CREATE & INNOVATE in collaboration with Marriott Hotels
photo credit: Turkan Najar
It's home to Nordstrom, Microsoft, and Amazon. But there are also plenty of independent women making names for themselves in Seattle. It's nicknamed the Queen City after all.
And last year (before we even knew we were heading to Seattle for Create & Cultivate hosted on the Microsoft campus) we headed to the Pacific Northwest to stay at the newly renovated and modern Seattle Marriott Bellevue. It was chilly, but uncharacteristically sunny (and even made us consider making a move... and clearly a conference). Especially after hearing the stories of the three women below. Did the city live up to its sleepless status? Perhaps. But only because it's full of women, like the below, who are working so hard.
Read through and check out these ladies' stories and favorite spots in Seattle and then head to our conference page and nab a ticket for our upcoming conference!
ELLIE DINH, CO-FOUNDER, GIRLFRIEND COLLECTIVE.
When Ellie and her husband, Quang Dinh, decided to go into business together she knew it wouldn't be easy. "Usually you get some kind of separation," she shared with us the day we visited the start-up office in downtown Seattle. It's a co-working space with big windows, bright light, and a team of about 10. With her perfect blunt bob and dreamy office, it's not surprising that the co-founder explains, "I’ve always admired brands that have a consistency and “less is more” approach to their overall messaging and design, like Reformation, as well as ones that inspire community and engagement in the way that brands like Glossier do." She knows that design matters when it comes to messaging and creating Girlfriend's visual voice. But she also saw it as her "opportunity to inspire customers to learn more about where their clothes come from and how to shop responsibly." The incredibly comfortable and functional leggings are crafted from polyester made from recycled water bottles. To date, the company has diverted 6,000,000 post-consumer plastic water bottles from the landfill. But it's not only their green approach that got Girlfriend noticed.
Girlfriend Collective received attention when they soft launched with a promise of sending anyone a pair of leggings who signed up on the site. Yes, there was the goal of capturing emails, but they also wanted to capture people's attention. That they did, receiving over 10,000 orders.
Find out how the entrepreneur filled such a massive order and why she says, "Seattle has the advantage of being a few steps ahead in the tech world," below.
When you’re designing for women, what do you keep in mind? What’s the most important?
It’s so important to me that women feel amazing in not only what their wearing, but also in what they’re supporting as consumers. It goes hand-in-hand when we’re sourcing our ethical and eco fabrics and designing each silhouette. The intention of every design is to bring simplicity and femininity to the forefront, focusing on great design in a way that makes it possible for everyone to feel great in their body.
After a very successful “stunt,” how do you go about filling 10,000+ orders?
Lots and lots of long hours and a frightening amount of coffee. We (and by we I mean the 5 of us in the office) spent every day post-launch answering every question and email we received, making sure our fabric production was perfect, and even tweaking the design of our legging until the very first shipment went out.
From idea to first pair, how long did R&D take?
R&D was a full year. My husband and I had wanted to create a clothing brand together for awhile, but we didn’t seriously pursue it until the beginning of 2015. By early spring the actual concept for Girlfriend Collective took form, and we spent the following 9 months researching recycled yarns, fair-trade manufacturing, and every legging silhouette known to man (there are more than you’d guess). The process was more of a zig-zag than a straight line, and all our R&D ended up intersecting at the same time. We were sampling fits and recycled fabrics in parallel until we cracked the code for our “unicorn fabric” - polyester made from recycled water bottles.
And from first pair to launch, how long of a process was that? And what went into it?
We received our very first prototype around September 2016, and began to steamroll through many many variations of fits and fabrics. We wanted to find the perfect balance between a technical legging that was still minimal and classic for everyday use, and a legging that flattered every body type. Let me tell you, it was not easy! We spent roughly 8 months perfecting the design before we launched this past April, and even after that continued to tweak them until the first shipment was sent out in July.
What has been the hardest part of starting your own company?
I’m a perfectionist, and the hardest part of starting my own company was realizing no matter how careful you are or how much you prepare, the process is very messy and very much a journey. You have to dive into it and find that delicate balance between doing your best and being forgiving toward yourself. I’ve learned a lot about patience the past two years since we started, and had a few “everything bad that can happen, will happen” moments, but you realize that’s all part of it. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy, you have to work really hard for it and get comfortable with a bit of chaos along the way.
What is it about the Seattle start-up scene that makes sense for your company?
Seattle has an advantage in that it’s a few steps forward in the tech world, but still somewhat undiscovered in the fashion realm. The Pacific Northwest has a very specific aesthetic and culture, and we don’t exactly fit that mold, so it’s exciting to offer something new to west coast ladies that have east coast sensibilities. There aren’t a lot of brands that crack the Seattle fashion ceiling and we’re aiming to be one of them.
What is your favorite part about working in Seattle?
Seattle is a little big city. I’ve lived here 6 years and it didn’t take long to discover that the community here is incredibly tight knit and nurturing. Everyone knows and supports each other, especially in business. It’s also doesn’t hurt being 20 minutes away from both mountains and the ocean, even though we live and work in the heart of downtown.
Ellie's recommendations below:
Your favorite place to fuel you when you’re burning the midnight oil: My go-to for late night food is always a bowl of Pho Ga at Ba Bar.
Best place to head when you get off and need a stiff drink: Still Liquor or The Nest on the rooftop of the Thompson Hotel.
Or to hear the best live music: The Paramount
If someone could only take a ferry to ONE island, which would you recommend and why:
I went to Lummi Island last year with friends and loved it. I think it’s one of the smallest San Juan islands. It has a 5-minute ferry ride, one convenience store, and a “would be” Michelin star restaurant on it, Willows Inn - so basically everything I’d ever need if I was stranded on an island.
Best date night spot with your husband: Our date nights have turned into more of a ‘Saturday morning brunch’ situation, and we love going to either Oddfellows, Juicebox, or Tallulah's.
Tourist location that’s a guilty pleasure: I love Pike Place Market!
Tourist spot that you’ve never visited: The Space Needle.
Greatest workout you’ve ever done in Girlfriend Collective leggings: My first boxing class with some friends (at Gotham Gym, the last time I was in NYC) and it kicked my ass.
You have one of the best bobs we’ve ever seen in person. Who cuts it?: Thank you! I’ve seen both Evan and Adam at Antonio Salon, and they nail it every time.
ARAN GOYOAGA, FOUNDER, FOOD BLOGGER & AUTHOR OF SMALL PLATES & SWEET TREATS
It's fitting that Aran Goyoaga, twice over James Beard Award finalist, food blogger and fountain of gluten-free recipes, says that "everyone should take Instagram with a grain a salt."
Food has been a part of Aran's story from the beginning. As a child in the Basque region of Spain, "surrounded by pastry chefs," it never occurred to the now Seattle-based culinary mind behind Cannelle et Vanille, that baking would be her path as well. "My family encouraged me to go to university, travel the world, get a higher education and get away from the blue collar job that baking was," she shares. "When I was growing up cooking for a living did not have the same aspirational career perspective that it does today." She ended up going to university, where she studied business and economics. "It was only after I finished my studies, moved to the US and found myself so far away from my family that I realized that pastry was the one bond that kept me connected to my roots." Her first stop was Florida, where the professional pastry chef worked for a large hotelier. A job which taught her reigns and ropes of all aspects of the kitchen. She initially stopped working to stay at home and raise her son. But the kitchen called her back. And food became her gateway to photography. Her photos have been described as romantic, unfussy, and nostalgic. Many writers have described Aran in the same way.
Today, the mother of two, baker, food stylist, author and photographer of the cookbook Small Plates & Sweet Treats, stays grounded and connected to her heritage through cooking and baking. "I have always loved working with my hands," she adds.
We met up in her gorgeous photography studio by Pike Place Market to chat social media, building a brand, and how her works feeds her soul.
How do you decide what to show, what to keep private? And how to be/not be a brand?
I am not sure what connotation "to be a brand" has (it probably means different things to different people) but I don't necessarily identify myself with that term. I suppose that with every piece of work I choose to show the world through social media, I am establishing a style, a personal taste, an affinity to something, but I don't generally want to sell anything or push product on people. I engage in some advertising work that I relate to or products I might naturally use but honestly my goal is to develop personal content that has an emotional narrative so branding doesn't really fit into that so easily. My instagram account is a bit of a cinematic world view that I have. Visual narrative is what drives my work and I would say I focus very much on that aspect. Sure, what I show is part of my life: my friends, my children, the food we eat, the places I see, but it has a very specific filter and I am not trying to say that is everything my life is. Everyone should take instagram with a grain of salt.
After working for a large hotelier, what work lessons did you bring into your own business?
I loved working in a big team, especially in a company that has such high standards for service, but honestly, it made me realize that I love working for myself and making the kind of work that I want to do. I love the flexibility of working for myself despite the perils of instability.
Can you tell us a bit about the new project you’re working on and why making something that feeds your soul is important?
I spent big part of 2016 working on a new video series that explores my relationship with food, from my family roots to an eating disorder, to feeding the creative soul I never thought I had, to being open to the world and let go of a lot of the rigidity that ruled my life for so long. It is the manifestation that there is no beauty without imperfection. The series is called "A Cook's Remedy" and will be releasing the first few episodes early 2017 on the new site I am developing. I have produced the series with an incredible team of women in Seattle called Common Thread Creative. I am so excited to put it out into the world.
You moved from Spain to South Florida and have settled in Seattle. What about the city feels like home?
Seattle reminds me a lot of the Basque Country where I grew up. It's a lot larger and more majestic than the landscape of my youth, but there is a similar quality to a lot of northern countries that make it feel like home. The rain, the green, the introspection... Seattle is a city that looks forward and inward and that is a perfect balance for me. Makes me feel safe.
Aran's recommendations below:
Favorite market to buy your ingredients: Ballard farmer's market on Sundays, especially between May and October.
Have a morning cup of coffee: There is so much great coffee in Seattle that it is hard to choose. I love the morning vibe at Oddfellows. It truly is the place to get inspired in Seattle. And The Fat Hen makes incredible lattes. I also love Porchlight Coffee and Records for the obvious reasons: Coffee and music. My two favorite things in the world.
Eat a delicious gluten-free meal: Again so many places. I am just going to name a few because one wouldn't be enough. The lamb burger with no bun and fries at Tallulah's, the roasted vegetables and Jersey salad at Delancey, anything at Sitka & Spruce and Whale Wins (so many gluten-free options), baked eggs at The Fat Hen, pho at Ba Bar, Juicebox for almost everything on the menu, tacos at Copal, London Plane for their papadum and salads, Stateside for amazing Vietnamese and the list goes on.
Take your family out to dinner: Pho is the one thing we all agree on so Ba Bar is definitely our spot. Also El Camion which is a little taqueria in Ballard, especially in the summer. We are a family of simple tastes.
If you had to take a ferry to one island, which would it be and why: Vashon Island because that is where my dear friend Carolina lives and I love visiting her there.
Tourist spot in Seattle that you’ve never visited: The Underground Tour... I've heard it's interesting, but just creeps me out a bit.
Best free entertainment in Seattle: Going to KEXP radio station and watching one of their live performances. The new space is incredible with La Marzocco coffee shop and Light in the Attic record store. It's close to my home and love spending time there.
PORTIA SMITH, FOUNDER & BLOGGER AT OBSESSED BY PORTIA
She's collaborated with General Motors, Uncommon Goods, and Whole Foods. And she's turned her blogging know-how into a role in PR.
For Portia Smith, the "obsessed" blogger behind her eponymous blog, Obsessed by Portia, having the PR career second allows the mom and content creator to "continually grow on a personal, professional, and creative level."
"It felt like a natural integration, since both involve proficiency in social media, networking, and writing. Brand promotion is a key aspect in blogging, which significantly mirrors a PR perspective - so it made sense to lean in towards the role. And I absolutely love it!" the Seattle-based blogger says.
We met up on Capitol Hill, and despite cold temps, Portia indulged in ice cream at Molly Moon's (as did many other Seattle residents that day) and braved the cold without her coat while shooting in the famous Rainbow Crosswalks. And it wasn't just an "anything for the shot," attitude. Portia was game for anything, yes. But the for the Pacific Northwest native, a sunny day in Seattle was a reason to celebrate.
We wanted to know how she manages kids, career, and what's on her current obsession list.
When you shoot an image for your Instagram/blog, what are three key components you keep in mind?
It’s important that my blog and Instagram have a professional, curated look. Three components I keep in mind are lighting, background, and consistency. In the past I’ve worked with a variety of photographers, but in order to maintain a seamless look - I’ve realized the value in working with just 1 or 2 that fit my style exactly. Photos have so much power in engagement, it’s an aspect that deserves undivided attention.
The old work/life balance question— how do you make it work? As a mom and business woman what tricks have you developed?
I’ll be the honest, the struggle is real…and it’s a daily conscious effort to reign in what’s really important, and what can wait. Creating lists of priority have been helpful, especially since I’m a visual person. I have a running Google spreadsheet with current projects, deadlines, details, etc. It helps to have everything in one place - to ease the mind from overload - and when i get something done, there’s nothing greater than crossing it off! Another helpful aspect of being a working mom is having an incredible village of friends and family. They have been the ultimate resource in my success - knowing I have the flexibility with both my schedule and caregivers has freed up the anxiety which is commonly associated as mom guilt. And lastly, realizing you just can’t do it all. This is a hard one, but the ability to say no to things that don’t bring you joy - that’s the golden ticket. As women, we often say yes to everything and that needs to stop. Your sanity will thank you.
What are you currently obsessing over?
I created Obsessed by Portia to share all things I’m obsessed with. This varies across fitness, fashion, beauty, motherhood, travel, etc. My top obsessions right now include trying out new workouts, podcasts, audio books, home design, and travel.
What are you looking forward to in 2017?
International travel…with my kids.
Portia's recommendations below:
Favorite spot in the city to grab a coffee: Seattle Coffee Works! A great location near the iconic Pike Place Market, paired with a beautiful, artisan-style espresso - makes for the perfect coffee date.
Best spot to take your kids: Seattle Center! On rainy days, we love to explore the Seattle Children’s Museum, Pacific Science Center or Museum of Pop Culture. When the sun’s out, we head to the Artists at Play playground or wander around the 74-acre Seattle landmark, making a stop at the International Fountain.
Tourist spot that’s a guilty pleasure: Dinner at the Space Needle. A definite must for tourists, but typically saved for special occasions with the locals.
Tourist spot that you’ve never visited: Seattle Japanese Garden - a 3.5-acre stroll.
Your favorite spot in the city to sit and be still: Washington Park Arboretum in the Spring! Nothing beats sitting on a bench amongst the cherry blossoms!
Grab an afternoon bite with a girlfriend: Plum Bistro on Capitol Hill - The best vegan restaurant in Seattle which features only local, sustainable and organic ingredients. Perfect for a healthy PNW lunch!
The best place to take a drive: Head to Alki Beach in West Seattle!
If you had to pick ONE island to head out to and why: We have a beach house on Camano Island, so that will always be my favorite island in the PNW. It’s about an hour North of Seattle and has great beaches, cabins available to rent, and a fantastic State Park!
Best place to grab dessert: Molly Moon’s Handmade Ice Cream! (Pictured above.) The seasonal flavors are my favorite!
Your wine/date spot: Circadia just opened up downtown Seattle and has the most romantic vibe! They brought back old-school hollywood glamour, with gorgeous chandeliers, luxe textiles, and an impeccable dining experience.
Be sure to check out the entire Gal-on-the-Go series in partnership with Marriott Hotels. Over the last year we've chatted with female entrepreneurs in San Francisco, Charlotte, Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Seattle.