Business with a Purpose: Molly Stillman
Molly Stillman: Business With a Purpose
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Intro: Welcome to the Simple Switch Podcast where you'll join me, Rachel, the Founder of Simple Switch to talk about conscious consumerism and positive impact purchasing. Spending our money in a way that helps our planet and the people on it can be complicated and frustrating and we're passionate about bringing ease to your journey. Join us as we demystify big ideas about conscious consumerism and hear from amazing business owners using their work for positive change. Thanks for being here and enjoying the show.
Rachel: Hey Molly! Thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Molly: Thanks so much for having me Rachel!
Rachel: Well, I am going to start with a page out of your own book. I know you ask this to all your guests; can you give me the Molly 101? So who are you, what are you passionate about, and why and how did you get started doing what you are doing now?
Molly: Awesome. Well, my name is Molly and I am a follower of Jesus; I'm a wife to John, a mom to Lily and Amos and a content creator and writer. I blog over at Still Being Molly, which has been my internet home for almost 14 years, which is crazy. I also host a podcast called business with purpose that is almost 4 years old, and I travel and I speak and I teach workshops. I speak at small businesses, churches, and conferences, all kinds of things. I just love what I get to do. I'm really passionate about just kind of sharing what Jesus has done in my life, but then one of the things that has really kind of transformed over the past 8 to 10 years is my passion for fair trade and ethical fashion. I believe that as consumers we have power in our purchasing and I love to educate people on why shopping fair trade and shopping ethically is important. That's pretty much the long and the short of it.
Rachel: I love it! That's so cool. So 14 years? That's a long time. What led you to get started?
Molly: Well, I have a background in improv and sketch comedy.
Rachel: Oh fun!
Molly: So I did that for about 15 years, and my lifelong dream was to be on Saturday Night Live. That was like pretty much all I ever wanted to do. I was an English major in college, and my concentration was in creative writing, obviously. I started the blog in college because I really was looking for an outlet to hone my comedy writing craft. It originally started as a vision to become the next The Onion, the satirical news website.
Rachel: Wow, what an interesting change.
Molly: I know. People find that out and I tell them you should read my early writing. That's what I really wanted to do. I loved to write satire and parody and so I just kind of use my blog as an outlet to publish that work, and hone that craft so to speak. Eventually, as my life changed, I started to just kind of write about what was going on in my life, and by about 2009-2010 into 2011, that kind of 2 to 1/2 year period, a lot was going on in my life. I had some big major life transitions: moving to a new state, getting out of a pretty bad relationship, but then getting into a new relationship, coming to faith in Christ, and also getting engaged and planning a wedding. There was a lot happening in that very kind of short amount of time and I was writing about it. I suddenly realized that there were people reading my blog that were not my dad and my sister, and I was like “Oh, I think people actually like my writing, and I think people are connecting with this”. It just kind of grew from there and then by 2012, late 2012, is when I realized I think I could maybe even monetize this, I think I could maybe do this for a living.
Rachel: What an amazing realization; that's so cool. A turning point.
Molly: Yeah, it was definitely not-- I mean, when I started, monetizing it and doing the blog for a living was not even remotely on my radar. It just kind of was this organic transition really. I mean my content didn't really change, I just was a little bit more strategic. Instead of treating it like a hobby, I was like “okay, I think I'm going to start to try to treat this like a business and see what happens”. By the end of 2013 and 2014, is when I leave my day job and pursue the blog full time.
Rachel: Wow, that's so cool. I was going to ask you this later, but I feel like I'll ask just in case we miss anything. One of our company's values is iterate often. Basically, as we are getting feedback from people and realizing that we can do better just making sure that we're making those pivots, but sometimes it leads to really funny changes, for instance, you going from satire comedy to where you are now. Is there anything else that you think of when I say that, that's been a big switch for you guys? Obviously that's a great example.
Molly: Yeah. I mean I've done a ton of switches over the years. When I went to college, my first major when I was a freshman was musical theater.
Rachel: I actually didn’t realize we had this in common; I also majored in musical theater in college.
Molly: Yeah, I started off as musical theater, but my faculty advisor for the theater department sat me down one day towards the end of my freshman year. He had a conversation with me; he had found out that I was a part of a campus sketch comedy group. The sketch comedy group that was on my campus was huge. Not like big as in numbers, but like it was really coveted, like when we had our shows we would sell out our shows on campus. I don’t even know if it's still going, sadly. But when I was there it was a really big deal. That was actually a part of the reason that I chose the school that I went to because I knew that they had a really successful sketch comedy group. So, I joined the sketch comedy group and I loved it. Like it was just the best thing. My faculty advisor at the Theatre Department sat me down and he was like, you're going to have to choose either musical theater or the sketch comedy group. I said “why?” and he was like well everybody knows that comedy isn't real theater. I said “Excuse me?” and he basically started to just dog sketch comedy. He said it was an embarrassment to the craft of theater. I sat there and I looked at him, and I was like “Well, see ya!” and I went to the registrar the next day and switched my major to creative writing. I was like, well, the creative writing concentration had a lot of different types of writing classes that I thought would be good for what I wanted to do. The rest is history. But when I look at that and where I started, and then when I graduated college, and during college, in addition to doing comedy, improv, and these kinds of things, I was also really involved in student government. So then I was like, “do I have a career in politics?”, like I don't know. It just got so all over the place. I really feel like college is that time where you just start to figure out what it is that you're good at, what do you like, and what are you called to. I graduated college on a Sunday, moved to Richmond, Virginia the next day, and I began working for a Virginia governor Tim Kaine at the time. I was like a governor’s fellow for the summer, and then that fellowship ended. You have to realize that this is 2007, right before the recession, and the economy was not in good shape at the time. There were lots of budget cuts, left and right, so I was having a hard time finding a job. Then, I met the superintendent of a public school system in Richmond, and he was like “we are looking for English teachers. Do you want to be a high-school teacher?”. So there I was, 22 years old, and now teaching sophomores, juniors, and seniors in high school. I was barely out of high school myself. It was a very weird time. I look back and I see that I learned so much during that time. It's funny how all the skills that I've gained through improv, comedy, even theater classes, through working for the government, being a High School teacher, all of those skills I use every single day. I don't know that I would have gotten those skills had I not have had this very weird round-about career path in so many ways. I could go down all the other random jobs that I've had over the years, but I really think that for me what I've found has been really valuable is walking through the next door that's open, and realizing that sometimes opportunities are placed in your path. You might not know how that opportunity has been placed there, but it has been placed there for a reason. With discernment, with wisdom, and with making sure that it is a legit opportunity, I think you can really learn alot by walking through that door that has been opened.
Rachel: Definitely, wow. Cool. It’s fun to hear your meandering path to where you are. But it actually has a lot of overlap with me so that’s fun for me too. Well, since you have started your blog and your life has begun to pivot in that direction, you have become a part of this community for years now, through ethical shopping, ethical purchasing, and talking to some really cool business leaders and personal leaders. Who are some guests who really changed your perspective, and how have you seen this community grow and change?
Molly: Man. That is a tough question. I'll answer the second question first, how I’ve seen the community grow and change. I'm assuming you are referring to the ethical fashion and fair trade world in general. It's been so interesting because when I started really learning about it was really in mid 2011, after my first trip to Kenya. While I was there, I toured a fair trade factory in Nairobi. That was such an eye opening experience for me because I was able to see that fair trade is changing people's lives. The value and impact of fair trade is more than I think we can even begin to understand. It is so countercultural to the way the majority of the business world runs. It's so impactful on people's lives. When I came home, I started to research as much as I could. At the time, my entire impression was like “oh, fair trade is coffee, tea, and chocolate”. I didn't realize that there was this whole other world of fair trade goods. And yes, they were out there, but you could not find fair trade and ethical fashion companies as easily then as you can now. In 2015, I started the ethical brand directory on my blog. I started it because to my knowledge at the time, there was nothing out there like it. In 2015, I was searching for a list of companies who were ethical, fair trade and/or made in the USA, companies that I can shop with and have peace of mind.
Rachel: Absolutely. And even if that did exist, I always tell myself that if we couldn’t find it while we were earnestly looking for it, then there needs to be more. It needs to grow.
Molly: Right. At the time, there was nothing like it that I could find. And trust me, I had scoured the internet. I thought that I would start one. I created a janky page on my blog, where I found all the links that I could find and put them in alphabetical order based on category. When I started it, it was mid 2015, and it had mabe 35 or 40 businesses on it. As of last count for my current version, I have close to 420.
Rachel: Wow, awesome! That’s great.
Molly: Some of them had been around at the time but I couldn’t find them. One, this visibility is big and that has changed a lot. Two, a lot of those brands are new. That is a big deal. I have also been able to add some bigger brands to the list, brands I didn’t know at the time, like Patagonia is one. Patagonia has obviously been in the forefront of the ethical fashion movement for a long time. It built into their values. Even these companies like New Balance, which manufactures their shoes in the United States. They are not 100% ethical but they have ethical options. So you have some of these companies, which are really making big changes. I've seen a huge shift in the last four to five years especially. I think we are going to continue to see that over the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years.
Rachel: I feel so encouraged. I feel the same way, but it is fun seeing it from other people's perspective, and you have been doing some amazing in depth interviews with these people over the years. It's fun to hear you say that.
Molly: Yeah. As far as interviews that have really changed my perspective, I have interviewed, as of yesterday, for 184 episodes. I've had just one repeat person. So that's 180 plus people that I have interviewed. It’s really interesting because I interview so many different types of people.There are certainly some conversations that stand out in my mind as really awesome, but specifically in regards to ethical fashion. Some of the ones that really stick out include one way back towards the beginning of the show, around October 2016, on episode 6. Her name is Suzette Munsun, and she is the founder of Love 41, an ethical leather company. They make different leather goods such as bags, wallets, all that kind of stuff. But she is just fun; she's hilarious. I remember the way she talks about her business-- I remember that was really early on, one of the first episodes that I thought “I think we are one to something here”. I really love her. Over the years, people like Lisbo Hannon from Cinco Designs and Jessica Honicker from NoonDay Collection, Carly Burson from Trivalive, Barret Ward from Able, people who have really done incredible work over the years. Katy Martinez from Elegant Teas, Matt Richardson from CauseBox, these are people that are really paving the way for others to come behind them. I saw this really cool graphic the other day; it was a picture of wolves, and the wolves were running through three to four feet of snow. The first wolf is ahead of the pack. I want you to picture this frozen tundra with really thick snow. It is just a smooth blanket of snow. But there is this one wolf at the front that is pushing its way through the snow, paving a path, running in an S. All the other wolves are running in a straight line behind that other wolf, on an easier path through the snow. The first wolf really got the majority of the snow out of the way. It is just the perfect metaphor for leadership in business, how really appreciating the people who have come before you paved that path to make that path a little easier. You, if you're second in line, if you're third in line, if you're fourth in line, you're still knocking that snow out of the way for the people behind you. It helps you realize that we are all in it together. Those are definitely some of the ones that stick out in my mind.
Rachel: And how much more important is that in an impact business? I know it applies everywhere, but another one of our company values is ease without apathy, making sure that we are making it easy for our customers to find these companies and purchase from them. With that ease, we don’t want to take away that amazing connection they can have from them, the learning that they can be doing, and making sure they are not apathetic to the impact that needs to be made and that they are making. I love that picture. I can close my eyes and see it. The first business owner to do it helps to push forward for the rest of us behind them. But once 100 wolves have gone, the millions of consumer wolves can come by. I don’t know. It's just an amazing whole ecosystem; you're so right. I'm so thankful for so many of those guests that you mentioned and so much of the work that they have done to create that visibility and awareness.
Molly: Yeah, absolutely.
Rachel: I’m always so hopeful doing podcast interviews; it makes me reenergized through these stories.
Molly: Yeah, me too.
Rachel: You share ethical products and the people that are making them happen with the world all the time through your blog and your podcast. But how has this changed the way that you live your personal life, as far as your own ethical fashion and what tips do you have for listeners that might just be starting this ethical journey?
Molly: It’s been such a process for me over the last 8 to 10 years and really a journey. I always tell people, if you are just starting out, don't think that you have to completely overhaul the way that you shop or the way that you buy things overnight. It is really a transition, and little by little it does add up. I always tell people to start with one thing or category. Maybe it’s shoes. Just shop ethically with shoes, which is a really easy category to change the way you shop in. Or, you could do jewelry. Maybe you are a jewelry person, and there are so many ethical jewelry brands that are amazing. It doesn't have to be this complete overhaul overnight. Even me, I don’t get this perfect all the time. I still shop at Target; I love Target. But I don’t go and buy a ton of clothes at Target anymore, I don't buy jewelry at Target anymore. I'm much more mindful with my purchases. It's been a transition and now I purchase about 80 to 85% of everything we buy as ethical. If I can't find an ethical option, then I try to look for it second hand. I then try to buy it from a small business or buy it locally, and then from there convenience is just what I have to do. I still use Amazon Prime; I got kids, and subscribe and save is my jam. So feel free for school snacks and stuff. I always just tell people it’s progress not perfection. It’s not something you really have to change overnight. Give yourself some grace in making wise decisions. I will say that I’m just not an impulse purchase anymore, I am more thoughtful with buying things, even when it is ethical. I really marinate on purchasing decisions even when I go and spend money. That has been a big change for me.
Rachel: And even that is more ethical, right. If you are choosing not to just buy things needlessly, that is especially better for the environment. That allows for things to be taken out of the waste drain, and less resources are being put into making that product. I totally echo what you said earlier; we love to say progress over perfection, to remind people that those things are going to start to happen naturally when you take those small steps. If you are starting to think about your jewelry, your mind is literally going to change, in small and big ways, to say “oh, wait, I did find this company with jewelry”, and then as you are looking for jewelry you might discover that new company. It may turn out that they are exactly what you are looking for anf=d you are excited about them. It doesn’t have to be this drudgery. It ends up being this really joyful process.
Molly: Yeah, absolutely. I couldn't agree more.
Rachel: Ok, my last question for you is one that I love being asked, but it's a little bit tough. If you could have the whole world’s attention for 30 seconds, what would you say?
Molly: Oh man. If I could have the whole world’s attention for 30 seconds, what would I say? Ok, qualifying question, am I gonna know in advance that I have this 30 seconds?
Rachel: When I was asked this question, I imagine that yes, there is an event coming up and I know that I would get to speak to the world. I guess that totally changes it, because if you were just put on the spot for thirty seconds, which I guess is what's happening right now, it would be totally different.
Molly: Yeah, I mean the content would be the same. It's just the way I would word it, depending on how much I had planned.
Rachel: Well, cool. What's the content?
Molly: I think it would be something along the lines of how Jesus changed my life, and that if he changed my life, then he can change yours. It's the most important thing in the world to me because for 25 years, I lived life for myself. At age 25, everything changed. I'm a completely different person then I was 10 years ago. I cant attribute anything that has changed in my life over the past 10 years to anything other than Christ. It is just the most important thing to me, and I would want to share that with the world. That would be it.
Rachel: Yeah, it is cool to hear your perspective on that and how that shaped what you are doing now. Is there anything else that I missed that you are dying to say about what you are up to, or anything like that?
Molly: I love to keep in touch with people. My website is stillbeingmolly.com, and I'm on social media at stillbeingmolly, and my podcast is Business with Purpose, and I’m on Instagram and Facebook withat businesswithpurposepodcast. You can find it on any podcast listening platform. Come say hi, I love to make new friends!
Rachel: Yeah, guys. Go listen to the podcast; like she said she has 184 episodes that are incredible. Actually, yesterday on my walk/run I listened to her episode with the Fair Trade Federation. It was amazing. You are fantastic, Molly. Thanks so much for being with me today.
Molly: This was so fun. Thank you so much, Rachel!
Outro: Thanks so much for joining me today. If you'd like this episode, you can support us by leaving a great review, sharing with your friends and subscribing. Thanks for caring about our planet and the people on it. We'll see you again soon.