There’s a great deal of discussion as to what type of impact childhood experiences might have on kids, both in the moment and as they grow into adulthood. In at least one case, a positive and encouraging environment led to one young girl living a life many only dream of.
As a young girl, Kendra Scott, who lived in Kenosha, Wisconsin, would go visit her aunt in Milwaukee. To Kendra, this was her “glamorous aunt”. You see her aunt was a fashion coordinator at the Gimbels department store and her closet was filled with the latest fashions. For Kendra, that closet was a magical place where clothes and her imagination would allow her to become anything she wanted. That experience not only fueled her imagination and creativity – it ignited an intense interest in fashion and design.
In her early teens, Kendra’s parents divorced, her mother remarried, and they moved to Austin, Texas. Soon after, Kendra enrolled at Texas A&M University – but dropped out almost as soon as her freshman year began. Her stepfather was diagnosed with cancer. Kendra knew her place was with her mother and stepfather, offering support, help, and her presence.
Her stepdad’s treatments were at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston – long hours during seemingly countless days. Kendra saw firsthand the impact of the treatment as well as the disease. She witnessed the tremendous impact losing one’s hair had on the psyche – especially that of women. After all, she realized, a woman’s hair is a great part of their identity. Kendra began to create hats specifically for cancer patients. She’d buy and adapt hats, adding not only stylish touches but sewing in soft headbands that would minimize the hat’s impact on the newly hairless skin.
Her hats were such a hit that Kendra decided to open a retail shop – envisioning a hat renaissance of sorts. Her rationale was that she’d sell enough hats to fund her efforts to create hats for cancer patients. She invested her $20,000 school fund into a store she named The Hat Box. Kendra was 19 years-old at that time.
After five years, it was clear that hats weren’t going to make a comeback. She decided to close the store, feeling defeated. She regretted terribly that she’d failed in something which her stepfather, who had succumbed to cancer by then, had supported so strongly. She swore she’d never do retail again.
She went to work for a local travel company, got married (in 2000), and had a son (in 2001). Kendra’s job required a great deal of travel, which no longer meshed with her lifestyle. It was time for a change – but to do what?
Her passion – fashion and design. Kendra knew that she couldn’t sew which realistically eliminated a clothing line. Hats had already failed. Shoes? Not likely. While pregnant, she had an epiphany – jewelry always fits. Kendra was keenly aware that jewelry typically fell into one of two categories. Very high-end, expensive pieces which were out of reach for most women and very affordable costume jewelry which was certain to fall apart sooner than later.
That left what appeared to be a fertile and untapped market segment. One of Kendra’s challenges was very basic – she had no idea how to make jewelry. She enrolled in courses in art-rich Austin. She watched YouTube videos. She found inexpensive items, took them apart to learn how they were made. She practiced and experimented. Finally, the time had come to start an actual business.
She spent $500 on materials and using the spare bedroom of her house as her work area, she created a line of jewelry. She focused on using bright colors and unique settings. Perhaps her best designs were earrings. She packed up her jewelry and her one-year-old son and set out to call on every store she could find in Austin. By the end of the day she’d received enough orders that she had to sell her samples – for $1,200 – in order to afford the supplies she would need.
With that, Kendra Scott jewelry was launched. Today, Kendra Scott’s initial investment of $500 has led to a company worth an estimated $1 billion. The company has over 60 stores – yes, she reversed her commitment to never do retail again. The Kendra Scott line is globally known and sought after. Kendra Scott the company is spectacularly successful because Kendra Scott the woman is a fearless brand who has embraced her passion, discovered her purpose, and been persistent in her pursuit of success.
Make no mistake – Kendra Scott’s success (both the company and the woman) has been anything but easy or ‘overnight’. Selling her line store-to-store on that first day was just the first small step in what would be a very long journey for Kendra. Her story is not only interesting, it’s a case study filled with lessons we can learn from and use in business – and life in general.
There are three attributes which are critical to achieving success – passion, purpose and persistence – and each is equally reliant on the other.
Passion – Kendra Scott discovered her greatest passion as that young girl whose imagination combined with her aunt’s wardrobe to allow her to become whatever she envisioned. Her love of fashion and design became as much a part of her as anything. Embrace your passion, it’s the fuel for your journey to success.
Purpose – Passion is not worth much without a purpose. Kendra Scott’s purpose has been to use her love of fashion to meet the needs of others. Initially her purpose was to ease the emotional and physical needs of cancer patients by designing attractive and functional hats. Eventually, her purpose was to fill a void in women’s fashion – to provide women with fun, attractive, quality jewelry at an affordable price. Find your purpose – it identifies your destination.
Persistence – If passion is the fuel, and purpose is the destination – then persistence is the actual journey. It takes persistence to navigate the challenges of business and life. It takes persistence to explode small victories into greater wins. Persistence is grit, patience, determination, and conviction.
Kendra’s persistence was evident early in her business when she traveled endlessly to meet buyers, show her line, and grow her business. She was also persistent as a mother, making every accommodation to have her young son travel with her. He had 45,000 frequent flyer miles before he was three.
She was persistent with New York buyers to the point that one finally returned her call and promised a 20-minute meeting on the condition that she stop calling him. That meeting led to national distribution in Nordstrom.
Kendra’s commitment to her business meant working with a small staff – typically six people – for the first several years of her business.
Kendra Scott eventually grew so large that seeking capital investors became essential. The day she was ready to sign the investment deal, the company cut their valuation of her company in half – certain that they had Kendra in a situation she had to accept. She didn’t. Instead, she walked out and began calling every contact she had – persisting until she raised enough cash to get through that period.
When the economic downturn came in 2008, the company again was on the ropes. Rather than fold, Kendra persisted in her drive to success. She realized that the answer – as counter intuitive as it seemed – was to open retail outlets. She went against her resolution from The Hat Box episode and opened retail stores. When other retailers were closing shop, Kendra Scott’s retail business soared.
Yes, Kendra Scott – the woman – is a fearless brand – one who found her passion, identified a purpose, and has been persistent in her efforts since day one. Kendra Scott – the business – continues to grow and adapt, delivering greater value year over year.
Kendra Scott – the woman and the business combined – is a powerful example of how to achieve true success. True success is measured by self-fulfillment, delivering value to others, money (of course), and adding significance to our world. We won’t all create a billion-dollar company – but we can certainly learn from this story and achieve the true success that we seek.