There is no one person that is good at everything. The quicker you are able to figure out your strengths and subsequently your weaknesses, the more successful you will be. Finding people to serve on our board of directors, and my employees at the boutique, that are strong where I am weak has been critical in our success. No one person can do everything. Finding the right team that believes in your mission is critical.
For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Allen.
Julie Allen, an author and sustainability awareness activist, is the CEO of Mary Rose NW Boutique and founder of the Mary Rose Foundation. Julie started Mary Rose NW Boutique because she recognized the need for a clothing shop that focused on body acceptance, self-love, and helping all bodies feel beautiful and confident in their clothes. The three pillars of her boutique include sustainability, inclusion, and social justice.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
Absolutely. I struggled with anorexia and bulimia for 15 years growing up. My disorder started when I was about 12 years old.Throughout that time I was in and out of the hospital and different treatment centers. My entire life was consumed by my eating disorder. I was hurting and I did not know another way to deal with life. The thing about an eating disorder is that it eventually stops working. I could never lose enough weight to make myself feel worthy. By the time I was 18, I was dealing with self-injury, and having been raped, and my eating disorder went from bad to worse. Being sexually assaulted was what prompted my eating disorder to be fueled by self-hate. I hated myself and did not care what happened to me. This continued on for several more years, and one day, in my early twenties, I made the decision to choose recovery. I was babysitting my cousins, who at that time were twin one-year-old girls and my four-year-old cousin, who was nonverbal. I remember eating something and proceeding to lock myself in the bathroom for about 30 minutes. That entire time, the 4-year-old was banging on the door. I just kept saying over and over to him, “It’s okay buddy, I will be right out.” After about 30 minutes, I was getting ready to come out of the bathroom, and I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Sunken eyes that screamed with desperation. I did not recognize myself. I looked that girl in the eye and asked myself, “What are you doing?” I loved those kids more than anything, and my eating disorder was so strong that I was putting their lives in jeopardy in order to act on my eating disorder. I came out of that bathroom and went over to the twins, one of them looked me straight in the eyes and gave me the biggest hug. That little girl saved my life. I swear she looked straight into my soul. About one month after this, I decided to check myself into a residential treatment facility for three months. This was the first time I went to treatment on my own accord. I spent those three months starting my healing journey. This was almost 15 years ago now. And I am forever grateful for that sweet hug that little girl gave me.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples
I used to be afraid of everything. Eating a bite of food would send me into a tailspin that could last for days. My fear of life and all that came along with it was all-consuming and overwhelming. During my last stay in treatment, I had a therapist who encouraged me to do one thing everyday that scared me. Back then, it was simply taking a bite of food and sitting with the feelings that that brought up. Over time, those things have gotten bigger. I can honestly say that now, I am not afraid. Being willing to try, knowing full well that a lot of things will not work out, has been a key in my success as a leader. Finding courage to try and fail is so important. In our society, women in particular have been trained to avoid failure at all cost. Unfortunately, that is not the reality of how business and life work. We try, we fail, we readjust and we get back up. Courage, perseverance, and a willingness to fail are the traits that I feel have made me a successful leader.
What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?
My business was founded almost 4 years ago and our nonprofit is just over 3 years old. Over that time, so much has changed, both within our organizations and on a grander scale. One of the biggest things I have learned is that the actions of one impact us all. It is so easy for us as humans to look at a situation and say, “not my problem,” but it has become incredibly evident over the course of the pandemic that our individual actions really do impact the world at large. I have taken this mindfulness and interweaved it into our business. My business is in the fashion industry. The fashion industry is rife with issues; from diet culture, to human rights issues, to environmental pollution, the fashion industry is not up to par. Prior to the pandemic, I didn’t understand how my business was contributing to these negative issues. But the actions of one impact us all, and change starts with a handful of people being willing to stand up and say, “this is not okay.” As a society, I believe we are going to see shifts in the way businesses are run. There used to be a significant separation between business and social issues. I see them no longer being separated in the future. I think there will be more business models, like ours, where we have a for-profit business and a nonprofit organization that work together. I believe our world is craving to do socially good and responsible things, and people want to know where they are putting their money. Businesses are changing and businesses putting people over profit is the future.
Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant society?
During early 2021, I made the decision to change our entire business model from fast fashion to slow, ethically made fashion. This was a major undertaking. From 2019 to 2020, we doubled our revenue. During 2020, we grossed nearly 1 million dollars. We had a brick and mortar storefront, and a nearly 5,000 ft warehouse that housed all of our online boutiques clothing. We were churning product at a very fast rate. The business model was to buy a lot of cheaper clothing and sell it. And sell it fast. And sell as much as possible. That is the status quo in the fashion industry. That is the status quo of how boutiques are run. I walked into our warehouse one day in early January 2021 and for the first time, saw what was in front of me. Plastic everywhere. An entire corner in the warehouse dedicated to trash. Items that came with holes in them. So much waste. I started looking into the fashion industry after that moment in the warehouse, and I could not unsee the issues. Human beings are not treated well. The human beings that make these clothes are being forced to work long hours, often severely underpaid or not paid at all. Fast fashion is filling up our landfills at an alarming rate. This model of “more more, never enough”, is destroying our planet. People are wearing items one or two times and then throwing them away. The average American disposes of nearly 80 lb of clothing a year. There is no more room. We have a finite amount of resources on our earth, and this cannot continue. We also have the issue of pollution. Polyester is a form of plastic and that is a primary material that clothing is made out of. It does not biodegrade, so once it ends up in a landfill it takes over 200 years to decompose and it is emitting chemicals that entire time. The fashion industry has a lot of skeletons in the closet and I made the commitment in early 2021 to no longer be part of this problem. The actions of one impact us all. And in my effort to serve one cause of anti diet culture and empowering people in all bodies to love and accept themselves just as they are, I was contributing in a massive way to the monster that is fast fashion.
We switched everything in our business. It has taken an entire year, and there were many times where I did not believe we were going to make it, but I held steady in what I know to be true. Our society needs to slow down, and we need to understand these things about the fashion industry..
This is just one aspect of the changes we are working towards making in the fashion industry. Another big issue is the lack of size inclusive options in ethically made clothing. This points directly to our diet obsessed society. We are in the process of developing our own line of ethically made, size inclusive (XS-5X) clothing styles for the sexy minimalist. Style does not have a size, gender, age, or race. Style is a form of self expression and people in all bodies deserve to feel beautiful. Our line, Hope Continues, is set to launch in Spring 2022!
What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?
I am passionate about many causes. I have an advocate’s heart. Once I learn about a cause that needs attention, I will pour my heart into helping. The issues with the fashion industry, and the lack of size inclusive options in ethically made clothing, really ties together all of my passions. I am an advocate for anti diet culture, eating disorder awareness, body acceptance and also there is the big piece of how the fashion industry is playing into all of these issues. These are big pieces of a puzzle, and change starts with knowledge. I owned a boutique for nearly three years before I realized what I was doing as a business was contributing to the problems of the fashion industry. I didn’t know. There is no shame in not knowing something. We listen, we learn, and we do better. We cannot know what we are not taught. The fashion industry is also an expert at covering things up. The lack of transparency is unbelievable. Slowing down and learning what questions we need to start asking is so important.
Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?
Because of how well the boutique did in 2020, we were able to fund three people’s eating disorder treatment. A portion of all sales at the boutique is donated to our nonprofit, the Mary Rose Foundation. We have received countless applications for people needing access to treatment. Reading through their cries for help, breaks my heart. I remember those desperate feelings of wanting out of my eating disorder and having no idea how to do that. On hard business days, having the foundation and knowing that we have been able to fund people’s treatment keeps me going. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses and a large portion of those deaths are via suicide. Eating disorder treatment saves lives. I am so humbled and honored to be serving this community. The support the boutique receives is directly tied to how many treatment scholarships we’ve been able to award. During the pandemic, we have not been able to do our typical fundraising for the foundation, so the boutique support has been what has kept us afloat. Thankful. So very thankful.
We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?
With regard to fast fashion…it is not that in and of itself fast fashion is terrible. We can go into issues of accessibility in regards to cost and sizing, but what I am asking people to do is to think twice before you purchase something. Ask yourself if you can see yourself wearing that item 20 times. If yes, then go for it! The issue is overconsumption and being taught that the next best thing will make you happy.
When you are ready to be done with an item, check with your friends/family circle (or a local shelter) before throwing it away. Sadly, most items that are donated end up in a landfill anyways, so checking with people you know directly is a better option.
Look for other ways to implement sustainability practices in your life. Instead of single use plastic bags, find washable, reusable bags. It’s little action that adds up to a big impact over time. The more each of us takes responsibility for our own actions, the more we will impact change on a bigger level. Choosing eco-friendly goods over plastic is a win everyday.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?” Please share a story or example for each.
1. Have a clear, well defined mission. The first step is defining what exactly you are passionate about. When I decided to open the nonprofit, it was because I knew that I was passionate about helping people access eating disorder treatment. The cost of treatment is so expensive and my parents had to take out a second mortgage on their house in order to pay for mine. I researched other nonprofits and didn’t find many that were doing what I wanted to do, so that’s when I made the decision to open up my own. Knowing what you are passionate about is the first step.
2. After your passion and mission is well defined, brainstorm actionable ways you can implement your ideas. If you already have a business, there are many ways you can incorporate your social good mission into your business. If you are starting from scratch, then start researching nonprofits and decide if you want to open your own nonprofit or incorporate your social good mission into your life in another way. There is no one right way to be an activist for your cause.
3. There is no one person that is good at everything. The quicker you are able to figure out your strengths and subsequently your weaknesses, the more successful you will be. Finding people to serve on our board of directors, and my employees at the boutique, that are strong where I am weak has been critical in our success. No one person can do everything. Finding the right team that believes in your mission is critical.
4. Be willing to adapt how you are doing things. My business and nonprofit have changed considerably over the course that they have been around, but the mission has stayed constant. When you have a well-defined mission, you are able to change how you are running things while still being true to your mission. It is very easy to get stuck in the status quo. Over the course of the pandemic, the non-profit and the business have had to pivot more times than I can count, but the mission has stayed the same. Empower people in all bodies to love and accept themselves as they are. Healing ourselves, healing our relationship with our bodies and food, so we can empower our next generation to do the same.
5. Having a supportive team around you is so important, but at the end of the day, this is your dream and your passion. Being open to listening to others opinions, but trusting yourself as the visionary is critical. Knowing when to listen and when to simply say “this is what we are doing.” Keep your passion and your mission front and center and make sure your team knows it. Run every decision you make through your mission. Our boutique’s mission statement is one of sustainability, inclusion, and social justice. This has become our check system. If it does not line up with any of those pillars, we do not do it. Keep the mission front and center and run your decisions through that.
How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?
The pandemic has been very challenging for our business and nonprofit. Initially during 2020, the business boomed. We grossed almost 1 million in sales in 2020. With that, we provided jobs for people during the pandemic and were able to donate three treatment scholarships to people that needed eating disorder treatment. However, in early 2021, I began looking deeper into the fashion industry and I could not unsee it. The pandemic brought so much to light. The biggest thing has been that our individual actions impact society as a whole. We have to listen, we have to learn, and we have to do better. Being willing to look at our business model and say we do not want to be part of the monster that is fast fashion anymore, and then proceeding to change it, took an incredible amount of courage. We did it because it was the right thing to do. The pandemic has made us get incredibly creative as far as fundraising for the foundation, and to be perfectly honest, if the boutique did not survive, I really don’t believe the foundation would have either. At this point, success to me means positively impacting people’s lives. If somebody’s day is made better by coming into our storefront, if the people that we are serving in our online community feel included and seen and worthy, then I am happy. My goal is to provide a safe space for people in all bodies. Putting people over profits is what we have done this last year.
How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?
Business is hard. Business during a pandemic is unreal. Business during a pandemic and running a nonprofit with young kids at home, I don’t know how we have survived. At the end of the day, if I can look back and say I did the best that I could and I worked to inspire people to live their passions, then I have done my job. Keeping the mission of our boutique and nonprofit front and center in all we do, keeps me going. I am working to dismantle many of the status quos in the fashion industry and in our diet obsessed society, and some days it is overwhelming. But when I focus on my little corner of the world and the good that I am trying to do in my community, I have hope. Hope that it will spread. Hope that if I just focus on doing the next right thing, it will come together. The next right thing. That is all any of us have to do.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Glennon Doyle! I LOVE her! She inspires me to live my passions. To not be afraid of what others think and continually strive to speak louder and do better. I love her.
You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?
The best place to follow us is our boutique’s instagram page, @maryrose.boutique From there, you can find both the foundation page and the new clothing line’s page.
Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.
Thank you so much for this opportunity! It is very appreciated.