Break up big visions into actionable steps…With the right management, an idea that seems vast and insurmountable can become totally achievable.
Katie Schmidt is the founder, owner, and lead designer of Passion Lilie, an ethical fashion company. Started in 2013, the brand is fair trade and has a social mission to empower artisans across the world by creating dignified employment opportunities. Additionally, Passion Lilie is eco-friendly, using sustainable materials throughout the supply chain and committing to environmentally friendly production practices. Passion Lilie is a Fair Trade Federation Member, a Green America Certified Business, and an Ethical Fashion Forum Fellowship 500 Member.
Katie creates all the patterns, designs, and technical drawing for Passion Lilie by hand. She holds an M.S. in Luxury Fashion Management from SKEMA Business School in Sophia Antipolis, France and has extensive experience working as a costume designer and working in the fair trade industry. After traveling to India to help a small workshop become fair trade certified, Katie focused on integrating her artistry with innovative, socially responsible business management practices in her very own fair trade clothing line.
As a designer, Katie is inspired by the colors of the natural world as well as vintage and retro silhouettes. Her vivid prints are also influenced by her passion for ancient Indian artisanal techniques of dyeing and weaving. Katie is passionate about designing clothes for all body types that inspire confidence in the wearer, and she wants to show consumers that clothing can be fashionable, functional, and ethical—all at once.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
In the summer of 2012, I visited a small group of female artisans living in a village on the outskirts of Bhopal, India. These women were providing hand embroidery work for a local workshop. I noticed that they didn’t have a lot of materialistic possessions, and I asked a struggling mother if she could have anything in the world, what would she want? Her answer surprised me and sparked the idea for my business.
The woman very modestly answered, “Happiness and prosperity for my children.” I was so touched by her answer, and I knew I wanted to help her and women like her. I asked the workshop owner if it would be appropriate for me to give her money. He said, “No, they don’t want charity. They want jobs.” That moment changed my life. From then on, I had a new lifelong mission. I went home to New Orleans and began to work. By January of 2013, I had started my very own fair trade business, Passion Lilie.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
A typical day for me revolves around a balance of creative work and business management. I am not a morning person and I know I’m more productive later in the afternoon, so I make a schedule that works best for me. I spend my mornings taking care of business tasks, such as answering emails and managing people both locally and in India. This helps to free up my afternoons for my more creative work. If my team in India has production questions for me, we usually discuss them over the phone in the evening.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The secret is breaking up big visions into actionable steps. Creating a whole fall clothing line, for example, is only possible through setting smaller daily, weekly, and monthly goals. With the right management, an idea that seems vast and insurmountable can become totally achievable.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I think the growing popularity of fair trade products is amazing. People are starting to catch on that we can make a collective impact on the world with something as simple as our individual purchases. Fair trade benefits people on both ends of a transaction. The producers are getting fair wages and genuinely positive working environments, and consumers are getting higher quality products that are made with care.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I make a clear division between work and relaxation. If you’re still “on” when you’re away from work, you’re not actually getting the chance to decompress. I intentionally structure opportunities to focus on my life outside of Passion Lilie, so I can be more present and effective when I’m working. Time away also helps me clear my head and bring a fresh perspective to the table.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Trust the process. It was a long, unexpected journey from where I started in costume design to where I am now. Each step along the way was like putting together another piece of the puzzle. Everyone is anxious to zoom straight to the finish line, but in reality, you have to figure out where you’re going along the way. I would reassure my younger self that answers will reveal themselves as I pursue my interests and passions.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
You can run a successful business without putting your bottom line first. Most people believe that in business, you have to cut as many corners as possible in order to stay afloat. This could mean buying low-quality, unsustainable materials through a corrupt supply chain or paying workers unfair wages that keep them in poverty.
With Passion Lilie, I made a conscious decision to prioritize paying workers fairly and ensuring that they have opportunities for career advancement. I also decided to make my business as eco-friendly as possible. This can make my operating costs higher, but conscious consumers understand why. They know that they are investing in quality, ethically made pieces, and this is actually what has enabled Passion Lilie to succeed as a brand.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I just keep asking for what I need. Many people, especially women, are afraid to do this—afraid of being a burden or sounding whiny, pushy, or overly demanding. But if you don’t ask for what you need from other people, you’ll never get it!
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
One strategy that has helped me grow my business was hiring a professional marketing agency. As Chief Creative Officer and Lead Designer, my plate is full with coordinating with our partner groups in India, running the business, and creating the designs. By hiring a professional marketing agency, I was able to focus on my creative and managerial work.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One mistake I’ve made as an entrepreneur has been my communication. I have always valued honest and transparent communication, but I’ve learned along the way to make sure my communication is totally clear, especially when working with artisans who are across the world. I used to receive items that were not as I intended them to be, which could result in a lot of extra work.
It can be easy to think other people know what’s going on inside your head, but you need to make sure you’re understood. Sometimes you have to explain what you want several different ways or several different times. It’s important to be patient and encourage people to ask you questions if they don’t understand. And remember, it isn’t rude to emphasize what you need from others.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Because of the nature of my designs and my own personal mission, I primarily partner with artisans in India. I would love to see a new fair trade, ethical clothing line that partners with domestic workers, because issues of poverty and discrimination exist for workers in the U.S. as well. Maternity wear could be a great choice for such a company. Expecting mothers should have widespread access to affordable, fair trade designs.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently spent some money on redesigning and improving my office space, which is also where my inventory is kept. My favorite change was framing and hanging art in the office. I spend a lot of my time there, so I wanted my space to feel more cozy and artistic. It was such a great investment of time and money, because now I feel even more excited and compelled to create in this area.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
We use Shopify for our website, and it’s a great option for e-commerce companies. Not only is it easy to set up and use, but it’s also fairly customizable. Once you get the basics down, you can integrate all kinds of different apps to give you exactly the website you want.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recommend “Slow Fashion” by Safia Minney. Entrepreneurs, creatives, and ethical consumers will all learn immensely from this book, no matter their vantage point. The author is the founder and CEO of an ethical, sustainable fashion label, and using that insider knowledge, she builds an airtight argument that fair trade is the future of retail.
What is your favorite quote?
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” —Gandhi
- Fair trade fashion is an investment in our global community, and it benefits the producers and consumers on both ends of a transaction.
- Artistry can be combined with social change, and your individual choices can make a difference.
- Listening to yourself, trusting in the process, and creating healthy boundaries between work and relaxation will make you a more productive entrepreneur.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.