“I have no other foundation for doing this other than I know that this is what I am supposed to be doing,” said Ashley Snyder, 29, founder of The Known Project.
The Known Project was an idea sparked by Ashley’s own personal revelation of feeling seen by many but never really known.
“I realized that there wasn’t this space for honesty amongst each other. A lot of times we just sit down for coffee and we never go further than the surface,” Ashley explained. “I wanted to create a space where people could be honest about their stories.”
The original idea was for people to blog their secrets, but last February Ashley launched an event instead. It was deemed Known Nights, a place where secrets stirred hope. Ashley invited 6 people to join her on stage to tell their secrets to a room full of strangers. The secrets didn’t necessarily have to be ugly or shocking, they just needed to be something that the person wanted to share with the world. Within 23 days the event was planned and 100 people walked through the door with no paid advertising.
“I went first because I believe strongly in leading by example,” Ashley said.
There were no Instagram photos of that night because no one picked up their phones during the 67 minute program. It built instant community and connection. People lingered for hours after the program to talk with each other and share their own stories.
“Some people said it was the most uncomfortable thing they ever sat through, but they felt so brave afterward,” Ashley said. “I didn’t want it perfected. I wanted the awkward and the real. I think some things are too orchestrated.”
The night launched a city tour in which Ashley and her team traveled to different cities and filmed people sharing their stories.
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.
Now more than ever, twentysomethings are picking up and spending days, weeks, months, and even years in a country that is not their own. The travel bug affects people of all ages, but international travel in your twenties can help shape who you are and who you will be in years to come.
Alyssa, originally from Ohio, knew she wanted to work with children, specifically in developing communities. During her junior year at Vanderbilt, she studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa where she participated in a service-learning program. Alyssa chose to teach in Manenberg, a township of Cape Town known for its violence, drug problems, and child abuse, and previously known as the “gang capital of the world” – a bit different than Ohio.
With so many issues surrounding the children in that community, Alyssa created an innovative program for the group of five to seven year olds she worked with. The best way for children to understand different ideas is through stories. So Alyssa decided to utilize a technique called bibliotherapy, which uses children’s literature as a form of therapy.
Alyssa loved watching the children unpack their issues through reading various stories, and she fell in love with learning about the education systems and community development in Cape Town. Something clicked with her there – and she knew she wanted to “connect what I really care about to make a difference in communities that I care about” in the future.
When Alyssa graduated, she took a teaching job in Nashville Public Schools to be close to her family and meet the great needs in the domestic school system, despite an ongoing itch to work internationally. A few months in, she ended up getting into Vanderbilt’s International Education Policy Master’s program, and has spent the past two years studying what she loves.
During her Master’ studies, Alyssa was fortunate enough to return to Africa two more times. She had connected with a local doctor in Uganda who worked with a network of preschools surrounding his village. Alyssa started working on a curriculum for the preschools while in Nashville, and then traveled to Uganda the next summer to help on the ground-level with teacher training, curriculum development, and evaluation for their funders.
She was also able to procure another internship in South Africa and ended up creating a teacher development framework for a province. Her experience working with the higher-level vision of a system, looking at issues and trying to manipulate resources, was just as wonderful as her time spent doing grassroots level work.
During her second year of graduate work, Alyssa began to take more business and finance classes, with the mindset that they would be a good foundation for working in the nonprofit world. She learned more about the concept of social enterprise and applying a for-profit model to a for-good mission. Still intending to move back to Africa, she got involved with a start-up company working in the education system, and then was soon connected with Trevor, founder of TeachTwice and a friend from Vanderbilt. While the old friends caught up, conversations continued about her taking a larger role in TeachTwice, and the position evolved into Alyssa becoming the new Director.
Alyssa’s advice to anyone in their twenties is to live your passion. “At the end of the day, if you’re doing something that you’re passionate about, you will be much more successful at it, and create an amazing reputation for yourself,” Alyssa says. “Generally the world needs passionate people who aren’t going to get burnt out doing something that they’re not passionate about,” she says. “Who knows? You could and should end up being paid well for your skills and passion in the end.”
Emily Hackett is a Nashville-based singer/songwriter who has just released her second EP, Fury, Fear, & Heartbreak . With a background in PR and songwriting, she came from a musical family and has a heart for sharing really good music with the world. She sat down with us for an interview and an exclusive first look at one of her newest songs, “Gave Him Away.”
“Gave Him Away” written by Emily Hackett
“Fades Away” written by Emily Hackett
“Daydream” written by Emily Hackett and Kaleigh Bullard