Thrive Under Pressure: It is times like these when you start to learn more about yourself and the people you surround yourself with both personally and at work. I have several examples of how our small teams both in Los Angeles and in Hong Kong worked tirelessly to answer the needs for PPE and find solutions to problems that we were faced with daily. As well, I saw it in my community. Families from my son’s little league team came together and we organized a local food and supplies drive to help those in need. You start to see who can act and react in times of need which is encouraging.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of my series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katherine Zabloudil, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of The Vertical Collective.
Katherine Zabloudil co-founded and co-runs The Vertical Collective with Morgaine McGee. The Vertical Collective is a women-owned, privately held global manufacturing firm working with key brands, retailers, and subscription boxes to deliver products quickly and effectively. Based in Redondo Beach, CA, Zabloudil oversees the business development and financing side of the business, in addition to collaborating with McGee on product design and client services.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zabloudil and McGee watched the U.S. and countries across the globe fall short of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). They quickly integrated the manufacturing of quality PPE to fill the emergency need for hospitals, health organizations, and the government sector throughout the United States. To date, TVC has delivered more than 20 million units of PPE and continues to be a trusted source for essential products worldwide.
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. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Thank you so much for having me — it is a thrill to be here talking to you!
My career path started off as more of a “road with many forks” if you will. Throughout my years in college, I did my best to secure as many internships as possible so I could try out different sectors across journalism, the music industry, advertising, and somehow, after all of that, landed an entry-level position at a hedge fund. Part of my job (after making sure the copy machine had ample paper in supply) was to scrub business plans, take notes at investor roadshows, and report intel back to my team. This opened my eyes to many new business sectors, global trade, and brands, and soon I became obsessed with learning how products were made. Growing up my mother had incredible style and taste which informed my love of fashion and accessories early on. Some friends and colleagues encouraged me to push my career forward into the business of fashion and I followed suit. I networked with as many people across the fashion industry as I could connect with, and eventually landed my first position as a Production Assistant at Kate Spade. I moved to New York City four days later and have never looked back. My path continued to COACH, Ralph Lauren, Guess Handbags, C.Z. Falconer and TechStyle.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
When Morgaine and I started The Vertical Collective, our initial plan was to provide consulting services for emerging fashion and accessory startups to help them build speed to market. We had built this supply chain toolkit over the past twenty years across so many legacy brands and we knew it could be extremely beneficial to brands large and small. In 2017 we pivoted into the mens and womens subscription box space, which then pushed us to move into many new categories outside of accessories including home, tactical, and outdoor categories. Our business grew significantly, quarter over quarter, then year over year. It has been an incredible experience for us both. Along with business growth has also come immense personal growth, confidence in our process, and resilience beyond all else.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! Our most recent initiative has been getting much needed daily use safety products, a continuation of PPE, into schools so that teachers and students can safely go back to school. As a mother, this one hits home in a big way. Now, more than ever we have such an appreciation for our teachers and the role of a classroom for students. The act of going to school has such an impact on focus, socialization and shared learning. If we can contribute to the initiative to create a safer environment for our students, teachers, administrators and association families with quality protective gear, we will work as hard as we can to make it possible.
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?
My husband Greg has been my rock for the past decade. He is an incredible father and understands and supports our wins in a major way. My team and I have been working some seriously crazy hours these past few months, and having a strong support system at home allows me to focus on work when at work, and then family when with family. We are a team and I feel thankful for this each day.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
Sustaining my energy and positive face for my kids. When Covid-19 suddenly escalated here in the U.S. and forced us into a shelter in place, the first few days were extremely difficult. I, like many people, felt paralyzed and terrified. But then we saw the opportunity to help and knew we needed to act quickly by just leaning into the cause. As a global business, we have a heightened awareness of the international impact of COVID both logistically and financially. Without knowing it, we seized Covid-19 as an opportunity to help hundreds of thousands of people.
Through this experience, I also realized how important it is to not bring any of the stresses of work into our home. My kids are very intuitive and at this age are still very tuned in to how I act if they sense anything is wrong they get fearful. But this was an opportunity to show them that even during uncertain times, you do have the opportunity to rise above your fears by doing good, by helping. It was important to remain strong and positive for them during this time of great uncertainty. I believe this is the definition of leadership and a powerful message for women.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I am fortunate to have my LA office located in a building that is walking distance from my house. More recently, and as now an essential business, I’ve gone back to the office for a few hours a day to limit the exposure my kids have to my everyday work conversations. My husband and I take shifts on who is home with the kids. It also helps me to be more expressive and open to how I react to work challenges — it lets off a little steam so I can come home in the afternoon and be more focused on them. This also helps my husband be able to do the same as he can go into his (home) office or even go to my office and be able to have a few hours.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
Now that my partner Morgaine and I have pivoted a portion of The Vertical Collective’s focus to the manufacturing and importing of Personal Protective Equipment, we have entered into contracts that often require payment in full prior to starting production. Some of these contracts are for millions of units and you can imagine the costs. We always first turn to our financial partners for funding. In this case, this proved to be challenging on several levels; This area of business, as well as Manufacturing and Freight, tend to be male-dominated, and we are regularly faced with men, in particular, having doubts about our ability to carry large programs throughout the lifecycle of the supply chain. Not to mention since we were unproven in this vertical, you can understand how difficult it was to find the support we needed in the timeframe it was needed.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
It took a few rounds of proving that we could deliver on the contracts. And, once we did, we earned the confidence we needed from our financial partners. Now those relationships have never been stronger and have allowed us to keep pushing out new initiatives to continue to help during these times. Having that perseverance has been a game-changer.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
I find it helpful to create individual workspaces for each family member. We all have our “office” (my kids are young so we joke about everyone going to work). I spend the early hours of the day setting the tone for the day and reviewing the schedule. I have used timers as well to help us create moments that we focus on projects or assignments. There are also a lot of educational sites that I turn to for strategies and our school offers a lot of time to interact virtually with the kids. The key is having a schedule and to-do lists and all of us sticking to them. But sometimes you just need to drop everything, have some ice cream, and make a rad fort.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
We are a very close-knit family so this has not been a huge shift for me. My children are young so they are used to staying home at night. The biggest challenge for them has been not participating in group sports and group playdates. Early on we chose one other family with kids close in age to keep in our ”bubble” so that our kids could play together. We also did a local ‘vacation’ in nearby San Diego by renting a house for a week that had a pool to give the kids a change of scenery and just escape for a bit. And of course, we always have legos, puzzles, polly pockets and movies!
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Thrive Under Pressure: It is times like these when you start to learn more about yourself and the people you surround yourself with both personally and at work. I have several examples of how our small teams both in Los Angeles and in Hong Kong worked tirelessly to answer the needs for PPE and find solutions to problems that we were faced with daily. As well, I saw it in my community. Families from my son’s little league team came together and we organized a local food and supplies drive to help those in need. You start to see who can act and react in times of need which is encouraging.
- Simplify: Working from home and shelter-in-place orders have forced families and individuals to make the best of what we have but also declutter and just try to make life calmer in general. It has helped us all see that less is more.
- Greater Connection: I feel that family values and ties have become stronger through this situation. There is a greater appreciation for how we spend time together, learning to listen to each other and be more considerate, and more appreciation for the people in our lives. A family hug hits so much deeper these days.
- Awareness: The Black Lives Matter movement, the impact on the environment, the attention to the immune-compromised and the elderly, the economic situation, the challenges to the education system, human rights issues and many more are at the height of awareness right now and inspiring change.
- Crisis begets Innovation: As we watch how so many businesses have struggled, we are also seeing how some businesses have adapted to the situation by providing their services in new ways. This is true for established business but what is still to come is how new businesses and new innovation will spring from what will be the new normal. To me, that is really exciting to watch how resilient we can be and how creative new generations will be to transform all industries.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Stay busy and be physically active. As a former college athlete, I have a lot of energy and always feel better when I am in motion whether it’s a project that I throw myself into at work or running or doing an outdoor activity with my kids. We live near the ocean so my son and my husband often get in the water together to surf and as a family, we go paddling or sailing. Even just a spontaneous game of baseball or tennis at the park near our home helps to get us all outdoors and breathing. Overall, just reinforcing that together as a family we support each other and are in this together.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“All glory comes from daring to begin.”
I believe that if you don’t take that first step towards what might seem impossible, you will always regret holding yourself back. I am a person who loves to hear the word “no.” It motivates me to push forward, learn, create, and hopefully change the outcome to “yes.” Over the years, many people have given me that first chance when I either wasn’t qualified or maybe not the right candidate. I did not take those opportunities for granted and I use this as motivation in business and in everyday life. It is this outlook that has brought me success both personally and in business.
How can our readers follow you online?
The Vertical Collective can be found on Linkedin, Facebook and Instagram.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!