Don’t get discouraged: Starting a business is hard and, at times, it will be so much harder than you ever imagined. Don’t give up! This is totally normal and a good sign that you are stretching outside of your comfort zone and exploring new territory.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Irving.
Katie Irving is the founder and CEO of Moonshot, an insight agency that uncovers the trend, culture and mindset of the world’s most powerful generations: Gen Z & Gen Alpha. Through Moonshot, Katie is on a mission to usher in the socially responsible future of the fashion industry by aligning brands with the progressive values of youth consumers.
After building her career on a reputation for laser-accurate trend forecasts that generated tremendous growth for youth brands, Katie became aware of the high planetary and human cost of the fashion industry. In 2019, she left the corporate world with the vision to create an agile agency that delivers the bold ideas that are shaping the ethical future of the industry.
Moonshot’s team of industry-leading experts uncover the insights that unlock massive opportunities for youth brands. From brand strategies for apparel and marketing to delivering 360 views of youth customer mindsets, Moonshot propels brands into sustainable growth through unparalleled youth culture insight.
Aa an expert on youth culture and the future of fashion, Katie has worked for brands in London, New York and Paris. She currently works globally from Moonshot’s HQ in Granville, Ohio, where she lives with her husband and daughter.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
I grew up in a small town just outside of Nashville with a love of fashion for as long as I can remember. I was fortunate to have parents who supported this passion from a young age and a grandmother who instilled in me a love of beautiful clothing and sewing. When I was 18, I moved to London to study fashion and spent six years immersed in London’s museums and historical archives. I graduated with a Master’s Degree from UAL with a focus on Textile Design and Sustainability before starting my career in Paris.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Back in the early 90s when I was 10, a family friend from the New York fashion world sent me a copy of ‘The Fashion Conspiracy’ by Nicholas Coleridge and I read and re-read that book many times. The pace and glamour of the industry captured my imagination and fueled my dream of being part of that world.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Making a difference is about using your own unique skills, experience and passion to be a force for good in the world. In my life, this has been about leveraging two decades in the fashion industry to shape a more ethical future. I could never walk away from this business or ignore its problems; I am compelled to be part of the solution.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Moonshot is on a mission to shape the ethical, inclusive and sustainable future of fashion by aligning brands with the progressive values of largest and most powerful generations in history — Gen Z and Gen Alpha.
Youth consumers will be the true change agents for the fashion industry. Their push for radical transparency around ethics and sustainability is forcing long-overdue changes for the industry. Aligning brands with these powerful customer groups is a win-win for everyone: youth brands need to remain relevant with these powerful customers and customers want brands to operate in more ethical ways.
While it’s tempting to be flippant about the impact of fashion, the industry generates 1.5 trillion dollars annually and provides the livelihood of millions of people. Clothing is also a great human connector and shapes the way be build our identity. Whether or not you follow fashion, we all make choices about the way they present ourselves to the world. Creating positive change in this industry has the power to improve the lives of many, protect the future of the planet and support a healthier approach to identity-shaping for a whole new generation.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
After nearly two decades in the fashion world, I began to feel disillusioned with the human and planetary cost of the garments I was putting out into the market. As the industry shifted to a business model of “Cheaper, Faster & More” the trend cycle became a runaway train. After years of forecasting trends, I uniquely understood the industry’s role in perpetuating the over-consumption that was polluting and draining the earth’s resources.
Additionally, as a mother, I care deeply about the way brands interact with youth consumers. I saw a real opportunity to improve the traditional brand/customer relationship that many brands in the teen space have cultivated. Brands now have an opportunity to provide community and support for healthy body image and identity. This is a mutually-beneficial foundation for brands that helps them go far beyond selling clothing and fashion trends — they have the ability to support and empower the future.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
After achieving many of my early career goals, I was surprised to find that these successes weren’t as fulfilling as I imagined they would be. Each career step took me further away from the raw creativity that fueled my early career and I started to feel burnt out on the pace of the industry and the personal toll this had taken. In 2019, I made the decision to leave a stable, well-paid, corporate job with a determination to use my experience to shape a better future for the industry.
While being an entrepreneur means dealing with constant challenges, it is incredibly rewarding to build a purpose-driven career. I’ve always been ambitious, but I now find that I am even more determined as an entrepreneur because I believe wholeheartedly in the work I’m doing each day.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
I started by collecting feedback from industry contacts to gain a deeper understanding of the pain points many youth brands are facing. Using these as a starting point, I built the foundation of an agile agency with access to the best talent in the industry that delivers rare youth culture insight and integrates seamlessly with their clients to shape and evolve.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
For me, one of the toughest parts of launching a new business has been embracing the vulnerability of putting myself ‘out there’ continually and risking failure. But perhaps the most vulnerable act of all has been the decision to double down my potential and in my ability to make this business successful. The magnetism created by this decision has been undeniable and I’ve discovered that the universe roots for those who dream big and take risks.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
One of the biggest surprises of entrepreneurship is the amount of writing involved! From writing website copy to media kits to endless emails and social media posts — there is a lot of writing. Invest in a good thesaurus now, or if writing isn’t your thing, hire a great copywriter. Being able to communicate the value your company provides will be key to its success.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Early entrepreneurship is often described as lonely, and I found this to be particularly true after years of leading large teams in the corporate world. Building a new support system and network was a slow process. Over time, I’ve been fortunate to create a network of strong, self-employed women who champion each other and offer supportive advice any time it’s needed. This support has been a game changer; I know that no matter what challenges we face, we will face them together and solve anything that comes our way.
Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I received feedback from a woman that I greatly admire when I was in the early stages of my business. She reflected back to me the achievements from my career and created the objectivity about my experience that was the key to accessing the confidence necessary to build a successful business. I think women often feel more comfortable positioning themselves in the background or sharing the credit because many of us have been socialized to think of talking about our accomplishments as bragging. However, this particular mentor helped me realize how limiting this mindset is and that everything you want to achieve begins with the conscious decision to honor and own your unique value.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
First, be mindful of your own clothing consumption habits, especially if they have significantly increased over time. Reducing overall clothing consumption is key for the future of the planet and while the industry plays a huge role here, real change is rooted in consumer behavior. Bring awareness to your emotional triggers: shopping binges when you are feeling happy, sad or insecure or even just shopping because you’re bored. Try to find other ways to meet these emotional needs and recalibrate your relationship to clothing and shopping.
Second, continue voting with your money and asking tough questions of the companies you support. Creating a culture of accountability and transparency is crucial for shaping new business models and overhauling outdated business practices across many industries.
Third, support policies around waste regulation with the fashion industry. Implementing incentives to reduce waste and support ownership of product life-cycles is a key part of achieving a sustainable future of fashion and we will need cross-industry collaboration and vocal support to achieve this goal.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).
- Don’t get discouraged: Starting a business is hard and, at times, it will be so much harder than you ever imagined. Don’t give up! This is totally normal and a good sign that you are stretching outside of your comfort zone and exploring new territory.
- The universe bends towards the bold: Dream big, state your cause, boldly seek solutions and you will feel the magnetism this creates. The universe embraces people who dare greatly and is rooting for you.
- Your network is everything. I wish I had invested more time in networking while I was a full-time employee because it took a lot of time to build a network when I left the corporate world. Carve out time each week to expand your network. Find ways to add value to those around you; offer support, shout out their accomplishments, be a friend. Make time to cultivate relationships — everything you will accomplish is more fun with a crew.
- Career paths aren’t linear: There are many definitions of success. As you grow personally and professionally, check in with yourself to ensure that you are building a life that aligns with your values. When you’re 35, you will feel very differently about the goals you had at 22. Don’t be afraid to change the plan and adapt as your learn and grow.
- Know your worth: This is especially true for those in the corporate world. You are capable of more than you think you are. Own your accomplishments and be your own champion. Find a friend or colleague that can reflect your accomplishments back to you. Gaining objectivity and seeing yourself as others do are both powerful tools for owning your unique value and growing the confidence to share your talents with the world.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
The power of the individual has never been stronger than it is right now. Each person has the ability to use their voice and actions to show up in support of their core values. Whether it’s making a pledge to invest in more secondhand clothing (and less fast fashion) or reducing single-use plastic, you can start exactly where you are today, right now, and make an impact on the world around you.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Hands down, it would be Stella McCartney. She was a prophet in the wilderness for years as an early advocate for sustainable fashion and I have always admired her ability to stick to her core values, especially when it would have been easier and more profitable to compromise. Her perseverance changed the conversation around sustainability and the industry owes her a huge debt of gratitude.
How can our readers follow you online?
Follow us on Instagram at @themoonshotagency
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!