The story of Elegantees blew me away. Not because of massive success, or because of exponential growth in a short period of time, or anything of the sorts. But rather, of Katie’s story of persistence.
Katie was an Iowan who pursued fashion in the elusive industry in New York City. After reaching a peak position as a production manager, her dream since she was a teenager to run her own clothing line could not be quieted in her heart. But beyond this dream, she held onto the heart break she felt when she had learned about the abduction of girls into sex trafficking. She moved back to Iowa in 2010, and from her parents’ basement, Elegantees was created. It was a company that dreamt of donating profits to fight sex trafficking.
The road was not easy, in any form of the word. Katie eventually fell in love, and moved back to New York. Her mom kept up order shipments out of Iowa, and Katie continued working on the company from the City. In 2011, she met a man named Ramesh, who had been working in anti-trafficking for 20+ years. Although his organization was successfully rescuing tens of thousands of women and children from trafficking, Ramesh knew of a more effective way to reduce the trafficking: reducing poverty. Fair-wage employment and economic opportunity were more beneficial in the long-term than just simply charitable giving.
Katie had to return to a full-time job for over a year to help financially support herself, while having a whirlwind year of getting engaged and married! But working a full-time job significantly adversely impacted sales and their presence on social media dropped. Behind the scenes, however, Katie and Ramesh were working on a partnership with Nepal to start having the clothes made over there. Operation and shipping costs are high in a partnership like this, and they struggled to balance how to lower costs, but continue to provide work for more women. Once Katie was able to quit her full-time job, and the “hope dress” launched, many of Elegantees supporters were excited to support a product that was tangibly helping others. The scary venture
of increasing product cost, ironically, led to more sales and more customers!
2014-2016 nearly led to the extinction of Elegantees, despite many improvements and traction that had been gained. They had been notified that despite their new collections and pitches to major retailers, no significant return was yielded. This led the sewing center in Nepal to reach out and inform them that they did not have enough work to continue operating. This was a wake-up call to Katie and the team. They began focusing on simply securing orders each and every day, rather than on moves that would possibly someday lead to exponential growth. They started focusing on ensuring that no matter what, the minimum was being met to continue operations. This new mindset was successful, but shortly after, an earthquake resulted in the loss of a fabric order from China that was never recovered. Although the business became profitable in 2016 for the first time in its six years, political woes between India and Nepal led to the stop of any supplies (food, medical supplies, business supplies) into Nepal. Ramesh was advised to close shop following the summer season. With a lot of prayer, they were notified that summer that the border was opened up again! Talk about a whirlwind!
Over the years since 2016, Katie has discovered new ways to be more efficient with the work she does, and what is delegated out. Lessons over time and a lot of faith have helped Elegantees thrive and grow. They now have a staff of nearly 20 in Nepal! Their mission and dream that someday, women in Nepal will no longer be seen as a commodity, is what drives them year after year.
Friends, this post may not have the same flow as some of my previous ones. And that is why I loved writing it! Reading the story of Elegantees felt so REAL to me. I can relate to her journey in so many ways. The concept of inspo&grace started in 2016. I didn’t launch my blog until Spring of 2019, and the boutique didn’t launch until Fall 2019 (over three years after my first “dreaming” phase of this project). And more real talk? I am not even CLOSE to having made a single dollar of profit with all of this. The costs of having a website, domain, purchasing products from companies I feature, set up supplies for markets, inventory, etc., far exceed any sales proceeds made thus far. And yet, my mission remains clear: donate 10% of proceeds (regardless of if any profit is made!), keep faith, and stay persistent.
Thank you so much for reading the story of Elegantees. Be sure to find them on instagram and do some shopping on their website! Your support directly helps women, and fuels hope for a better tomorrow.
Have an amazing rest of your week!
XoXo Lindsey Sholtis
Photo credit: https://elegantees.com/collections/tees-tops