Kristen Fenrick: “People must realize they have a voice”

We want to allow women to be whoever they want to be and feel good about whoever it is they are today. We want them to have choices within their identity profiles and not be locked into one. I think that’s what we all need to realize about women in our society: we are all […]

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We want to allow women to be whoever they want to be and feel good about whoever it is they are today. We want them to have choices within their identity profiles and not be locked into one. I think that’s what we all need to realize about women in our society: we are all closer to one another than we think. We are all bits and pieces of each other that we can turn on and off. We all fall into sameness with one another and we don’t have to be so separate; we can all glean the strengths that each one of us has as a person.

As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kristen Fenrick.

Kristen Fenrick is the owner of Klearly Kristen, Inc, a jewelry and accessories brand which was created to help women get out of financially insecure or unhealthy situations. Kristen began her conscious jewelry company in 2015 in Houston, Texas, and the company is dedicated to the memory of a friend whose life was lost to domestic violence, and who was unable to leave due to financial constraints. Since Klearly Kristen was founded, its brand has significantly expanded. Kristen has recently launched EnStyle by Klearly Kristen — a new TV show and platform for fashion, beauty and business entrepreneurs to showcase their work.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In 2014 I was in corporate sales. In corporate sales you trade your time for money. I was on the road from 230–260 nights that year. I made President’s Club and achieved what people generally think of as success when it comes to money, but the cost was that I didn’t have any time, I didn’t have a personal life: my career was it.

My children were at home and as I was a single mom, my oldest son was pretty much raising my two younger kids. It was a challenge.

I started thinking: “There must be a way to be able to make money and still be able to have work-life balance,” which developed into, “I need to start my own business and figure out how I can help and empower other women to do the same thing.” That was the catalyst behind me wanting to create a shift and make this piece.

When I first started my business, it ended up evolving to look and feel like a hobby, even though I had huge intentions in mind. Without the time, wherewithal or exposure, it didn’t manifest in the way I intended. There I was in 2014, still working a corporate job as I started and incorporated this business. I had loads of inspiring ideas and I was voicing my ideas to many people, but I didn’t have the ability to actually do a lot of what I wanted because I simply didn’t know how. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Later on that year, I went through a lot of personal challenges and I ended an abusive relationship. At the same time, a friend of mine, who was also having a similar epiphany about starting her own business, also left an abusive relationship. However, she soon returned because her ex-husband threatened to take her children away from her. She was faced to make the decision between her children and her career. She chose her children and went back home with her abuser.

He murdered her in November of 2014.

That was the lightbulb moment that made me realize this was not a game. I can’t treat this business like it’s a hobby. I can’t treat this as something I was just doing to be doing. I have to be serious about this because there are other women who are waiting for me on the other side. I can’t keep dancing around the daisies: just because I got out of my situation doesn’t mean it’s that easy for others.

I needed to do what I needed to do to help empower women. I wanted to create opportunities for women that included training, development, sales, partnerships and collaborations with other brands to help them achieve a greater level of success.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I almost didn’t make it to Paris Fashion Week. There were a lot of pressing issues going on behind the scenes in my life that were trying to prevent me from going, but I still kept telling myself every day I needed to go to Paris Fashion Week for me. I kept telling myself that despite it all, I was going to get on that plane and I was going to go. Nothing could stop me from making that happen.

Hurdle after hurdle hit. It seemed as though life was doing absolutely everything it could to get in the way, but that only made me more determined to get up and go.

I purchased a one-way ticket. I was standing completely on faith. I kept telling myself: “You are going to Paris Fashion Week. You are going to make it. It is going to happen.”

Through sheer self-determination, I made it happen. It was everything I hoped it to be, and it was everything I needed to prove myself that I was in control.

Of course, the week I was supposed to return, COVID-19 hit. I was told I couldn’t return to the United States. Seemingly overnight, the borders closed. I was stranded. I had no idea what was going to happen next. I had fought so incredibly hard to get there and now I was fighting so incredibly hard to get back.

On March 3rd, the airlines contacted me and I was presented with a tiny window of opportunity to get back to the United States. After everything I went through to get there, I leaped at the opportunity — I packed up everything in a matter of minutes and made it. By the skin of my teeth, I squeaked back into the country, rattled and shaken. I barely made it there, and I barely made it back.

When we touched down in the U.S., I felt I had won. Despite all the surprises, challenges and blockades life threw at me, there was one thing certain: I can make anything happen — even in a global pandemic!

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?

Inventory, inventory, and inventory.

I was so used to buying small amount of inventory for small popup shows. When I first switched to ecommerce, I had a photographer come in to take pictures of my many, many, many products. I spent hours and hours for days and days before the photo shoot organizing everything. My inventory went from a mountain to small piles strewn about my house. Through all that hard work, I somehow created a system to prepare the countless items I had for the shoot that made sense (or so I thought). When the photographer arrived, I felt accomplished and ready, like I had tamed a beast.

I will never forget: the photographer walked in and said, “What on Earth is this mess?”

It was then I learned a hefty lesson the hard way: volume is better spent on a single item in multiple than multiple items in single quantities.

Ok thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?

In the redesign of the look and feel of Klearly Kristen, we did a lot of work thinking about our consumers and we realized that they are not one-dimensional or simple by any means. We grew to fall in love with the women we were selling to as we realized they were dynamic, multi-dimensional customers with so much to offer.

To help break down the different identity profiles we were selling to and get to know them better, we created Midge, Madison, Porsche and Phyllis. We found that in so many female friend groups, girl gangs, and lady squads, each had a woman that identified as either a Midge, Madison, Porsche or Phyllis.

Midge is your classic, conservative wife and mother. She’s a planner who doesn’t like a lot of drama. She’s not really the life of the party — she likes to be a part of something bigger, but she is more of a wallflower type. She is into classic pieces for affordable pieces. Most women in their 40’s and 50’s are Midges.

Madison is a down to earth, laidback, bohemian-chic mom. She’s easygoing and effortlessly beautiful. Madison is minimalistic and deeply values comfort and quality over trends. She’s the friend you can count on for great advice, a soft and nurturing spirit.

Porsche is a chic, urban, party girl. She is the “extra” friend of the group, obsessed with what’s in and what’s next. She’s fickle, a poser, and a bit of a show-off, but she’s the friend you always go to for a good time. Sometimes she’s a hot mess, but nobody can deny she’s a trend-setter.

Phyllis is your classic career girl. She’s a chic, driven businesswoman who’s serious, focused, and always the boss. She adores statement pieces as her style is bold, loud, and commanding. She has a big personality, she’s incredibly charismatic, and she’s a trailblazer — not to mention she’s always the life of the party.

Our goal is to empower women to be their best selves no matter who their best self is. Even as individuals, we all have many different sides of us. Maybe we are a #girlboss Phyllis Monday through Friday at the office as we conjure power and command, but we can soften and become a Madison or a Midge over the weekend with our families.

We want to allow women to be whoever they want to be and feel good about whoever it is they are today. We want them to have choices within their identity profiles and not be locked into one. I think that’s what we all need to realize about women in our society: we are all closer to one another than we think. We are all bits and pieces of each other that we can turn on and off. We all fall into sameness with one another and we don’t have to be so separate; we can all glean the strengths that each one of us has as a person.

Wow! Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?

The work we do at Klearly Kristen is all about empowerment. An important component of that is helping people define who they are and what their purpose is.

Social Graces Social Club is a community that helps connect people to raise each other up, ran by Anika Jackson. Members are all able to see each other start. We watch each person and their brand grow from day one.

There was one day when we were all in the conference room talking through strategy and next steps when Anika brought up a massive dilemma: white chairs.

She brought forward these wildly expensive white conference chairs and explained in depth how we needed them for our image. To most of us, they were just white chairs. To Anika, they were a symbol of so much more. It was understanding the vision behind the white chairs that mattered — it wasn’t about the money, it was about manifesting the image we wanted to portray to the public.

It doesn’t matter whether you have your sh*t together or not. It’s about how other people see and understand that you are persevering and pushing through. What’s important is that people know you are headed in the direction, and you are working for it. It crucial that your image matches what you’re trying to manifest and you’re keeping yourself accountable.

There are so many false people out there that seem perfect, but when you go behind closed doors you realize they don’t have what it takes to achieve what they want to achieve. Even something as simple as having the right chairs in the conference room so that when people came in and sat down they were comfortable and knew they were in the right place at the right time — however specific and meticulous — are the touches that set us apart from everybody else.

Even if it seems like what you’re doing doesn’t make any sense, make sure you do everything you can to set yourself apart and stay true to you.

As an insider, this might be obvious to you, but I think it’s instructive to articulate this for the public who might not have the same inside knowledge. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in Entertainment and its potential effects on our culture?

  1. People are different and it is important to understand that people are different. We need to be represented in many different ways so that your value and my value is not diminished just because I am different. We must still have the same power and influence in the marketplace.
  2. People must realize they have a voice. When you empower someone by giving them a seat at the table, you are letting them know that they have a voice and their opinion matters as something people should value and understand.
  3. Diversity allows everyone to have the freedom to be who they are, free from judgement. Many of us feel shackled by the idea that we can’t be free to be who we are because someone may judge us against standards that are not their standards. We should only be concerned with being judged by solely who we are as people, not by skin color or gender or sexuality or nationality or whatever other “stereotypical bucket” you fit in to.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

  1. Inclusivity. Include people of different backgrounds. Make sure their voices are heard.
  2. Redefine beautiful. Don’t make people feel as though they must fit into a certain unachievable box to meet that definition.
  3. Change the standard of excellence. Each industry’s standard of excellence changes over time. For example, having your product in a Macy’s or Dillard’s used to entail that you were at the top of the standard of excellence, but in today’s world of ecommerce and online influence, that doesn’t mean anything anymore in the fashion industry. Therefore, the standard of excellence must be redefined. Outdated signifiers of success can no longer be the golden standard because they mean nothing anymore.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is when you can take your hands off of every project and know you have capable people that are able to articulate your vision and your dream to others.

It is not leadership when you have to hold everybody’s’ hands through every step. It’s leadership when you understand their value, they understand yours, and you can trust that they understand your vision so that you can let go.

You must believe that your people are truly and deeply capable of articulating your vision to others.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. It’s not easy.
  2. The biggest investment is your time.
  3. Your relationships are going to change.
  4. The financial part is important, but it’s not everything.
  5. Have fun along the journey. Don’t get so wrapped up in the day-to-day inertia and forget about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Sometimes it’s important to step back and just have fun — be yourself.

You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂

The #LoveYourself movement. So many people forget that self-love is so important. Self-care is getting a lot of attention these days, and that is great, but you have to truly love yourself. You have to be able to give yourself a break and realize that you are not perfect, but you are perfect for you. You are perfect for where you are. You are perfect for your place in society. You are perfect for everybody that you’re around.

Just love yourself. Be yourself. And move in whatever spirit you’re in.

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

“You always have tomorrow to accomplish what you did not accomplish today.”

Granted there are sometime deadlines that need to be met to move forward, but you have to be kind to yourself. It is okay if you didn’t meet the goals of that day. You can come back tomorrow and try again. Don’t beat yourself up and think, “That’s it — it’s over.” There is always another day.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’m going to stretch the rules and name two women I would love to meet: Kerry Washington and Michelle Obama.

I strongly sense that they are both such genuine people. They understand the position women have in this world in terms of power and authority. They define what it means to be who you are, live in your own skin and walk in authority through whatever season it is in your life.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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