Details and Community Make Sienna Ray’s Perfect Hats

One time when Natalie Kathleen, the one-woman dynamo behind Sienna Ray, was working on handbags for a summer collection, she was using perforated leathers. She had given all the specs, worked out all the details, and when she opened the bags she expected to see perforated circles in all of the bags. Instead, she saw perforated hexagons. Not knowing what to do, she got on Twitter and told the world, “I love hexagons!

It’s a small anecdote that’s endemic of Kathleen’s style: obsessed with the details and ready to roll with the punches. Sienna Ray, founded on a kitchen counter top when she was working for Vancouver Magazine, started with an eagerness and a kick: Kathleen made a bag, then showed it to an editor of her’s and said it should be featured in the magazine. The editor replied that she should have more than one bag. Kathleen took it to heart and one-upped her, making five different styles and getting them into five stores.  While the bags are all different, they all share Kathleen’s signature lining, a brightly colored feminine design that juts out as soon as one is opened. It’s a bag that shows its personal touch in ways both loud and quiet.

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Kathleen has been an athlete for as long she can remember: before Sienna Ray, before writing at Vancouver, she was both a SCUBA and ski instructor. Since starting Ray, she’s been looking for the chance to incorporate that sporty side into her designs. This called for a new product, and she looked at hats as a “chance to get back to her roots”. These leather hats, which include a startling gold, are meant to invoke athleticism coming from the wearer, as opposed to a team. “I wanted something in between a baseball cap and flat top hat”, she says. This is enforced by the lack of logo: you’d have to ask the wearer where they got that hat if you wanted to know. That’s intentional on Kathleen’s part: she prefers to pique people’s curiosity, to “get that desire for someone to want to know what it is”, she says, rather than push her brand into people’s faces.

While Sienna Ray is clearly her creation, it takes a village to raise a handbag or a hat. Kathleen has worked with both American and Chinese manufacturers, and while she is currently working with American ones, it wasn’t always that way. It took the financial crisis of 2009 to open doors to smaller manufacturers for Sienna, before that they simply weren’t interested in the fifty-bag runs. “Even in New York now, it’s tough, it’s harder to sell in small quantities because it’s expensive”, she says. Once she was in, she was determined to stay in that market by making herself as needed as possible. A strong believer in “pay it forward”, Kathleen as clued in fellow quality small brands — the type that pay on time — to her strong connections.

At the WeWork holiday market, Kathleen plans on expanding on her “business ethic of sharing things” by supported a few other companies, including 41 Winks, a bedding company in which she has helped with branding work, and Red Head Cookies, the cookie brand of a fellow bagmaker who makes treats on the side to support her mother’s retirement. “This is their first big holiday market,” Kathleen notes, “so I told them ‘Hey, I’ll put some cookies on my table!’”

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Photographs by Lauren Kallen.

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Hip Haberdasher Donovan England’s Style Suits Everyone

Donovan England is in a hurry. He’s wrapping up a phone interview with a reporter while he and his friends speed to the airport to board a private plane. His destination for the weekend? A bachelor’s party in New Orleans.

“Things are going pretty fast,” England admits.

The 34-year-old entrepreneur’s business—an eponymous line of bespoke suits—is also going places. Just take a look at his Instagram account, where nearly 90,000 followers look forward to his next post—usually shots of him wearing one of his own smartly tailored looks.

Donovan England 2There’s nothing off-the-rack about what Donovan England offers clients. Every suit is custom made to reflect each client’s personal taste. And the fit is impeccable, with England himself taking 23 different measurements to ensure that cuffs and lapels look perfect.

And can we talk about the fabrics? There’s a wide range of colors that go far beyond the usual black and navy blue.

“The fabrics are from England and Italy,” says England. “We looked at 100 different manufacturers before we found the right ones.”

England started out in institutional banking, but he realized that he wanted to work for himself.

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur,” he says. “I’ve started a lot of different companies. Some make money, some lose money.”

It was a couple of poorly fitting suits that convinced him to start his own custom clothing line with an initial investment of just $550.

“I figure that when you have a lot of money, you’re going to spend a lot of money,” England says. “We were able to do it with a lot of trial, and a lot of error. But it was all worth it.”

For six years England worked from home, but now he’s based at WeWork Uptown in Dallas. At his office, look for leather furnishings and a gleaming bar cart with top-shelf spirits.

“Our space that reflects what we’re doing with the brand,” says England. “We’re going for that haberdashery feel.”

Photos by Megan Weaver

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5 Tips for Creating a Newsletter People Actually Read

If you think email newsletters aren’t important for your business, think again. In fact, niche-driven, carefully-crafted newsletters engage audiences and create a customer base that grows by itself. Take the New York Times, who for years had newsletters that were essentially an extension of their newspaper. In an effort to increase traffic, they shifted from newsletters driven by automatic feeds, to ones heavily curated by journalists, expanding to over 30 newsletters, which span a diverse set of topics including cooking, politics and parenting. The new strategy created a noticeable jump in open rates and subscribers. Their current email open rate is now 50 percent, double the industry average. Are you hoping to do the same? Here are five tips for creating a newsletter people will actually click and read.

Offer original, useful information

This may seem obvious, but your content is the most important part of your newsletter. It needs to be creative, thought-provoking and original. Many sites miss the mark by creating newsletters that simply rehash old material they could find on their website. You will add value by creating content that requires research, or is based on information that is hard to find.

Your newsletter should remain consistent in order to draw in readers who care about the topic for months, rather than days. This will help you build readership.

Make sure it looks good

Again, this might be obvious, but your newsletter’s design is an important part of ensuring readers click on, read, and come back to your newsletter.

This also holds true for written content, which should follow a consistent style. Make sure your newsletter’s layout is visually engaging and highlights your creativity by using high-resolution photos, illustrations, an appealing color scheme.

And don’t forget to build your newsletter with mobile capability in mind. Over 53 percent of all emails are read on mobile devices. If your newsletter doesn’t format properly on a phone, chances are it might not get read at all.

Treat it as a stand-alone product

Quality writing attracts and retains readers, plus it creates a word-of-mouth marketing campaign that can expand your readership. A great example of this is Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter, a newsletter that has half a million readers and a 70 percent open rate.

Newsletters like Lenny Letter and those from The New York target specific kinds of readers. For example, Dunham, a Millennial feminist, has a largely, young female audience. By doing this, they establish real value in their writing that is difficult to replicate in marketing.

Market your newsletter

A newsletter can’t have impact until people sign-up for it. To get your hard work in other people’s hands, you must market the existence of your newsletter. Even though you’re probably creating a newsletter for the sake of marketing, you still need to get the word out.

Tell the world about your newsletter by creating simple banner ads online or marketing it through your existing social media channels. The New York Times did this when they started to diversify their newsletters and it was very successful.

Be consistent

If you’re interested in creating a consistent base of readers, keep them satisfied with scheduled content. Stick to a publishing schedule and build a pool of creative content you can pull from, if need be, repeatedly. Set a schedule that works for you. Whether that’s weekly or monthly, what’s most important is that your build trust with your readers with a regular, high quality product.

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At Eat Offbeat, Refugees Run the Kitchen

When Manal Kahi moved to New York City from a small town in Lebanon four years ago, she wasn’t happy with the options at her local grocery store.

“I was a bit disappointed with the hummus,” she admits.  So she started making her own special recipe, which sparked an idea from her brother, Wissam, a graduate of Columbia Business School.

Having left Lebanon, where they witnessed people fleeing from the civil war in Syria, the siblings had a though: Why not sell hummus and other authentic food made by refugees?

“I came here as a student, but it was in the midst of the refugee crisis in Lebanon,” explains the WeWork Soho West member. “I wanted to do something about the situation, bring great food to New Yorkers, and bring good job opportunities to refugees.”

In 2015, Kahi founded Eat Offbeat, which delivers home-style meals made and delivered by refugees living in New York. The chefs are referred by the International Refugee Committee, a nonprofit that helps displaced people resettle and rebuild their lives.

Eat Offbeat 2“The chefs suggest the dishes, which Chef Juan Suarez de Lezo helps them develop,” Kahi says. “It’s what they cook at home.”

Together they work out of a commercial kitchen in Long Island City, Queens. Eat Offbeat then delivers meals to Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.

What started with chefs from three countries—Eritrea, Iraq, and Nepal—has blossomed into a food delivery service with full-time chefs from 11 countries, including Syria, Guinea and the Ivory Coast. All but one are women.

Dishes include potato kibbeh, an Iraqi dish made from potato croquettes with beef and onion stuffing; veggie momos, savory dumplings from Nepal; and chicken shawarma, a Syrian-style chicken in a rich, tangy sauce.

Now Eat Offbeat is raising money to create a cookbook as a way to reach people outside New York.

“We want people to see them as chefs first, refugees second, and see it doesn’t matter what type of visa you have,” says Kahi.

Eat Offbeat launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the writing of the cookbook. The campaign easily surpassed its goal of $50,000.

“Our motto is ‘where adventurous eaters find refuge,’” Kahi says. “The way we see it, refugees are helping us New Yorkers discover something new, not the other way around.”

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11 Ways to Declutter Your Work Life and Stay Focused

Technology is rapidly increasing our ability to work at a faster pace. But managing multiple devices, email, and phone can be time consuming, distracting many people from focusing on their core work. Are you hitting your business goals or just treading water with day-to-day tasks? If you are spending more time on managing your communications than creating new products, you might want to consider these tips on how to declutter your work life.

Question: What is your advice on how to stay focused and keep organized?

Don’t juggle everything at once

Take breaks! As entrepreneurs, we often find ourselves juggling different tasks at once, and it's very easy to lose focus in the midst of it all. ​Go for a walk, sit in meditation, or call your mother​. Taking a moment away from your work allows you to rest, recover, and regain momentum.

Schedule meetings in chunks

I like to schedule all meetings in the morning or in the afternoon to the extent that I can. That way, I'm guaranteed a block of time to focus on deliverables I'm accountable for rather than feeling like I'm having to stop/start progress throughout the day to hop on the phone.

Use a calendar and e-tools to organize your life

I highly recommend compulsively using Google Calendar and Trello (a workflow organizational web app). Between managing Japanese snack supply chain logistics for my startup, and organizing LGBT non-profit groups, it’s a challenge to maintain a personal life. I basically have to Google Calendar and Trello my entire life, or risk forgetting some important task.

Keep your space clutter-free

Make sure to keep an organized work space. Planning ahead is always ideal and when possible set aside time for specific tasks. When these two are not possible, I hire Joppers to assist me with organizational tasks such as running errands (grocery shopping or delivering packages) or even a quick manicure.

Stick to the plan

If I have a goal, I just create a plan and work hard. I always stick to the plan and follow the schedule. My family provides my source of positive emotions and is my super power.

Write a to-do list

I always create a to-do list the night before, so I know exactly what I'm doing the next day. I work using the Pomodoro method, which are 25-minute blocks of work followed by five minutes of rest. After four of these, I take a half hour break. During the 25-minute working block, I don't look on any social media or my phone. I use an app called 'Be Focused Pro,' but there are plenty of free versions, too. I can see which days are most productive by how many 'pomodoros' I do.

Don’t multitask

I don’t think there’s a silver bullet or magic answer for staying focused, but having a task list is key to focus and productivity. There’s lots of different methodologies for keeping track of tasks but all rely on the same principle: your brain is not good at keeping track of things. It’s good at processing.  So, keep track of things on a task list, make sure it’s well organized, and do one thing at a time. Do it well, to completion, and then move on to the next task.  Keep "multitasking" to a minimum and only for quick, trivial tasks.

Keep things simple and organized

I keep all my notes in one place, on one app, including random ideas, meeting notes, presentations, important telephone calls, team gatherings or strategy discussions. I use Evernote which syncs across all my devices, so everything is searchable and dated. I haven’t been on Facebook for over a year now.

Set your daily and weekly priorities

Owning a small business, there's always new things popping up day-to-day. I try and focus on prioritizing what has to get done each day, what I'd like to complete, and what needs to be finished by the end of the week. Our business has one other co-founder which works out great because I automatically have an accountability partner for checking in on my tasks. If you're a solopreneur or freelancer, one option is joining an accountability group.

Put your phone on airplane mode

Sometimes I put my phone on airplane mode. I stay off Instagram and Facebook as much as possible, unless it's to promote my work, which I include as working hours. I try to stick to a schedule that allows me to hit my mark at certain times, so by end of day I have tackled what I need to feel satisfied.

Block off time for thinking

I've found it very productive to reserve dedicated blocks of thinking times, or even a thinking day, where I remove myself from distractions, take a step back and think how I can better work on my business, rather than only in my business. Also, get plenty of it. It keeps your body healthy, your brain recharged, and your mood in check.


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