactglobal and sign-up for our email at

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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