While the fashion industry is broad and diverse, many outside of the industry tend to view it through the lens of popular stereotype. The Devil Wears Prada instantly comes to mind when New York Fashion Week is mentioned. The general perception has been that those working in fashion are materialistic, vain and self-serving. However, many, including a lot of twentysomethings, are revolutionizing the fashion industry to serve a greater purpose.
Sydney, 22, always knew she would work in fashion, however, the avenue in which she approached her career path greatly changed during her college years. As a freshmen, her goal was to pursue a profession in fashion journalism, preferably ending up at Vogue. She dove into her college courses and became involved with student organizations, and she began to develop interest in businesses that add a “social punch” to what they do.
Joining the SOUP, a student-led nonprofit, in its beginning stages introduced Sydney to the world of social entrepreneurship. By becoming heavily invested in the nonprofit, she saw how fundraising, though a necessary tool, was not a sustainable revenue source for growth. While exploring how to further expand the SOUP’s reach in Africa, she and SOUP founder, Brin, noticed a gap in the market. They realized that many companies circulating Eastern African products were focused on connecting to female consumers (jewelry, scarves, etc.), while male consumers were very little engaged. This inspired Sydney and Brin to come up with an idea to utilize a product geared toward men — the classic bow tie. The bow ties is unique, timeless, can be sold to a higher end market, and can be easily brought through customs. Lion’s Thread was born. The organization is an artisan bow tie social enterprise, made of the finest African textiles, employing local Ugandan artisans, bringing classic cuts back to the forefront of fashion, and giving men a reason and an opportunity to participate in social good.
Sydney is the Creative Director, while Brin is the CEO, but due to current circumstances, their roles have somewhat flipped. Brin is currently working on SOUP and Lion’s Thread projects in rural Uganda, and has taken on a hands-on role out of necessity, delivering product, revising patterns, working with the seamstresses, and performing quality control on a daily basis. Sydney, finishing up her degree stateside, has had many more opportunities to promote and present Lion’s Thread to investors and future partners, and has ended up handling most of the finances, marketing, PR, and the business plan.
“I never pictured myself in a role like this. Business has always been Brin’s comfort zone and design is mine, but it’s been an interesting and fun opportunity to grow,” Sydney said.
By presenting at Confluence, Clinton Global Initiative University, and other entrepreneurial events, Lion’s Thread is currently raising funding and awareness. A Kickstarter campaign was also launched and has 6 days left. The team hopes to raise $8,000 of initial funds to plug back into the business to increase production, hire more artisans, find more textiles to use, and expand their markets stateside. Right now, they are giving bow ties as rewards on the Kickstarter, their online store will launch a few weeks after the campaign ends, and they hope to be in more online marketplaces with a fashion and social impact (like TOMS) within the next few months. Eventually, they will expand to brick and mortar store, but for now quality of product and worker is everything.
“We exist to provide meaningful employment for these women,” Sydney explained. “We have to make sure we grow at a gradual rate, otherwise the strain we put on our employees is more hurtful than helpful.”
Sydney is all in. She has even jumped into advanced sewing classes this year to get a better understanding of the task at hand. Having always been a lover of fashion and design, and being a former intern with Billy Reid, she had gotten by with a just few basic sewing classes. However, knowing both fashion and social entrepreneurship to be very hands-on, Sydney continues to seek development in every area necessary to make Lion’s Thread a success.
Graduating next month with a communications degree from Berry College, Sydney will be spending the next year as a fellow at the Woodruff Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia. Although she eventually sees herself going full-time with Lion’s Thread, right now her and the team’s focus is getting off the ground and plugging the first profits back into company to spur on production, hire more local artisans, and hopefully grow to encompass other regions in Africa. Any job Sydney will take on in the next few years will be for the purpose of developing skills necessary to grow Lion’s Thread – whether that is business or design.
Today, Sydney cannot imagine working for an organization without a greater social good involved. She says it’s a norm our generation is demanding in greater quantities – to be change makers. Her advise to her twentysomething peers is to take risks when it comes to doing things you’re passionate about, “It is never going to be the right time,” she said. “If this is something you want to do, just do it, and work out the kinks along the way.”
Creative Director, Lion’s Thread • 22 • Rome, GA
Graduate college, check.
Pass the LSAT, check.
Get accepted to law school, check!
Pack your bags and move to Honduras to teach second and third graders…uh, check?
This was the path of 23-year-old Tiffany last year after graduating from the University of Georgia. By senior year Tiffany had hit what most college students experience towards the end of their college careers, major regret.
“I was a senior in college and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My degree was in special education, but I didn’t want to teach. So, I thought, selfishly, ‘What’s going to make me more money?’ Law school,” Tiffany said.
That year, Tiffany worked hard to study and pass the LSAT, apply to law schools and finish strong at UGA. However, Spring Break 2012 radically shook her plans. Tiffany returned from a mission trip to Dominican Republic with a new perspective and a lot explaining to do.
“Even now it’s hard to put into words what happened. I felt called to go to a different country. I just knew I wasn’t supposed to go to law school, which was a big deal because that’s what I had placed my entire future in. I had told everybody that was what I was doing, ” Tiffany said.
A lot of people didn’t understand Tiffany’s sudden change of plans (imagine telling your parents, friends and family that you weren’t going to law school anymore but planned on moving to another country).
“God worked everything out. Turns out my dad’s adopted brother’s wife’s family runs an orphanage in Honduras. I knew I wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country, so I started to check it out. Well, checking it out turned into accepting a year-long teaching position.”
One confirmation after the other seemed to roll in as Tiffany prepared for the adventure that was ahead of her. Even her special education degree specializing in emotional behavior disorders, the major she had been so unsure about her senior year, would be utilized as many of the orphans needed extra care in that area.
“I flew into Honduras for the first time to move in for the year. I was given a class of 16 kids who didn’t speak English. I didn’t speak Spanish. I also found out that first week that Honduras has been listed as one of the most dangerous countries per capita in the world. Saying goodbye to my parents as they flew back to the States, was a wow moment.”
Tiffany lived in the orphanage with 21 children and 6 other American teachers. It was one big family. She loved pouring her heart into the children and being a part of their development. She discovered that many of the children had been orphaned by the deaths or imprisonments of their gang involved family members. In fact, it’s the height of gang related crimes that make Honduras so dangerous.
The daily, up-close reality of gangs, poverty and lack of hope weighed on Tiffany, but not in the way one would think. Instead of the constant gang presence instilling fear in her, it sparked compassion. She began visiting incarcerated gang members with a prison ministry team. One of the prisoners was the father of one of the children in her class.
“I began to see these gang members as people who were loved by God and I realized that He had a better plan for them just like He had a better plan for me,” Tiffany said.
It was moments in the prison and in her classroom that gave Tiffany clarity on her future plans. She was inspired to dedicate her life’s work to rescuing and ministering to gang members. After her first year of teaching ended, Tiffany decided to move back to the States to focus on this plan. It was not easy for her to leave her students and fellow staff members, but just like she had felt an unexplained pull to go to Honduras, she felt the same pull to leave.
Tiffany moved back to her hometown Atlanta, Georgia and landed a fellowship with Catalyst Conference. Through the fellowship she has connected with gang ministry resources and leaders, including the founder of Homeboy Industries, Father Greg Boyles. Her long-term goal is to start a similar program to Homeboy Industries in Atlanta.
“It’s amazing to think that this college major that I didn’t even want, that I thought was a mistake and was afraid I wasn’t ever going to use led me on this adventure to finding what I actually wanted to dedicate my life to doing,” Tiffany said.
Her advice to her twentysomething peers is to not let people pleasing lead decision-making. “You may disappoint people when you step out to do what you feel God is calling you to do, but I can tell you that in the long term a lot of those relationships heal themselves, and you’ve only grown because of it.”
Catalyst Fellow • 23 • Atlanta, GA
One of the many beauties of being in your twenties is the surplus of margin that exists in this particular decade. Whether you realize it or not, this decade holds extra room for risk taking, adventure and a little craziness. It’s by no means the only time for adventure in your life. But it’s the perfect time to start setting the tone and building the habits for a life well lived by embracing the challenges, tapping into your creativity and trying new things.
Twentysomething Carrie Jo’s journey to becoming a successful full-time wedding and lifestyle photographer has been filled with challenge and adventure.
As a business major in college, Carrie Jo was set on a career in finance. However, her career plans turned upside down when she and some of her college friends decided to produce an album. During the project, Carrie Jo worked to design the album cover. She learned Photoshop and InDesign, and also discovered she loved taking photos. Others noticed she was good at it and encouraged her to pursue it further.
“I started getting asked to do little shoots here and there, then I was asked to do engagement pictures, then weddings,” Carrie Jo said.
Not quite sure if she should move forward with her photography full-time, Carrie Jo searched for an opportunity to shadow a full-time photographer in order to gain some insight.
“I was willing to do whatever it took to learn from another photographer. Even if it just meant carrying their equipment and bringing them coffee on shoots,” Carrie Jo said. “It was difficult though to find someone willing to let me shadow them. I found out that a lot of people in the industry are very protective over their work. They didn’t want to teach me their secrets, so I could just go off and become their competitor.”
Though the job shadowing idea had only come up with dead ends, Carrie Jo decided to press forward and agreed to shoot her first wedding. Facebook was just up and coming, so after the wedding she decided to make a Facebook album for the bride to view a sneak peek of her photos. The response from her social media friends and friends of friends was phenomenal.
“The rest is history,” Carrie Jo said.
Carrie Jo has since built her business through social media. Immediately after every wedding, she edits through the night, puts a small album up on Facebook, tags as many people in the bridal party as she can and word spreads like wildfire through those tags. She has gained many new clients this way.
After graduating, Carrie Jo lived out of her car and on friends’ couches for a year while building her photography business. With a minimum budget and constant travel on the weekends, it was hard to justify signing a lease. Although she loved the freedom, she began to ache for community once again, akin to what she experienced in college. She knew she needed to find a home base.
She chose to move Knoxville, TN, where she still resides today. Though she still travels a majority of her weekends, she is intentional about staying connected to her community in the city, even if it’s just through a phone call or two while she is away.
Carrie Jo is now 27 and continues to embrace the challenges and adventure surrounding her career and season of life.
While some get burned out from working heavily in the wedding industry, which can typically be expensive and self-centered, Carrie Jo instead got creative to bring some balance. She developed a plan to donate 10% of the funds from each wedding shoot towards building wells in developing countries around the world. Since she launched Weddings + Water 5 years ago, 20,000 people have received clean water through this initiative.
When asked what advice she would give to her twentysomething peers, Carrie Jo proved she didn’t throw away all she learned in business school and her days preparing to be a financial planner.
“It’s important to be wise about finances, so you can be financially free,” she explained. “It doesn’t matter how much you’re investing, it’s about the amount of time the money accumulates interest in a savings account or mutual fund. “
She encourages twentysomethings to take the time to learn about money now, so they can walk into their futures with the right tools for long-term success no matter their career choice.
To view more Carrie Jo’s incredible photos, visit her blog: texturephotoblog.com
Wedding and Lifestyle Photographer • 27 • Knoxville, TN
Today marks Shine a Light on Slavery Day. Perhaps you’ve seen lots of red Xs pop up in your social media feeds. That’s a mark championed by the End It Movement. The End It Movement exists solely to bring awareness to the issue of human trafficking, and we think they’re doing a pretty darn good job at it.
But in case you haven’t heard about it yet — an estimated 27 million men, women and children are trapped in slavery around the world today. Slavery is a multi-billion dollar industry. Yes, the numbers are staggering, but the good news is that there are many organizations worldwide that are working 24/7 on ways to eradicate slavery. Even though you can’t personally do everything, you can partner with one of these organizations and be a part of the solution.
So, now that you’re aware, here’s how you can do something about it. We’ve listed just a few of some top-notch organizations who are putting significant dents in worldwide trafficking. Pick one, dig in and find at least one way you can get involved.
A21 prevents trafficking through awareness and education, protects those who have been trafficked, and prosecutes traffickers.
International Justice Mission
IJM protects the poor from violence by partnering with local authorities to rescue victims, bring criminals to justice, restore survivors and strengthen justice systems.
Polaris Project is one of the leading organizations in the fight against modern-day slavery, they transform the way the world responds to human trafficking.
Restore International seeks to find daring and audacious ways to combat human rights violations, including forced prostitution and slave labor.
Make it local
Google a local shelter, legal agency or trafficking prevention program in your local area. Contact them to see what specific needs they currently have, and ask if there is a way you can help.
We get it. You’re in your twenties, and perhaps you don’t have a lot of resources to share at the moment. We encourage you to leverage one of your most valuable assets: your creativity. This is what we did last year: Roaring Twenties Campaign
Also, Amelia is going to law school for this very reason…so there’s always that.
What originally sparked the idea to start LSTN?
We actually started the company to fund Starkey Hearing Foundation. It wasn’t an afterthought. I had been interested in social enterprise for a while, buying products like Warby Parker glasses and TOMS shoes. One day I saw a video on YouTube about a woman my age hearing for the first time. I found out there are 360 million people just like this with hearing loss. My life has always revolved around music, so I couldn’t imagine what that would be like. It made me wonder if there was an organization out there supporting hearing restoration, so I did some research and found Starkey. At the time, I was working at a record label and did not personally have money to give to them. So I started a company to contribute to their goal of changing the world through sound. Music is the greatest thing in the world – everyone should be able to experience it. In order to change the world, our product had to be cool, and people had to want it – and what’s cooler than headphones right now? We made them out of reclaimed wood because not only does it make them stand out from the pack, they sound amazing as well.
Was becoming an entrepreneur always a part of your life plan?
Being an entrepreneur was always in my DNA. When I was a kid, I’d sit in my room for hours and think about ideas and inventions. However, music was my biggest passion so I jumped right into that industry at 16, working at music venues, retailers and record labels for over 10 years. I never really bothered with school, rather putting my time into reading as many business books as possible, watching as many videos, following as many entrepreneur blogs as I could, researching how to start and run companies, learning how to build websites.
How has LSTN grown since its beginning in 2012?
From idea to company, from apartment to office, from a dream to helping 10,000+ people hear for the first time. At the end of 2012, LSTN was still just prototypes being sold on our site. Now our products are in retailers that I love such as Nordstrom and Whole Foods. We’ve been able to partner with brands that we’re fans of such as TOMS, Movember, Hudson and Spotify. It’s been an incredible learning experience. We’ve been able to travel all over the States, to Asia, South America, and are leaving for the UK and Africa in a week. Very proud of what we’ve built in a small amount of time.
What’s been your number one tool or strategy for growing your company to this point?
Hiring great people who share the desire to build a better life for themselves and others.
Where do you get inspiration from personally and professionally?
Personally I look up to entrepreneurs and companies with forward thinking ideas to make the world a more connected and better place, such as Tesla, Virgin, Facebook, charity:water. LSTN’s mission is to change the world through the power of music. We’re not just another headphone company, we are permanently changing lives with every product we sell. That inspires us every day to do better and grow bigger, so we can help more people connect with others.
Do you find that your age (being a twentysomething) helps, hinders or doesn’t affect you being a successful business owner?
Definitely helps. We may not be as experienced as others, as no one at our company has ever worked in electronics. However it allows us to go in and look at things from a fresh perspective than if we had known everything about the industry. We aren’t jaded, we’re excited to go to work every day and learn new things, travel to new places, meet new people.
What does the future look like for you and for LSTN?
Growing our U.S. distribution and launching internationally are our core focuses. This year we are launching in Japan, South Korea, Australia, and working on deals for a few other territories. We want to be a global brand. For me, I want to gain as many amazing life experiences as I can through music, giving back and entrepreneurship.
At the end of every interview, we ask the same question: If you had a big group of your peers (twentysomethings) in a room, what is one piece of advice you would to give them?
Stop doing what others want you to do. Stop being afraid of whatever you are apprehensive about and take the steps to follow your dreams. Life isn’t a dress rehearsal.
Check out LSTN Headphones at lstnheadphones.com
Founder of LSTN Headphones • 28 • Los Angeles, CA
There’s something quite magical about your twenties that brings a shift in perspective. Perhaps, it’s the decade’s positioning in the grand timeline of life — the end of your dreamy teen years and the beginning of “real world” experiences, where innocence and great expectations go to die. It can be a decade of dismissal for many.
Fresh college graduates not landing their dream jobs right off the bat (or ever), capable adults living in their parents basements, forever students stalling their twenties away to postpone facing reality (read: their growing student loan debt), and, the worst, late twentysomethings who are quickly realizing their “blow time” is almost all spent up and it’s time to really grow up. Even those who have successfully “launched” must come to terms with the fact that not all is how they wish it could be.
So what’s the deal? Jordan, 23, asked just that after he graduated and didn’t land his dream internship at TOMS. Four years earlier, Jordan had been introduced to the company’s one-for-one vision through a classmate who was launching a Style Your Sole party on campus. “I first thought that the shoes were just cool, and that’s why I agreed to attend. But as I heard more and more about what the company was doing around the world, I became even more intrigued,” Jordan explained.
It became more than just a trend for Jordan when he agreed to participate in One Day Without Shoes later that same year. “I found myself actually becoming emotional during the day,” Jordan said. He describes the internal conflict of overcoming his self-consciousness while also acknowledging how little his experience measured up to those in developing countries. “Sure, it’s hard to be the guy in public places around campus without shoes, so I had to first get over myself,” he said. “But then I realized how easy classrooms and campus sidewalks must be to walk without shoes in comparison to the terrains of developing countries.”
After that experience, Jordan made TOMS awareness initiatives a priority during his next four years. As a public relations major and active member of his college’s student activities board, Jordan utilized what he was learning in school to publicize and gain supporters for these events. “By the time I graduated, I probably owned over 20 pairs of TOMS,” he said with a laugh. “I was known as ‘The TOMS Guy.’”
When Jordan didn’t get an internship with TOMS right after graduation, he was forced to deal with the disappointment of unmet expectations. “I even had friends asking me if I was still a fan of TOMS,” he explained. “Of course, I’m still a fan!” But now Jordan had to figure out where he fit in with what TOMS was doing, and he was hoping it meant more than just buying shoes.
He didn’t stay stagnant. First he landed a marketing internship with a healthcare company, and later accepted a full time events coordinator position. Though he was seemingly heading in the right direction, he didn’t feel at peace. He resigned from that position to take on another internship, this time in social media, at The Church at Chapel Hill. He would later become their director of communications.
Still staying tuned in to what TOMS was up to, Jordan discovered the Ticket to Give Contest. “I felt like it was such a long shot, but I’ve always wanted to be a part of a giving trip, so I just had to apply,” Jordan said. In order to get chosen for the trip, applicants had to be voted within the top 50. “It was a solid month of humbling asks on my part,” he explained. “I emailed, tweeted, Instagramed, changed all my social media profile pictures, wrote letters to all my neighbors, and had lots of conversations.” In a lot of ways, Jordan was back in the game of raising awareness and even gaining new supporters for TOMS. When all was said and done, Jordan landed over 1,500 votes, which made him one of the top 50 applicants out of 10,000. A long shot for sure, but not out of reach.
After spending a weekend orientation in Los Angeles at TOMS headquarters (including a fireside chat with TOMS Founder Blake Mycoskie), Jordan traveled to Guatemala a month later. “My world all the sudden opened up,” Jordan explained. “At times, I almost forgot I was on a trip for TOMS because they were so intentional about making sure we were exposed to the culture there and learning from the Guatemalans themselves.” Jordan and the rest of his TOMS team visited schools, toured farms, had meals with locals and even hiked into areas that couldn’t be reached by vehicle. All this in addition to hosting TOMS shoe distributions for local children in need. “It was very surreal at first. I kept thinking of each purchase I had made in the past, and how that all translated to kids getting shoes.”
One of the highlights of the trip happened on the first day when a TOMS staff member approached Jordan and another team member with a “special case.” The staff member asked Jordan and his teammate to make sure this little girl was given the full TOMS experience. They were then introduced to a little girl named Wendy who had been burned in a house fire. When Jordan knelt down to fit Wendy for shoes, he realized that her feet’s archers had been so badly burned that she essentially had to walk on her heels. Through some trial and error during the fitting process, Jordan’s team found a pair of shoes that fit Wendy. With her new shoes on, the little girl covered her mouth and started crying. “Wendy and her family thought she would never be able to wear shoes again,“ Jordan explained. “To be a part of that moment so early on into the trip just tore me up. It’s why I came.”
Jordan also got to see TOMS Eyewear in action. “I got to scrub in to witness a cataract surgery, and then attend a post op appointment,” he said. But Jordan describes a much different scenario than Wendy’s. The patient was an older woman, and when her bandages were removed and she confirmed that she could see more clearly, her expression didn’t even change. Jordan confessed that it was one of the hardest things to witness on the trip. He realized that what these people had lived through is so rough, and at times so hopeless, that even when they are faced with hope that they don’t know how to respond. Their joy has been taken from them.
Now that he’s back in the States, Jordan’s enthusiasm for the one-for-one movement has only grown. “I don’t know what the next step is,” he admits. “But, I am asking myself, ‘How can I help bring joy to others?’” He explains that his desire is to make sure the hope and excitement he saw in Wendy’s eyes doesn’t fade away like the older eye clinic patient. “And, I can start here with the people already surrounding me,” Jordan says.
When asked what his one piece of advice would be to a room full of twentysomething peers, Jordan responded, “Don’t count yourself out.”
Photo credits: Bernard Evans & Heidi Psyk
Q. How did you get involved with Nisolo Shoes? What was the journey like getting there?
With my liberal arts undergraduate degree in Economics & Spanish and a minor in Math, I wasn’t exactly sure of my career path. I worked at UCSB for a bit with international students, I moved to Italy and worked for a small marketing firm and then moved back to Santa Barbara where I worked for a school in their business office and coached volleyball. That’s when I started a handmade swimsuit company on the side, working with small scale seamstresses in Mexico and my interest in the fashion industry peaked. I decided to move to NYC in order to gain as much experience as I could working in the heart of the industry and going to graduate school at night. After spending 3 years in NYC, the corporate world that I had been working in lost it’s appeal to me and I realized that my ideal work would combine my love of fashion and my passion for work in developing countries.
I began researching fashion brands that had a social cause behind them. While I was interviewing for some of those organizations, a friend who I met in NYC sent an email introducing me to her friend, Patrick, who was in Peru and was working on starting a shoe company. Our first Skype call was 3 hours long and we quickly realized that our interests and vision were very aligned. A few weeks later, I flew down to Peru to check it all out. In Trujillo, Patrick showed me a town full of amazingly talented and gifted shoemakers. After seeing this, I decided to quit my job in NYC, sell all of my furniture, ship most of my belongings home to California and head to Peru, this time on a one way ticket. That was in June 2011.
Q. Your background is in the fashion industry- what was the transition like from high-end corporate fashion to a start-up? How did it affect you personally and professionally?
This was a transition I always wanted and hoped would happen. I moved to NYC to gain experience working in corporate fashion, but knew that it was not where my passion lay. I relate to and get more excited by the contributions to fashion that handmade products and more boutique type brands and manufacturers bring.
Q. Tell me about Nisolo currently- how has the company transitioned from what it was in the beginning until now?
We’ve moved Nisolo from a garage in Oxford, MS, to working out of my house in the 12th South neighborhood in Nashville to now a beautiful and spacious showroom and office space in the Germantown neighborhood of Nashville. As I type this, I’m currently in Peru also moving production to a larger space so that we can scale in order to meet our projections for the coming years. Stateside, we now have an amazing team of more than the 3 co-founders, which includes 2 staff members and 5 interns. It’s an ongoing journey – with exciting changes every day. Last week, Patrick and I organized a retreat with all of the shoemakers in “el campo”- the countryside outside of Trujillo – where together we played soccer, BBQ’d and talked about our Nisolo vision and future and their part in it. It was an incredible time with over 40 people and their families, people who in some way are involved with Nisolo: from leather suppliers to shoemakers to shoebag seamstresses.
Q. What does the future hold for Nisolo? Where are you guys going in the next year or two?
We’ve started introducing more accessories to our line – including hand bags that strike a balance between high quality, rugged leathers and bright-colored, Peruvian woven fabrics. This Fall we are also coming out with some more dress styles for men and women. I hope one day to create a knee high riding boot modeled off a vintage pair that has been passed down to me from my mother.
Over the next few years, we plan to continue to develop our line of shoes and accessories while creating more jobs in Peru in this sector. In addition, we plan to empower more artisans by developing further high-quality handmade products – we have some ideas in mind but nothing concrete yet.
Q. Any other projects you are working on? Any projects you are excited about?
We are very excited to be working on a new website for Nisolo. We won a prize to work with a top branding agency out of NYC for 3 months and amongst other things, they are going to help us re-do our website, which will be huge for us. Our website was launched when we first started with very minimum funds in October 2011 and has not been updated since – it is long overdue for an overhaul!
Q. Since you are at the end of your 20′s, looking back, is there any advice you would give to those just starting out? Any lessons you’ve learned the past 10 years that you want to pass on?
Working experience was invaluable in helping me figure out what I like to do and what I don’t like to do. I moved to NYC when I was 23 after already having several years of an established, well salaried job. In New York, I took various non-paying and paying internships and jobs ranging from small 3 person teams to designers in the Meat Packing district to a luxury department store and then finally working for a world wide brand with annual sales of over 2 billion dollars. From there I was able to piece together and really figure out what direction I wanted to head and what I was passionate about. It was definitely a journey that was not easy at times and took a while, and not only helped me to understand myself better but also led me to a place professionally that I’m very proud of as well as stimulated and challenged every day.
In our twenties, we realize the cost of basic life, and, sometimes, it’s a rude awakening. Mom and Dad aren’t buying the paper towels and toilet paper anymore, and we realize that life is…expensive. But we also become grateful for having the opportunity to have our basic needs met, especially since so many people around the world don’t have the same luxury. Developing countries are filled with “lack” – lack of water, sustainable food systems, and adequate resources to provide for everyone. Although monthly bills can be a stressor, our twenties are a time when we start to realize just how lucky we truly are.
This attitude of gratitude pushes many twentysomethings towards giving back to others. Many of us find our calling to help those in need with a cause we find near and dear to our hearts, whether it be hunger, poverty, child welfare, etc. Trevor, 23, is one of those twentysomethings and he decided to improve the education of not only those in his community, but for people around the world.
Two years ago, Trevor started TeachTwice, a social venture that educates children and their communities through stories and the exchange of culture. The concept is simple – a single book, written by authors from a developing country, provides parents in the global marketplace stories to read to their children, and gives financial support to schools in the country where the book originated. “I really believe education drives the economy which drives development,” Trevor says.
With a team of like-minded student volunteers, Trevor began TeachTwice with the mission of improving education systems in developing countries and exposing U.S. students to different cultures. They have already published two books, from Uganda and South Africa. And they hope to be a model to other nonprofits worldwide.
Through his work with TeachTwice, Trevor hopes to demonstrate to other organizations how to be more business savvy and sustainable. He stands behind the belief that even when TeachTwice is not making a lot of money, they are still accomplishing great things with their business model by employing writers and illustrators who are making an impact on the industry, economy, and education of their country.
Trevor and the team have recently realized the importance of distribution channels in order to reach as many markets as possible. They are currently selling books domestically and using any profit to integrate the books into the education systems of the originating countries. Right now, they are exploring the many ways to sell books in America, despite a dying publishing industry, through online book space like Amazon to physical space like local bookstores, schools, and libraries.
And their hard work is paying off. TeachTwice has been featured on the local news, they’ve signed a significant contract for distribution, and have formed a partnership with Nashville’s Public Library system.
Since graduating in 2012, Trevor, looking for not only a steady income but also a way to continue doing what he cared about, turned down a consulting job for a part-time opportunity to work with the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery. This job allowed him to work with TeachTwice as much as he needed. The Center, knowing Trevor, “really understood TeachTwice and supported it,” he explained, and they let him work as many or few hours as he needed to in order to continue to support his organization.
As fate would have it, Trevor’s work at the Vanderbilt Center led him down another career path. He realized the importance of what the Center was doing – creating drugs and making huge strides forward in medicine for diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Schizophrenia. After being inspired by this work, he felt like he could add more value to the Center by giving them his marketing and business skills he gained through leading TeachTwice. Since most of the employees are researchers, they had not put the time into thinking about how to market themselves and become more business savvy. Trevor pitched himself for a new Business and Marketing position – and the Director created it for him.
One of Trevor’s favorite one-liners to give when people ask for advice is, “I think success is in constantly moving forward.” For example, there were months when nothing would happen for TeachTwice, and then ten wonderful things would happen within one week. Trevor believes that if you pursue what you’re passionate about and focus on doing what you love, things will move forward for you.
Let’s say you’re a twentysomething who manages to land a job right after college. Let’s say it’s a good, grown-up type of job; you know, the kind where you don’t have to live in your parent’s basement. And let’s say you really like this job—but (isn’t there always a but?), despite all of that, there’s a tug in your heart to do something more meaningful. This was 26-year-old Britton’s life.
After graduating from Elon University, Britton worked with Red Bull for four years as a field marketing specialist. In those four years, Britton moved to three major cities in three states, got promoted and was exposed to many creative circles.
“It was a crazy, fast ride,” he said about his experience with the company. “They supported youthful thinking and a big idea approach to life. You could really make a name for yourself at a young age.” After all, this was the same brand that sponsored a man diving from space, and its international campaigns target and endorse athletes in extreme sports.
But as great as the gig was, Britton struggled to find a sense of true fulfillment.
“When I was in high school, my identity was wrapped up in sports, but then I got injured, so I turned my focus to sports media and marketing,” he explained. “My friends thought I was going to be the next Sports Center anchor, and I did, too—and that became my identity.”
After accepting the position at Red Bull, Britton became “Britt from Red Bull” to everyone he met, and his identity once again became synonymous to his occupation.
“I found myself longing to do something that made a difference in other people’s lives,” Britton said. Because he didn’t know what that would look like for his future, he began to pray for God’s direction. While the clarity didn’t come immediately, perspective did.
Because Red Bull was such a forward-thinking hub, Britton began to see his time there as a unique training ground for what would eventually come next, even if he wasn’t sure what that would be.
“I was still giving Red Bull one hundred percent, and praying for God’s will for the future,” Britton said.
Six months later, Britton encouraged his friend Blake, who had just launched a non-profit called beremedy, to enter a team in the Red Bull Soapbox Race.
“I thought it would be a fun, creative way to get the organization’s name out there in front of its target audience,” he said.
Blake’s team got accepted and partnered with Atlanta Mission to build a soapbox car. As race day approached, Britton got better aquatinted with Atlanta Mission’s team and purpose. It just so happened that Atlanta’s largest and longest-running provider of services to the homeless had an open media marketing position.
“I had a bit of apprehension at first,” Britton admitted. And while going from Red Bull to a homeless organization didn’t seem like the most logical career move, it became more and more apparent that it was the answer to Britton’s prayers.
Today, Britton is the Media Relations Manager for Atlanta Mission. Looking back, a little over a year later, Britton is thankful for the path his career has taken.
[The interview took a brief pause when a homeless family who is currently being served by Atlanta Mission walked by the coffee shop patio. The kids called out "Hey Britt!" The family approached for a quick visit with their friend Britt. A very cool moment for this interviewer to witness.]
“Even though it’s only been a year, I feel like I’ve gained 10 years of experience and connections,” Britton said. From valuable lessons in grace to connections with a wide array of Atlanta Mission partners, to serving Atlanta’s homeless community, Britton feels beyond blessed for his new role.
When asked to give a piece of advice to his twentysomething peers, Britton warned about the cons of over-involvement and over-committing yourself.
“It seems as though a lot of twentysomethings lack focus when it comes to being involved and serving causes,” Britton explained. “They want to be involved in everything, which only ends up creating subpar involvement and sense of community.”
Britton’s advice to his peers is to focus on serving one (or maybe a few) organizations or causes well.
“The best way to move forward and grow is to build off of a foundation of existing success,” Britton said. “You can’t build a reputation of success when you just dabble in a lot of things.”
Photo credit: Morgan Blake
A year and a half ago, 22-year old Alyssa experienced some bad rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups that could have changed her life forever. Nearly missing her chance to study abroad in college, Alyssa realized that moving past her condition was a blessing, and used her experience as the inspiration to begin her novel.
This fall, she began a one-year master’s program for creative writing at Bath Spa University in the UK, where she’s polishing off the finishing touches of her book before sending it off to agencies.
“I think that real blessings—the deep blessings that mold and change lives—are the things that unmake you,” Alyssa said. “Being blessed isn’t the absence of pain, but rather a joy or love that springs out of (and despite of) sorrow.”
Alyssa’s writing career is well under way. As soon as her semester at Bath Spa began, Alyssa traveled back to the States to receive an The Elie Wiesel Foundation Prize in Ethics third place award for her essay about visiting her sister in Afghanistan in 2011, despite the physical dangers and political instability. Her thoughts on terrorism’s aftereffects on American and Afghan cultures, and her revelation on loving people past their prejudices won third place in the prestigious contest.
Alyssa receiving her award from Elie Wiesel
While writing her essay, she developed an overwhelming love for the people of Afghanistan.
“I wish I could tell you all the little stories I saw while I was there,” she reminisced. “How I got to run with school boys in the mountains as they showed off their beautiful country, or hold the hands of a woman beaten by her husband, or watch our driver play with his toddler daughter, or see the old men on their bikes with roses twisted into the handlebars and blooming, or soothe the tears of a stranger as she confessed her terror that the Taliban will return.”
As she learned in Afghanistan, writing can be a therapeutic hobby, and she hopes to continue exploring that in the future.
“When something traumatic or painful happens to us, it is really important to talk through what happened with someone else, ideally someone supportive and/or trained,” Alyssa said. “I think that writing takes this a step further. Journaling privately gives you an outlet to really let yourself go—you can work through your thoughts and feelings and either burn it or save it to think over.”
In fact, Alyssa has been given incredible opportunities to use her gift and love of writing to help the of Afghanistan begin their own healing process.
An Afghanistan-based human trafficking rescue and aftercare organization called Hagar needs someone to capture women’s stories to broaden awareness, but lacked writers. Alyssa hopes to work with them in the future. Another opportunity she discovered is located in Bath, helping Afghan refugees come to a healing place via writing. Alyssa hopes to maybe connect with them while she is in Bath studying.
“Afghanistan is beautiful and mind-bogglingly complex, and I think that’s why I am hungry to learn and do more,” she said.
And by these plans of giving back to a community of people by teaching them the art of expression through writing, she’s one step closer to achieving her dream.
Also a talented photographer, Alyssa edits photos of her international travels while on the coast of Izmir, Turkey
Creative Writing Masters Candidate, writer • 23 • Bath, UK
Author’s note: I first met John when we were both somewhere around the ages of 8 and 10. He and his family, American missionaries to Haiti, partnered with my church in North Carolina. We later would become pen pals for a short time (this is pre-AOL messenger days, people), and then continue to keep in touch throughout the years during his family’s annual visits to the States. In 2003, John moved back to the states permanently to attend college, and I followed his journey through undergrad then seminary then post grad life via social media. When I discovered he was moving back to his Haitian hometown this year after living in the States for a decade, I knew it wasn’t a decision he made lightly. I admire John’s authentic and thoughtful approach to life. I wanted to feature his story because I knew what he would share would be helpful to twentysomethings who find themselves shifting between cultures. - LVZ
Q. Tell us a little bit about your education background and how you decided on your career path:
I got a B.A. in Theology from Portland Bible College (Portland, OR) and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Asbury Seminary (Wilmore, KY).
I can’t say I really ever planned on going into Biblical education or pastoral ministry. Through most of high school, my only goal was to learn guitar and play in a rock band. I was into Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse, basically anything from Seattle that I could get my hands on. During my senior year of high school, I discovered that I could write and that changed my trajectory. I thought for a while I might be a journalist, but I really had no clearly defined career goals in high school that I can remember. I was pretty lonely and depressed a lot of the time. I didn’t fit in where I lived. When I was 16, I had a come-to-Jesus moment where the Gospel began to make more sense to me than it had before. I was still depressed a lot, but now I had a real hunger for the Bible and a desire to know Jesus and find out what he wanted me to do. My dad being a pastor, I had easy access to answers, and I ate it up, but I was hungry for more. When my Dad came back from a conference in the Pacific Northwest with a brochure for a tiny school I’d never heard of, I felt the Holy Spirit confirm that was where I needed to be. It helped that the school was in the Pacific Northwest, where I’d always wanted to go.
Four years later, I graduated with a degree in Theology. It was exciting, but then the balloon dropped. I got a job at Starbucks to make rent, but I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. After working for a year, as a matter of both curiosity and desperation, I applied to graduate school and got in.
As for how I got from there to Haiti: to make a long story short, in 2010, just before the earthquake, I went to visit my parents over Christmas break. While waiting in an airport terminal for a plane to the town I grew up in, some guys who were working there found out I was in seminary and started asking me all the questions they had about the Bible. It started with two guys, but before long, a small crowd had gathered. The Lord opened my eyes in that moment and I saw the urgent need for discipleship that exists in Haiti. There was so much hunger evident in these young guys, but so little solid teaching available to them. I told the Lord shortly after that that if he wanted me to go back to Haiti, I would. The door opened after graduation, with the Bible school my parents founded offering me a position. There was a catch, though: it could not offer me a salary. At the time, I did not have the desire or, to be honest, the faith to raise all my own support, so I moved to North Carolina and got a job instead, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. The door to teach opened again last fall, and this time I was ready. I built a website, set $15,000 as my goal for the year, and asked everyone I knew for money. I didn’t really know whether it would even happen at the time, but God brought every penny in on time.
Q. John, as a missionary kid you were constantly shifting cultures between living in Haiti and visiting the States. Tell us a little bit about what that was like:
It had its benefits and drawbacks. It definitely gave me a perspective on the world that most folks don’t have. I got to see and feel the ache of grinding poverty up close. I also spoke three languages by the time I was a teenager and had a passport full of stamps. The drawback was that I wasn’t really from either country. In Haiti, my brother, sister, and I were the only white kids in church. In America, during the summer, my parents would be at a different church in a different town every week, and we stayed any one place long enough to make friends. Loneliness was a hallmark of adolescence, and the fear of being lonely again was a big hurdle for me to overcome in making the decision to return to Haiti. Still, the overall benefit of being multicultural — the ability to move freely between cultures and think with a global perspective — is not something I would ever trade.
Q. What were your primary motivations for moving back to Haiti?
I can’t think of anything I would rather do! I would gladly teach almost anything for free, but to be able to teach God’s Word to people who will go out and shepherd God’s people in a country I love deeply is a privilege almost beyond words.
Q. Did you find it was an easy or difficult decision to make?
It was a difficult decision to make in some ways — it really took me several years to ramp up to it mentally. I turned it down once. When the choice presented itself again last fall, though, all the pieces were in place, my heart was in the right place, and it was an easy decision to make. It was time.
Q. What are your longterm goals?
I haven’t really thought much past this year, but I suppose that long term, I would like to play a more active role in developing a network of churches and ministries all over Haiti and the Caribbean basin — resourcing, equipping, and encouraging existing churches, and planting new ones. I’ve also had a latent desire to do ministry in France for a while now. If the Lord were to open that door one day, I would gladly walk through it.
Q. What are some ways you plan to accomplish those goals?
Since we train up and send out church planters, I will have a network of fellow ministers in the Gospel all over Haiti and hopefully beyond. My goal will be to maintain those friendships, resourcing those new pastors with things like books and helping them develop plans for their own Bible schools and leadership training programs, if need be. I would also like to help pastors who are near one another sync vision and share resources and strengths through events like regional conferences.
Q. Talk about what has been one of the highlights of your twenties:
I’ve had the opportunity to travel quite a bit over the last 10 years. At the end of a long trip to Europe about five years ago, I got to run down the beach in St. Andrews, Scotland, where the Olympic trainees run at the beginning of my favorite film, Chariots of Fire.
Q. At the end of every interview, we ask the same question: If you had a big group of your twentysomething peers in a room, what is one piece of advice you would like to give them?
Trust God. So much of the angst, doubt, and a turmoil of my 20′s (and several of my poorer decisions) could have been avoided simply by trusting God fully. God saves us through promises. For example, “Abraham, I am going to give you a son.” Abraham had no way of knowing at the time God made him the promise how long it would take to come to pass, or how painfully he would be stretched along the way. In a similar way, the 20′s for a Christian can be a painful time of uncertainty, doubt, and a lack of direction. To be in relationship with Jesus, however, is to have the assurance that the pain will have a point, to trust that the dead-end job, the girl who got away, or the questions you don’t have answers to will not last forever. God has promised to work all things together for the good of those who love him, and God keeps his promises.