#57 Heather Sullivan: Founder of Vincent James Designs

_Heather Sullivan.jpg

Vincent James is a collection of elevated essentials with a sustainable approach. The brand creates the foundational pieces for a chic, timeless and minimal capsule wardrobe that allows you to get dressed with confidence and ease every time and for everything your day brings. Each piece is made using the highest quality natural fabrics and sourced and sewn sustainably and ethically.

What do you consider your top 3 core values and how do they affect how you lead your business?

My top 3 core values are empowering women, using as sustainable a process and product as possible and producing those products ethically.  
The concept of Vincent James was conceived from my own desire to feel empowered again.  I was emerging from a fog of having 3 children under 4 and in a funk emotionally. I wanted to feel like myself again and have something for me besides my family.  Expressing myself through style and design and feeling good in my clothes was something I had always valued but had lost in the chaos of raising my children. I wanted and needed a capsule collection of functional and sustainable clothing that was still chic, made me feel put-together and could take on all that my busy days held but I didn’t have the time to think much about what to wear let alone stand in front of my closet and play with styles like I used to do.  I know how much better my day can be when I feel good in what I’m wearing and I hope that by designing timeless, elevated essential pieces, women can build a capsule wardrobe that helps them express their personal style and feel good in their own skin. Ultimately I hope Vincent James pieces empower women to be better, kinder and more creative themselves. I honestly know they’re doing that for me.

Another core value is sustainability which is rooted in compassion and concern for our Mother Earth.  I grew up very close to my grandparents (Vincent James and Mary Alice Blandina) who grew a beautiful garden and instilled in me a sense of responsibility for our environment, health and quality of our food.  I lived in New Zealand in college where the appreciation and reliance on the land was a strong value and part of the Kiwi livelihood. It was also the place where I was initially introduced to merino wool. I studied nutrition and believe strongly in the quality of our diet and the more I read the more convinced I am that our health can only be as strong as our environment. And when I started having children I was awakened to the damage our clothing and consumption can have on our (or actually their) world - particularly all the synthetic polyester clothing. But I still love to make and I love fashion so I choose to design pieces that are as natural, respectful, timeless and high-quality as possible so that we can consume less but better.  The clothing is all made in Chicago by people who make a living wage and can make a life with what they make. To me, that’s another important piece of sustainability.  

Ethical production, my 3rd core value for my business, compliments and completes the other values of sustainability and empowering women.  Most of our clothes are made by women but unfortunately under less than ideal working conditions and less than living wages. I know that as women we have so much power in our purchases and can cast a vote with every dollar we spend for the world we want.  I’m not perfect and no one expects perfection, but if you want to help people, particularly helpless children who deserve more, the best way to do that is by empowering women who will then put the money they make back into their families and communities. Choosing ethically produced clothing and goods trickles down to those who can’t yet help themselves or who might not have all the opportunities at their fingertips that many of us are fortunate to have.

Can you share a time you either thought you failed or actually did fail?  How did you react and move past it, and what impact did it have on business decisions?

I’ve always felt like an entrepreneur at heart.  I’m also drawn to design and the way good design can enhance your life…and I’ve come up with a few ideas in my day!  Before Vincent James, I was working on a project making gloves for children and told everyone about it, got really close to making it a business and then it didn’t work out.  I was embarrassed, deflated and questioned if I really had it in me to start my own thing. Ultimately I think I lacked real passion for that particular product, but in the process of trying something, I started learning about fabrics, sustainability, talking to people in the industry and figuring out my true passions. I took time to just think and create freely without the pressure of building a business and ended up using some of the fabric I found and loved from the glove process and making a few pieces of clothing.  The joy I got from this creative outlet sparked the desire to build a business again and I promised myself one day that I was going to make this one work! By no means has Vincent James been easy or quick, but I’ve learned that you have to be able to pivot, bounce back, listen to what your heart is really telling you and ultimately be fiercely passionate about the product if you’re going to last through all the ups and downs of building your own business.     

What types of projects do you have coming up that we can look forward to seeing in the future?

Since Vincent James just launched 6 weeks ago I’m still very much in the production and fulfillment stage and learning everything that goes with that.  I can’t wait to get back to the design process and have a few pieces that I’ve been sketching and making with my limited sewing skills. All the new pieces will coordinate with or compliment the existing collection and since the styles are timeless, won’t push the “old” collection out of relevance.  My goal in the next year is to find fabrics that are sourced and made in the US (not just designed, cut and sewn here). There are more and more resources to help makers find the farmers who grow the fibers and I would love to be a part of this ultimate sustainable process.  

#56 Sharon Kon: Managing Director & Founder of Lovelight Pictures & Little Dumpling Films

Sharon Kon is the founder and managing director of Lovelight Pictures and Little Dumpling Films. Born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, she is an award-winning director, producer and marketing strategist. Her passion for pursuing her dreams convinced her to leave her corporate 9 to 5 to launch her own production company. 

Lovelight Pictures is born out of a little girl’s oversized dream that women can become inspirational filmmakers. Lovelight Pictures specializes in narrative, corporate and documentaries films. Meanwhile, at Little Dumpling Films, Sharon and her team help families preserve their baby and family moments that they can cherish forever. Her passion is producing films and videos with not only aesthetic appeal, but also thought-provoking and intelligent storytelling for general audiences. 

She has produced feature films, short films and documentaries, including award-winning films The Father's Love and Ultraviolet, and produced in-house commercials and corporate videos for clients, such as AIG, The Sunshine Group, Romona Keveza and Rockrose Development. She has also developed, managed and implemented marketing and communication strategies across all media and digital platforms.

What do you consider your top 3 core values and how do they affect how you lead your business?

My top 3 core values are authenticity, love and creativity. 

Authenticity… At a young age, I was always known for my authenticity; for being honest and upright. I think people appreciate the value of authenticity. I found that if people don't have to worry about having to figure out whether a person is being straight and real, it creates a feeling of ease. It allows people to focus on what truly matters. It also allows me to be myself, to be more real and to laugh at life. I have a hard time being surrounded with inauthentic people. I think authenticity cuts out any type of dishonesty or phoniness. I value relationships, and I think all relationships deserve authenticity to thrive. That’s why I constantly remind my team that they need to be authentic in all they do because it’s the only way to gain the trust of clients and build true, long-lasting and authentic relationships.

Love… Love is not a feeling or visceral expression, it is an attitude. It helps to bridge gaps between people of different backgrounds: race, ethnicity, creed or sex.  And it also shapes how people see themselves in conjunction with others. Love is best experienced when it is put into practice with a smile, hug or hello. Nothing quite gets people to trust you in life, and by extension business, like love. Truly loving someone makes them feel valued, appreciated and respected. And who on earth wouldn't want to feel those things.  

Years ago my husband gave me a sign that said, “You are loved.”  I felt this was his way of saying, "Stay in constant reminder of my love."  When people feel loved, truly loved, it breaks down any wall, boundary and barrier. You can sense it when you love someone by doing the smallest things... they crack a smile themselves, they return the hug themselves and they say an even louder hello, at least I'd like to think so. Loving your clients by doing right by them is no different, and to be honest, it shouldn't be different.  What often happens is that as business owners we think about the bottom line because we have to forgetting that the client is human, just like us. Business doesn't eclipse humanity, it is supposed to exude it. That's why I want every client to feel "loved." 

Creativity…  I had a wild imagination as a young child and have always written stories in my journal. I’ve always thought storytelling can impact many lives. But, my struggle was getting people to vibe with my stories. I kept exploring my wild imagination to create creative vibes with anyone close to me. That's why my whole business is based on creativity. Creativity fuels me. I believe that God created us, gave us talents and gifting to use in creative ways to unite people of different backgrounds to spread love to all humanity. Hence, I put creativity at the forefront with every client, helping them tell their best stories to capture the hearts, not just the minds. If you're like me, the mind is temporarily captured until it moves on to something else; however, when the heart is captured it is unwavering.  

When I think about authenticity combined with love and creativity, it serves as my guide to tell stories with the most impact in mind.  

Can you share a time you either thought you failed, or actually did fail? How did you react and move past it, and what impact did it have on business decisions?

I made a cold call to a major hospital in New Jersey to speak with their marketing executive.  Although it was difficult to get a meeting scheduled, I finally got my opportunity. I tirelessly prepared for the meeting learning everything I could about the hospital, its business and its ties to the local community. When I went to the meeting, I presented the executive with a plan for expanding the hospital’s digital marketing presence both at the hospital, through digital channel platforms, and print and digital marketing using social media. Feeling very good about my presentation, I quickly learned that the hospital wasn’t yet completely over a failed collaboration for an identical marketing project and wasn’t shy to tell me so. While rejection is tough under any circumstance, it especially stings when you try to convince an individual that you’re different and your talents will transcend their fears if given a chance. Despite my inability to persuade the marketing executive to take a chance on me, I learned that a business cannot be built entirely on my personality or talents.  Instead, clients have to see "the team" and be convinced that you'll properly leverage "the team's" talents and gifting to succeed. I truly believe that if the marketing executive would have seen "the team" behind me from the start she would have reached a much different decision. That day transformed how I viewed my business and it made me want me to build the business with others next to me.

What types of projects do you have coming up that we can look forward to seeing in the future?

A few really exciting projects are coming up. I currently have a film project in discussion. And I’m also co-authoring a book which will be published in 2020. Stay tuned for more.

#55 Katie Buckman: Photographer & Founder of Evergreen & Aspen

Katie Buckman is a landscape photographer, mom, wife that uses photography and art as a way to share the moments she sees throughout her adventures. She also founded and runs Evergreen and Aspen, a print shop showcasing her favorite photographs. After leaving the comforts of home in Kansas City, Missouri, she began a 10-year journey of living in new places all over the U.S. and hiding behind her camera. After her daughter's birth in 2016, she began to devote more time to photography, and she started obsessively reading everything she could get her hands on. Katie currently calls the Pacific Northwest home with her handsome husband, gorgeous daughter and two adorable kitties.

What do you consider your top 3 core values and how do they affect how you lead your business?

Authenticity - Be yourself despite how uncomfortable or difficult it may be. I have always stuck out like a sore thumb - tall, mixed kid with long legs and lots to say. Can’t hide that! The right people will love you for being yourself. Your work will show it.

Perseverance - Sometimes the vision isn’t clear from the beginning. By sticking with it, even when things don’t seem to be going the right way, you will find an answer and will be stronger for it in the end.

Love - Love is what brought me back to photography. Love of my daughter and family, love of Nature and what it has to offer, Love of beautiful images. Love what you do and you never work a day in your life, they say. But above all, If you love your work, you will constantly strive to produce beautiful work for your customers and yourself.

Can you share a time you either thought you failed, or actually did fail? How did you react and move past it, and what impact did it have on business decisions?

I think everyday is a balance of trying not to fail. Anytime you are trying to balance the needs of multiple people, yourself, your business - you hope that by the time that your head hits the pillow, you have accomplished tasks that will propel you forward for the next day.

What types of projects do you have coming up that we can look forward to seeing in the future?

Out of 6,000 entries, I was awarded the privilege of having 3 of my pieces being chosen as winners along with 350 other amazing artists, for the minted.com X West Elm 6th Art Challenge. I am so honored to have my works on their website and look forward to what the new opportunity may bring.

I am currently learning watercolor and working on a series involving Flowers and plants, photography and watercolor. And as always, my camera is always with me photographing whatever I see and need to share.