In celebration of International Women’s Day, rag & bone created space for mamas to come together and learn from a few inspiring mama bosses leading innovation in their industries. Our CEO and Co-Founder Katya Libin sat down with Dawn Dobras (CEO of Credo Beauty), Heather Terry (Founder & Co-Founder of Paper Greats and HKT Consulting), Janet Mandell (Founder of By:Fashionaholic), and Johanna Grange (Co-Founder of Oak St Social). Each panelist shared a bit about who helped them get where they are today, and they dropped so much wisdom we couldn’t help but share it.
Panel answers edited for conciseness and clarity. All photos by Hannah Schweiss Photography.
“My dad. He was an entrepreneur, he owned his business for 40 years and just retired last year. I think that’s where it truly came from. My dad worked hard his whole life. He always made time for family. I thought, “I want to do that,” except I didn’t know what I wanted to do, what I wanted to start, until later. So it started with him.”
I think my dad was a big part of my entrepreneurial journey, he started his business out of nowhere. Immigrated from South Korea to give us a better life and started out of nowhere. He failed, but he picked himself back up and he worked 40+ years running a successful business.
I also think that all of you, everyone here, has given me the empowerment to run a business and be successful.
After I graduated from college with a journalism degree, I went to work at a boutique ad agency here in Chicago on the account side. Truly I was horrible at that job. I was trying to navigate what the heck I ass doing, and it was like baptism by fire. But the VP of marketing, who was this amazing powerhouse who never made you feel inferior, had an open door policy. Even as this junior minion I would go in there and lament to her that I didn’t know how to do a media buy for the Tribune, and she would listen. She just magically had a half hour to listen and guide me, and I thought “I want to be that kind of leader.” And now she’s stuck with my my whole career. It’s funny, she’ll leave comments on our Instagram feeds and I pat myself on the back a little because she’s someone I’ve really admired.
I kind of stalked people. Not like crazy stalk but like, nice stalk. I’d like stalk people on LinkedIn and be like “hey, you’ve done great things, will you talk to me?…You want to find people who really know what they’re doing who are willing to give you a little bit of their time. Always buy them a cup of coffee, send them a thank you note or some free product. A thank you means a lot.
I have experienced that hardly anyone says no to a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. If you give them a choice between caffeine or alcohol almost everyone says yes…male, female. And without an ask. I just want to get to know you, I just want to get advice. I’ve found that technique really helpful in my career. I feel lucky that my personal passons lined up with industries where there are a lot of female role models. I have been in fashion, retail, beauty, yoga, and home design, and I’ve had leadership roles in all of those areas. Almost all of my either direct bosses or CEOs I’ve worked under have been women…Michelle Obama says in her book that “you have to see it to know that it’s possible.
As a small business owner, if somebody says “Hey Janet, I need to take two days off next week” I’m very flexible and I think that gives them the respect that they deserve because they work hard. If we can work without them being there, I’m flexible.
I’m gonna shoot you straight, I don’t read. I wish i did. And I talk to so many people who tell me about these amazing books and podcasts and I’m like, god that sounds good. I can read! I read what’s online, and I read bedtime stories. I’m an expert at Disney voices. Right now, the way that I’m absorbing inspiration and learning how to become a better businesswoman is through those intimate moments with other entrepreneurs. And that’s what works for me right now. I have big aspirations to read books. But for me it’s about events like this, networking, having one on ones, passing that card, and asking “what’s working for you?” It’s a little old school, perhaps I am too.
I love the Harvard Business Review. They do these little essays on specific topics—one is on mental toughness, they’re on all different kinds of topics. They’re great for when your brain is fried at the end of the night and you just want to absorb something but you only have 15 minutes. I’m also a big NPR junkie.
When we were fundraising, one VC told me “whatever you think it is, add a year and a half.” We were like, we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do that, and he was like, “add a year and a half.” I don’t know if it’s a year and a half, I don’t know if it’s six months, I don’t know if it’s two years, it’s longer than you think. And it’s a lot of work.
I will add one thing: when something’s working—when a business works—you know it. Phones are ringing (not that anyone’s like, picking up the phone these days), emails are flying in, deals are coming in. When you’re really solving a problem that exists at the right time with the right product, things work. So even if it’s not working as quickly as you like but it is working, it will happen. If you feel like you’re pushing and hitting a lot of roadblocks, and it’s just not moving, then it might be time to pivot.
Could there have been a more fitting setting for this amazing convo than rag & bone? It only makes sense that the brand that makes clothes for the modern lady boss would play host to a panel discussion empowering mama bosses in our Chicago community and beyond.