Most people are not paying attention to what will happen next. If you think you have a strong hunch on something, like the masks, and you can manage the risk, go for it. I trusted my instincts but I should have trusted them sooner, and on a bigger scale sooner.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Daugherty.
Lauren Daugherty is the CEO and publisher of Texas CEO Magazine and co-founder of Evergreen Wrapping. Evergreen Wrapping’s mission is to reduce the amount of wrapping paper that ends up in landfills each year by providing a beautiful, easy-to-use, and durable fabric alternative. Lauren lives in Austin and Waco, Texas, with her husband and children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Thanks for having me! Sure! I grew up in Texas, Virginia, and Tennessee. My favorite childhood hobby was sewing. You can only imagine how odd other kids found that to be sometimes. But I enjoyed it and developed lots of different sewing-related skills. That hobby, not my various educational degrees, facilitated my development of fabric wrapping and founding of Evergreen Wrapping.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be flexible.” Practically every story I make up for my children has the same lesson or theme: the importance of being flexible, so much so that it has even become a joke in our household. I think that being flexible is so essential during normal times and even more so during difficult times like we have seen this year.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I think different stories are meaningful at different times in our lives. The one that has come to my mind the most this year is Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, specifically the section about the plague of Athens. Remember when I said I enjoyed sewing as a kid and other kids often found that kind of odd? My other unusual childhood interest was ancient Greek history. I remember reading about the plague of Athens as a kid and thinking how hard it was to really understand the idea of a plague because I hadn’t experienced anything like it. Well, when COVID-19 hit, I thought, “I should go re-read that section about the plague of Athens. Maybe it’ll make more sense now.” So, I did, and it did. The plague of Athens happened about 2500 years ago, when seems like a long time, but really it was only 100 generations ago. The story of that plague really puts in perspective how much things have changed and improved over those 100 generations. Yes, COVID-19 is truly awful and there is lots of suffering going on in many ways. But we are far more fortunate than we often realize, and the comparison of these two plagues is a reassuring reminder of that.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
My background is in non-profit fundraising. I have a soft heart for a good cause. Right now, I’m the CEO and publisher of a business magazine. While that is different from being a non-profit fundraiser, there is more overlap than one might think. I enjoy it because I get to meet so many interesting people from all backgrounds and industries and provide them with content that can help them improve their lives and the lives of other people impacted by their business: their employees, their customers, their shareholders. To me, business is about people, and business, when done right, can do a great deal of good, sometimes far more so than can non-profits.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
I am the CEO and publisher of a business magazine, but my side project is a company I co-founded called Evergreen Wrapping. We were gearing up right before COVID-19 hit. Our mission is to reduce the amount of wrapping paper that ends up in landfills each year by producing and selling beautiful fabric wrapping that can last for many uses over many years. Naturally, in March, no one was going to be needing much gift wrapping. But there was a big need for face masks, so we pivoted.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
My dad is a physician and in January and February he was paying a lot of attention to the news about Covid. This was really early when most Americans still felt this was not relevant to us. I talked with him about masks. He’s a surgeon and has lot of experience with such things. He gave me a lesson on what the different types of masks are and their effectiveness. I knew that most PPE was made in China and I saw that there were going to be supply chain problems for that and many other things. I remember asking my dad and another physician friend if they thought that making fabric face masks would be needed and helpful as Covid hit the US. They said they thought there was indeed going to be a big need and that this would be a good thing to do. This was in late February. In very early March, I talked to my business partner and she agreed wholeheartedly. One of our dear friends made a couple of templates for face masks, we picked one, and we started chopping up our inventory of fabric wrapping to make masks. At the time everyone else thought we were crazy. I remember walking into a local business before the shutdowns started and asking him if they’d like to sell some of our masks. I told him, “People are going to need these.” The manager looked at me like I’d walked off an alien spaceship. A few weeks later, mask mandates/recommendations were a common thing and everything changed.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Within several weeks, the market was full of masks, which was good. People saw the need and worked to fill it. That is what markets are supposed to do. Fill people’s needs. Once the market became so full, there was less of a need for our masks and we stopped advertising them and have now switched our focus back to fabric gift wrap.
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?
So many people come to mind. I’ll name two here. Denise Luckey is one of my business partners and long-time friend. She has many talents and skills and a great heart. I am thankful to have gotten to work with her on many different things over the years including now on Evergreen Wrapping. Our mutual friend, Cindy, deserves recognition for her strong support of our mission and also for designing the templates we used for our masks this year. The design evolved a little bit over time but Cindy helped things get started early, before everyone was making masks. She’s a nurse and was passionate about the product and helping people. It is a joy to get to work with true friends like Denise and Cindy who are as committed to the mission and product as I am.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
Through our work making and selling masks in 2020, we’ve expanded our team, expanded our customer base, and refined our systems, all while helping people during a very difficult time. Business can do so much good and this very basic story highlights that well. With the pivot to the masks we were able to hire people that wouldn’t have had paying work otherwise. We were able to provide masks at one of the cheapest prices available at the time and ship them very quickly. We prioritized quality work and fun fabrics. I purposefully chose lots of fun fabrics because I think in years like 2020 we all need a little more light-hearted fun in our lives. We also provided a size that fits young children. People say to me all the time things like, “Your masks are the only ones that fit my kids.” Sizing for kids is difficult and it took longer for big companies to address some of these issues. I was proud that we were able to do a lot of good in multiple ways with our pivot to masks.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Most people are not paying attention to what will happen next. If you think you have a strong hunch on something, like the masks, and you can manage the risk, go for it. I trusted my instincts but I should have trusted them sooner, and on a bigger scale sooner.
- There is only so much you can do. As a working mom, I live this everyday. But it was a whole different experience having kids home and virtual schooling in the spring. I was working my job, plus doing my Evergreen work, plus doing virtual schooling for my 2 little kids who needed lots of hands-on help from parents. That is a really, really heavy load. I’m glad I did it but there were times it was a struggle. Had I not had kids at this young age, I could have scaled more with the masks. I wish I could have but that was just not possible given the circumstances.
- Your path will be different from a lot of other people’s; that is ok and can be good. I’ve taken an unusual path and done lots of things that others in similar jobs haven’t. Some people would look at my resume and think it is weird. But frankly by diverse background is very useful to me. For example, I majored in both economics and art history…a very unusual combination. People often scoff at my art history degree, but frankly, I use the insights from it just as much as I do my economics training. Together, they give me a unique skill set that few others have. I am leaning on that more and more.
- The skills that people dismiss (like my sewing hobby as a kid) may be the thing that turns out to help you find the important opportunity that others have missed.
- Early in my career, I was told you can’t be female and have both a family and career without your kids suffering. Obviously different people have different thoughts on this and everyone’s circumstances are different. I respect that. But I have found a way to have a career that I enjoy, with opportunities for growth, and also spend lots of quality time with my kids. I probably could have made more money had I prioritized things differently. And at times the combination of kids and work has been exhausting. But some flexibility and quality time with my kids is non-negotiable for me until my kids are grown. I am glad that I have made this choice. I encourage new parents to be very thoughtful on their decisions on balancing work and kids.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
I focus on things I can do something about. There are types of news that impact my family or my businesses and provide me with info that I need to know. There are other types of news that are just sensationalist, trying to upset the viewer as much as possible. I try to stay away from that second category. I watch/read/listen to it on occasion to make sure I have a general idea of what the narrative is, but I don’t have the mental or emotional energy for it most of the time so I avoid 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?
As I mentioned earlier, I love a good cause. I decided to found Evergreen Wrapping because I think the gift wrapping industry is long overdue for an overhaul. The environmental movement has been around for decades and made progress on many things. However, the gift wrapping industry lags behind the times. I enjoy beautiful wrapping paper and bags, but they just don’t last. And what a tragedy to spend so much time, talent, and other resources on things that get thrown away after so little use.
Americans want their holidays to be festive and fun and if we make it easier to also be environmentally friendly, I think many will embrace that. They just need the right products that are easy-to-use and reasonably affordable. Our mission for Evergreen Wrapping is to help make that happen. Over the years, this simple change, and other simple changes like it, can have a huge impact on our environment.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Elon Musk because he is one of the most innovative people of our generation and he makes big things happen. I am inspired by the diversity of his endeavors and the boldness of his vision.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!