Boss Lady: Erika Dawkins

Boss Lady is a series that shares personal insights from creative women in business. This week we talk to Erika Dawson. Erika is the owner of Bon Ton Studio, a collection of thoughtfully curated designs, wovens, and cozy goods from artisans around the world.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your career.

A California native and fashion school graduate, I lived overseas in Australia for six years with my South African husband prior to opening our first brick & mortar. Whilst abroad I was introduced to a friend and together we created a women’s clothing label, ANIKA. Years later I acquired the business, rebranded as Bon Ton Studio and moved back to my hometown of Healdsburg in Northern California. My career has evolved as much as I have personally. It is fun (and sometimes comical) to think about everything I’ve done and worked on.

2. What prompted you to start Bon Ton Studio?

Bon Ton Studio was the result of hitting the reset button on ANIKA. After having a clothing label known for our simple designs for everyday basics, I was ready to make the pivot from the wardrobe to the home. The concept of Bon Ton Studio quickly evolved and we still sell ANIKA in-store.

3. What inspires you and fuels your creativity?

Naturally, I’m a really observant person. There is a quote by Grace Coddington in The September Issue, where she is sitting in a taxi and says: “Always keep your eyes open… keep watching, because whatever you see out the window, or wherever, can inspire you.” Simply put, there is so much that inspires me. Sometimes it’s being on a treasure hunt at my local antique store, and other times its scrolling Pinterest, makers markets, coffee table books, or traveling. There’s always something, just keep your eyes open!

4. How do you discover and choose the artisans you work with and feature?

Items curated for Bon Ton Studio come from our travels and living abroad. We’ve been fortunate enough to have met a few artisans along the way and some we were introduced to. Our relationship is more than a simple B2B transaction. We give back to each other in a way that creates a mutually beneficial connection.

5. Describe a challenge you faced in the workplace and how you overcame it.

When you are in business for yourself, it is inevitable that you will face challenges, or roadblocks I like to call them. As I’ve grown older I’ve learned not to stress over the small stuff and have become very solution-oriented. I’m good at “fixing” things and I see myself as a problem solver. Back in October, one week before we were set to open our first brick & mortar, our entire town was evacuated due to the Kincade Fire. I had to pack up my entire home and store not knowing whether or not we would have a home and business to return to. Once we were evacuated we knew there wasn’t a lot we could do except waiting. As a business owner, it’s important to have everything in order from your bookkeeping to insurance and everything in-between. During the evacuation, I found peace of mind knowing I had everything organized in case something did happen.

6. What are the marketing similarities/differences you’ve found between owning an online store and opening your brick and mortar shop (which looks incredibly cozy!)?

Our marketing efforts for our social channels have stayed fairly the same. It is easier since we can direct followers to both our brick & mortar and online store. Differences we have noticed is our customer retention, in-person, and word-of-mouth marketing. It’s had an invaluable impact on our brand and we are focusing a lot of marketing efforts in this category in 2020.

7. What do you see for Bon Ton Studio’s future? Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

Our first month of being open we hosted three pop-ups at the store and will continue to host smaller brands in 2020. We are flirting with the idea of taking Bon Ton Studio on the road, maybe destination pop-ups or something overseas. Watch this space!

8. Who is a Boss Lady who inspires you and why?

There are so many women I could list. I gravitate towards female-owned/led businesses that are doing something big, valuable and meaningful. Specifically, Erin Gore of Garden Society, Christy Baird of LOHO Bride and Helena Price Hambrecht of Haus.

Just for fun!
This is how I feel about Christmas music: Totally into it. We love the Elf soundtrack at our house during the holidays!
Favorite activity to do to relax: I enjoy working out, playing with my 14-month-old daughter, enjoying a home-cooked meal with my husband and of course traveling. Something you may not know about me is: I’m an “extroverted” introvert!
How I take my coffee/tea: At home, I do a stovetop percolator coffee for my husband and I. When I’m out and ordering in a coffee shop, it’s typically a latte with oat milk.
Currently binge-watching: I just finished season three of Marvelous Mrs Maisel. The costumer designer, Donna Zakowska, has done an amazing job throughout the series. I’m (obviously) a huge fan!

For more on Erika
Website | Instagram | Facebook

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Boss Lady: Jonna Piira and Lauren Fiske

Boss Lady is a series that shares personal insights from creative women in business. This week we talk to CEO and Founder Jonna Piira and Director of Brand Partnerships Lauren Fiske of Kali, an organic feminine care subscription service that focuses on women’s overall health and wellness. “We are spreading awareness of the benefits of using organic feminine hygiene products and building a wellness community… [with] a forum to find information and learn about what’s going on in the world of wellness.”

1. Tell us a bit about yourselves and your careers.

Jonna: As Founder and CEO of Kali, an organic tampon and pad subscription service, I spearhead the company’s business development and strategic planning activities. My background started in finance in the medical diagnostics sector after getting my MBA and continued on into the tool and frozen foods industries. I have a passion for educating individuals about what they put into their bodies and helping people rethink their periods.

Lauren: My background is actually in Fashion Merchandising. I got my degree from Florida State and began working for Ralph Lauren after college. I ended up living in NYC and overseeing visual displays for the country until I left about three years ago after my son was born. This has been a whole new world for me but I have always had a love for beauty/wellness products and strongly believe in organic period care.

2. Jonna, what prompted you to start Kali and provide organic feminine care options to women?

I was going through my own wellness journey and realized that I had no idea what was in my period care. I started to do a lot of research and was shocked by what I found. I started to wonder how many other people out there didn’t know what was in their tampons and pads. Kali was born.

3. Lauren, as Director of Brand Partnerships what does your day usually look like?

A typical day for me includes a lot of time on Instagram lol. In addition to my marketing responsibilities I also manage social media. I will post content on our feed and stories throughout the day. I also find potential brand partnerships through Instagram so I will seek them out or find people based on our comments or likes. I spend a good amount of time corresponding with brands via e-mail or phone calls to organize giveaways, inbox partnerships, or events.

4. What inspires you and fuels your creativity?

We are inspired by educating people about what is in their period care and making better choices. We also love helping people add self-care into their daily lives. Bringing wellness full cycle and adding wellness into every aspect of your daily life is so important. There are so many amazing natural products that we want to share with our community.

5. Describe a challenge you faced in the workplace and how you overcame it.

We started out as very close friends and have been friends for years. Kali was growing and needed to expand. Lauren was a perfect fit to join the team. We transitioned to working together, which can have it’s potential challenges. However, with strong communication skills and building healthy boundaries, we have been able to do both without negatively impacting our long, close relationship.

6. What’s your most successful form of marketing?

Organic brand partnerships. We are able to reach a new audience in an authentic way with like-minded brands and communities.

7. Lauren, how do you find new brands to partner with and what do you look for? It’s such a great idea to put pampering products in the Lux boxes!

I totally agree! This is honestly one of the best parts of my job. I’m definitely a beauty junkie so it is really fun to discover and test out different brands. I use Instagram to find brands that share the same ethos as us. They need to be natural, organic and wellness-oriented. We love supporting female-founded businesses as well! I personally test every item… If we wouldn’t use or recommend it, we won’t suggest it to our community. There’s so much out there so we want to help people discover new brands and get trusted recommendations.

8. Jonna, what advice do you have for those looking to become an entrepreneur?

Don’t wait for the perfect moment to move forward on your idea. You just have to go for it. There are so many ways to start your research and build your idea while you are still working for someone else. Also, sometimes the most important thing to remember during the tough times…is to not give up.

9. What do you see for Kali’s future? Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

We see Kali continuing to grow and expand to different product categories. We can’t share too much just yet, but we will share soon. Stay tuned.

10. Why is it important to give back to organizations such as I Support the Girls and Girl Up?

It’s important to give back to people in need. Some of the basic things we take for granted may not be available to everyone.

11. Who is a Boss Lady who inspires you and why?

Sara Blakely. She is very inspiring because she built a company from nothing to solve a problem in a very innovative way. She is always pushing herself out of her comfort zone and is continually investing in female-founded companies.

Just for fun!
Favorite breakfast food: Jonna:
I start my day with homemade celery juice, eggs, and coffee; Lauren: I know I should, but I don’t eat breakfast. Does coffee count?
Last song you listened to: Jonna: It Must Have Been Love (Roxette); Lauren: Truth Hurts (Lizzo)
Current show you’re watching: Jonna: The Affair; Lauren: Gossip Girl
Next travel destination: Jonna: Finland, my home country, with my family; Lauren: Miami
The perfect Saturday includes: Jonna: an almond milk latte, a book, the gym or yoga, and brunch with friends; Lauren: Nothing (no child, no husband, no chores)

For more information on Kali: Instagram | Facebook

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Boss Lady: Katy Messersmith

Boss Lady - Katy Messersmith, Designer/Owner of Katydid.com - Social Stylate

Boss Lady is a series that shares personal insights from creative women in business. This week, we talk to Katy Messersmith. Katy is the designer and owner of The Katydid Collection, a lifestyle brand that includes women’s apparel and small accessories such as hats, belts, and wallets

1. What prompted you to start your own brand?

I spent my early career as a pharmaceutical project manager and got my start in fashion thanks to a fluke event that happened during a volunteer trip to Ghana, Africa. After graduation from Texas A&M in 2000 before beginning my new corporate job, I traveled to Africa to volunteer at a prenatal woman’s clinic for two months. The airline lost my luggage, leaving me with only the clothes on my back.

I worked with a local seamstress in Ghana to design a replacement wardrobe of colorful local fabrics and found my calling. When I returned to Texas, I placed my designs on eBay which sold like lightning and so I began to create more as well as reselling other brands and designs on eBay.

After a few years of selling on eBay, someone offered to create a website for $200. I took them up on the offer and while initially, the business was retail only, I received multiple requests daily if I would sell my bags wholesale. Realizing the huge opportunity to be one of the first companies to wholesale online, in 2004 I changed my retail handbag website to a wholesale handbag website, which catered to small boutiques nationwide that couldn’t afford to travel to markets and trade shows across the country.

As the company grew, I realized I didn’t want to quit my corporate job to just sell other people’s bags for the rest of my life so I decided to start my own brand and call it Katydid! Today we not only sell bags but women’s hats, clothing, luggage tags, phone rings, earrings, swim cover-ups and more. We are truly now a lifestyle brand.

2. Looking back is there anything you wish you knew before you launched?

I was very savvy and was very interested in learning anything I could to help the business grow, but I wish I would have had a business mentor in the early years. The early years I spent a lot of time trying to figure out things on my own and teaching myself while a simple friendship with a business mentor probably would have gone a long way. Today, I have many successful friends or mentors in business and they always help when needed.

3. Describe a challenge you faced as a business owner.

There are many challenges when you own your own business! Keeping up with the ever-changing fashion demands and trends is for sure a challenge, especially since the world is now online and consumers expect “fast fashion.” You don’t have as much time to plan like in the past, you have to act quickly.

4. What is your business’ most successful form of marketing?

Since we were one of the first companies online 18+ years ago, we have a very large customer newsletter list. Email marketing is our most successful form of marketing, but we are looking into heavily expanding into social and influencer marketing which we fill like will surpass email marketing at some point in the near future.

5. What inspires you and fuels your creativity?

I love that the business is at a place where we can truly give back and help make a difference in the world. Whether that be helping employees through rough times or donating money to different charitable causes or individuals in need.

6. What advice do you have for those looking to go from employee to entrepreneur?

Be prepared that owning your own company is a lot of hard work, but also one of the most rewarding things as well. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears as I call it. Diversity is key in a business today. I learned the hard way that you can’t put all your eggs in one basket and rely on a handful of accounts or platforms. For instance, if you are a brand, you have to sell online via a website, do social selling via Instagram and Facebook, sell offline at events or trade shows, on third party marketplaces, retail and wholesale and so on. You must be everywhere now!

7. Who is a boss lady who inspires you and why?

Sara Blakely! – She saw a niche for a new product. She developed the product and she went essentially from store to store until she got her big break and she scaled with the right people. And she loves to empower other women.

Find out more about Katy and her collections
Website | Wholesale Website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

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Boss Lady: Ridha Sekhri

Boss Lady is a series that shares personal insights from creative women in business. This week, we talk to Ridha Sekhri, creator and co-founder of Twelve and Twenty Eight, a thoughtful and personalized graphic design company that treats your business with the same care and passion as if it were their own. Strong dedication to her values, a meaningful connection to people, and an unending search for creative inspiration are what sets Ridha apart when creating brand designs with Twelve and Twenty Eight’s clients-turned-friends.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career.

Hello! My name is Ridha and I am a self-taught graphic designer thriving in the windy city Chicago. Having a degree in Computer Science never satisfied me as I could never visualize myself hiding behind lines of code but rather behind captivating visual designs and bespoke brands. After a short stint in the corporate world, here I am 5 years into this field of graphic design, making the world a more creative place in my own little ways.

2. What about graphic design attracted you to it?

The fact that I get to express myself through visuals. Build art around a concept. The idea of establishing a connection with the audience through thoughtful and creative problem solving was and still is so enticing!

3. Before Twelve and Twenty Eight, you did freelance graphic design. Describe your experience as a freelance graphic designer.

Freelancing was a good way to start this journey. My priority back then was to take up a variety of graphic design work, different gigs with different clients – small startups, big corporations, independent business owners and the likes so as to build a portfolio, a platform to showcase my skills and hone them. Along the way, doing random work I have found my niche which is branding for unique small businesses and creative entrepreneurs. This journey has been an asset, rooting me to my mission which is to work not just for but together with my clients to build their brands with love.

4. What inspires and fuels your creativity?

Talking to fellow creatives, reaching out to them and asking them questions. Being curious, having an urge to learn from the best, and expanding my horizons fuels me. Other than that, looking at the amazing work being done by these much-accomplished designers is a real morale booster.

5. You volunteer with Start Small Think Big, how did you find this organization and what do you like about it?

My experience was amazing! Through Start Small Think Big, I got an opportunity to help individuals who have business ideas but do not have the means to make it happen. I used my design skills to help out 3 unique business owners with branding and identity designs and bringing their visions to life. This organization is doing a great job in creating a setup for qualifying individuals to get financial, legal, marketing, and advertising assistance.

6. How important is design and branding to a new business?

Extremely important! There is a lack of awareness about how important it is to have proper branding for a new business. Branding is not just a good looking logo, it is much beyond that. It is a language that visually sets a tone for your business, the work you do, connect with the audience you want to target, and more importantly how you want your business to come across. Careful initial evaluation of the above is what I make sure that I do so that all the eventual designs for the brand are cohesive and speak for the brand in unison.

7. Who is a boss lady who inspires you and why?

My close friend and coincidentally my client Smita Kishore, co-founder of Simply Smita – handmade, organic and socially conscious skincare products. She is such an inspiration in my life! Her business is so rooted in positive intent through consciously sourced, organic ingredients and a commitment to the environment, sustainability, fair-trade, and service. A rare find!

Just for fun:

What is your favorite activity to do when you want to relax and destress?  Creating cool typography designs, reading a gripping fiction novel or catching up on my favorite shows.
Favorite dish:  Something that has spinach and cheese! Chocolate dessert without a doubt!
Last song you listened to:  Dancing With a Stranger by Sam Smith and Normani
Best memory from Panjab University:  The time when I first met my best friend who is now an irreplaceable part of my life.
If you could learn any skill, what would it be?  I would love to learn to care less about what the world thinks and be immune. Wishful thinking!

To see more of Ridha’s awesome work, follow her on Instagram and Facebook!

 

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