Know your value and your limit. When I started out in business I was doing everything I could to get projects in the door. I knew my work was good but I thought that I’d edge out the competition by offering better service and a lower rate. All I ended up with was a bunch of cheap clients who didn’t respect me or value any of the work that I was providing for them. I was making less money and working more hours. When I finally got fed up I switched my strategy. I actually tripled my rate, dropped all my clients and started getting calls from major brands and companies who were willing to bring their projects to me. I was working less and making way more than I had ever made before. And I haven’t looked back since.
As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Courtney LeMarco.
Courtney LeMarco is the CEO and Founder of MOTSI, a Black-owned beauty and lifestyle brand that offers clean skincare, cosmetics, sustainable swimwear, and more. Consciously designed to be inclusive, Courtney created MOTSI to compliment and celebrate the unique beauty and power in every person. A California native, LeMarco has over 25 years of experience in business development and management, having built several successful companies throughout his career. Also the Founder and CEO of LeMarco Brands and TLG Motion Pictures, Courtney’s client list includes some of the biggest brands and organizations in the world, such as Neiman Marcus, Amazon, Conde Nast, Comcast, and Disney. He’s also the Executive Producer of the Emmy-nominated unscripted series on A&E, Hoarders.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path
Ever since I was a little kid I’ve been interested in fashion. I think that’s because my mother always made sure I was the best dressed kid when we went to the Kingdom Hall, which is the Jehovah’s Witness version of church. I also worked as a model up into my teenage years, which helped to deepen my passion for the fashion industry.
When I got into media and advertising, I gravitated towards clients like Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, which helped to fuel that fire. My production company kept growing to the point where we were doing a lot of branded content for major fashion retailers, so I was able to learn a lot about various aspects of the fashion industry.
Eventually we started doing bigger projects and graduated to television shows and feature films. We were constantly bringing in brand partners from the fashion industry and then a light bulb went off. I figured that we would be better off integrating our own brand into some of these projects which would allow us to have more control, reduce our costs and increase our overall revenue. So I did some research on the market and manufacturing and came up with a name, and that in a nutshell is how Motsi was born.
Making a transition from entertainment to fashion may seem like an unexpected move considering the amount of success we’ve had. However for me, it only makes sense that we move in that direction. Fashion and entertainment go hand in hand, so it’s the right thing to do and the perfect time to do it.
What do grit and success mean to you? Please include a story or anecdote about any hardship you faced when you first started your journey.
For me, success is having the ability to do what you love in life without having to impede on anyone else’s ability to also be successful in their own path. And grit is being able to withstand every single opposing force and obstacle that comes your way throughout your journey. That last part is definitely not always easy to do, but it’s part of what makes the journey worthwhile. That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy being an entrepreneur. I want to build companies and brands that create opportunities for people to find their own version of success.
But despite that, there are many hardships that I’ve had to deal with. Not just when I started this business but on a daily basis. They range in their level of complexity but they’re constantly there, and I’ve grown very accustomed to dealing with them.
As an entrepreneur there are a lot of things that you have to understand and manage. You’re dealing with a lot of financial data, marketing, vendors, ever changing technology, and of course the human element. And humans are not just numbers in a database. We have emotions, health concerns, families, mental issues and many other things that need to be taken into consideration. I believe that taking care of the human element first is paramount to the success of any business. That’s the type of culture we’re building at Motsi Luxury Group.
We started this company shortly before the COVID pandemic hit. Obviously not the best time to get into skincare and apparel, but we came together as a team nonetheless and put together a plan to move forward regardless.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
The situation that I grew up in plays a big part when it comes to my motivation and drive. When you’re born into a poor, single family household with strict religious guidelines and a parent with mental illness, you find ways to make ends meet regardless of the hardships you’re facing. It’s either sink or swim. Make do or be homeless. The latter is not an option for me.
Regardless of the situation that I’m facing I know that it could always be much worse and that the difficult times are just temporary. I tell myself this all the time. I’ve seen people who have hit rock bottom. Some of it due to circumstances, but most of it due to choices. And with all the opportunities that exist in life, I would love to be able to use what I’ve learned to inspire people to make better choices. To help people learn how to deal with the situation when it gets tough. That possibility motivates me to keep going.
But on a different level, the fact that I can even sit here doing this interview about success is only because I’m standing on the shoulders of a lot of people who suffered more than this generation can even imagine. I owe it to them to keep going. And I owe it to the generations that will come after me to make whatever difference I can make while I’m here.
How did grit lead to your eventual success? How did grit help you turn things around?
One of the biggest challenges I’ve had to face is my credibility in the industry. A lot of people question how someone with my background in entertainment would have the knowledge and skill to be able to take on the fashion and lifestyle industry. But being doubted is the story of my life, so this challenge is nothing new.
Regardless of the doubters, I stay focused on the goal. I understand that there’s a lot I know, and a lot that I don’t know. And there’s a lot more that I don’t even know that I don’t know. But I’m intelligent enough to realize that the resources I need are out there, and if I take the time and energy to educate myself and stick with the plan, then I can only progress. Given my upbringing, I’ve learned at a very early age to never give up and what it means to make sacrifices to achieve my goals.
It definitely takes a lot of grit to stay focused when you’re surrounded by distractions. You miss out on a lot of social events and you have a lot of late nights and early mornings. The upside is you’ll eventually find yourself surrounded by people who think and approach life the same way you do.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 tips/pieces of advice about how one can develop grit? (Please share a story or example for each)
- Don’t take things personally. I used to get upset when I got turned down for jobs or projects. I often wondered if something was wrong with what I was doing. As I got older, I realized that in some cases I wasn’t what they were looking for. But in other cases, they were just off the mark and woke up on the wrong side of the bed that day. Sometimes people’s decisions or negativity has more to do with their situation than it does with you. So I don’t take anything personally these days.
- You get the same energy that you give. If you come into a situation with negativity, then you should expect to receive that same energy back. Of course there will always be minor variants to this equation, but overall, if you go through business and life with a positive attitude and the will to do good, then you will find amazing opportunities opening up that you’d never imagine.
- Hard times are temporary. There have been several times in my career when I thought I was at the end of my rope. I was really struggling to the point where I was scrounging for change in my couch cushions to drum up enough money to get food for the day. I didn’t know how I was going to turn things around and get myself to a better place, but I didn’t let that stop me from pursuing my dreams. That persistence and determination eventually put me in a position where the opportunities started pouring in. My financial situation improved and my company started growing. The key is simply the fact that despite the odds, I never gave up. There are still days when things get heavy, but I know it’s only temporary. The hard times will always pass.
- Live in the present. Sometimes you can be so focused on the future that you forget to take time to enjoy the present. It’s ok to take a moment to stop and look around at what you’ve accomplished. For me, it’s in those moments where I find true joy and peace. Being in the present allows you to gain a clear perspective on your situation. The past cannot be changed and the future is yet to be. The only moment that exists is the present. Enjoy it.
- Know your value and your limit. When I started out in business I was doing everything I could to get projects in the door. I knew my work was good but I thought that I’d edge out the competition by offering better service and a lower rate. All I ended up with was a bunch of cheap clients who didn’t respect me or value any of the work that I was providing for them. I was making less money and working more hours. When I finally got fed up I switched my strategy. I actually tripled my rate, dropped all my clients and started getting calls from major brands and companies who were willing to bring their projects to me. I was working less and making way more than I had ever made before. And I haven’t looked back since.
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 you when things were tough? Please share a story or example.
In regards to Motsi, the help I received came in the form of inspiration from several individuals who most likely don’t even know how much they’ve inspired me.
The first person who comes to mind is Ken Downing. Ken is the current Chief Creative Officer of American Dream, an amazing retail destination that’s over three millions square feet located in New Jersey. Ken and I met on the set of a fashion show when he was the Senior Vice President and Fashion Director for my former client, Neiman Marcus.
Ken downright is the dopest, most stylish and classiest individual that I’ve ever met. Especially in the fashion industry. Considering his resume and the people that he knows, his humility is something to be admired. I want to emulate that type of energy in everything I do.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
One of the exciting things we’ve done at Motsi is our swimwear line which is made from over 75% recycled ocean plastic. We’re doing our part to help tackle one of the biggest problems we’re facing. The fashion and cosmetic industry as a whole has been a major contributor to the problem of single use plastics and unsustainable packaging. It’s amazing that we can now refine the manufacturing process to create solutions to the bigger issues facing our planet.
But we don’t plan on stopping there. We’re also looking into programs that will help ensure that our containers are recycled properly and that our customers are further rewarded for their efforts in doing so. There’s a lot of work to be done but we believe that it’s possible if we work together.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Our next big project is called Motsi By You! We’ll be using social media to reach out to our customers so we can learn more about their lives and experiences. We’ll select some of them to appear in our upcoming campaigns and give them the opportunity to share their struggles and successes with others. We want people to understand that we’re all the same and have to deal with a lot of the same issues. That ultimately, we’re all a community and are stronger together than we are alone.
Some of the individuals we’re currently working with have physical disabilities and some have mental health issues. The amazing thing about them is that they’re able to put themselves out there publicly and can share their stories despite the hardships they’ve faced. To us that’s the true definition of beauty.
What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I think an open door policy is critical for companies that want to help their employees to thrive and prosper. Not just on an administrative level but also on a creative and cultural level. Everyone wants to feel as if they’re a part of something greater than themselves, and employers should take every chance they can to make that a reality.
At Motsi, we take input from everyone in the company on everything from internal initiatives to our branding, messaging, product line and creative content. It creates a better working environment and helps to boost productivity all around.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would love to challenge the standard of beauty that is prevalent in the fashion industry. As a whole, the industry has a history of elitism and exclusivity, particularly when it comes to Black and Asian representation.
One of the things that we’re looking to do with Motsi is bring more diversity to the industry, not only in our branding and marketing but also in our product development and overall company structure. We want to represent the landscape that we live in.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m going to keep this very simple. My favorite quote or saying, if you will, is “Do You!” It’s not more complicated than that.
And here’s why I love that saying… I personally know a lot of people who invested their time and energy into so many life distractions and it never paid off. People who have spent a lifetime working at a company only to get laid off with a small pension that barely allows them to pay their bills. I myself used to be a loyal employee who wanted to make the boss happy. And despite my efforts I was never truly happy or satisfied, and in fact, I was often looked over for promotion or my talents were marginalized.
When I stopped putting energy into other people’s ideas and started focusing on my own everything changed. It definitely wasn’t easy but eventually I started seeing success and making more money. I always encourage people to learn how to start a business and become their own boss. It’s a lot of work but it also gives you freedom that you’ll never get working for anyone else.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@courtneylemarco on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!