Each year, fashionista and international entrepreneur Tory Burch hand-selects a group of female entrepreneurs who are out to set the world on fire. Allison Schickel, founder of The Brobe – a line of pretty yet practical robes customized for surgical and childbirth recovery – was fortunate enough to be among this year’s group.
Tory Burch is perhaps just as passionate about empowering ambitious women as she is about fashion. A global leader in an ever-evolving industry, Burch also helps to create the path to entrepreneurship for women through her Tory Burch Foundation, whose motto is Embrace Ambition. Each year, ten female entrepreneurs are personally chosen by Burch to participate in a year-long mentorship program, which includes time with Tory and her team at headquarters, a $10,000 grant and the chance to win $100,000.
Allison Schickel – Entrepreneur, Creator and Founder of the Brobe – sat down with Stout Magazine to share some of her experience and insights as an entrepreneur and Tory Burch Fellow.
STOUT: Tell us about your fellowship experience with the Tory Burch Foundation.
AS: In one word, it was validating. To have this successful executive of a $3 billion company say, “I’m choosing you – one of 10 chosen from hundreds of applicants – to give my time and energy to help you succeed” is really amazing. As a struggling business owner, self-doubt takes over sometimes. You wonder, “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? Do people really want this?”.
STOUT: How has it impacted you as a business? How about as a leader?
AS: It hasn’t impacted my business per se, but it has definitely impacted me. It gave me confidence, and introduced me to people I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to meet. Starting a company is one of the loneliest things you can do. Even if you have a partner, it can be lonely. Being able to have monthly calls and to soundboard with my Tory Burch Fellows is so wonderful. And having the power of Tory’s team to help make needed introductions or give feedback is so important.
STOUT: What did you learn from the other participating Fellows?
AS: I learned that what I was feeling was normal, that we all struggle. And I really felt like there was a sisterhood between us all – I just loved every single one of them. We keep in touch through a Facebook group, and often encourage each other. If one of us is traveling and happens to be in the city of a Fellow, we usually reach out and plan a dinner or lunch together to connect.
STOUT: What were the commonalities between your group of Fellows?
AS: It all goes hand-in-hand. Since you’re by yourself, you need to find your tribe. These ladies are going to “get you”, and this group has proven to be a great support system.
STOUT: What were you biggest take-a-ways from this experience?
AS: Last year was a pivotal time with the Brobe. I learned to trust my gut!! It will never steer you wrong. I didn’t once and it cost me a lot of money. I listened to someone else’s advice, someone more seasoned, so I put aside my own instincts. It’s so hard to trust yourself sometimes, because of self-doubt. It’s easier to give in and just listen to other people who seem to be the experts.
STOUT: Any lessons that would help other entrepreneurs or leaders?
AS: Be authentic, about what’s going on, and to yourself – be vulnerable. Being an authentic person is so important- the reality is people don’t relate to that. Also, don’t compare yourself to other business owners. I would, and you just can’t do that to yourself. Not everyone has the same set of circumstances or starting points. A lot of what you see out there is smoke and mirrors, and sometimes others have a lot of support that typical ground-up companies might not have.
“You can’t get caught up in where other people are. Just focus on where you are with your company, your brand, and your product – and the rest will come.”
Stout Magazine also talked to Allison about the inspiration behind the Brobe and her take on the importance of aligning passion and purpose.AS: One thing that I know for sure, I think we’re all leaving this earth better than what it was when we came in. I feel like I’ve created something that has helped people in some way. Even if I would die today, it would continue to help others. It feels like I’m fulfilling a purpose for them.
The Brobe also aligns with my passion for giving back to our community and those less fortunate. Every year, we donate products and money to organizations that align with our core values. Last year, we were able to give almost $30,000 in products and cash donations.
STOUT: What led you to your purpose?
AS: My own desire to have support and comfort in the morning when getting ready for my day. Basically, necessity was the mother of invention. I’m a robe girl, but hated having to wear my bra under my robe to get dressed in the mornings, so I fashioned my own solution to boob sweat! With a pair of scissors, I turned my sports bra into the first Brobe.
STOUT: When did you know you had found your “GO” moment?
AS: I had a few different “GO” moments as far as the Brobe, but after I had the prototypes worked out, I thought, “Where do I go now?” So, I contacted the Susan G. Komen foundation, and after meeting with a woman who had just gone through a mastectomy, she said to me with tears in her eyes, “You have to do this.” On the way home, I told my husband, Matt, “I hope you’re ready to eat peanut butter & jelly as long as we have to because we’re going to start this business.” And, when I make my mind up, that’s it! This approach has also bitten me a few times, I must admit.
“I want to hang out with amazing, strong-willed people who have a sense of self-worth, are humble, and have good energy.”
(My mom has all of those qualities)
STOUT: Where do you get your inspiration from?
AS: I talk to my customers—-they are the biggest advocates for me, and I also source from our Brobe Ambassador program. We recently launched this, and it’s a great way for us to expand our relationship with our customers and meet their needs. When creating new products, I talk to my customers and listen to what they like and need. Some of our best sellers have been uncovered this way, like gift sets and our post-op belt.
STOUT: Who has been the biggest influence on you?
AS: My mom, of course, my husband, and my good friend, Jenny Kringel. Jenny has taught me a lot about perspectives and thinking of things in a different way. Growing up, my mom always told me “ you are who you hang out with”. I find that true in adulthood as well. In business, I try to surround myself with people smarter and more knowledgeable than I am so I can be that sponge to learn and grow from. Like I tell my kids all the time, hang out with people who make you feel good about you. Don’t waste time on negative noise from others.
STOUT: What has been your biggest challenge?
AS: Self-doubt in the beginning, and keeping up with demand. Also, patience (laughs) and finances.
STOUT: What’s your strategy to navigate through obstacles?
AS: If I have an issue with the Brobe, I’m not a procrastinator – I’m going to fix the problem. If I say I’m going to do it, then I’m doing it. I’m all in. I feel like I lean towards other people to help get me through these obstacles. I ask for the help I need, or I ask others to help me find the right person or resource I’m lacking.
STOUT: How do you recharge?
AS: Sleep! I’m a busy mom with early mornings, so I try to get a good night’s sleep. Also going to church and being around people re-charges me. Having lunch, coffee, wine, or whatever. Guess that’s the extrovert in me.
Stout Takeaways: Stout Advice from Entrepreneur Allison Schickel, Founder, and Creator of the Brobe
Trust Your Gut and Use Your Intuition.
It’s important to be aware: Look and listen to what was going around you. There were signs pushing me towards this. In my 20’s or early 30’s, I wouldn’t have listened to that. With maturity, I realized there were things around me pointing me in this direction.
Build Your Tribe.
Surround yourself with good people, people who are smarter than you, who are strong and have a solid sense of self-worth.
Ask for Help When You Need It.
I don’t hesitate to ask for help. When there’s something to solve, and I can’t do it, I go find someone who can, or find someone who can lead me to the answer.
Give thanks, and reflect on what’s coming your way. I get thank-you cards from customers all the time. It’s so awesome, and a good extra boost that keeps me forging ahead.