Name : Martha Fickinger
Style Venture Inc.
The further I venture into my entrepreneurship adventure, the more I realize that things happen for a reason in a logical sequence. We have to live through the rough stuff to emerge out the other side more confident and competent. When we plunge into the unknown, we have no choice but to learn. The universe gives us signs we don’t always see at the time.
Jumping in: At 22, I was the youngest person in my office. Lack of seniority earned me the honor of transcontinental courier-ship for my first business trip. I went from JFK to LAX with 8 trunks of one-of-a-kind sweaters bound for a trade show. There was nary a skycap in sight when I landed. I somehow made it into a vehicle and found my way to a downtown hotel. Four hours later I set it up, I made it look good and had it ready for the senior sales team. Later I found a party, a recurring theme in my life to this day. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was my initiation to working and playing through sleep deprivation and jet lag. This talent served me for years of global sourcing adventures, as well as the early years of parenthood.
Trial by Fire: I was 30 and newly engaged. Karen was nine months pregnant when she hired me to run her department. She planned to come back after three months, but there were issues with her first child after the arrival of the second. The company was acquired and embarked into a rapid expansion under new ownership. New products were being added all the time, order quantities were quadrupled and financial expectations increased. One of my suppliers just couldn’t seem to do what I was asking them to do. My boss told me to get on a plane to India as soon as I could get a visa. At that time a trip to southern India from the east coast of the US meant a stop in Europe or Asia. It was a two day adventure just to get there. On day three I was expected to be up and working with my supplier until the samples looked right and the prices got better. Suffice it to say as the only American woman in the room, there were cultural challenges to meeting these expectations. It was hot, nobody else looked like me, my digestive tract was compromised, and I was tired as hell. The phones and fax machines didn’t work well. There was no internet. This was a time to learn tenacity and grace under pressure. In retrospect, I loved every moment. The colors, the light, the differences in the culture fascinated me. I was hooked.
Truly a Circus: I was 39, the mother of a two year old and eight months pregnant. I had a fledgling B To B consulting practice. I’d taken the plunge into local philanthropy as co-chair of the Junior Woman’s Club’s Ways and Means Committee. Our annual fall fundraiser at the time was a circus. A genuine, old school, one ring in a tent with side shows and performers of all nations and rescued animals Old Time Circus. An all general admission bleacher seats, no climate control, rain, animal stinky, screaming kids, cotton candy circus. And I was honorary ringmaster, giant belly, in my last pair of shoes that fit, managing the press, the crazy parents expecting VIP seating, the animal rights activists at the gate and kids melting down. I loved every minute of the chaos. I managed what I could, raised money for local causes, and learned to pick my battles. Now that I have two teenagers and two businesses and sit on two boards, the multitasking skill set serves me every day.
Getting Unstuck: Last year after representing W by Worth for 6 years, I found myself in a funk. I had a great group of loyal customers, had served on leadership panels, and continued to achieve Top Seller recognition. I had joined several local networking groups and loved the new contacts I made. Still, something was missing. I was ready for a new challenge. I’ve worked with sportswear and tailored clothing for men, women of all sizes, and kids. The apparel classification I’d never technically designed or sourced was lingerie. There I was, at a vendor event, meeting the familiar beauty and jewelry company representatives, and there was a woman from peach. And there I was, having a Bra-Ha Moment. I didn’t sign on right away. I can honestly say I recruited myself. The more I thought about it, the more I realized what a great synergy it had with my existing business. I could help women get dressed better from their base layer up, and I could broaden my customer base to teens, seniors, and women of all shapes and sizes. I dove in to being a bra fitter with a fabulous launch last summer. In January I attended to peach’s Sucessfest in Miami and committed to building a team. Today I’m preparing to attend peach’s Leadership conference in Boston. In June I’ll be at Worth’s 25th Annual Preview Celebration as a Club Level seller. Today my challenge is to pick and choose the team members, clients, events and venues which can benefit most from what I do. I love to learn and I love to share. I am grateful to my past for where it has brought me.
Name: Cathy Zahn
My Business is:
The Giving “Three” Foundation “
Catherine Zahn The Giving “Three” Foundation “ -making survival accessible.
~creating products that help educate the world. 100% of the Proceeds from your Gracie Greene purchase are used to support the Zahn School in Cambodia.
Overcoming a hurdle to help others overcome a greater hurdle—this is how it started for Gracie Greene, LLC. Our business challenge was to create a product that would raise awareness and funds to help fight Human Trafficking of young girls in Cambodia. What would that product be?
We created dolls made from 100% recycled materials, customized dog coats and finally decided that functional, one of a kind Tote Bags and accent Pillows would be our niche. Trial and error, focus group feedback as well as the organic nature of the burlap led us to our product lines. Our business model is designed so that Gracie Greene is a self-sufficient company earning funds from product sales, not relying on constant fund raising events for revenue. Gracie Greene, LLC is a non for profit company, donating 100% of the company profits to the Zahn School in Cambodia . Recycling is part of our product creation. We design one of a kind, burlap coffee bean sack and leather tote bags and pillows. Business hurdle, no longer a hurdle, we have our products and manufacturing in place.
The greater hurdle is helping to keep young girls out of the sex trafficking rings in Cambodia. One solution is to enroll them or keep them in school, but in a country where so many things are stacked against them this is not an easy task. Following the genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and continued, profound poverty, the despair here can drive a father to sell his young daughter for $50.
So, by now you must be thinking, what in the world can I/one person do to help? This social problem is so vast, is it worth mitigating and what good are my good intentions?
Through our partnership with World Assistance for Cambodia and a program called Girls Be Ambitious we developed a 2- step plan:
Now everyone is incentivized to keep the children in school and for each year the child is educated she/he will move from oppression to opportunity! The Zahn School was opened in 2014 with the funds generated from Gracie Greene products. Computers and an English Language Program will be the next donation for the school.
As we navigate through our businesses and encounter hurdles it is important to think through solutions from different points of views and to be realistic about the complexities of achieving change. In the 1990s a Senator wanted to help Bangladeshi girls laboring in sweat shops, so he introduced legislation that would ban imports made by workers under the age of fourteen. Bangladeshi factories fired tens of thousands of these young girls and many ended up in brothels.
“Obstacles wouldn’t be called hurdles if there was not a way to get over them”