Conversations with the Inspiring Kate Phelan by Boston Voyager

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kate Phelan.

Kate, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Oh man, I don’t even know where to begin! Well, I was born August 11, 1988, just kidding! But I have to say that I first fell in love with fashion when I was a child. I grew up with a reformed hippie mother who believed clothing was an expression of who you were or who you wanted to be. I have carried that philosophy throughout my career in fashion.

It wasn’t until I watched my first fashion show when I was 15 that I knew I had to be apart of this exclusive world of fashion. From that point on, I had one goal: to make my mark in the fashion world. I’ve had many jobs, from buying to merchandising, to brand development, but I always found myself coming back to small businesses and retail. I love the passion and creativity that comes with owning a small business. The drive to succeed and watching others continues to motivate my passion to succeed even during the hardest of times. I have worked for many companies and never felt I was given enough freedom to truly explore my ideas and owning your own business you get that ability.

Somedays, I work 14 hours and love it, and somedays I burn out and question why I got myself into this. At the end of the day, it’s the only career I’ve had where I all of my efforts are given a direct response. There is nothing more powerful than seeing something you created, grow in ways you never thought were possible.

Has it been a smooth road?
No, it absolutely hasn’t been a smooth road. There are mini roadblocks that affect the day to day operations of Sloane & Ivy and then there are big picture roadblocks that make me question my ability as a young female entrepreneur. Just as in life, when we are faced with adversity it is how you handle the difficulties at the moment, the lessons you walk away with, and the strength that keeps you going until the next roadblock.

After only being open for 9 months (under a different business name), I made the decision to split from a business partner. I had to completely rebrand, start from scratch, create a whole new website & social media, and run a business completely on my own basically overnight. I believe that was the first time that I felt like I was two people: Kate, the business owner, and Kate the 28-year-old. I looked at the situation as having two options: I could step up to the challenge and be the boss babe I’ve dreamt I could be or let {valid} excuses get the best of me and go back to a “normal” life of a 28-year-old. Well, normal has never been in my wheelhouse, and the business owner side won, and I put all my strength, energy, and love into creating Sloane & Ivy. I won’t lie and say there weren’t moments where I thought I had made the biggest mistake and I was just going to end up failing. But, looking back now, almost a year later, I am grateful for those roadblocks. Without the turmoil I went through last year, I would not have sole ownership of my company, I would not be able to run a business the way I want to, make the decisions I want to, and would not have the self-confidence I do now. I grew so much in that time, as a person and as a female entrepreneur.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into Sloane & Ivy story. Tell us more about the business.
My main business is Sloane & Ivy, a brick & motor flagship in Wellesley, MA and an online e-commerce site www.sloaneandivy.com. I offer many services as in-store or at home styling appointments, closet detox, photo shoot styling, and social media styling. There is also the Ivybox, a subscription-based option, where I curate a collection of 6 items that are delivered straight to your doorstep! The IvyBox lets you try on clothing in the comfort of your home and only purchase the items you love and send the rest back. Shipping is free, and there is only a $25 styling fee associate, which is gifted back to you if you purchase any item. You can choose to get the box Monthly, Seasonally (4 times a year), Basic (3 times a year) or Gift (one time).

I am actually really excited to announce that we are relaunching our Ivybox. I have decided to partner with the Women’s Center of Cambridge, a local non-profit that helps women in various ways. I have been extremely fortunate in my life, and I know that most women can not say the same, so I wanted to give back in any way possible. I found The Women’s Center and fell in love with how much they give back and I wanted to be part of their efforts. Not only do I volunteer there & help raise private funding, I also wanted my store to be active with their philanthropy as well. We are all female and know the struggles that come with being female, so 10% of the profits made by each Ivybox will go towards the Women’s Center.

Other aspects that set Sloane & Ivy apart is the amount of time I spend researching brands. For example, one of the handbag companies is from Uruguay. Sloane & Ivy is currently one of two stores in the United States that carries these bags, and the collection is exclusive to Sloane & Ivy. All the bags are 100% natural Uruguayan wool and leather and are made by local female artisans. I also love finding brands that give back! Right now we have four brands that give a portion of their proceeds to non-profits like the LA Children’s Hospital, Kids No More & ASPCA.

All of the jewelry sold at Sloane & Ivy is made in MA by female-owned businesses. Right now, we have Sixty Stax, 2 girls from Weston, Alyson Wells, a woman from Wellesley, and Samantha Faye and women in Newton. I think it is important to highlight independent small businesses and support one of another!

Outside of Sloane & Ivy, I also am a stylist and brand consultant. I help with photo shoots, magazine layouts, and website and social media branding. I have worked with many other small businesses in order to help expand their targets. I love working with independent companies because the passion is still there. Other people’s drive and enthusiasm give me so much life and happiness to keep striving for my own goals.

What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to female leadership, in your industry or generally?
Being in the fashion industry and having amazing females breaking the mold and dominating the industry; I have had an endless number of role models to look up too. During this day and age, being a female has become less of a barrier than my age. I am not yet 30 and frankly look younger than I actually am. Looking young has its advantages but there are also instances where complete strangers will come into my store and criticize me because I am under 30 with my own business. At this point, I feel like I could make a coffee table book of “Confessions from the Dressing Rooms” from these comments. Some of the highlights, but not all, have been that I am “too fat to be a female leader in fashion industry”, “too skinny I must have an eating disorder and can’t run a business”, I’m “too ugly to be a blogger”, but my favorite is “my business will fail”. These comments all came from a woman who was older than I am. Luckily for me, I have a thick skin, and random people’s opinions only drive me to prove them wrong instead of breaking me down. It amazes me that still in this day of age, women find it necessary to tear each other down. I welcome constructive criticism, I believe not one of us knows all and we can all learn from each other. That is one of the benefits of employing my girls and having the intern program. I have learned so much from the girls who have interned or worked for me. I hope to always have this open book working environment, this is where the best ideas come from. Someone has an idea and from there it grows into a concept.

But unsolicited, vile, harmful comments that are just malicious from the start, I do not understand. It boggles my mind that women in 2018, and mainly mothers, still feel the need to belittle one another for personal gain. I find it funny that us “millennials” get the bad rep that we are the ones causing this bullying environment when my experience has been quite the opposite. I have never been a girl with a million best girlfriends. I was a tomboy growing up, never really fitting in. I got bullied by girls, and as I got older I had more guy friends than girls and just lived my life beating to my own drum.

Through Sloane & Ivy, an unexpected silver lining as occurred. I have met and worked with some of the most incredible women, who uplift, support and guide one another. Where we do not find the finish line is just for one of us but can be for all. I have a new found respect, and love for being a woman in 2018. I try to emulate that in the Sloane & Ivy brand. I want it to be a brand that women think positively & feel empowered from.

 

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