Lauren O’Neill, YWA’s very own Public Relations Chair, spoke with the one and only Kendra Scott about Young Women’s Alliance, how she deals with failure, and which woman inspires her most:
Lauren O’Neill: I know that you are extremely busy, and we are so grateful that you were willing to take the time to speak with me because our members are going to love to learn a little more about, quite possibly, our most popular alumna.
Kendra Scott: That’s so sweet! Well it’s funny, I actually joined YWA when I had my first business which was The Hat Box so it was before the jewelry ever happened which is pretty crazy.
I think [YWA] is such a wonderful way for young, and I say young, but really women in general to be able to connect and just learn from each other and learn best practices and be there for one another and I think really everything you guys are doing is really fantastic and I was glad to be a part of it then and I’m so glad to talk about it now.
LO: So what encouraged you to join YWA in the first place?
KS: I had moved to Austin and was starting my business here and I really wanted to meet other women who were in different places in their careers and meet some women who had like-minded view points of building a career and trying to be their best and I was just so drawn to YWA for those reasons. Making new friends of course, but also making some great connections with people who really was a supportive group of women who were doing this while you were doing that and asking “how can we help each other.”
I think it is a powerful thing, especially for women, that alone you can do so much, but together women can be unstoppable when they join forces and I think YWA is a great example of how that can really propel women to be successful.
LO: So you joined YWA as one of our founding members?
KS: Yeah! They had just started YWA when I moved here and they were just starting up. I was asked to come on and joined and I was so thrilled to do so and it has been so exciting to see how much the last 19 years or so (I don’t know how long it has been, but it has been a long time) to see how much it has grown and see what all you guys are doing is really awesome.
LO: We are in fact coming up on 20 years — in fact, we are about to celebrate the anniversary.
KS: That is so exciting! Like I said, I was proud to be a part of it back then and I can only imagine how much it has grown and develop with that much time to be something even more awesome than it was back then.
LO: Being a founding member, how would you say YWA helped you personally or professionally when you were first starting out?
KS: You know, for me starting a new business, I didn’t have a lot of resources to be able to go out and do a lot of advertising or marketing. I just didn’t have the money to do that. I think that networking organizations like YWA are such and incredible resource to be able to get the word out and you can really personally share what you are doing and what you are involved in and again, learn and empower each other. So for me, I had these women who were supportive of my business and it help me start to develop and grow as an entrepreneur. I think organizations like YWA have really helped me become a better business woman and I am so thankful I had those organizations to be a part of at that time of my life.
LO: You have had a long interesting road getting to where you are now. Can you share a time you may have failed and what you learned from that experience?
KS: You know, I actually love talking about when I failed because I think every great entrepreneur or anybody in life has to go through the struggle to get you to the other side.
I always say that every failure or mishap is the bridge to get you to the next place you are going.
If you don’t have that experience, you can’t make it to the other side. The Hat Box failed. I spent 5 years of trying to build out a retail concept of headwear. It didn’t work. It was very discouraging and I think during that time it was a real eye opener to learn all the lessons of learning that business and ultimately closing that business to be able to make a strong foundation for my next business which was Kendra Scott jewelry. I used the lessons I learned to build a strong company. Failures can be a gift and one of the biggest gifts I have ever been given was the opportunity to open, run and close a business like The Hat Box so that I can avoid obstacles that I may face now. I can remember what I did right and what I did wrong and it has been an invaluable gift to me.
LO: Who is one woman in your life who inspires you most and why?
KS: My mom. I know that is an easy one, but she is one of the hardest working women. She was raised on a farm. Her family and brothers and father were farmers and coal miners. I look at my family and I look at her and see the struggle of our family and she is always positive, sees the silver lining, she’s a glass is always overflowing type person. Nothing gets her down. She has overcome a lot of obstacles in her life and she does it with grace and dignity and confidence and she is always very thoughtful to the people around her. She has taught me how giving back to my community is a major part of me. She has been a role model as a mother, as a woman that I have always looked up to and have continued to look up to.
LO: You mentioned that your mom is really who inspired you to give back to the community and we certainly see you doing this in the community now. What would you say it is that continues to motivate you to give back?
KS: At a pretty young age, I lost my step-father to brain cancer and my first business, The Hat Box, I started initially to create a line of headwear for women undergoing chemotherapy. I realized from that experience that if I could use the gifts that I was given, which is I love design and fashion, and do something meaningful to help my community for me that would be success. So from the very beginning I decided that philanthropy would be a core pillar in my business and no matter who would call I would always have something to give. I would never say no. I could make a pair of earrings, I could make a necklace, I could always give something. I did that from day one out of the extra bedroom in my house. Today we still say yes to everyone who calls us. We figure out a way to help them. Last year we gave over 3 and a half million dollars to 3500 organizations nationally and 75,000 pieces of jewelry so it is pretty amazing to see the impact we are making on non-profit organizations across the country.
LO: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
KS: There’s so many good ones! I would have to say that it would be to not be afraid to ask for help. I think a lot of times when you are going through things in your life or your career or you are starting a business there is a lot of things you don’t know. I would say to find a great mentor or advisor or somebody you respect and not be afraid to ask for advice if you need it. I think asking for help is a great sign of strength. It was good for me to find mentors and people who have been there and done it and ask them for their help. I would say that is an incredible piece of advice. Today I wake up running a business that is even bigger than it was the night before, but if it wasn’t for the mentors and people in my life that had gone through some of the things I am facing right now, I honestly don’t know how I would do it. So I still have an incredible circle of people that I look up to and am not afraid to ask for advice or help for anything that may come my way. So that is probably the best piece of advice I have been given.
LO: The Young Women’s Alliance’s mission is to empower the next generation of woman leader. How do you hope to empower future woman leaders?
KS: My company is 98% women. I have over 2,000 employees across the country and 98% of them are women. I hope that I can lead by example for women to show that you can be a mom (I have 3 boys from age 3-15), that you can have a career, that you can start a great business that supports women and parents and families, you can support your community and that you can have a successful company while doing all those things. I really hope that if there is one thing that I leave behind is that I can be an example of doing good, being successful, and you can do all the things you want to do in your life and nothing can stop you. No matter what you do, don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. Because you most certainly can and I am living proof of that.
LO: Do you have any last comments that you would like to leave with anyone reading the YWA blog?
KS: Yeah I mean we love supporting women (clearly). So I am so thankful for YWA and organizations like this that bring women together.
The one message that I can offer is that as women we are sometimes tempted to be catty so I want young women to realize the power that women have when we stand together and they join forces and they hold hands and support one another and to empower one another and help each other because it makes everybody stronger, including yourself. Just be kind, generous, and be there for one another and that really is what YWA supports and what it is all about.