Name: Renee Lamb
Industry: Apparel & Accessories
Location: Richmond, Virginia, U.S.
Reason for starting: I started Soulié because I wanted to do something tangible, something where everyday I could see exactly how my efforts translated into making the world a better and more beautiful place. With my background, I could have gone to a big organization, wrote white papers and issued proposals, but I needed something more concrete.
After leaving my job in New York in 2011, I traveled with my husband for almost 2 years. We went all over the US, to South Asia and Africa. I met such amazing people along the way, and a sentiment I had long held was reinforced – the most powerful thing you can give to another human is dignity and hope. Everywhere I went, it was the person making something with their hands that seemed to have these qualities in abundance.
When I came home and unpacked my storage unit, so many of the items I had been paying to store away for years felt void. I wanted to fill my life with things that had meaning, items covered with the markings of an artisan’s hands and intention.
I knew I couldn’t be the only person feeling this way, so I wrote to some of the great organizations and people I met, filed for a business license and started with what I knew – textiles and yoga.
How do you define success? Facing your biggest fears with grace, and coming out the other side stronger, smarter and happier. Every time that I go to a trade show and someone picks up a piece and exclaims, “My gosh this beautiful!” or when I get an email from a customer who cried when they opened their box, I know I’ve made the right decision. We can so easily fill our lives with beautiful things. But the reason I keep going with Soulié is because I know that we can do it in a way that makes us feel more beautiful, while creating dignified lives and occupations for others.
Biggest Success: My website! It took me a year to get the guts to make my own website. I kept waiting to have the capital to pay someone else to do it – to take the photos, to write the copy, to do the formatting. Finally I had to admit to myself that I could do it. I know I won’t have to do these things forever, but now that I have faced them, they don’t seem so big and ugly. That realization alone, that I can figure it out, was worth all the time and effort.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it? The biggest challenge for me has been knowing when to gamble on a risk and when to let it ride. Since my company is self-funded, every dollar that I bet on a risk is a dollar that I could personally lose. When that total bust of a $1000 ad could have been an anniversary weekend away with your husband, the decision making process becomes very tangible, very quickly.
To address this, I’ve begun making firm annual budgets with one pot of risk money held aside for the year. This gives me the freedom to jump at an unforeseen opportunity, but the structure to keep the decision making process as low pressure and realistic as possible.
Who is your most important role model? My most important role model is my grandmother, Renee Soulie’s daughter-in-law. For my whole life, my grandmother was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis. Her mobility was severely limited, but her joy for life and learning was intoxicating. She had a whole wall of books encompassing everything from Buddhist philosophy, to Islamic ceramics, to Betty Crocker. I used to love running my fingers over them and marveling at how one woman could have amassed so much knowledge.
She was with me when I took my first trip abroad at the age of 14 – to Italy, of course. At 18 she told me to ignore all those people who told me high school was the golden time. “Life starts now,” she wrote. At 19 when I traveled to Nepal for the first time, I made her a photo album with my favorite places and experiences, knowing that she would never make it there to see the country with her own eyes.
By the time I graduated from college, she had passed. Now my own bookshelves are filled with writings on Buddhist philosophy, Islamic ceramics and a token Betty Crocker cookbook. I think of her every morning as I begin work, every time I step on a plane to a new country. “Life starts now,” I always think. I better make the most of it.
Edited by The Story Exchange