Kate Spade’s death haunts me. That’s the thing about famous people. You hear news about them and even without knowing who they are, we somehow feel a connection to them. I had heard the story of how she and her husband started their business on the “How I Built This” NPR podcast roughly a year or so before her untimely death and their story felt a lot like ours.
Like Russell and me, Andy and Kate got into a business they knew little about before diving in. I mean, yes, Kate had knowledge of the accessory business because she was an accessories editor, but neither of them had actually made a handbag before she well…. actually made one.
Just like us, she designed rough first samples and started their business out of their home. Like us, they went to the markets around the country to show buyers their line and like us, they started with the larger department stores. Like us, they struggled financially in the beginning and occasionally lost their enthusiasm and like us they still kept at it. Like us, they were equal partners but Kate was the face of the brand and Andy her support behind the scenes.
But that’s where our similarities end. See, unlike MAJAMAS EARTH, Kate Spade products became a household name and eventually they sold their company for millions. MAJAMAS EARTH still kinda runs like that startup company and we still have our share of struggles. The garment business is a capital heavy one, so even when big sales come in, even bigger money goes out. There’s fabrics to buy and garments to sew and the never ending expense is, well… never ending. It’s a stressful industry.
The thing is, owning any business is stressful but owning one in the fashion industry adds an extra layer of stress because you’re in a constant state of self doubt regardless of whether you’re a household name or a tiny player like MAJAMAS EARTH. Maybe that’s why I felt connected to someone like Kate.
I want to reiterate, I never met Kate Spade, nor do I want to sound as if I had any “inside” knowledge of her personal life. I can only imagine how there could have been two sides to her. I get how she may have juggled with the “talented, prestigious” image of her brand in one hand and the insecure, Do-people-still-love-this, am-I-doing-this-right? in the other.
When you own the company and you’re the one responsible for the designs you must constantly pump out, well… you’re the one who bares the full weight of your customers’ responses to your products. As the face of the brand, there’s this constant pressure to keep the products fresh and on trend. Thing is, as the face of the brand there’s an unspoken pressure YOU have to stay fresh and on trend too.
Then ya add the sleep deprivation to it. I have no idea if Kate Spade struggled with insomnia, but if she did, it definitely could have had some influence on how she perceived the world and herself. I remember reading that the most successful entrepreneurs never sleep. I used to think it was because they have so many great ideas that they must be up all night writing them down, but after 20 years of running a company, I know it’s a side effect of stress. There’s so many moving parts, so many people and things to think about, that escaping to a soft, floaty dreamland is sometimes impossible. Deep sleep only comes with sheer exhaustion and I think it’s just a nasty side effect of being a business owner and one we tend to gloss over and accept as part of the package.
The stinky thing is, sleep deprivation seems to affect women more than men and it not only damages our perception of the world, but now we know it can do real damage to our health too. I wonder if Andy slept while Kate threw laundry in, unloaded the dishwasher or worried if she’s spending enough quality time with her daughter. I wonder if she replayed her conversations during the day worrying if she said the wrong thing. I wonder if she worried about the prints she chose, making her fall deliveries or having enough zippers to finish her last production. I wonder if she watched old reruns of Andy Griffith or Dick Van Dyke to escape the present, just to fall asleep for a couple restless hours before starting all over again.
Not to say women have it harder, but we do have the babies, the hormones and the social pressure to always look and BE Super.
The thing is, female business owners don’t always have the same network to rely on that men do. Yeah, yeah, there’s organizations supporting female owners, but they run differently from men’s. They just feel more formal. Women may head to a breakfast at 8:00 a.m. or a gathering after work and there’s still an unspoken expectation to be fully “made up” and totally pulled together.
Traditionally for men, it’s been different. In the past, men could meet on a golf course and casually discuss their concerns as they played the 9th hole or grabbed a beer at the clubhouse. Now I see groups of men cycling to work or running in packs at 6:00 a.m., talking the entire time. As I pass them, I hear a things like “the client was asking for….” or “I was thinking of rolling out…”
My point is even though there are tons of groups supporting women entrepreneurs, the atmosphere they meet in still feels formal even when the pressure is supposed to be off. There’s still an unspoken expectation on women to keep up their “successful” appearances and that need for perfection can lead us to a lonely place.
So what’s the answer to helping female business owners stay healthy mentally and physically while still running their companies? Most importantly, how can we help them feel connected?
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a fanatic about exercise and healthy eating. Once again, I never knew Kate Spade and I’m certain she tried everything, but without exercise I’d be in a very lonely place. Exercise is my main connection to life outside of work. The camaraderie I get when taking a group class or lifting at the gym is imperative to keeping my attitude positive. Even if running alone, the endorphins give me that boost in serotonin I desperately need minimizing my problems when the burden of running a company is weighing me down….ok, I’m not saying exercise is the cure-all for depression. I’m just saying it’s one way to lessen anxiety and ease some tension on a daily basis.
Being the face of a brand or company is hard and sometimes downright lonely. It’s a responsibility no one can explain to you until you’re in it. I compare it to trying to explain parenthood to that smiling expecting couple. Until that baby is there, you just can’t prepare them for what’s ahead.
So yes, like Kate Spade, I own a company I started with my husband and like her (again, I’m assuming and have no knowledge) I sometimes struggle with the weight of running a company, but that’s where I think our similarities stop. I couldn’t imagine where her mind went when she finally took her life and like the rest of the world, I wish I could have infiltrated her thoughts to let her know she was a brilliant, amazingly talented person. I wish I could have met her for an HIIT class and afterward we could’ve shared our insights and visions about designing our collections. Most importantly, I wish I could’ve let her know she wasn’t alone.
Feedback from our customers is what drives me. Listening to women rave about how comfortable our bras are or how great they look in our pants is one of the biggest rewards of designing. Our customers’ appreciation of using eco-friendly fabrics and running our company ethically makes me feel as if all the hard work and sleepless nights are worth it.
So do me a favor: Invite that female business owner to your next group class or get her out on a fast paced walk and allow her to vent, move and sweat. Remind her that we’re all human and regardless of whether she runs a multi-billion dollar company or a tiny clothing line, she is doing the best she can and she should be proud of her work. Tell her life is precious and very, very short and without her in our lives, things wouldn’t feel as special. Most importantly, let her know she isn’t alone and remind her that she doesn’t always have to look and be perfect because we all make mistakes and that’s what makes us beautiful.
– Germaine Caprio, Company Owner & Designer
TO HEAR FROM YOU
What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs?
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