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2020 Takeaways From a Founder's Perspective

Posted by Brianna Kilcullen on

As we close out the year, a year that has tried all of us in more ways than one, I wanted to share the takeaways that I have experienced as a founder and first time business owner. 

It was important for me to write down everything that I have experienced for my own sanity and for those that will come after me so that if anyone can learn from my mistakes and move through with a bit more ease into the unknown then I know those experiences were not in vain. Also, because I believe now more than ever we need conscious capitalists on this planet. 

My takeaways on the various topics:

On Being a Founder

  • Founding a movement, business, product(s) is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. 
  • No one is going to give it all like you will. You have to accept that. You also will never grow if you're the only one doing everything. 
  • You're going to fuck up. This 2 min video makes you feel less bad about it.
  • You'll find out who your real friends are and fast. The notion of 9-5 becomes an obsolete concept. The friends that pick up your call at 2am knowing you are completely sober and playing the 'what if' conversation on repeat in your head and just need someone to talk to are your ride or dies. The key to the 'what if' conversation is to change it from what if this goes to wrong to what if my craziest dream really DO come true.
  • Partying, drinking, mindless conversations, smoking, gossiping will start to make you cringe and you wonder how you ever found yourself in those crowds.
  • Founder depression is real and maintaining a healthy mental and physical state is everything. Morning rituals become your daily foundation. 
  • Your brain is going to feel like it's going to crack from all of the neuroplasticity occurring. Just commit to being a lifetime learner.
  • Being quiet and observing will tell you everything you need to know without saying a word when reading a situation and/or people. 
  • Being comfortable being uncomfortable is okay and it won't destroy you.
  • Sometimes you outgrow people around you (okay, a lot of the time) and it can be uncomfortable to move on but what's more uncomfortable is staying. Trust me.
  • Heal yourself and you can heal the world.
  • Be prepared to go into beastmode when needed (not all the time). For me, it's channeling this inner power that I can get anything done and going for it regardless of my previous understanding or experience in the subject matter. I have learned how to code, build Anact's website, run Anact's marketing strategy, whatever it takes. Thank goodness my parents named me Brianna which in Irish means strong. I channel that energy all the time.
  • Subconscious projecting is a real thing. Do your part and own what is yours and let the rest go. 
  • The notion that it is lonely at the top is right but also wrong. There are moments of loneliness but it's only because you are making space to connect with people on your wavelength which become fewer but more cherished relationships. 
  • Therapy and having someone to talk to about the things you don't want to tell anyone you are thinking is so important. I can't stress this enough. Somatic therapy has been my favorite because I have released past trauma within my body that has allowed me to shine light on my shadows and not be afraid of my own self. This is the woman that I work with and I am so grateful for her love and light. 
  • Knowing your weaknesses and leaning into them are you strengths. I used this tool to identify my perceived weaknesses. 
  • Asana is my favorite way to compile my thoughts, ideas, to dos so they don't live in my head.
  • Your family might be a little taken aback by your massive growth spurts. I remember both of my parents sitting me down last year and being like... you're going where none of us have gone. That's okay. 
  • Have faith in the process. Nothing grows forever. Rest is required.
  • Dating is just tough. It's really hard to explain all that you have going on without scaring men off. "Hi my name is Brianna. I won't stop at anything until I have a cash positive business that is disrupting the textile and hemp space and have created a movement around activism. Can you pass the bread?" Yeah, safe to say that I haven't quite cracked that code yet.
  • Know your outlets. For me, I have found that running, yoga, pilates, bike riding and surfing do the trick. Anything outside that connects me with nature. I ran the NYC marathon in 2019 with my family and that experience helped tremendously when dealing with a start-up.  
  • Moving your body and exercise is everything. I have become addicted to Melissa Wood Health workouts
  • Boundaries are underrated. I really love saying no these days because setting boundaries and knowing what is in line with your values allows you to say yes to what is meant for you. 
  • Maxing out credit cards and having business debt is a really really shitty feeling but it forces you remember why you're doing what you're doing and hold yourself accountable.
  • Put horseblinders on and don't look around you - focus on the goal. You'll be surprised what you'll capable of when all you're focused on is doing your best. 
  • Don't take anything personally. Don't judge others. Be true to your word, always. Whatever is meant for you is meant for you and you won't be able to stop it from happening. Protect your energy.
  • Failure is not failing. It's just not doing it. 
  • Always be ready to pivot and write down your goals and look back at what you've done to build momentum. There are no pat on the backs from anyone else but you.
  • Become friends with other founders who think like you even if they aren't in the same space so you can help each other out.
  • Fuck the media (for the most part). It's almost all noise directed at constant activation of our fight/flight sensory and to ensure job security and money for the news channels. Turn it off.
  • Breathe. Your breath is everything. Self-partner with yourself to be the best version of yourself. I got a tattoo inspired by Rising Woman on my hand to remind me of such when the thoughts (key word: thoughts) inevitably try to tell you otherwise. I come from a conservative family so I thought this would be a fantastic time to get a tattoo because I thought it would be the least interesting thing to happen in 2020 next to the government openly acknowledging aliens existence. 
  • Stay committed to solving problems instead of creating fluff.
  • Discovering you are whole and to always lead with the heart. It will never steer you wrong.
  • Drink lots of lemon water.
  • You can't worry about tomorrow - just today.
  • I hear sex is a great stress reliever but that tool hasn't been in my toolbox so I'll let you know once it is.
  • You won't know if you don't go. Send the email, go to the meeting, make the call. Perfection is the enemy of good.
  • You cannot do it all. Period. Read this book to help you release that idea. I kept wondering how much money I should make until I read this book and Keller disclosed "make enough to fulfill your passion and purposes." Gold.

On Start-Up Money

  • Know your value and self-worth so you can command what you need otherwise someone else will. Learn to trust your gut. If it's not a definite yes - it's a no.
  • Not all money is good money. There is cheap money, smart money and bad money. 
  • The key to money is creating a financial model to know what you need and not getting stuck in the emotional connotation that is so easy to occur when it comes to finances (especially for women). The goal should be for the business to hit the sales needed to sustain the well-being of the business without outside capital. Period. 
  • Instant gratification has really taken a toll on how we perceive simple transactions around us. Everyone wants results and fast. They want to know what they need to give and how soon they can get their return back instead of aligning on the journey with the goal to win financially and non-financially together. 
  • Angel investors are angels for a reason. 
  • Accepting loads of VC (venture capital) or PE (private equity) capital and feeling safe is an illusion. Many businesses are not profitable and you have no idea what is going on behind the veil. As difficult as it is to stick to only what you need, you learn quickly that the saying "diamonds are made under pressure" rings true under those circumstances. 
  • There are huge gaps in funding for start-ups in the US infrastructure. 
  • Bootstrapping your own business can take an incredible toll on your mental health.
  • Want to learn more? Check out this piece that I wrote earlier this year on how to finance a start-up.

On People

  • Whether you're a solopreneur or have a co-founder, hire and work with people who have the same values. Period. 
  • Surrounding yourself with people who get it and know the why behind what you're doing is everything. 
  • You really don't know who someone is until you've known them at least a year. Slow really is fast. 
  • To that end, hire slow and fire fast.
  • The minute someone shows you how to save money while making money, hire them. 
  • People who say they know business rarely have a clue on how to BUILD a business. There is a fine line. A founder might not be a great CEO but they will always know more about the ethos of the business than any other CEO. 
  • People truly do want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. 
  • The customer is not always right. If I did everything the customer said, I would be running around with my head chopped off. Instead, we should change the saying to "that customer might not be the right customer for you". 
  • When partnering with others whether it be a freelancer, agency, or brand - make sure everyone has skin in the game and clear KPI (key performance indicator) metrics as well as a contract around those. 

On Being Digital

  • E-commerce is essentially data meets tech. 
  • Paid media is wild and a really interested channel. 
  • Learning SEO (search engine optimization) and becoming friends with Google is one of the most interesting things I have ever learned. 
  • We should all learn how to code in school. 
  • At the end of the day, what you have to say and your content is king (or shall we say, queen). 
  • Social media is a bitch and I don't know how to slice and dice it because I want to meet our customers where they are at but I also am seriously concerned about our mental health and well being the more time we stay on our phones and social media. 

On Resources

    • Use your network. You never know who has a connection that could be a game changer.
    • DIY as much as possible even if it's uncomfortable. You want to know how everything works even if it's not your job so you know what is fair to expect from others.
    • If you're based in the US:
      • Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is a fantastic resource and FREE! I have used so many templates and met so many great people through the center.
      • Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) is another great resource of mentors that you can connect with that are free around the country. One of my SCORE mentors helps us draft our financials in less than a week.  
      • Small Business Association (SBA) provides great resources on how to sell to the government and financing options in the form of government backed loans. Only downside is that these loans aren't available until you have three years of business financials and the collateral to back it up. It's funny, the things I thought made me unstoppable, no children, no mortgage, no full-time job, no partner - are actually seen as the biggest red flags for banks because they can't figure out how best to collect their money if things go south.
    • If you're based in Jacksonville, I went through UNF's Innovation & Entrepreneur Center, which was a fantastic space to get access to resources I couldn't afford and a safe space to hold meetings and work while networking with other founders. 
    • Slack channels are hot right now especially due to COVID-19. I am a part of channels such as Dough and Babes Who Hustle and have been able to find great recommendations and referrals.
    • Upwork and Fiverr are your friends! 
    • Several books that have guided my on my journey: 

On Looking at 2021

  • Letting myself be okay with what I don't know. I beat myself up for not knowing things all the time. It's the equivalent of me thinking I should be fluent in Russian without ever having taken a course on Russian. No bueno. Or shall I saw не хорошо (no good) in Russian. Yes, I googled and copy pasted that.
  • Doing less and making more happen while being and showing up for the people I love and creating memories and being present for the moments.
  • Being vulnerable and leaning into human connection. Eek, that one was a hard one to type.
  • Leading with love in everything I do first and foremost. God is love. It's the strongest force that I have ever experienced. 
  • Not being afraid of failure, which for me means letting the people down who believe in me, not delivering on our product's promise, losing money and time. 
  • Believing in abundance. Enjoying the journey! 
  • Making Anact a beacon to connect and bring our shadows into the light and fight the voices and thoughts instead of one another while we take care of the planet.

I'll leave you with this quote that the founder of prAna once shared with me when I told him I was going to start Anact:

“When you are inspired by some great purposesome extraordinary projectall of your thoughts break their bondsYour mind transcends limitations; your consciousness expands in every direction; and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world." - Patanjali

And that's the tea.  

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FASHION REVOLUTION

Posted by Brianna Kilcullen on

I never expected to be working in the fashion industry. Far from it. After I graduated from university, I booked a one-way flight to Gulu, Uganda where I focused on the role that international development can play to alleviate poverty. It's wasn't until my apartment lease in DC and the invoice of my student loans came a knocking that I switched gears and moved back to the States.

Upon moving back home, I ended up with a job interview at a little old company called, Under Armour. I'll never forget renting a Zip Car (do those even still exist?) to make the drive from my apartment on U Street to Baltimore. After a series of successful interviews, I was offered a position as Sourcing Coordinator working in UA's Supply Chain. And so began my career in the fashion industry. 

All I knew was that I cared about workers rights and the impact that our purchases have on people and the planet. Anything that could get me closer to feeling like I could make a difference was my sole focus. Lo and behold, I got all of that and a bag of vegan potato chips.

Here's what I want you to know that I learned from my time working for some of the largest brands in the world.

  • I learned the textile industry operates on a vicious 18 month cycle where designers forecast trends at least 2-3 seasons out from when they are actually worn (which creates a lot of waste) and there are cut throat negotiations with factory owners to secure the cheapest price to make said garments.
  • I learned that the factories are squeezed and that trade agreements often dictate sourcing decisions and that there is not one person who makes our clothes... there are hundreds.
  • I learned that sustainability and corporate social responsibility often fall in legal departments instead of being implemented in every business function.
  • I learned that greenwashing is real and very alive.
  • Most importantly, I learned that the brands don't have any skin in the supply chain game and that the people who do all the work have the most skin yet the smallest voice in the conversation. 

I could go on and on on what I learned these past ten years. And if you have specific questions... I'm happy to answer. Just drop a note in the comments.

But the main point is that the decision that I made to leave working on the brand side wasn't because I wanted to start my own brand. It was because I knew that a job needed to be done to educate people about the real story behind how our clothes are made. And Anact was born.

Anact is created to inspire us to take simple acts to create impact each day. One of our acts is to focus on disrupting the textile industry and connecting you with the people, places and story behind the clothes we wear every day. That's why we are committed to supporting Fashion Revolution Week to commemorate those we lost in Rana Plaza on April 24, 2013. 

I believe that what we have experienced with COVID-19 (and are continuing to experience) is a dress rehearsal for what the climate crisis can and will bring and that addressing the role that the fashion industry plays in contributing to climate change and people's lives sooner rather than later will prepare us as a global community. Join me in the movement of asking #whomademyclothes 

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JOY

Posted by Brianna Kilcullen on

As the days become weeks, the weeks feel like months and a month feels like a year… I struggle to grasp a sense of time that feels right for where it makes sense to “be” in the midst of a pandemic.

I comb my body to see if anything has changed… has my hair gotten longer? Have I gained or lost weight? Do my fingernails need to be cut? Then I move to my mental state. Where am I in the 5 stages of grief? Am I on track? Did I regress? Am I still in shock? And then I realize that none of it matters.

The elusion of being told when something will be over no longer exists in this current time and space. It is and will be on going. It’s how I choose to respond and face my inner fears about myself, my relationships and the universe that is all that matters anymore. Eek. That’s scary to say. The things that I have told myself will define me and will provide feelings of accomplishment and “success” have been thrown out the window.

It’s just me holding me.

It’s me letting parts of my body (alright, fine, my heart) sing for the first time in a long time. It’s the moments of joy that I experience as I sit out on the stoop and have the neighborhood boy, Jonah, stroll up beside me and strike up a conversation.

The unstoppable smile that broke out on my face as he shared his love of dinosaurs, dragons, elves and wizards and his 7 year old perspective of the virus. The look on my face when we talked about The Hobbit and I shared my thoughts on Bilbo Baggins only to have him remind me not to forget his favorite, Frodo. Or when I asked him if he would like to play basketball when it was safe to do so again and he told me that it was one of his favorite sports but he thought we needed five people to make a team. I told him that we could play 1x1 and that I wanted to give him a heads up that I’m pretty good so he shouldn’t be surprised if I beat him only to have him respond that he is pretty good at sports too and not be afraid if he beats me.

Before I could ask him another question, his dad called his name to come back inside. I wished him a Happy Easter before he left and he stopped and told me he didn’t celebrate Easter but he wished me a happy one as well.

As he skipped away with his impromptu bat (a bamboo stick), I felt this immense joy erupt inside of me. The child-like joy of seeing another human being in their raw, authentic, and unencumbered self.

The realization of the depth of my own heart that I knew was there but hadn’t let be herself in a long time. (In all fairness, starting one’s own company really did kick my ass and I adopted a very drill sergeant and militant attitude to persevere through the hard times that served me then but no longer serve me now).

I continue to ponder this thought as I wrap my headphones around my iPhone and peel myself off the stoop and continue to let that feeling of JOY course through my veins and wash over my heart and my body. I let my childhood memories emerge and things that younger Bri longed for and still longs for emerge.

I’m jolted slightly as I bring myself back to reality walking in my socks on the gravel to retrieve a painting that had caught my eye earlier that morning. You see, when I popped out of the house earlier this morning, there was a piece of artwork that he had drawn that was waiting for me outside when I walked out the door. I’m pretty sure it’s a bat. I didn’t pick it up then but something inside told me to do it now.

Why you ask? Because last week on the night of the first full moon, a bat flew over my head in that exact same spot that I sat talking to Jonah. I know that it might not seem like much but as I cling for the moments of joy, it feels like everything.

Sending you loads of joy,

Brianna

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HEMP

Posted by Brianna Kilcullen on

For most people, a brief scan of LinkedIn, commenting on a post or responding to an invitation to connect counts as the week’s networking effort and activity. Brianna Kilcullen is not most people. When I call Kilcullen mid-October, a cheery voice with a cold greets me on the other end. After two weeks abroad in Europe, attending conferences and meeting potential collaborators, she’s relieved to be back home in Jacksonville, Florida. Vegetables and sleep had been hard to come by during those hectic weeks abroad.

Kilcullen, a sustainability and supply chain consultant and self-described introvert, is no newbie to entrepreneurism nor adaptability. From a stint with the Secret Service to working on international development and land equity in South Sudan and Northern Uganda, to leading supply chain management and corporate social responsibility programs at outdoor industry companies, Kilcullen has woven a varied career. Today, she’s carving out a unique space in one of the most fraught sectors of the outdoor industry: textiles.

In recent years, the outdoor industry has taken a more vocal stance on sustainability and social responsibility. A 2018 report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change amplified the urgency of these initiatives, and with textiles, hemp may be the clearest solution.

Kilcullen was first introduced to hemp while traveling in Qingdao, China. “I had the opportunity to see firsthand the impact hemp has had on the Chinese government, military, farmers and economy,” Kilcullen says. “It changed me forever.”

In the U.S., hemp’s status is complicated both legally and culturally, and stakeholders must get comfortable with radical innovation in what is known as a “disruptors’ arena.”

“Hemp is a pretty lethal fiber,” Kilcullen says. “It’s multifaceted in a way that cotton, polyester and nylon are not. You can use the seed for food, the fiber for textiles and the hurd can be used for building homes.”

Hemp is also naturally antibacterial, antimicrobial, UV-resistant and biodegradable. It also bests cotton when it comes to environmental impact. Cotton, the thirstiest crop in the world, uses 24 percent of the world’s insecticides and pesticides. Hemp is a regenerative crop that revitalizes the soil, uses little to no water and doesn’t need insecticides or pesticides.

Kilcullen says, “I worry a bit that we put too much pressure on [hemp’s] ability to reverse the negative consequences we’ve had with cotton production. Will it work? I don’t know.”

That unknown isn’t holding Kilcullen back. A radical spirit with a desire to merge big business with positive change, she founded We the People, a company that makes hemp towels, in 2017. The company’s ethos draws on the history of the crop as integral to the founding of the U.S.—the first flag was sewn from hemp fiber, the Founding Fathers were hemp farmers and the U.S. Constitution was drafted on hemp paper—and Kilcullen’s desire to align business, social and environmental goals.

So where does hemp stand? In December 2018, President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which includes a provision to allow the legal cultivation of hemp. Ideally, we’ll soon see hemp move from hushed conversations at conferences—legend goes that Giorgio Armani used to make his famous suits exclusively of hemp, though now the fiber is totally taboo—to being widely recognized and utilized as one of the best options for environment-friendly textiles.

We the People’s towels are in development, and the company plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign in 2019. Kilcullen was recently nominated as one of MJBizCon’s 2019 Women to Watch.

She says, “I’m excited to be a part of reintroducing hemp back into the U.S. and to create a transparent industry that makes products to replace cotton and that’s better for people and for the planet.”

This story first appeared in RANGE Magazine Issue 10, which is dedicated to the idea of progress. Get your hands on a copy HERE.

Photo by Emma Pratte for The Highly x High Herstory.

XX Sophie Goodman

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BAMBOO

Posted by Brianna Kilcullen on

One of the most popular questions that I am often asked is.. what's the difference between the Anact towels and bamboo towels? Before I answer your question, I believe it's important to know there are two different fibers when it comes to textiles: natural and synthetic. Natural fibers are as their name implies: natural. You can grow them in your backyard. Examples include: cotton, hemp, linen, wool, silk etc., Synthetic fibers are man-made fibers. Examples include nylon, polyester, rayon etc., These fibers are petroleum derived which means you cannot grow them in your backyard and they are manipulated by humans to become textiles. Bamboo i.e. rayon is one of those fibers. 

The reason that bamboo is not sustainable (even though growing bamboo is sustainable as long as it is not contributing to deforestation) is because of a chemical solvent that is used to break down the bamboo which wipes out any trace of the bamboo in the textile manufacturing process. If you were to test a bamboo towel, you would find there is no bamboo to trace. And have you ever wondered why there is no organic certification for bamboo? That's because the Global Organic Trade Association refuses to certify rayon fabric even if the start with organic bamboo. If you'd like to learn more about the history of bamboo/rayon fabric click here

Here's an illustration to show you the difference between natural and synthetic fiber processing: 

 

Textile Manufacturing Process

Due to lack of regulatory requirements on greenwashing in the United States, many companies take advantage of customers by marketing false information to appear to be "green". For example, I was in Costco several years ago and saw a blanket that had sheep pictured on it to make one think that blanket had wool in it. Upon checking the care and content label, I discovered it was 100% polyester. Unfortunately, this happens all the time. 

It's one of the reasons why I started Anact and I created the Anact towels. I wanted to know what was in my towel and I wanted to share the people and the process behind it. That's why we use only natural fibers (hemp and cotton) in the creation of our towels and we have two colors available that are not dyed with chemicals. We offer undyed and unbleached (natural) and undyed (white). Our goal in the future is to utilize natural dyeing methods to achieve a larger color palette offering to our customers but for right now, we believe in being as transparent as possible about what is in our towels so that you know what you're putting on your body!

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