“Take vacations and breaks” With Penny Bauder & Hayley Santell

Close your eyes for a second and imagine a world where businesses and people were all greedy. They were all out to make money to hoard for themselves, they didn’t look out for their community, they were selfish. Doesn’t that sound scary? Ok, now close your eyes and picture a world where businesses all did […]

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Close your eyes for a second and imagine a world where businesses and people were all greedy. They were all out to make money to hoard for themselves, they didn’t look out for their community, they were selfish. Doesn’t that sound scary? Ok, now close your eyes and picture a world where businesses all did something to benefit others or the environment. Even if that “something,” was small. And, every person in this dream world made a commitment to help others and beam positivity on a daily basis. Doesn’t that sound amazing? Well, we can get there if we all do our part. Think of my story — I read a tiny piece of information on a random blog on the internet about how underwear was so under donated and how the simple act of providing that need would benefit others on multiple levels. I could’ve been scared, lazy, unsure of how to start. But that’s the thing about starting a business — no one knows where to start. So just do it! Starting a business is a huge commitment, and it’s not for everyone. If you fall into the “it’s not for me” category, consider starting with impacting the lives of your next door neighbors. Every day, ask how they’re doing, bring up their recycling bin, bake cookies and share, shovel their part of the sidewalk, blow their leaves — just SERVE. Making a positive impact on society feels like a big task and can seem scary. But really all you have to do is start.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hayley Santell.

Hayley Santell is the founder, designer and CEO of MADI Apparel — an ethical line of sustainable, staple basics that focuses on Making a Difference in every area of the business model. MADI Apparel donates a pair of underwear to a woman in need for every pair sold. So far, they’ve donated over 6,000 pairs of underwear to women in organizations across the globe. Santell just previewed the brand’s new menswear line in early 2020.

The fashionable line of underwear, loungewear, athleisure wear and staple basics is made in the U.S., out of sustainable fabrics like viscose from bamboo, lace and modal. Hayley founded the company when she learned that underwear is the most-needed, under-donated item of clothing in the U.S. New underwear tops the list of most-urgent needs for nearly every domestic violence shelter, homeless shelter, rape crisis center and international aid shelter across the globe.

Santell’s mission to make a difference started a few years back when she learned that a close family member had been a victim of domestic violence. She was a strong, independent woman, and it was difficult to believe that she had been a victim for three years. So Santell wanted to find a way to make a difference in the lives of women who suffer the ultimate abuse, abuse from someone they love. After researching the needs of domestic violence shelters, her path and her passion became clear.

Another plus, the staple basics she designs are made by women in the city MADI Apparel is headquartered — Kansas City. Not only are the fabrics she sources ethical and sustainable, but, MADI is a woman-owned small business and they hire woman-owned cut and sew teams to manufacture the products in the US, substantially lowering their carbon footprint.

Santell recently launched a program through their non-profit subsidiary, MADI Donations 501c3, called MADI Makes. The program teaches at-risk women to sew the donation pairs of underwear. Once they successfully complete their apprenticeship, MADI Apparel, (the for-profit), contract-employs qualified graduates to sew for MADI Apparel. They make money, learn the skills they need to be part of the garment industry workforce, and toss aside their barriers to employment. A win — win. Two women graduated the program in 2019, and two women will graduate summer 2020.

Santell’s work has been featured in a wide variety of media, television, print, online including being named one of the. “10 Coolest Feminist Shops on the Internet,” by NYLON http://www.nylon.com/articles/feminist-online-shops, Forbes, Huff Post, BBC News, BRIDES, and theknot.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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?

Iwas born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri — the heart of the country, in the heart of the city, where locals have huge hearts for the world. My family and I have always been really close — not just my immediate family, but my grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. My parents taught my brother and I what love means, showing us through their marriage and how they treated each other and the two of us, but also how they treated others around us. I came to discover that love means you are always present, you show up time and time again for those you care about even when it hurts or when you’re tired. You put yourself second and lay your life down when necessary. You listen, you act as a light, and you do everything in your power to open your arms wide enough for others to run in your direction. Repeating this kind of love allowed me to form and sustain life-long friendships with friends as far back as grade school. This kind of love showed me to look beyond skin color or cultural backgrounds and to accept others for all that they are. When I started my business at 24 years of age, I felt like my tribe was behind me, and that’s all I really needed in order to drop the fear, start my jet pack and get moving.

You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

MADI Apparel is an ethical fashion brand for men and women on a mission to, “Make a Difference,” in every element of our business model. We were founded to fulfill a global, urgent need for new underwear donations. For every ethically made garment we sell, we donate a pair of underwear to a woman in need. But, our give-back model doesn’t stop there. We source only sustainable and mostly biodegradable fabrics that are kind to the planet. Last but not least, we train and employ local women to cut and sew all of our ethical garments, bringing manufacturing jobs back to our community and providing vocational training for at-risk women.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I moved with one of my best friends after college to New Smyrna Beach, Florida, a little surf town on the Atlantic coast. She had a fashion degree, and I had Fine Arts and Journalism degrees. After boycotting the corporate work world, we thought about joining our strengths and starting a fashion brand from reclaimed clothing. Around this time, we randomly stumbled upon a missionary’s blog post about how underwear is the most needed and under-donated item of clothing across the globe. It’s the only clothing item that can’t be donated used, so people hardly ever think to buy it and donate it new to organizations in need. Both of us were stunned, and we wanted to hear from some of these organizations about whether this was true. I started calling local homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters near me in Daytona Beach. Directors at multiple organizations attested that underwear tops their, “most urgent needs list,” year-round, and they have to use their budgets to stock it for the clients they serve.

Another piece of the puzzle really triggered me to react and actually do something with that information about underwear. Around this same time period, a family member talked to me a bit about how she was once a victim of domestic violence. She was a strong, successful woman, and I never would have guessed that she could have been a victim. It revealed to me how domestic violence can happen to anyone from any race, economic status, or education level. Her words also left me wondering what I could do to help others in similar shoes. After more research and questioning staff at the local domestic violence shelters, I discovered that women fleeing their abusers often don’t even have time to pack a bag. Many times they arrive at a shelter with a child in hand and only the clothes on their backs. Shelters must regularly keep all necessities stocked, because statistics show that when women leave the shelter to go back home to pack a bag, abusers are waiting and violence as intense as murder may occur. We can’t let this happen, ever! I realized I took simple underwear for granted, but it’s a unique necessity in many ways. It’s an urgent hygienic and basic need in rape clinics, domestic violence shelters, remote birth clinics, homeless shelters, etc. But, it’s also a symbol of protection, dignity, self-worth and confidence.

Those two moments pushed us to start a business that would include underwear donations somewhere in the model. We decided to donate a pair of underwear to women in need for every garment sold. However, we decided that if our business was going to make a difference we wanted it to be in ALL areas, not just one. So, we started experimenting with organic fabrics that were kind to the environment. And, we landed on bamboo which has been one of our staples since fruition. Then, we started seeking U.S. based cut and sew production teams to make our products. We wanted to focus on quality, care, sustaining local jobs and helping the local economy.

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?

For me, once these details got personal, I was all in. One of my greatest gifts (also sometimes a curse), is my high level of empathy. In college when they do those career assessment/strengths tests, my friends results included, “high management skills,” “excellent communication skills,” “excellent organizational skills.” My results said that my greatest skill and greatest strength was “Empathy.” At the time I thought, “What the heck! How is that going to help me in my career?” Turns out, I put it to use on a daily basis. I have the ability to put myself in others’ shoes. This can be taxing, as I literally take on emotions from others, and this can weigh hard on my heart and body. I was picturing women in similar situations to my family member and thinking about how something as simple as a nice pair of underwear during such a time of crisis and chaos could make all the difference in lifting up someone’s life and providing hope for the future. Going back to what I said about love, I believe we are all on this planet to listen and then to act. To be arms wide open, a light and a source of love for others, even if these “others” are perfect strangers. I honestly felt like the information we learned about the urgent need for underwear fell on my plate for a reason, and if I didn’t take action, who would?

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?

Hopefully, what I’m about to say is encouraging, real and relatable to anyone reading who’s scared or unsure of what to do with their idea. If I can do it, you can do it.

To be honest, I knew absolutely nothing about everything involving starting a fashion business from the ground up. At 24 years old, I was fresh out of college and fresh out of money. I had zero experience in business management, money management, sourcing fabrics, manufacturing, designing products, opening a store, launching a website, managing employees, reporting taxes or scaling and driving product sales. Literally, name an area, and I promise I hadn’t done it before. Just before MADI Apparel was formed as an official LLC and products were being designed, my best friend dropped off as co-founder (we’re still best friends). It got a little scary and lonely. At the time, I was a beach bum by day and a bartender at local wine bar by night. I was facing my first big challenge: fundraising $20,000 to pay for the first manufacturing run of products and launch online sales.

I used my circumstances and my gifts to my advantage. I networked through building genuine relationships with locals, travelers, business owners and even a few investors. I told everyone I met about what I was starting. I launched an Indiegogo crowdsourcing campaign with a $14,000 goal, and I worked by butt off to spread the word. The restaurant where I worked even let me host a local fundraiser. Between the Indiegogo campaign, the local fundraiser and help from close family, I started my business debt-free with over $25,000.

For perspective, ethical fashion and sustainable fashion brands weren’t really a thing back in 2013. TOMS Shoes was really the first leader in the social impact business world. Then, other giving brands started sprouting up. Hardly any clothing brands were making their products in the U.S. anymore; the bigger brands had years prior moved their production to mostly Asian countries where labor was cheaper and less ethical. So, it wasn’t easy finding a U.S. based cut-and-sew team, and we had to do a ton of homework. No one was really working with organic or biodegradable fabrics at the time either, so we were on our own a bit here, too.

But that’s what you sign up for when you commit to entrepreneurship — a lifetime of facing a steep learning curve and tackling it over and over! You fall on your face, you get back up, you climb the mountain and then you do it all over again. There weren’t (and still aren’t that we know of) any brands doing what we are — making a difference in every element of the business model. This is similar for many new businesses; you may very well find yourself comparing your business to others — feeling like a sole turtle in a sea of jellyfish. And that’s okay. That’s actually great. DO YOU and bring your gifts to the table as a leader. For everything else, find a team full of people who make you greater and stronger and lean on them.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

A few months ago, I received an email from a Kenyan woman named Beth. She’s the founder of the non-profit Smart Child Kenya. Just when I think I’m getting a little too comfortable and haven’t heard anything new in a while, something like this woke me up. It’s best described in her words:

“Hello there. I’m humbled to write you this email. I’m Beth, founder of Smart Child Kenya, a registered CBO since 2014. I come from a very poor background that I can’t remember wearing any panties and neither did I wear them when I started menstruating. I used to make mine with banana ropes and the same banana fibre I used as my sanitary pads…We did this almost to the whole village just as little as I was 9 years one when I started menstruating. I went through FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). At the age of 12, my parents thought I was good enough to be a wife, and I was forced to marry an old man age 67 for exchange of cows and sheep. It was hard and very painful. Our parents didn’t know the importance of educating a girl child. It was bad, and still some of the girls go through the same. Well, I managed to escape from the marriage where I was employed as a house girl in one of our town and worked in a family of 8. It was terrible. I worked for 5 years, and then got married and am now at my home with four children and husband.

That’s why I decided to help girls where I rescue them from FGM, early childhood marriages, educate different communities on the importance of educating girl children, domestic violence prevention, and I fight for their education by looking for scholarships for their primary and secondary schools. Girls always miss and drop out of school for lack of good Menstrual Management kits. I make reusable sanitary towels and hand sew panties to keep these girls in school. A project that has helped 4,500 girls since I started.

I don’t have much, I earn less than $3 a day, but I wouldn’t want any girl to go through what I went through. I share what I have with them.

Thank you for helping donate panties. Thank you for the wonderful team over there. You are making a difference to many lives.”

The postal system is difficult in Kenya, and Smart Child Kenya is in a remote area a few hours outside of Nairobi, so we had a difficult task ahead to get underwear to this organization. Thankfully, I have friends from Nairobi who live locally near me. They found a cousin traveling to Nairobi, packed the underwear donations in their suitcase and traveled to meet Beth, the founder.

A few weeks later, Beth sent me a photo of the women opening their packages. (Photo is in the Hayley Santell Photo file in the google photo link under Smart Child Kenya. It is not high res as was taken from a cell phone.)

“Thank you so much, may God bless you abundantly. I am humbled for the effort of everyone who made it possible. Including Mama Rose for her time to deliver to me. Look how their faces are! So Happy.”

This really made our year. And through this partnership, we met and donated to another non-profit in Tanzania called M.A.R.B.L.E., a home for girls escaping the same scary life challenges that Beth addressed — Child marriage, FGM, domestic violence, missed school, and more. We’re so grateful to learn about these very, very important organizations and to help in such a small but mighty way.

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?

I have tons of funny mistake stories. Really that’s what happens when you know absolutely nothing about starting a business. Actually, the whole thing is pretty ridiculous that I started a business with absolutely zero experience. I like to think of it as endearing and relatable, ha! Instead of a mistake story, I have an embarrassing story. I searched for a U.S.-based cut-and-sew production facility for months. I remember calling my mom and telling her it was an impossible task that I may give up on. I ended up finding a team in the small industrial town of Hemingway, South Carolina. The owner was hesitant to take on a start-up business as a new client. But he said if I came in person, he would give us shot. I showed up in a brand-new suit jacket my grandma bought me after graduating from college. I was walking around in the factory, and I started hearing all of the women sewing giggling quietly and kind of pointing and whispering to each other. Turns out, the store I went to with my grandma to purchase the jacket forgot to remove the theft tag and this big plastic white piece was loudly showing on the back of my black suit jacket. I had to tell the owner of the factory the story about how my grandma took me to buy the jacket and that we did indeed pay for it. He thought it was funny, and I landed the deal! They ended up sewing our first production round of garments — about 3,600 pieces — until we moved all production in 2016 to Kansas City. The lessons learned? Pay attention to the details, and be yourself.

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?

Oh, 100 percent. My parents have led the way as my biggest cheerleaders since day one. They’re both very intelligent, well-educated, business-savvy and have always encouraged me to follow my gut and heart. They have been my biggest investors — not only financially using personal funds to help push MADI Apparel along, but also investing in the day-in and day-out operations. My mom has over 30 years of experience in marketing and public relations and leads our media relations. She took on the role of the director of our non-profit arm and has become a champion at fundraising. I really, really lucked out in the parents department — they will do literally anything to push me forward! My husband and I met a few years after I launched MADI Apparel, but he goes so above and beyond to help in any way. He’s a musician and videographer, which comes in handy. He’s a great creative influence in my life. He’s always dreaming big and introducing new ideas to our business — like building a stage in our shop backyard to host community events. We just had one called, “Poetic Justice,” where locals came to rap, sing, recite poetry, speak about how they’re feeling and to tell personal stories of their journey.

The rest of my mentors and supporters are made up of my extended family, my best friends, our board members, my team, investors, neighbors, and more. One of my best friends, Molly, who started MADI Apparel with me is a key component to how this all started, and I’m so thankful for her. Other close friends and business owners in New Smyrna Beach and Orlando, Florida contributed to our grassroots humble beginnings. They volunteered their energy and time to help me fundraise, brainstorm, build a business plan, pop up merchandise at concerts and count inventory in my guest room closet. I met one of my early mentors, donors and board members, Roy Johnson, while bartending in Florida. He passed away in a bicycle accident a few years ago, and I think about how he lived his life to the fullest and put his all into everything he touched. It’s because of his encouragement that we launched our non-profit subsidiary. It’s also because of him that I look at sunsets a little differently. I’ll always remember the time he took me to watch manatees in a kayak spot on the intercoastal that we both loved at sunset. He asked me to never forget the real reason I started MADI Apparel. It takes a whole tribe to start a small business from scratch and to keep it moving. All of this is not because of me, it’s because of them. I’m just a little ant in the equation.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I’d like to share two stories. The first started with an email from a woman in Fresno, CA. She reached out, briefly revealing her story — a 17-year run from her abuser. It all started the year her 17-year-old daughter was born, when her partner turned violent. She mentioned that she and her daughter had been receiving government assistance for years because they kept having to move from place to place, running from their abuser who continued to find them. Her story hit us so hard that we decided to travel to meet her in person. We met at a domestic violence shelter in Fresno, (where we donated underwear), and we approached each other with big hugs and teary eyes. She’d been keeping a journal for many years throughout her story of abuse and running. She printed her story and gave it to use as a vulnerable gift for us to read. I’ve never felt so connected to a stranger. We gave her and her daughter a few pairs of underwear, and she told us how much it meant to receive such beautiful gifts. She follows us on social media and stays involved from afar to this day.

The other story is local. A few years ago, one of my close friends asked me to regularly volunteer and join her as a co-mentor to a mom in an organization called Amethyst Place that supports women, recovering from drug and alcohol addiction by providing safe, drug-free housing and services to promote healthy families. It was founded in response to a high rate of relapse among single mothers after substance use treatment. Going back to deep roots in understanding what true love actually looks like, I really could relate to how this mentorship program can positively change lives. The organization pairs the moms with two mentors who are already friends who model how true friendships rooted in love are supposed to work. We were paired with Amanda, and the three of us hit it off right away. She’s smart, a great mom, determined, funny and easygoing. A spot was opening up in our seamstress training program, and I mentioned it to Amanda right away. Amanda decided to join our program, and she showed up consistently to learn a vocational trade at no cost — sewing our donation pairs of underwear on commercial sewing machines. She ended up graduating after a few months and now sews for MADI Apparel on a contracted part-time basis. Yes, she has been impacted by my business, but more than anything, she’s impacted me. Saying it that way sounds cheesy, but she’s really a role model to me. She’s shown me that with will and want, we are stronger than we think and can get through anything. It’s fun to see her grow and to be by her side as she continues to walk through life.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Our business model addresses and attempts to make a difference in three areas. Here are ways the community and leaders can help in each area.

  1. New underwear donations: As mentioned, underwear is the #1 most under-donated item of clothing. It is the only clothing item that cannot be donated used — it must be new. New underwear is needed in domestic violence shelters, rape clinics, remote birth clinics, orphanages, homeless shelters, children in schools, the list goes on. Millions of women who are menstruating, birthing babies and victims of rape, go without new clean underwear during very vulnerable moments when this hygienic basic is not just wanted but necessary for their recovery and daily life. Government officials can help use a portion of city, state or federal runds to help non-profit organizations cover the cost or supply of keeping new underwear donations in stock in these organizations. These organizations are constantly having to fundraise and use their budgets to cover the cost of new underwear donations on a weekly/monthly basis. Individuals can help by buying new underwear and donating to their local shelters and organizations benefitting women. Our community can also help by purchasing any item from us. This helps our woman-owned small business and also initiates a pair of underwear to be donated. And out community can help by providing grants and support MADI Donation’s job training program that helps train at risk women how to sew on commercial sewing machines. They learn a valuable, lifetime skill and receive transitional employment into the growing garment industry.
  2. Sustainability: All of our products are made from sustainable, organic and long-lasting products. Ninety percent of the fabrics we source are biodegradable/compostable. That means our environment won’t get stuck with pieces from your closet when you grow tired of them. Society can help by doing a little research on the brands they buy. What are the fabrics made of? Try to be conscious about not buying polyester, a/k/a, plastic clothes. These garments will end up in our landfills and will never break down. Also, every time you wash them, over 17 million tiny plastic particles will end up in your washing machine and on your body. Support fashion brands that work with sustainable fabrics and/or are donating to environmental relief. Another way to help: Shop at thrift shops more often instead of buying new!
  3. Supporting fair and local labor: It’s very important for all of us to support the local community and economy with sewing jobs. We contract local women to make our products, and we also train local women facing employment barriers how to sew our products on commercial sewing machines. Once they graduate, we employ them. We are helping local women get back on their feet, and in the process, putting money back into our local economy.
  4. Government officials can help small businesses like MADI Apparel and MADI Donations 501(c)3, who keep 100% of our manufacturing operations local and provide free sewing courses to at-risk women. Perhaps the local government could provide additional tax breaks, rent vouchers, and other incentives to small businesses that keep production dollars local. This would encourage other small businesses to keep their manufacturing dollars in the local economy. Our company spends upwards of 25% of profits on cost of goods sold, so if other businesses hopped on board, these numbers could be big for the local economy and also help lower unemployment levels.
  5. Society at large can help in so many ways! Overall, when folks look to donate underwear to organizations in need (see #1 above), we recommend avoiding panty packs under $20 as they most likely were cut/sewn in poor working conditions where people are paid poor wages. Remember, cheap price tag = cheap labor. You may benefit from a cheap price tag, but don’t forget that someone across the world may have been paid a poor wage and worked in miserable conditions to make that piece for you. What is the TRUE cost of the garment? There are plenty of fair trade and ethically made goods made all over the world; look for those brands, and support them!

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

A lot of these were taking from a blog post I wrote last year, “Five Lessons in Being a Startup Social Entrepreneur.” A few of them are things I wished someone had told me when I first started. But sadly, a few are things that advisors did tell me, but I either didn’t listen, or just had to learn the hard way and back track.

1 . Only Use an Interest-Free or Minimal-Interest Business Credit Card. And more importantly, stick to only one. You want to keep debt as low as possible in your first few years. Don’t get in the habit of using money your business doesn’t have. If you have great credit, you’ll probably qualify for a credit card with a huge limit. Just because you qualify for a big limit doesn’t mean you should fill it up with money you aren’t making. It will be like quicksand when trying to later pay it off with money you need to use on growing the business.

I recommend signing up for a credit card with a low credit limit and low interest rate. Treat it like a debit card — charge only small amounts at a time, and pay it off immediately. This will not only help you grow organically at the pace your business is moving, but it will help keep your sanity and your credit score in check. Most credit cards with double the points will not only have higher rates, but usually an additional annual fee. When you hit the big bucks and have become a pro at using your credit card balance wisely, then switch to a credit card with an annual fee, great rewards and higher interest.

2 . Don’t exhibit at a big trade show in year one, two or three! I promise, this will be tempting. The trade shows will find you online and contact you over and over again. You are going to be hungry for business and wanting to just soar right away with “beaucoup de wholesale” orders.

But here’s the catch that the expos won’t tell you before signing up: Wholesale buyers have already pre-booked appointments with more established brands before the apparel and tech expo even starts. They go straight to those booths for their appointments, make the orders they’re interested in, and then 90% of them leave. The only thing left after, “The Elvis’ have left the building,” are new and small store owners walking the floor looking for new, unknown brands.

Also, it’s expensive! Even the smallest sized booth plus travel and lodging for you and a few team members will set you back upwards of $7,000. You won’t have that money just sitting around (because as a startup, you will need it for other things.) So, you’ll most likely want to put it on your business credit card. Don’t fall in this trap!

3 . Make a budget every year, and stick to it! Yep, this is a pain, but it’s absolutely necessary. Advisors will tell you this, and you may not think it applies to you, but trust me, it does. Make sure hiring a CPA is included in that budget (unless you are a finance expert) — that’s one of the most important things. This budget will be a guess in the beginning, but account for more expenses than you think. Meet with experienced entrepreneurs in businesses similar to yours, and ask them to look over your budget to see if you’re missing anything important. If you are opening a brick-and-mortar store, make sure to account for multiple months of rent and a savings pot in case certain months are slow and money gets tight.

Don’t launch until you’ve raised or saved money for your starting expenses, or you’ll never get ahead. Then, build your budget around the money you raise. Only spend what you have.

4 . Listen to your gut. As an entrepreneur, you will be surrounded by a lot of advisors — friends with a lot of advice, family, customers, you name it. It’s great to always be open to advice and let your staff and network in on decisions — especially ones you’re unsure of. Your new business will be forming and molding, and insight and opinions can be helpful. Take opinions with a grain of salt and not so literally all the time. Use them as tools. Keep some, toss some, consider some. At the end of the day, you know what’s best for the brand. You are the one with the vision for the brand, so don’t be afraid to stay true to your gut instinct when it comes to big and small decisions.

Your brand can’t be everything to everyone.

5. Take vacations and breaks. Can someone say Mental Breakdown? I’ve experienced plenty of those over the years, however, contradictory the are to my personality. My parents have always talked about how I was such an easy, go-with-the-flow baby. That baby turned into a laid-back teenager and then adult. Even this business was formulated on a whim after a spontaneous move across the country to the beach. Even the most easy-going business owners need grace, breaks and “me time.”

I recommend literally scheduling “me time” into your calendar. Block out a portion of your daily schedule to go to the gym as if it’s a meeting or a regular to-do item.

Set a time for work to end and the laptop to close each night, and stick to it. This was really important for me when I got married. Before my husband was around, I would stay up and sometimes work until midnight. It’s easy to slide into this as an entrepreneur wearing many hats, because the to-do list never ends. You have to be the one to stay dedicated to your recharge time. If you don’t, you’ll burn out quickly.

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?

Close your eyes for a second and imagine a world where businesses and people were all greedy. They were all out to make money to hoard for themselves, they didn’t look out for their community, they were selfish. Doesn’t that sound scary? Ok, now close your eyes and picture a world where businesses all did something to benefit others or the environment. Even if that “something,” was small. And, every person in this dream world made a commitment to help others and beam positivity on a daily basis. Doesn’t that sound amazing? Well, we can get there if we all do our part. Think of my story — I read a tiny piece of information on a random blog on the internet about how underwear was so under donated and how the simple act of providing that need would benefit others on multiple levels. I could’ve been scared, lazy, unsure of how to start. But that’s the thing about starting a business — no one knows where to start. So just do it! Starting a business is a huge commitment, and it’s not for everyone. If you fall into the “it’s not for me” category, consider starting with impacting the lives of your next door neighbors. Every day, ask how they’re doing, bring up their recycling bin, bake cookies and share, shovel their part of the sidewalk, blow their leaves — just SERVE. Making a positive impact on society feels like a big task and can seem scary. But really all you have to do is start.

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. 🙂

I have so many, but I can narrow it down to just two! If it isn’t loud and clear, I’m a pretty huge feminist. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is about as inspiring as it gets to me — her whole story really. She has consistently broken glass ceilings, pushed her education level and has continued to protect women’s reproductive rights and equal pay for the majority of her life. Also, the fact that she’s 87 years old and doesn’t plan to retire any time soon is so badass! Being graced with her presence would be heavenly — I would have so many questions for her!

Leonardo DiCaprio is second. It all started when nine-year-old me had the biggest crush on him — thank you, Titanic! This schoolgirl crush developed over the years into admiration and respect when he started cruising through his career as a seriously incredibly talented actor/artist. I can just tell he puts his all into the roles he plays. That takes guts and hard work. I don’t know what it’s like to be an actor, and I’m no expert, but I have the most respect for anyone, (no matter the career), who continues to better themselves, learns and give it his all. My favorite thing about this guy is his heart and passion for the environment. He’s protecting and fighting for vulnerable wildlife, oceans, climate issues and just being a leader in environmental sustainability. Umm, Leo, let’s just say you had me at hello!

How can our readers follow you online?

Yes! Shop with us on madiapparel.com. Follow us on instagram: @madi_apparel and facebook: MADI Apparel. Also, help us support at-risk women through our MADI Donations 501(c)3 job-training program at https://www.madiapparel.com/pages/donate. Or email us with questions: [email protected] — we would love to hear from you!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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