355 Kathy Kearns: Fashion Forward
They say you are what you eat, that you manifest what you think… so what might what you wear… tell the story of who you are? And when you look at your clothes are they telling the story you want to tell?
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who quit a lucrative job a Google to transform fashion and the world.
Kathy Kearns spent 18 years understanding what motivates people to take the actions that they do – as a media maven and a Google sales executive.
Now she's applying all she’s learned with many of the world’s top brands to make a positive impact on the world. She is the Founder of THIRD LAW, a startup specializing in wardrobe optimization – that is, transforming your wardrobe to be lean, sustainable and reflective of your personal brand.
So like I said, take a look at your wardrobe? Is it telling the story you want it to tell? What do you want your personal brand signature style to be? What do you want to communicate visually in your life and your business?
Kathy Kearns is here in a minute to tell us why that is super important and first
Now back to the inspiring Kathy Kearns.
Kathy is a Former Google Sales executive turned entrepreneur. She spent 18 years in Marketing/Sales understanding what motivates people to take the actions that they do – and decided she’d rather use all that knowledge to improve the world.
She is the Founder & CEO of THIRD LAW – specializing in wardrobe optimization – that is, transforming your
wardrobe to be lean, powerful, sustainable and reflective of your personal brand. In addition to one-on-one client services, THIRD LAW offers corporate consulting and group workshops on sustainable fashion.
At Google Kathy worked across several verticals including Apps, Fashion and Sports Apparel. Most recently she led the Sales Development team for the Apps vertical,
leveraging market data and industry trends to uncover high-growth digital strategies for her clients’ C-suite, a $1.8 Billion book of business.
Prior to Google, Kathy led Consumer and Brand Marketing campaigns for major Media & Entertainment brands including the launch of the History Channel in India, MTV's Video Music Awards, and the release of Radiohead's pivotal Kid A album.
I’m so excited to hear all of Kathy’s wisdom – her vision is really awesome and so impactful.
So are you ready for Kathy Kearns? I am. Let’s fly!
Melinda Wittstock: Kathy, welcome to Wings.
Kathy Kearns: Hi, thank you so much for having me.
Melinda Wittstock: I am so excited to talk to you because you have the type of business that's focused on making a positive impact on the world. And you're doing this in fashion. And I want to understand much better how fashion is changing the world, what sustainable fashion actually means, what it means to the consumer, and where do you see it going?
Kathy Kearns: Oh, there's so much to talk about here. It is an amazing, amazing space. The sustainable fashion community is robust and growing. I think the easiest way to explain it is, if you look at what's happened in the food industry, and how many people look for organic food, they want to know where their food came from, how was their animal treated? What are the ingredients? Where was my tomato grown or things like that. In fashion, the same thing is happening so people want to understand who made their clothes? Were they treated fairly? Did they get paid a fair wage? Do they have a comfortable working environment? What are the materials that my clothing is made of? Are they toxic? What kind of resources do we have to pull from the earth?
All of those questions are coming up more and more. And there's a big supporter supportive community trying to make change. I truly believe this is the biggest opportunity for all of us to make change that will affect both our people and planet.
Melinda Wittstock: Hmm, I love it. So let's break it down a little bit. Tell me more about your company and what it does.
Kathy Kearns: Sure, our overall mission of Third Law is to help people live powerfully by making less do more. And how we do that is basically through a process I call wardrobe optimization. And that really is all about creating a lean and sustainable wardrobe that's reflective of your personal brand. Now, the way this ties together with sustainable fashion is, essentially to be most impactful, you want to be bringing in less fast fashion into your wardrobe. And you want to make the most use of what you have. You want to be happy and confident and love the items that you have. So you really make them last.
Ideally, they can be things that can be passed along to other people and stay in the circular economy for as long as possible. So the way that we do that is, instead of focusing on the things that we're buying … I initially had an idea to help people discover sustainable brands. Instead of focusing on the actual buying part of it, what we do is we back up before you even go out to shop, what's happening inside your wardrobe. And that's where literally 80% of the work is done. So that's why we focus on discovering your personal brand, understanding your signature style. And then once you have that you can use it as a filter to apply to your wardrobe.
That way, you're more thoughtful about what you're bringing in and out, and you place a higher value on those items. So not only do you have a wardrobe that you actually love and use, but it's one of the most sustainable things that you can actually do. So those two pieces really tie together. Our process in discovering and developing someone's personal brand brings together the inward and the outward. So I studied under Simon Sinek when I was at Columbia in grad school, and I leverage that and really help people discover what their Why is and look at what their vision and their values are. And how does that tie together with how we communicate visually. How do we represent ourselves through what we wear.
So we tied together that inward and then look at the outward, what's your signature style, color palette and all these kinds of things that bring it together. So it's really a fun process, and I think the consumer gets a lot of value out of it, but at the same time, we're really making an impact overall. And that's my number one goal.
Melinda Wittstock: So people are buying last but what they do have they're using right, and it's literally working for them. And to stay with the food metaphor, you know, when they say you are what you eat, to what extent are you what you wear?
Kathy Kearns: I think for me being, the founder and the CEO of this company, I am very aware of what I wear. So I do think it says a lot about where I place my values, and I love talking about things that I wear, whether they were vintage or something I've owned for a long time that I'm getting a lot of use out of, or it's a new brand that's sustainable, and ethical. So I think depending on what your own personal goals are, it can say a lot about you and I think it works both professionally and personally. So whatever your filters are, you can apply that to your workplace. So you can always find a little bit of your personality to shine through, so that you're consistent no matter where you are.
Melinda Wittstock: It's interesting that women though in business, I mean, women generally, we have to spend a lot more time thinking about our wardrobe and our appearance than say our male counterparts who can put on a T-shirt or hoodie and jeans and be done. Does this help women save time around all of this as well because time is such a scarce resource for all of us.
Kathy Kearns: Time and money honestly, because you're going to get more ROI in the long run if you invest in something you love that lasts a long time. You know that that saves you money in the long run if you understand what your signature style is, and your brand, then when you're making choices, you're not just haphazardly, saying like, “Oh, I don't know, I'll try this dress. It's yellow. I don't know. Does the yellow work for me? I'm not sure,” or “Does this style work for me?” And you get it home and then it just sits in your closet.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, we all have those. There's all like a dead zone in everybody's closet. Right?
Kathy Kearns: Yes.[inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:16:20"] alleviate. Then I think the other piece is the time. Depending on who you are, there is a movement towards a personal uniform. And that's not for everyone. But I think it's becoming cool to be an outfit repeater, and understand what works for you. In the extreme side of it, people are buying the same thing and maybe five of the same item and in a different color that they love, because it's easy, and it makes them feel confident. So that's another trend we're seeing as well.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, actually just dressing in a way that makes you feel confident. That's worthy the investment for sure. I want to dig into a little bit into the sustainability piece, because what does sustainability mean to you in practice? So a sustainable label, what it has a clean supply chain, it has the workers who are making the fashion or being paid equitably? Those are some things that I can think of. Take me through what are all the different ways that makes a fashion brand sustainable, and how do we even know?
Kathy Kearns: Absolutely, it's a complex, complex topic, and depending on who you're talking to, there's a lot of different opinions about it. That's why instead of focusing on those things, which … there's resources out there for you to “Judge” different brands and things like that, which I will explain to you but I do think most importantly, it's about getting used out of what you have. So depending on what it is, for example, if it's a really high quality purse, I don't know. And maybe that wasn't necessarily sustainably made, but something you are going to wear for maybe even 20 years you'll have it in your closet, maybe you'll pass it on to your daughter if you have one or two a friend or you sell it in the consignment shop, and then someone else takes it and wears it.
That's actually pretty sustainable as well. But if you're looking at materials and process I would say there are different materials you want to look for natural materials, organic cotton, [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:18:37"] and tensile, bamboo, linen, things that are natural, and then, recycled polyester. But most of all the most sustainable material that you can find is one that already exists because the biggest problem is the production. So, the production is what pulls resources, and that's what's taking up most of the resources in yours.
So if you're not producing anything new, that's super sustainable. So if you can shop vintage, if you can shop even drifted or swap, go to a swap, clothing swaps are actually amazing. I went to one at the Wing recently, and I walked out of there with a brand new pair of Stuart Weitzman shoes.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, my goodness, seriously. Okay, I'm going to join the Wing. Actually, you know what? Wings have inspired business and the Wing should like do some sort of joint venture, don't you think?
Kathy Kearns: Absolutely. Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Actually, this is a bit of an aside, but how many female co working spaces and clubs and things like that, that are really popping up now because I think we are stronger when we're really collaborating with each other and we're sharing with each other. And we're getting out of that kind of old scarcity mindset and into much more of an abundant one where we really lift each other as we climb.
Kathy Kearns: Absolutely. Hence the name Wings.
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly. Stuart Weitzman, man, I'm a little jealous.
Kathy Kearns: I know.[inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:20:38"] Stuart says, swapping is getting to be a thing. There's an organization global fashion exchange, and they opened up a swap shop called the Canvas that's in Williamsburg. And you can go in there and basically drop off your items and you get points that you can use to shop at this store, so to speak. So there's lots of innovation happening around leveraging what's already been made and not making anything new. But as far as sustainability goes, if you're not shopping vintage or thrift it or swapping, you want to look for sustainable materials, and then you want to dig into, you know, how transparent the company is about what they're doing. And so you can see, the factory that it was made in and the whole process from end to end.
So I think companies are moving along in that process. Some are further along than others. You'll hear people complain about “green washing” by certain companies. But I think there's a lot of progress being made overall, which is great. So there's the sustainability aspect, there's also an ethical aspect, which is how the workers are being treated and their environment, how they're being paid. So it goes hand in hand. But the other aspect to consider is the full lifecycle of the garments. So if it is a natural fiber, then when it is at the end of the life cycle, it can more properly be disposed or recycled. So that's an important factor to consider as well.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, there's a whole life cycle. You're right when you say it's complex. Goodness. So do you see consumers putting a lot more pressure on fashion labels, and retailers and merchandisers, all aspects of the fashion industry to really get this right?
Kathy Kearns: Yes, there's a big movement by an organization called Fashion Revolution, and it's around pushing for more transparency in the fashion industry. They've created fashion revolution week, which is tied to right around on Earth days. And there's a lot of movement. There's all these resources for people to ask brands and retailers, who made my clothes. So on Instagram, you can tag different brands and ask them who made my clothes. And there's just tons of resources if you go to their website to help this movement, and you can print out different signs and different forums and all these things. So that's a great movement. I'd say it's definitely growing. I don't think the light bulb has fully gone off, depending on who you talk to. But it's definitely happening, and I do believe it will happen quickly.
Melinda Wittstock: Hmm, that's awesome. So Kathy, what was it that made you make the leap into entrepreneurship? Because there you were, you're at Google. Google is a good place to work, right?
Kathy Kearns: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: You're right. Like a lot of people want to work at Google, and they don't get the chance to work at Google. It's hard to get hired there. So what made you like, take that leap?
Kathy Kearns: It's interesting. I've worked at a number of large corporations. I started my career out in the music industry. I worked for two different record labels, worked with artists like Radiohead, and Coldplay and Jay Z and a lot of other things in between. Mariah Carey, Bon Jovi, I don't know.
Melinda Wittstock: Wow. That's so fun, why did you leave that?
Kathy Kearns: Have you ever seen the movie Swimming With Sharks?
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, Okay, Okay, I get it.
Kathy Kearns: It's entertainment industry and when you're entering at the bottom, it's rough. It's awesome at the same time, but it's definitely tumultuous, but I moved from there to MTV, so not too far, industry wise. I caught the tail end of the really good stuff at MTV when things were transitioning into reality. So I did work on Laguna Beach in the hills, but I also got to work on some really cool music initiatives, the Video Music Awards and a couple other things MTV too, if anyone remembers that.
Melinda Wittstock: Alrighty.
Kathy Kearns: So, that was amazing. And I stayed there for a bit. Then I moved to a few different TV networks, the History Channel, worked on their brand marketing team there and really learned a lot about brand when I was there. Then I actually moved to South Korea for two years and ended up working for the History Channel over there as well and worked on the launch of history in India, flew to Mumbai, and Delhi. I learned a lot about just cultural … the whole global aspect of doing business in other countries in Korea and in India.
Then I actually … You'll like this, I did host a music show radio show when I was there. It was the co host of a show called The Rock Roundtable. So I interviewed artists, I leveraged my music industry connections and I interviewed different artists; John Legend, a band called MGMT and anyone who came through really it was an random assortment. So I did that, and then I moved back to the US. At that time, that's when I was hired at Google. And it sounds like how did that happen? Like the whole path.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, yes. I was just going to say, how did that happen? What an interesting life you've led. My goodness.
Kathy Kearns: It's pretty funny. So, what it was, I was hired as a salesperson at Google, and I think they really put a value on TV knowledge. I think the entertainment aspect was helpful as well, because Google owns YouTube. So some of those brands I know working on the sports and toys, vertical or … Yeah, pod, I guess they called it. Sports and toy companies were doing a lot of entertainment initiatives and we were trying to move budget from TV to digital. So I think they really valued my perspective of having been in the clients shoes. I was the one that was hiring agencies and deciding where the budget went, the media budget. So I think they really valued that.
Google is a wonderful company, because you don't have to have done the exact job that you're getting hired for. You're a smart person and you think critically, and they see that you can do the job, then that's a big part of it. So I really appreciate that about Google and just hiring diversity and understanding that you don't have to check all the exact boxes of the current job to do it well.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, amen for that. I mean, in that sense, it still retains some of the kind of startup scrappiness. I've always thought like the best hires that I've ever made in any of my companies, are people that are doing something different from what they've done before. They're just smart people. Steve Jobs would have called them A player's. But people who are really lifelong learners, they really want to collaborate. They're not afraid of failure, all of those kinds of things. Again, for anyone hiring or building a team or managing a team, who's listening right now, that's so important. What did you take from your experience at Google, into your startup?
Kathy Kearns: Probably the number one thing is culture and also just management style. I think, for me, the culture was so incredible, because there really weren't any bad seeds for the most part, people were very cordial. There was just this … I don't know friendliness in a work environment that you don't find other places. Especially, me coming from the entertainment industry is like-
Melinda Wittstock: Well, yeah. All the kind of … I'll call them dramatists, people who thrive on that kind of stuff. And it's irritating. It's hard to work with, it's unpredictable and sometimes just downright mean. Like it's nice, I have a long media background too in London and it was brutal.
Kathy Kearns: Yeah. It can be borderline abusive.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. I agree. Oh my god in my 20s, it was all about that. It was crazy, crazy. Goodness, like we spend so much of our time working, why not work with nice people who have an inclination towards kindness and gratitude and just being helpful.
Kathy Kearns: Yes, and I think you can still be assertive and still be a nice person, and get work done. So that was truly incredible. I also will take away the response time, that was something that blew me away. You send an email out and people answer it before it's even said like, it's just the time. It's so fast paced. I really appreciated that because I think, especially entertainment, you can send an email and it like goes into a black hole and you're wondering, hey, did anyone get that? Is anyone home? I don't know. What's going on?
Melinda Wittstock: Well, that's the reason why so many Fortune 500 companies are being disrupted. You wonder how many will actually be around?
Kathy Kearns: Yes. Absolutely.
Melinda Wittstock: Without changing practices, whether we're talking about sustainable practices or workplace culture, or whatever. From where I sit, I see a lot of really interesting companies coming up that, on the evolved enterprise or conscious capitalism side of things or the company culture side of things are very disruptive. And who wants to work for a place that's miserable to work at? So like, you can't get the best talent unless you figure this out.
Kathy Kearns: Yeah, absolutely. It's definitely the future of business, and I plan to take that with me.
Melinda Wittstock: So what stage is your company at now, Kathy? What are some of the biggest challenges like taking it to the next level of where you're at?
Kathy Kearns: I think it's still early, but I have been working on building a community and I think that is so important. I looked at different ways that people are approaching starting a business and starting a company. And on one hand, if you're an engineer, the tendency is to build something and test it. So go out there and just build a prototype and start getting some feedback, even maybe pitching it to VCs already, and then figuring the other stuff out.
On the other side, there's businesses that started very organically, and maybe you didn't even know they were going to be larger. But just because they grew it a really great community, and then demand started rising, then they went ahead and build a tech platform and grew it that way. For me, the ladder was really the way I felt comfortable is building this community, understanding who my audience is, testing things out manually, and really getting rich insights. So, that's what I've been doing.
I'd say, the challenge right now is that, because I came from Google, I'm very eager to say like, well, what's the sexy tech part of it? [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:32:44"]. So the challenge for me is just kind of waiting that out a little bit, because I really want to do it right. I want to do it well. And what Third Law is offering is, something that you can't get anywhere else, you can even go and get personal branding done. But it usually applies to how you're perceived online and via maybe LinkedIn and digitally. If you're speaking at a conference, but it's not as often tied into the fashion piece. So bringing that, again, that inward and outward together and underlying having a sustainability piece having social impact, it's unique.
So I want to take my time I want to do it right. I want to understand really what resonates most with clients, and then from there, build something that's not going to completely water it down. That's challenging because if you want to scale, you have to change. So I have to figure out the right way to do that.
Melinda Wittstock: Hmm. I love it. I think it's a really smart way to go because you know your customers that way. And then you're going to build the tech that they actually want. You're going to build it fact that you've already proven out, I think it's actually much smarter. It's also a really good model. I think for women especially, there's so many women who do found technology companies, not necessarily as the technical lead themselves, and run into all sorts of issues, trying to find the right CTO, trying to find the right tech team having all kinds of headaches like that. But you have something where you're already ahead of the game, you have people already paying you.
I think that's a great way to go. Because what you're actually doing is building a business, not a point solution, not a feature. I see a lot of people in tech building features.
Kathy Kearns: Yeah, exactly. You're now getting more comfortable to meet you so [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:34:47"].
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. I love it. I think it's so interesting when a passion project to turns into a business. That's kind of what's happened with Wings in this podcast. Because I started this podcast just because I was just a little bit personally irritated at how difficult it was to raise money for female founders, and how so many of us were succeeding in silence. We didn't fit the stereotype. Like we weren't sitting in a garage having dropped out of MIT or Harvard or Stanford eating ramen noodle, like, we were different. So I just wanted to bring visibility really, to all the amazing women. I began this as a daily, it's four days a week now. At first, I thought, “God, are there enough women?” It's been no problem like filling it like this episode is number 355.
What's happened as a result of this podcast, is that I've built and I'm building a whole media company, which I didn't think I was going to be going in that direction. It's interesting. So it takes me back to my roots and it kind of starts to connect all the dots but it's amazing what happens when you do something that you love. You mentioned Simon Sinek There's a strong why behind that that kind of alignment.
So speaking of “Why’s” and alignment, and where you're going I know you have two toddlers that you're like juggling all this with. We can talk about that in a minute. But before we get there, I want to get an understanding of where you're going. What's your ultimate vision for your company? Where do you think it's going to be in like five years, 10 years?
Kathy Kearns: Ooh, that's challenging. Honestly, I have a couple of different ways that it could go. On one hand, there's a lot … The digital closet kind of space is getting a little saturated. And to be honest with you originally I thought that would be right where I wanted to go where in some way we could help you make less, do more by understanding the pieces that you use the most, and maybe you could get recommendations around those and really have a very focused recommendation engine. But thinking about things in terms of like, how technology could be incorporated into your wardrobe.
But when I look at that space, it is, in my opinion getting a little bit saturated, and I don't know that I really want to put more technology between you and your wardrobe. We spend too much time on our phones. So, that is not my goal. If I can make it easier to get dressed without making you spend a lot more time on your phone, then that is something I will do, but I'm being cautious about how I approach that. So I think I will continue going down this route and I will continue studying what's happening in that digital wardrobe realm and try to find a differentiator.
I think the personal branding piece is something that no one else is doing. But it's complicated. You know, it makes it a little complicated to tie that together in a nice little package tech wise. So I think you're just going to have to follow along and find out.
Melinda Wittstock: Okay, well that's awesome and I love that answer because sometimes we don't know all these things sometimes we do, we can do our vivid vision. It's easier to see about three years out than to see 10 years out because there's so many things around us that are changing that we can't possibly know. Like the technology is moving so fast the so many things beyond our control. So now's the time I'm going to ask you how on earth are you balancing everything you're doing with two toddlers and a startup company?
Kathy Kearns: Well, I have help. My kids are in school, which is great. So I have that time and then I do have a part-time nanny. That helps me when we need it because my husband does travel. He does have events and I'm doing a lot of networking at night. A lot of events pop up. So I need that extra help. So I'd say those things are super helpful. But I do have a very supportive husband. I'd say our workload is split 50, 50, and it's pretty incredible.
Melinda Wittstock: Smart. So smart. Did you get that in writing in a triplicate ahead of time?
Kathy Kearns: Yeah. Yeah, he's wonderful. I went to South Africa for 10 days, and he was with the kids all 10 days, and some people are blown away by that. He's just … he's good. So, I'm very thankful.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, that's really, really smart to be able to make sure that you do have that equitable division of labor first of all, because I think often women do confuse having it all, with doing it all. And we can't do it all. It's impossible. And so figuring out what are those most important things to do the things that only you can do, and like hiring the rest, getting help, making sure you're putting yourself first is vital to success.
Kathy Kearns: Yes, absolutely. Getting help and delegating, those are huge.
Melinda Wittstock: All of those things. Yes.
Kathy Kearns: In my business, I'm running all the things.
Melinda Wittstock: Yes. And soon, though, like one of the things that's just so important I read some statistics not so long ago, I forget who did this study. But businesses that hire somebody, within the first six months of starting are much more likely to succeed than those that don't. Because when women or men try and do everything themselves, and it just gets to the point where it is just impossible and some of the things we're trying to do we're not particularly good at like we all have our zones of genius, but we also have zones of incompetence as well, right?
Kathy Kearns: It's so true.
Melinda Wittstock: Like getting close. Get all that staff hired as fast as you can, with like a VA like whatever. Have you done that?
Kathy Kearns: Yeah, I have someone helping me starting in the summer and that's going to be such a huge [crosstalk [spp-timestamp time="00:41:13"].
Melinda Wittstock: Yes. Yes. Go for that. That's a game changer. You'll be amazed how much it changes your life, especially when you have these you know two young kids. Kathy, you're so inspiring. I'm so happy that you came on, and like took flight with us today.
Kathy Kearns: Thank you. It was a lot of fun this is so it's just great. Thank you for having me.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, and also I want to make sure that people can easily find you and work with you. I know so many of our listeners need advice on you know, their personal brand and their wardrobe and all that kind of stuff. So how can people find you?
Kathy Kearns: Yes, you can go to our website, it's shopthirdlaw.com or you can find us on Instagram at shop Third Law.
Melinda Wittstock: Fantastic. Thank you again.
Kathy Kearns: Thank you.
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