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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Boss Lady: Elissa Bloom

Elissa Bloom, executive director of the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator - Boss Lady - Social Stylate

Boss Lady is a series that shares personal insights from creative women in business. This week, we chat with Elissa Bloom, the executive director at The Philadelphia Fashion Incubator, where newly emerging fashion designers grow their brand in a designers-in-residence program. Elissa “brings a unique and fresh understanding to the world of fashion and business.” 

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career.
I grew up in Boston and am an alumnus of UMASS Amherst.  I always had a love of travel and have lived in London, Los Angeles, Paris, and New York before moving to Philadelphia in 2008.  While in New York, I worked in product development at Bloomingdales and traveled on many international buying trips to Asia and Europe to finalize samples and attend trade shows.  Once I learned about manufacturing and production, I launched my fashion brand – Elissa Bloom New York, a line of colorful and functional accessories that sold in departments stores, boutiques, spas, and museum gift shops.  When I moved to Philadelphia I started teaching fashion entrepreneurship at Drexel and Moore and I was amazed at all the fashion talent in Philadelphia and became inspired to help women build their fashion companies in Philadelphia.

2. What is The Fashion Incubator and what is your role there?
The Philadelphia Fashion Incubator is a one-year residency that teaches the business of fashion to six emerging fashion designers.  Throughout the program we offer space at Macy’s Center City, dynamic workshops on the business of fashion, selling opportunities, business resources, mentors, trip to NYC along with exposure in the fashion eco-system of the city…all to support designers in building and growing their businesses to the next level of sustainability.

3. Last year marked Philadelphia’s first Women’s Entrepreneurship Day and also the city’s first WED conference. As the WED Philadelphia Ambassador, what changes do you hope to see in the women’s entrepreneurial community?
It is an exciting time for female entrepreneurs in Philadelphia.  There are more business resources (co-working spaces, mentorship, education) available to support women in launching and building their companies in the region.   What I would like to see more of is investment opportunities for women-owned companies.  In addition, more networking opportunities for women from various sectors to connect and collaborate together.

4. As a woman passionate about supporting other women, what do you think of the conversations happening in our culture right now?
There is a strong paradigm shift taking place with women becoming more fearless in speaking their truth, strong in standing up for others and themselves along with being courageous in stepping in their power to lead themselves and others.

5. Who is a Boss Lady you admire and why?
My favorite boss lady is Donna Karan.  I recently heard her speak and she is the ultimate female entrepreneur – combining her extraordinary talent passion and vision to build her Donna Karan empire, sell it and then reinvent herself by launching Urban Zen and giving back to the global community through teaching and showcasing talented artisans from around the world.

6. What advice do you have for those looking to go from employee to entrepreneur?
Develop your product/services, do extensive market research and launch as a side hustle before leaving your day job.  Know that entrepreneurship is a roller coaster of a ride and you will have many highs and lows along your business journey, to create an advisory board and support yourself and your goals with a strong team. Focus on the next three months, build slowly and if you love what you are doing it will never feel like work.

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