Stay out of your comfort zone. Keep learning, taking risks, and creating. And while you’re exploring the realm outside your comfort zone, make sure you have a support group.
Rebecca Jennings is president and CEO of Hips & Curves, a multimillion-dollar, award-winning plus-size lingerie company with an extremely devoted following. Since founding Hips & Curves in 2000, Rebecca has transformed plus-size lingerie from an aspirational luxury into a vehicle for feminine expression and empowerment.
Rebecca plays a hands-on role in every aspect of the business, from designing and manufacturing the company’s label to engaging in creative direction, merchandising, digital marketing, IT infrastructure development, and beyond. By fostering a creative, collaborative, and fun work environment, Rebecca has attracted and cultivated a dedicated team that has supported the company’s success and expansion.
Hips & Curves has been featured in Vogue Italia, Redbook, New York magazine, InStyle, PEOPLE StyleWatch, BUST magazine, Curve Magazine, ESSENCE magazine, and Woman’s Day. InStyle even selected Hips & Curves as its “Best of the Web” pick for plus-size lingerie.
Where did the idea for Hips & Curves come from?
Beauty begins with how we feel about ourselves on the inside. Like many women, I struggled with body image issues, especially in my 20s and 30s. I wasted a lot of time focusing on weight, dieting, eating, not eating, exercising, and how I looked on the outside. My self-esteem was determined by the number on the scale.
My vision for Hips & Curves was to give curvy women the opportunity to feel beautiful and love their bodies just as they are. I wanted to create a place where we could be at peace with our bodies, support one another, and see that what we perceived as imperfect bodies were actually perfectly beautiful.
Through Hips & Curves, I’ve cultivated a community where women support one another and are empowered to feel sexy and beautiful at any size. I set out to make a difference in women’s lives while broadening our collective ideas of beauty.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
Every day is an adventure at Hips & Curves. I like to get up early when it’s still dark outside. The world is quiet, my head is clear, and I get an hour or so with no distractions. It’s my most productive time of the day.
We start each morning with a 20-minute StandUp. This meeting began as an IT-only meeting, but it’s grown to include some systems and operations, as well. With everyone in the same room, we can quickly review priorities for that day to make sure we’re focusing on our most important objectives and giving our team the support and resources it needs to accomplish them. Anything we don’t touch on after 20 minutes gets shelved until the next day. These meetings keep us focused and productive. It’s critical to set priorities and hold everyone accountable daily.
How do you bring ideas to life?
When it comes to new ideas, our greatest asset is the customer feedback we receive. Our customers often request things we’ve never thought of, and we love working with them to bring their ideas to life. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a passionate, collaborative, innovative team to help implement these ideas. They’re committed to continually improving our customers’ lives while moving the company forward.
For our creative meetings, we always start and stop on time, and we have an agenda. But we let ourselves go off on tangents and often arrive at weird and wonderful places. The most important part is to follow up on our concepts with a solid process for execution and product development. The key is being able to think both creatively and strategically, continually shifting between the two. After all, our ideas would just be wishful thinking without strong development processes.
The other part of the product development equation is constant iteration. If we need an extra round of fittings or sample revisions, I’ll do it even if it annoys people and we have to push back a shipment date. At times, this can be frustrating, but I won’t approve something if the fit or quality isn’t right.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I love the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trend. It started many interesting dialogues among girlfriends and couples, and it’s all over social media. It’s a step toward a positive sex trend and people being more open-minded. It’s about people accepting differences and talking about things that have traditionally been taboo or outside the norm.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
It’s super simple, but my most effective habit is writing my daily to-do list each morning by hand. I have electronic reminders popping up everywhere all day, so keeping this list separate and writing it on an index card makes it easier for me to stay focused and prioritize.
After I make my list, I identify the two or three highest-value activities for the day — the ones that will have the biggest impact on the business — and highlight them in yellow. No matter what else I do or don’t do on that list, I’m clear on those being my top priorities. The secret isn’t how many things I can cross off the list; it’s doing the highest-value items first. I don’t let myself get distracted by the little issues that may seem urgent but aren’t necessarily the most important.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
When I was just out of college, I went to work for an architect. I liked my co-workers, but the boss was a bully and terrified everyone. I was young and new to the business world, and since he seemed to be the source of my paycheck, I gave him a lot of power over me.
What I eventually realized was that I had to be the source of my paycheck, not him. I had to put my faith in myself, my skills, and my ability to take care of myself. Once I figured that out, I was able to move on to other jobs. I learned that no matter how much I may need a job, it’s not worth being treated poorly. My vision of a workplace where people are respected and valued came to life when I created Hips & Curves.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I had a lot to learn when I first started, so if I were to do it over again knowing what I know now, the company would grow a lot faster.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Stay out of your comfort zone. Keep learning, taking risks, and creating. And while you’re exploring the realm outside your comfort zone, make sure you have a support group. I get unconditional love and emotional support from family and friends, but for tougher business advice, I go to my business peer groups.
I belong to a couple of CEO and entrepreneur support groups, and they’ve been incredibly helpful to me and my business. The groups are a place to talk to other CEOs and entrepreneurs who understand what it takes to run a business. With them, I’m able to have direct and honest discussions about how to handle specifics, make tough decisions, and improve as a leader.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
A favorite quote of mine is from George Bernard Shaw, who said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
In business, it’s important to be resilient and even unreasonable. My biggest pet peeve is when we’re in the middle of a challenge and someone says, “Well, maybe it’s just not meant to be.” It makes me want to scream. If we only did the things that were easy and backed off every time something hard came up, we’d never be remarkable or innovative. We’d be average at best. When someone tells me we can’t do something, I get excited. If something can’t be done, it means that other people aren’t doing it either, so we have an opportunity.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One failure that has had the biggest influence on me to date took place in our early years when we hit our first million and I needed guidance on taking the business to the next level.
I hired a consultant who was helpful for about four months, especially with our reporting systems and KPIs, but I kept him on for over a year. Because he was expensive, had an MBA, and was confident in his abilities, I began taking his advice blindly and considered him more of an expert than I was. I wasn’t questioning his advice like I should have been, I kept him on far too long, and I became dependent on him. But he wasn’t a match for our culture. I let him make some hiring decisions that were bad, and the energy in the company started to change.
Today, I still use consultants, but I’m extremely careful about who I work with. I’m not blindly impressed by degrees and expertise anymore. I listen to the experts and stay open-minded, but I weigh their recommendations carefully. I compare what they’re telling me to what I know and what my gut and heart are telling me. I take the ideas that make sense for my business and let go of those that don’t. It causes friction at times, but that’s okay. Friction can be a good thing — as long as we remember to respect one another in the process.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I hate beige bras. I only own one. Sometimes you have to wear them with white, but I’d rather wear a blue or black bra under white and let it show through. I don’t feel sexy in a beige bra, no matter how pretty it is. It’s probably not much of a secret since my straps are always showing.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I don’t know what I’d do without my iPad, especially when I travel. I don’t usually work on planes; I use the time to de-stress and do some fun reading. With my iPad, it’s like having a library of my favorite books in my purse, and I actually look forward to flying and sitting in airports.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose.” It’s similar to “Good to Great,” but it focuses on the transformation of capitalism toward more humanistic values for everyone involved, not just the shareholders. Some of the ideas seem counter-intuitive for success, but there are companies that are “doing well by doing good.” It’s not just about satisfying investors anymore, which is how this book differs from “Good to Great.” It’s about treating employees well, creating value for customers, forming mutually beneficial relationships with suppliers, and having fun at work.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Eileen Fisher. In 1984, she started a company with $350 and no sewing experience and grew it to a $300 million company by 2005. The company culture emphasizes individual well-being and growth, inclusiveness, and a joyful atmosphere. Her company supports human rights, the environment, leadership programs for women and girls, women-owned businesses, and local communities. The company’s mission drives its business, and profitability fosters its mission.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.