Conscious consumption is one of the hottest trends in retail marketing.
We shop to make a difference, have an impact, build a better world.
But many of the businesses that claim to be doing good are running on business models or operating principles that are hardly disruptive.
Instead, they're counting on consumers' desire to both have their cake and eat it too.
The more companies can convince us that shopping equals advocacy, the more we'll buy.
With all that said, I was curious what a company would look like - beyond the marketing pulling at my heartstrings - running with the full awareness of what it means to truly disrupt exploitation.
A company that honors transparency and relationships will have the answers to our questions without defaulting to marketing speak or trendy buzz words, and that’s why I wanted to speak with today’s guest.
Leading a fashion lifestyle brand might be an unlikely role for someone self-described as “not a fashion guy,” but that’s exactly where ABLE CEO Barrett Ward finds himself. As the visionary behind the rapidly growing Nashville-based company disrupting the fashion industry with a social conscience, Ward was inspired to start ABLE with the mission of creating sustainable economic opportunities for women. ABLE has grown into a lifestyle brand carrying beautiful leather bags, jewelry, denim, apparel, and shoes with a primary focus on employing and empowering women in Ethiopia, Brazil, India, Mexico, and Nashville, TN.
Beyond adding new categories and communities of impact, Ward and ABLE have also grown in their ambition for social justice. In 2018, ABLE became the first brand to publish their lowest wages, creating the #PublishYourWages movement and providing complete transparency to empower and protect the fashion industry’s vulnerable workers – most of whom are women.
Listen to the full episode to hear:
Learn more about Barrett Ward:
Learn more about Rebecca:
Scroll Down for The Full Episode Transcript:
Barrett Ward: It’s as if there’s a mentality that says, “Well, at least they’ve got a job, right?” No! I wouldn't say that about my family members or my children so why do I say that about someone across the world? There’s a reckoning that has to happen, and what my hope is is that social media and this visibility and then education point like a lowest wage will start to empower consumers to feel that they understand clearly the impact that they're making through their purchase. That’s the long-term goal.
[Inspirational Intro Music]
Rebecca Ching: Conscious consumption is one of the hottest trends in retail marketing. We shop to make a difference, have an impact, build a better world. Sign me up, right? But many of the businesses that claim to be doing good are running on business models or operating principles that are hardly disruptive. Instead, they're counting on consumers’ desire to both have their cake and eat it too. The more companies can convince us that shopping equals advocacy, the more we’ll buy.
So, with all that said, I was curious what a company would look like beyond the marketing pulling at my heartstrings, running with the full awareness of what it means to truly disrupt exploitation.
I'm Rebecca Ching, and you're listening to The Unburdened Leader, the show that goes deep with humans who navigate life’s challenges and lead in their own way. Our goal is to learn how they address the burdens they carry, how they learn from them and become better and more impactful leaders of themselves and others.
My journey into conscious consumption really came into fruition in my mind when I was pregnant with my first child (like, shoot, I think it’s been 15 years now), and I recall being hyper-focused on the chemicals in the cleaning products we used at home. While attending an Earth Day festival here in San Diego (I know, how very, very granola of me) I discovered a San Diego-based company that made products cleaning all the things from our toilets to our kitchen counters to our cars.
This company spoke to all of my pain points at just the right time. I traded out cleaners deemed harsh and toxic with gentler cleaners mixed with essential oils like lavender and orange. I stocked up on all of their products.
What I also loved about these products is, for every purchase, they donated to a local environmental charity. Win, win, win, right? I supported a local business, I had products that did not harm the environment or my family, and I supported charities caring for the environment. In addition, my purchases helped my system feel calmer. My house felt less dangerous. I felt like a good mom-to-be because of what I bought, and my purchases not only cleaned my house safely, they made me feel worthy and good enough.
Now, I still feel good about switching up my cleaning products back then and working with that company, and I continue to be very mindful of the products that I buy today, but looking back on this time, it intersects with something I see in a lot of my work with clients, this obsession with being pure, clean, and good. It shows up a lot around the choices they made with food, but it’s since expanded to the things we buy from clothes to cleaning products and coffee, just to name a few. Our purchases can help businesses and causes we care about, absolutely. And I believe, wholeheartedly, that we can make a difference with how we spend our time and resources, but [Laughs] if my feeling good about myself is my main driver behind why I consume and buy, I know I need a hard pause before I purchase.
I am seeing more and more how quickly my purchases can default to centering around me without a deeper regard for who makes the products I buy or the real environmental impact of my purchases. It’s so easy for any of us to get stuck in a toxic marketing loop that hooks our worthiness with what we buy, and these purchases that use descriptors like “organic” and “ethically made” and “fair trade” do not let us off the hook on our responsibility to dig deeper and ask more critical questions to the businesses we frequent about their wages, their environmental impact, and their supply chain. If not, I know I end up buying into the very things I want to stand against, and I also believe we need to be better BS detectors in the marketing we consume and what we tell ourselves, and asking better questions of the business I frequent helps me think more critically about how I lead my business while supporting other business leaders.
A company that honors transparency and relationship will have the answers to our questions without defaulting to marketing speak or trendy buzzwords, and I’ve found this to be true when I interviewed Audrey McLoghlin (who’s the founder of Frank & Eileen) a couple years ago. And when I heard today’s guest speak a few years ago, transparently, about his own mental health struggles while holding his commitment to choose honesty over perfection when it comes to transparency in his business, I added him to my wish list of guests to this show.
Now, Barrett Ward is the CEO of ABLE, a fashion lifestyle brand, and as the visionary behind the rapidly-growing Nashville-based company, disrupting the fashion industry with a social conscience, Ward was inspired to start ABLE with a mission of creating sustainable economic opportunities for women.
Now, while living in Ethiopia, Ward and his wife, Rachel, saw firsthand how extreme poverty forced many young women to make difficult choices for money. They wanted to give women the chance to learn a living with dignity. In 2010, they began ABLE by employing women who had overcome the sex industry to make handmade scarves. Now, ABLE has since grown into a lifestyle brand carrying beautiful leather bags (I have one of my own which I cherish), jewelry, denim (I’ve got to put my props in for their jean jackets - I adore mine), other apparel, and shoes with a primary focus on employing and empowering women in Ethiopia, Brazil, India, Mexico, and Nashville, Tennessee.
Beyond adding new categories and communities of impact, Ward and ABLE have also grown in their ambition for social justice. In 2018, ABLE became the first brand to publish their lowest wages creating the hashtag #publishyourwages movement and providing complete transparency to empower and protect the fashion industry’s vulnerable workers, most of whom are women.
Now, listen for Barrett’s experience with rapid growth and the impact it had on his mental health. (I suspect many of you will relate with this.) Pay attention to how Barrett befriended his fear of failure and embraced transparency and honesty instead of perfection. Notice Barrett’s deep connection to his mission that allows for mistakes and lots of grace. Now, please welcome Barrett Ward to The Unburdened Leader podcast.
Barret Ward: Thank you! I’m glad to be here.
Rebecca Ching: As I mentioned to you before we started recording that I had you in mind, when I started creating this podcast, to have you on the show. There’s so much that I want to dig into that I know those listening are gonna get a lot out of, feel a lot of validation, and be challenged too.
So I’d love to start -- ‘cause we start really light and breezy here on the show. Just kidding!
Barrett Ward: Oh, man! Let’s do it.
Rebecca Ching: We go deep quickly, and I want you to take us back to the moment when your, then, two-year-old found you on the floor of your bathroom crying. What were you feeling in that moment and what fueled that face-down experience?
Barrett Ward: Yeah, I mean, we first connected with that story at the Yellow conference, and I talk about it on stage because, frankly, I think more than any other thing when I’m speaking is I feel like I don't want anybody in the room to feel like, man, that guy’s got it all together, and because he has it all together, that’s why ABLE has succeeded.
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Barrett Ward: And instead, these are all opportunities to -- those opportunities for me are ones that I just am looking for people to not feel alone. I just don't want people to feel alone, and the more that I can tell the hard part of my story or the challenging things that I’ve been through, there’s somebody that needs to hear that way more, probably, than, “We just crushed it and grew 50% this year!”
Rebecca Ching: I couldn't agree more.
Barrett Ward: So, I do tell that story. I mean, the truth is, when we started ABLE, we were a nonprofit for a few years, and then in 2014 we had to switch to a for-profit, and I had never run a for-profit. I was a nonprofit guy. I kinda thought you only do good in the world through nonprofits. And so, all of a sudden, we were forced to become a for-profit, and that just proved, in 2014, to be more stress than I was able to bear at that point.
And the story is -- I can giggle a little about it now, but the story is that my daughter, Lena, walked in the bathroom as I’m just sitting there, laying there, sobbing in fetal position and just stopped in her tracks looking at me wondering what’s wrong with dad. And it was just because I, apparently at that age (which, I guess, was about 40 years old -- 41 years old), didn’t have the emotional muscles to deal with how difficult this was.
You know, during that year I read an article where it talked about how many leaders and CEOs were on Lexapro or antidepressants, and one of the statements was that people look at leaders or entrepreneurs and think to themselves, “Wow, look how brave they are riding that lion,” and entrepreneurs are thinking, “How the heck did I get on this lion, and how do I stop it from killing me?” And that is definitely where I was at in 2014. Then, there was more to come after that, but, yeah, that is where I was at in 2014.
Rebecca Ching: And when I heard you share that story (and I’m grateful to hear your motivation behind it) I knew right away sharing stories like that, it’s not about connection, for me, it saves lives, it saves businesses. And if we don't feel alone and because there’s still so much stigma, not just around mental health but around struggle and around doubt, especially for folks that are holding higher titles or higher roles or credentials. And so, I was so grateful to hear you just, “Hi, my name’s Barrett, and here’s my facedown moment.”
Barrett Ward: [Laughs] Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: And to really own it and not just as a hook but as a message. I think that is so important. We need more leaders doing that on repeat. But, again, you talked about switching -- I want to dig into a little bit more of that switch from nonprofit to for-profit, but in that moment where your daughter found you, really, what was going on with you? What were you feeling in that moment?
Barrett Ward: I just, frankly, was mental mushrooming. That moment was actually a year.
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Barrett Ward: I had an entire year of that. So we’re not talking about a brief moment that I recovered from quickly. It was an entire year of 2014 where I was probably sleeping 2 to 3 hours a night, and I just didn't know the solution, and to the point of stigma, I wouldn’t say that I thought anybody that took antidepressants were crazy. I just kind of had this thought of, “Well, that’s not for me, right?” You know, “I’m 42. I don't need to start that now, do I?” And it was actually a friend of mine named Gabby Blair who runs a conference called The Alt Conference (it’s a design conference), and we were down in Atlanta, and over breakfast she said, “Look, Barrett, when people get a broken bone, they put a cast on their arm, and taking an anti-anxiety-type medication is nothing more than a cast, and you need a cast right now. You may stay on it for your whole life or you may use it as a cast and come off of it in a period of time, and all of that’s fine, but, simply put, you need a cast.”
And so, the hope was that I never wanted to be in a situation again where I allowed my circumstances to take me over. That was the bottom line of what I wanted to accomplish. I didn't want to allow this beast of a business to take over my life.
Rebecca Ching: You talked about how this wasn't just a one facedown moment but this was a year, a year of you saying, “Oh, not me. What’s going on? I should…” What were some of the shoulds and some of the things you were saying to yourself until your body just said, “No, we’re doing a hard stop”? I’d love for you to speak to that.
Barrett Ward: I did not think medication was for me. I did think that I was not competent or strong enough to be a business owner and I wasn't competent enough to handle the stress and the challenges, and we had so many challenges that year. But what I learned was is that, at the end of the day, what I was calling a challenge might actually just have been the normal practice of business, and if that’s the normal practice of business, then looking at a challenge and saying -- you know, I don't think it’s cheesy to call challenges opportunities. I don't. Just as long as it’s not put in this overly-toxic kind of like, “Hey! Every problem is an opportunity to win!” It’s more we’re just how do I look at this challenge? Do I just look at this and say, “You know what? This is gonna happen. Whenever I have a great season or things are not challenged, there’s gonna be a day, again, that’s gonna have a challenge.” So when that comes, if I look at that as something that is brutal, then I’m gonna look at the successes as something that’s unbelievably great, and I’m gonna ride the highs and low the lows, and I don't want to do that, you know? I don't want to allow that business to affect me that deeply, I guess. What’re your thoughts on that?
Rebecca Ching: Well, it’s hard, right? Because with a lot of people, I hear, “Oh, I’m taking this too personally,” and I’m like I kind of call BS to that ‘cause I’m like it is personal!
You're pouring the best of you into this business, this vision, this movement, whatever the thing is, but there’s not enough people talking about the suck. I mean, it’s just the suck of whether it’s disappointment or betrayal that happens or supply chain issues or personal -- whether it’s loss or health issues. There’s this message, this toxic positivity that you touched on, that’s like, “Chin up. Suck it up,” the darkness of supremacy culture, right? The rugged individualism. “I’ve got this,” right? You had it until you didn't. [Laughs]
Barrett Ward: Yeah, and that toxic positivity is what makes me feel less than. It’s when I acknowledge that challenges are a part of the normal course of business that I can put them in a box and just say, “Okay, it does suck.” But also, when I go home, what is my reality? Honestly, I kinda do this thing. I don't know if you’ve ever heard the phrase “away motivated or towards motivated,” but I’m definitely away motivated which means I’m motivated by not failing, and some people are motivated by succeeding, but what wakes me up and gets me moving in the morning is just making sure I don't screw this thing up. And then I get to work and get motivated and I figure it out and I’m motivated by good things happening and having a positive impact in the world.
But I say that to say when I come home, one of the big markers for me of am I putting the challenges of work in the right box was that if I could literally shut it and come home and be with my family and be present, and if the stress continued to a point where I could not engage with my family at a healthy level, then I knew that I needed to go deeper which I’ve certainly sat with folks like you and therapists and worked through all that, but I never wanted to get to a place where my barometer of home was shaking because of work, you know?
Rebecca Ching: I get that.
Barrett Ward: And also, what do you think about the methodology of just saying, “Okay, first off, this is not gonna kill me”? Do you think that’s positive? Because that’s kind of like the idea of when your dad said to you, “Listen, when you go ask that girl out, what you’re ultimately thinking right now is that she’s gonna kill you. She’s not. Don’t worry. She’s just either gonna say no or yes.” And, in the same way, I would have to kinda get myself to a place of, like, “Hold on. I’m not gonna die.” I mean, that’s first. Second, level up. If the business fails, what’s gonna ultimately happen? What are the real consequences? Some of those can be significant for people, right? For a period of time, my home was on the line of credit.
So I’m just asking you. I’m curious. How do you think about baselining those thoughts of what could happen if it goes poorly?
Rebecca Ching: You know, I have a little shift of that. And I used to kind of approach it that way, and what really started to stick for me and also what I work with the leaders that I work with is it may kill us, but I’m with you.
Barrett Ward: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: I got that from a mentor and the founder of Internal Family Systems, Richard Schwartz, who had a life and death experience which he shared on the show. He helped me kick off the podcast sharing about how his approach to therapy and to healing saved his own life. So there’s this element of the business might go but I’m with you, and this is gonna suck, and it’s gonna hurt. So there’s a befriending of the fear. There’s a befriending of it and there’s this other part like is it worth pushing through just to succeed?
I’m from the Midwest, so it’s like we do blow snow in below zero and do the things. You push through, and there’s a little bit of more rugged individualism where I was holding onto the bone to the point where I’m like why? So there’s this element of, yeah, we’re gonna go forward, and it might blow up, but I’m with you, too, (those parts of me that are terrified) and then what support do I need. So there’s a befriending of this, and then just saying, “What’s not worth it?” Is failing and letting something go gonna move me towards what matters most? It’s hard for leaders when they're in public positions or have invested so much time and money.
So that’s my tweak on it is like, yes -- so sometimes it’s like, “Will this kill me?” and it’s like, “Okay, no. She just might reject me,” right, and the date, “I might just get a rejection. When I send pitches out to people, yes, I check those parts. But when the stakes are high and it’s impacting well-being or, for me, my kind of…
Barrett Ward: Livelihood.
Rebecca Ching: My thermostat is my family. If they're not well, usually I have to check and go am I contributing to that?
Barrett Ward: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: So, there is a befriending of the fear but there’s also this little bit of a surrender saying this could go south, and if I try to plan and control everything so that I engineer the vulnerability out of it like Brené Brown talks a lot about, then I’m screwed, right?
Barrett Ward: Mm-hmm. Right.
Rebecca Ching: Versus, okay, I’ve done what I can. So it’s more like I’m with you, is what I say to those parts of me. I talk to the people around me or I work with (the leaders) saying, “Okay, who needs to know? Are we in?” Knowing the risks, and so, there’s a befriending and a knowing and there’s also a befriending the suck. I think if we bypass the suck -- and then, lastly, is it worth our well being and our family? Sometimes we have to release things if it’s -- what’s the cost just to win, to cross the finish line?
Barrett Ward: Yeah. First of all, I love all that. That’s really helpful, and then there’s those times where the choice to be able to leave those circumstances is not a privilege that everybody has either, you know?
Rebecca Ching: You got it!
Barrett Ward: And so, then, how do you handle that period of time? I want to run this podcast ‘cause I want to ask you some questions. I need to lay down and be counseled. I’ll just ask you that one other question. And so, how do you talk to people about when they are stuck and they don't have a choice but the ship is challenged and they may want to get out, they may want to get off, but they're riding it down. How do you handle that?
Rebecca Ching: I think we always have choices even if they all suck, and as long as we have agency, we’re gonna be okay. If we lose our agency, we lose our hope, and then things get really dark. And so, I think it’s important and it’s important not to do comparative suffering but to be really realistic and compassionate and not -- again, comparing circumstances can go south fast.
Barrett Ward: That’s right.
Rebecca Ching: So, to me, I think it’s this maintaining the agency and the dignity in myself and others is so essential even if everything on the table blows.
Barrett Ward: Yeah, that’s really good. That’s really good. That helps.
Rebecca Ching: So, you had a year of a big suck. You had your face down. I think this is an important message, too, that you had people outside of you reflecting back to you that what you were doing wasn’t getting you out of the suck. It was making it worse. You were kind of like this isn't for me. And some of those stigmas around meds, around mental health struggle, you had to face in yourself. So, I’m curious. What are the practices that you have in place now that support your mental wellbeing but also support those that you lead (their physical and mental well being)?
Barrett Ward: Well, you know, the first thing I would say is having somebody like you in my life. That’s the truth. There’s my permission for your business, but having a mentor was critical.
Rebecca Ching: So true.
Barrett Ward: Somebody that had been through what I had been through. It couldn't be someone that hadn’t, frankly, been through what I had been through. I needed a mentor that absolutely could say, “Hey, I know how you feel. Here’s what’s real.” Kind of as you say, “Here’s the suck that is real here. Here’s where you're mental mushrooming it and you're taking it to a place that’s not gonna happen, that’s not where things are going.” So, a business mentor was critical for me, and I think in our company we think the same way. First of all, we have an HR director, and we think that’s really critical. A voice, a safe voice for everybody to go to. Joey, she’s phenomenal and kind and generous and people feel safe with her. So having that person appointed to the business is just a critical institution.
And then, mentorship up and down the line where people feel like there’s someone that they can go to to become more competent and more hopeful and learn how to train more, learn through training more. I feel like all those institutions make people feel healthier and a part of growing is important to us.
Rebecca Ching: I think the key to trauma-informed cultures is where things can be talked about and normalized.
Barrett Ward: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: If we don't feel like we’re the only one, we’ve got to have that common humanity. You know, it’s interesting you bring up HR. It’s an interesting bag because I’ve had clients (both clinical and leadership spaces) where HR was that safe space to land, and it absolutely wasn’t that safe space to land.
Barrett Ward: Hmm.
Rebecca Ching: So, just depending on relationships, on boundaries, I mean, it can have titles and supposed-tos, but what’s really lived? So, you said lovely things about your HR, but where’s the accountability in even folks who are in those positions here the boundaries and the checks to help create and cultivate and keep your work environment a space that does welcome struggle, welcome doubt, welcome conflict and accountability?
Barrett Ward: You know, it’s funny, the timely question. I just met with a woman this morning that it was her second day, and she talked about having sat around the boardroom table yesterday with the marketing team (there’s 15 people there), and she said, “I have never experienced an environment where there was no flex.” She said, “Everybody at the table, the two leaders (Marissa and Jen) were absolutely humble. They were listening to ideas. There was no directive. It was collaborative.” And so, I would just say that that is an environment that we have strived to create. We talk about that and have that conversation consistently at staff meetings and with new hires, that if you're at the top of the pyramid and not the mission, then your ego’s gonna get in the way, and we want that boardroom table to look like if someone shares an idea that somebody else disagrees with, that the disagreer is good at acknowledging what they’ve said, challenging back, and that the person that shared the idea is good at not throwing out a passive aggressive, “Oh, fun! Yeah, okay. No, no, that’s fine,” but instead able to receive and hear.
And so, we really -- honestly, Rebecca, I don't think I’m great with a handbook and showing everybody exactly what to do, but I think what we do well is actually practice those things. We literally model those behaviors and demonstrate exactly how it would go. So, when we talk about boundaries, we talk about, for example, now, look, we may be in a conversation where I say, “Hey, could you get that to me by Friday?” And that doesn't mean get that to my by Friday at all costs no matter how much stress you have. What that means is a genuine question of, “Can you get that to me by Friday?” And you need to either say, “You know what? I can,” or, “Let me go look at my calendar and think through it and see if I can fit it in,” and you have every right to come back to me as the CEO and say, “You know what? I don't think I can fit that in. Could you help me look through my priorities and see if you think it’s more important or not?” And I can say to you, “You know what? You're right! You can't fit it in, and this is not as important as the things you're doing,” or I can look at you and say, “You know what? Could you please move this to next week and focus on this to get it done by Friday? Would that work?” And, as exhaustive and boring as that may sound, what I just did, in modeling that, I think we really demonstrate to people your voice is super valued here at ABLE.
Rebecca Ching: Okay, so my brain’s floating a little bit. So, no, that’s not boring to me. This is the sexy stuff for me. This is what I talk about day in and day out. I’m like, “Yes!
Barrett Ward: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: Okay, so, it’s one thing to do that, but how do you teach that? You live it, I hear that. It’s not just spoken. So you’ve got actions. So there’s definitely sincerity. Words and actions match up, and that means that builds trust ‘cause without trust, you can’t have vulnerability. It’s harder to have vulnerability. So, how do you hire for that? ‘Cause there’s an element of mentoring and calling people up and in and building those skills 'cause we were taking before this show started about how polarized world right now. So, this is the antithesis of what we’re living and the broader culture. How do you hire and cultivate that, not just profess it? How do you live it too?
Barrett Ward: So, I mean, the second half of that (of living it) is, frankly, as you said, the accountability is if you just taught and talked to everybody that that’s how you do it, you better do it that way or you're gonna lose trust, number one. And what we tell people is if you see us not living out that value, then you should run like the Dickens to get out the door and go find a place that actually lives out that value, number one.
Number two, I think in the interview process you can interview all day long and end up not having the right person, and we’ve made that mistake. You know, we all have made that mistake in hiring. In fact, hiring is really, really hard.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] Oh, gosh. So hard.
Barrett Ward: So, I don't even want to say that we’ve got this methodology that’s worked it out. I think, moreover (somebody told me this once, and I’ve learned to completely agree with this), that you can have the worst interview and they end up being the best employee, and you can have the best interview and they end up being the worst employee. And so, it is all about the due diligence of talking to people that they’ve worked with before.
You have to get recommendations. I just don't believe in doing interviews without following up with people that they’ve worked with, both peers and those that report to them and those that are senior to them in their previous jobs, and I think you find a whole lot out if you're willing to take the time to ask those questions of would they fit into this culture or how would they handle this kind of a situation?
Because, “How would you handle this difficult situation?” I’ve never met anybody in an interview that goes, “You know what? I don't think I can handle that, to be honest.”
Rebecca Ching: Right.
Barrett Ward: And so, those recommendations are pretty critical.
Rebecca Ching: When you’ve gotten it wrong even with good people that just it’s -- when you’ve gotten it wrong, how do you know and how quickly do you (and does your organization) take action?
Barrett Ward: First of all, we’ve done this incredibly wrong over time, first of all. But, for me, it really is seeing how people, vulnerably, are able to collaborate with others, you know? If I see just those moments of ego popping up and saying -- I just, a few days ago, had called a few group of people where I said, “Hey, I’ll make myself available in the next couple of days. There’s only a couple blocks I can’t move. Here they are,” and I noticed everybody followed suit except one person, and they kind of reacted with more protective of their time and more like, “Well, listen, I’m just really busy,” and that, as a lead statement, is not informative, right? “I’m just really busy. I just -- I don't know. I mean, I can see.”
And so, at that point, I think the most important thing is to go sit down with that person and talk about it openly and vulnerably and say, “Hey, here’s what I saw. I want to test my assumptions because I think you're an amazing person, and I often love how you communicate, but that was not your best. But I also know that maybe something could be going on or maybe you’re frustrated with something or maybe I’ve done something to frustrate you. So can you please share with me where you're at?”
I just think the most important thing is to jump on those things and don't let them fester. That’s probably what I’ve done out of being a 2 on the Enneagram is just avoid stuff (like conflict like that) but I think the most important thing is to not let those things sit.
Rebecca Ching: So, I want to shift a little bit back to what you were talking about when ABLE had to make the shift (or at least was recommended to make the shift and you did) from nonprofit to profit. In my research for our conversation, what came up again is there were parts of you that really had judgments around for-profit and doing good. I think there’s some (probably what I’m learning) still legitimate concerns in our world and for-profit organizations and capitalism and all of the things. But walk me through, though, how that shift impacted your workload but also shifts in perceptions (even your judgements) about for-profit companies. So just, again, the transition itself but also how you faced your judgments and where are you at today?
Barrett Ward: Yeah, I think a lot of my judgment on for-profits being that they're not there to do good in the world was born out of the fact that in my 20s, I was a very -- I kind of thought the only purpose of work was money, you know? As ridiculous as that sounds, I was so only wanting to work to make as much money as I could, and that was the only definition of success. I didn't even realize ‘til I was 30 that I hated my sales job. I was making a ton of money doing it, and I just thought, “I'm making a ton of money being good at it. It must be what I’m supposed to do.” It took some people speaking to my life to go, “I think you're miserable,” to help me understand that, you know? I also kind of had a moment of faith when I was 32 that kind of said, “Look, are you doing what you do just for the praise of man? And if not, why?” That really was where I was at.
So, I say all that to say when we started ABLE as a nonprofit, that was the lane that I had been in since I was 30 years old ‘til about 41, and I enjoyed it.
My wife and I lived in Ethiopia for a year. I traveled extensively in developing countries, and that (raising money and holding fundraisers and doing those kinds of things) was the way you do good in the world. And when we started ABLE, I took that (as you kind of said) judgment or prejudism into being a for-profit, and what I quickly found out was that it really is all about the leadership team and their values, you know? It’s 100% about that because, frankly, I think I might be biased in saying this, but I really believe we have a company that just will never budge on its values to the degree of doing crazy things like publishing news about ABLE that’s not so good sometimes because we want to have a genuine and honest and transparent conversation with our customers, much like when I said speaking from stage, we want to be able to let people know, “Look, the massage we’re not wanting to put into the world is that you have to be perfect before you can be honest.” We still live out those values, and it’s because we have an incredible leadership team that’s bought into it, and every step we’ve been rewarded by being open and honest with our customers as we see them saying, “Look, we knew you were not perfect. Thanks for being honest about it and sharing with us what you're going through and what you can do better.”
Rebecca Ching: Absolutely. A couple questions. You’ve referred to kind of your leadership team and your structure and you kind of even referenced top-down, and one thing I’ve been curious in as I work with organizations or those that are leading them is is this top-down working or is it more of (like you talked about) the conference table, this circular approach --
Barrett Ward: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: -- I mean, where people have different roles, there’s still different responsibilities. How is the structure or how did the switch in ABLE’s structure impact the reach of ABLE but mostly, in particular, the women who work for ABLE. I’d love for you to talk about that on a micro level.
Barrett Ward: Well, I think it’s, first, important to note that we were about 3 or 4 people from when we launched in October of 2010 until 2014 when we became a for-profit. In 2014, we went from those 3 or 4 people to about 100 in 2019. And so, we grew like crazy, and I really do believe that that culture and our mission attracted people from all over the country, the top talent. And, frankly, the top talent, every single time was a woman, and I think it’s because our mission is women-benefitting, it’s creating jobs for women (many who have overcome extraordinary circumstances), and it’s a women’s fashion company, right?
And so, we’ve just developed a team that’s super mission-oriented, and I think that value for us has created a lot of margin for mistakes, and it’s created a lot of forgiveness if we do make leadership errors or if we do, you know, screw up cash flow for a couple months and have to figure out a new ways to get around it early on in our business. Having that bedrock of a sincere mission, I think, is critical. I think our mission sounds noble. I think every company has a mission, and it just has to be articulated and sincere, and as long as you have that and your people see you living out that value, I think there’s a lot of grace for mistakes.
You know, when we first started, we were working with just a few women coming out of the commercial sex industry in Ethiopia. And that, quickly, in a couple of years grew to about 30 women, and we were close to them, we were able to see the impact, we were able to manage the impact and work with the women and learn from them to make sure that the benefit that we were saying we were having was real.
Rebecca Ching: Let me pause you there.
Barrett Ward: Yeah!
Rebecca Ching: Talk to me about the process of them giving you feedback and you receiving. So this isn't just, “We’re doing good, and we’re gonna make your lives better, and we’re gonna rescue,” that trope that’s not more than a trope (it’s still happening). Talk to me about that relationship of back and forth and really hearing from the folks that you are wanting to serve and help.
Barrett Ward: So, frankly, I’m a massive believer in partnering with the right people in order to do that piece well because, for example, we’re talking about a lot of women with trauma here, and trauma is not something that, unless you are an expert in, that you're gonna be able to really walk someone through. I can think I’m a good guy and a good listener and ask some decent questions, but it wasn't at all about what we did at ABLE to ensure that. It’s about who we partnered with, and we, in the beginning, partnered with organizations on the ground that were Ethiopian-run, that were excellent at working with these women to understand that very question: is the impact of a good job, good healthcare, etcetera having the impact that we want to have? And if you're just willing to listen and hear the answer and correct where you can, then it’s not that crazy.
Rebecca Ching: How did the information, then, flow with those organizations that you partnered with? If you got feedback, what would -- so you needed to tweak something or adjust something. Can you just talk me through that process of, like, oh, wow, this is the intention but, oh, wait. Here’s the impact. It’s not the desired impact, so how did you receive that feedback and what did you do with that?
Barrett Ward: Well, you know, one of the things we had to start doing was institutionalizing it, to your point. As we grew, working with that local nonprofit and then managing it well was manageable through the size of organization that we were, but as we started to grow and work with hundreds of women, we realized, hold on, we’re losing visibility. These personal relationships with 30 women isn't scaling to make sure that we know that everybody’s cared for well. And that’s actually when we started something that we called Accountable, and the purpose of Accountable was to actually go to the ground, meet with the women, and do very specific audits with strong diagnostics and strong reporting. One of the reasons we created it is because most audits don't actually visit you on the ground, and if they do, it’s only once every four or five years, often.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, interesting.
Barrett Ward: I can’t name any names of organizations or seals that you might think visit people, but almost none of them do. And so, we just said we can’t have confidence if we’re not sending someone to sit down with the employees in protected situations where they can be honest about what their impact is, and, as an example, one manufacturer we were working with that we actually thought was the most solid in their mission, they actually had a lot of instances of abuse.
Women were talking about, when they were sick, their paychecks were withheld. They did not receive any of the paid time off for sickness that they were promised. And so, it was really sad, and to hear those kind of things happening, but as disheartening as it was, it was also heartening because that’s exactly why we created Accountable, to make sure that we were rooting out any type of potential abuses that we didn't know of because we weren't there. And so, we try to work with that manufacturer to restore things back to health. But, you know what? As you can often imagine, it’s not like we don't see toxic leadership anywhere in the world or churches crumbling because of big male ego, and this manufacturer was not willing to correct those things. They blame-shifted and we had to part ways, and that’s tough but guess what? The other four manufacturers were crushing it. They were providing a living wage, healthcare, etcetera, and the impact that they said they were having was the same one that the women reported. So, for us, it’s all about actual systemic auditing of our manufacturing partners.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, thank you for going there with me. And so, I want to get a little more granular about the Accountable report which we’ll use this to challenge everyone. It wasn't just for ABLE, but it’s a challenge to everyone in the fashion industry supply chain to be transparent about their wages, their working conditions, and their equitable practices towards women.
Barrett Ward: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: So you kind of walked me through the intentions of this scorecard, but I’m curious -- talk to me a little about you’ve published your own score card even when it wasn't a good score. Is this what you just referenced?
Barrett Ward: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: And how did you arrive at that decision? ‘Cause I could see -- and I’m not a cynical person. I’m very hopeful, I’m very realistic, but there is a little part of me (maybe ‘cause of working in advertising and politics) that’s like, yeah, just kinda say, “Yeah, you know, this is how we grew.”
Like, I can see that being manufactured, and I’m not putting that on you at all, but there’s a part of me that wants to know a little bit more about how you truly arrived.
Barrett Ward: No, I love that. Yeah!
Rebecca Ching: Give us the behind the scenes of how you came to that decision and what feedback you received from your team when you said you wanted to do this.
Barrett Ward: [Laughs] You know, what it was is through the Accountable reporting, we had this audit, but then we came to understand, even more deeply in the fashion space, that it’s reported about 75 million women around the world that are in manufacturing of fashion, and they represent about 80% of all the labor but only 2% of them earn a living wage. So, that means 98% of the clothes that we’re wearing from around the world are made by somebody that has to work two to three jobs to make ends meet, 60 hours a week, and, really, they still aren't making ends meet. That was atrocious to me to think that we were involved in an industry like that, and, yes, we were managing our own supply chain, but then the question became, well, how can we impact the industry? If we dream big, how could we actually solve this problem worldwide? Is that possible?
And what we came to was is that we need to share with our consumers a datapoint on wages that will help them understand quickly if we’re in the right place or not and what the right place to be is, and that right place we determined what’s called the living wage. What we wanted to not report on was something like an average wage. You’ll hear, early on, Bernie Sanders was calling out Amazon hardcore for saying what their average wages were. An average wage does not protect the person at the bottom of the wage scale at all because their minimum wage, at the time, was eight to ten dollars in some areas where you just couldn't make a living on that, right?
So, we wanted to kind of have that same kind of call out to the industry and say, “Look, here’s the living wage in Ethiopia (it’s 4,000 birr, at that point), and we have some that are literally half of that that we’re working with them to get them to a living wage, and we’ve got some of them that are above the living wage.” And so, we would put out this reporting, and there was greater detail on it. When I told the team -- I actually remember telling our PR agent. I said, “Hey, so we’re gonna start publishing our lowest wages,” and he looked at me like I was completely insane, and he said, “Hey, are you trying to shut the doors of ABLE? Is that your goal?” And I responded with, “Man, I really think that consumers are ready.” They know. With social media and the world wide web and just how easily accessible information is I think they know that there’s more out there than we’re telling them, and I think they're ready to hear from a brand to just be truly transparent (not as you have well said “marketing transparent”).
And when we launched it, I did not sleep well that night before we launched it, but when we did, you would not believe the praise and excitement from our consumers and applause we got from them and much of the industry. And so, yeah, I think we proved out to ourselves that consumers are ready to and want to hear the good, bad, and the ugly, and they want to know what the plan is, is to correct it. And that’s what we try to put out.
Rebecca Ching: And so, you mentioned other brands. Tell me a little bit more about how other brands have responded to this report, not just in words but in action.
Barrett Ward: Well, you know, right before the pandemic, we had launched this thing called The Lowest Wage Challenge, and we asked other brands to join us, and we asked consumers to start calling out brands and saying, “Hey, join the party! Nobody’s saying you have to be perfect, but could you please join the party and share your lowest wages and how you're working to get people up to a living wage?” And we did it with a brand locally in Nashville named Nisolo, and they joined alongside us. They were very excited about pushing this issue forward as well. And when we did the challenge, it was bizarre. Some brands totally stepped up and were ready to join, but some of the most sustainable brands in the world did everything they could to shut us down. I remember getting on a call with a brand that I can't name, obviously…
Rebecca Ching: Sustainable with air quotes then or?
Barrett Ward: Oh, massive air quotes.
Rebecca Ching: Okay.
Barrett Ward: Because I had conversations with sustainability leaders that are on stages all over the world asking us to not do this because it could kill their company.
Rebecca Ching: Whoa.
Barrett Ward: I mean, that was a direct request in tears, and I just said, “You know what? I’m no longer interested in being patient with these women’s lives. You need to figure it out.” Frankly, one of the sad things was is the pandemic shut it down. So, The Lowest Wage Challenge had to take a hiatus during the pandemic because everybody was just trying to survive.
The narrative changed, the story changed, and everybody was trying to survive. And one of the big challenges of the pandemic as well is we weren't able to visit our manufacturers in those audits that we hold so sacred, right? And we haven't been able to reinstigate those even yet. Like Ethiopia, one of our biggest partner countries having war there, etcetera, but we are figuring our way around how to do this virtually. But you cannot build trust with people you do not know virtually and that’s a challenge that we’re facing throughout. So, we’re kind of creating some baseline reporting that we can get from our manufacturers, but we’re excited to get back to the day (and we think that’s gonna be 2023) where we can start having these onsite audits where women and laborers are able to speak freely, face-to-face, with a trusted source, and that we can do these audits and get back at it ‘cause I am wildly excited about repushing this effort of getting everybody to publish their lowest wages, and get consumers to demand that brands do so, to demand that they do more, you know?
Rebecca Ching: It is terrifying when a business owner or a business has set a business model that can't sustain that level of transparency and accountability. So I’m just hearing and picturing leaders begging you with tears, you know?
Barrett Ward: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: And there’s a part of me going, again, I’m like, “No.” But I also do have compassion, but it’s like how about or you could redo your business model.
Barrett Ward: Yeah. Do it right.
Rebecca Ching: And that would be a lot of heartache. It would cost, but that’s how the systemic changes -- it’s not just marketing ‘cause one of the producers of my show sent me this article even about fair trade and how the marketing around fair trade, and I’m just like oh, my gosh, we want to feel good with what we purchase, and then think we’re doing good, and then we’re separate from the change that really needs to happen and the people that are suffering.
Barrett Ward: I’ll just say kind of being honest and raw, that was both an invigorating time during The Lowest Wage Challenge as well as just so disheartening. There’s a reality to the fact that in The United States, we work very hard to put the poor in places that we don't have to look at them. We want to put them across the tracks. We want to put them in different communities. And business is built that way too. It’s as if there’s a mentality that says, “Well, at least they’ve got a job, right?” No. I wouldn't say that about my family members or my children, so why do I say that about someone across the world. Consumerism has grown, like, 400% in the last 20 years they say, and prices continue to drop, and only the laborers can get squeezed on that, you know?
And so, there’s a reckoning that has to happen, and what my hope is is that social media and this visibility and an education point like a lowest wage will start to empower consumers to feel that they understand clearly the impact that they’re making through their purchase. That’s the long-term goal.
Rebecca Ching: So, you mentioned earlier choosing honest over perfect, and that sounds like a fun hashtag.
Barrett Ward: And it is a fun hashtag. [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: It is a fun hashtag! But when it comes to living that and being honest knowing that that might cost your business, cost your reputation what do you say to those folks right now saying choose honest over perfect and let’s do this together. What do you say to them, the folks that are saying, “No, we can't do that”?
Barrett Ward: I’d say a couple things. For me, personally, I don't want to run a business differently than how I want to run my household -- that I want Rachel and I to run our household. I can’t go to work and live in a different value set than I can in my own house. Those things are not easily bifurcated to me. So, that’s first and foremost. It’s not about my challenge to other business leaders as much as it’s just saying, for myself, that’s not what I want to create. Because, ultimately, I believe my children will pick up whatever false narratives I tell myself, and I don't want that for them. Whatever I fake and the impact that we say that we’re having or not choosing honesty, it’s gonna come home, and it’ll come home to roost. And let me be really clear. I don't think I do anything perfectly or that perfectly either, but it’s a north star to try to obtain, right?
Then, also, I would just try to encourage people to say you will be shocked by how much your consumer will give you grace when you come out vulnerably. Not trying to flex or false humility something but just straight up own your mistakes and share with them what you’ve learned and share with them where you want to grow as a company. They will root you on and, as a business leader, get excited about things like your lifetime value and your customer loyalty and all those things growing ‘cause they will. They will. We have seen it as a fact.
Rebecca Ching: That’s awesome.
Barrett Ward: Whatever seems scary there is just not real.
Rebecca Ching: I appreciate that. One more thing I want to touch on that I’m excited about that you all are doing is I know that my friend, Natalie Borton, was a part of speaking to --
Barrett Ward: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: -- who is also a former guest on this podcast is you received a lot of feedback from the community (Natalie was a part of that) about the lack of diverse clothing size offerings, and you responded by making this change and expanding your size offerings.
I know you're not 100% there yet, and I know that this is a big investment and one (as I’ve been watching this over the years) many of the fashion industry just balk at and say it’s not sustainable and it’s not lucrative. So, I’d love for you just to talk briefly. What were the stakes for you and those at ABLE when you made this decision to expand your size offerings?
Barrett Ward: Well, you know, very specifically, it was Natalie. We were on a call and just getting feedback from them on stuff, and thanking them for their voice, and Natalie Borden is just this really lovely voice, that same kind of a thing, a very vulnerable, open voice is the world about what she’s been through, and towards the end of the call -- [Laughs] and I’ve never met her, but towards the end of the call, she can be pretty blunt, and she just said, “Hey, so, why are you choosing not to size people in non-straight sizing, in extended sizing?” And this might sound unbelievable, but I don't know anything about fashion, and I started ABLE because three women coming out of the commercial sex industry said they wanted to make scarves, but if they said they wanted to make coffee cups we’d be a coffee cup company today. So, I don't (as my wife will validate) know anything about fashion.
So, I bring that forward to that moment, and I said, “Natalie, I honestly don't know what you mean by that. What does straight-sizing mean and what does extended-sizing mean?” And she showed me and communicated that there’s a size range from XXL through 5X upwards that we’re not sizing, and even XXS. And that was a gut punch to me because it’s also important to note I have four daughters, and our mission is genuinely to empower women and to create jobs for women who have overcome extraordinary circumstances.
And so, that empowerment is meant to go through all that we do, and I had no idea, and then some of the staff members and design team when I talked to them about it said, “Yeah, we’ve said it before. You just missed it,” which is highly possible and likely. And so, the more I dug in and understood it, sat with the design team, they were super excited about the opportunity to do this. It was on all of their hearts anyways, and I just said, “Well, let’s go! Let’s do it. Damn the cost. We just have to do what the right thing is”
And so, we did, and there was a significant front-end investment around it, but I would say that investment was more time than anything, and the team did an incredible job of getting, I think it is, 66% of our sizing up to 3X this fall, and I think the plan is to be at 100% up to 5X by next fall. And so, again, it’s not gonna be perfect because it’s not an easy process, fitting, getting feedback. A design calendar takes a full year. But it’s gone great to this point, and we’re really thankful for the opportunity to outfit everybody.
Rebecca Ching: Thank you for sharing that.
Barrett Ward: Or working towards outfitting everybody.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and I know you said, “Damn, the cost,” like there were costs, but I was struck by it was mostly with time, and I think it’s amazing how much we are burdened by urgency and efficiency.
Barrett Ward: Mm, yeah.
Rebecca Ching: And you flipped the script here. This is urgent, and it’s the most efficient thing to do to be aligned with your mission to make this decision.
Barrett Ward: It was urgent. It was the most -- I love how you were saying that because it was. It felt urgent. It felt like, hold on, we are making people feel excluded? Uh, no. That is not who we are or what we’re about.
Rebecca Ching: Just by how they exist and how they show up in the world, so I appreciate you unpacking that.
So, as we wrap up, I’d love for you to talk about your definition of success and how it’s changed from when you started ABLE to where you’re at today.
Barrett Ward: Oh, man. You know, I don't want to sound like I’ve always been on track ‘cause I’ve not and I’ve been trying to figure this all out all along. Yeah, I mean, it’s really simple. I did have a vision that money was the reason to have a job, that it’s gonna make a better life for me the more money that I earn. That was the pure definition of success, and my script got flipped when it turned to are you trying to seek the credit from God or are you trying to seek the credit from men and people?
And what struck me was, is because I wasn’t a person of faith at that point, when I heard that question my thought was, “Is there any other reason to do it but for the praise of man? I mean, isn't it all about being big time and awesome?” And I had quite a period of conversion in my life. I traveled the world. I saw poverty in Peru where people lived in little tin shacks and little children were throwing dirty water in their faces to clean up, and I realized my values were off.
And so, when we started ABLE, one of the things that I remember in an interview I had a few years back is somebody said, “Now, how did you develop this really progressive -- what was your strategy with having this progressive work schedule and flexible schedule and nine-to-five, creating flexibility with PTO, etcetera, what was your strategy?”
And I was like, man, do I have to say something really smart here that sounds strategic like what I knew about organizational development? And I decided, well, no, I’ll just tell him the truth because I wanted flexibility personally, and I wanted to not go in until nine o’clock cause I wanted to take my kids to school and make breakfast for them every morning.
So that origin is what was kind of my personal definition of success when starting ABLE, and it’s something I’ve been working out all along, right? I never wanted it to be that my kids felt like I was choosing work over them but they saw balance in me, and so, that’s been a growing effort all along, and there’s been hiccups along the way. There’s been those times like 2014 where I wasn’t balancing it well and I didn't have it right in my head, but as you redeemed me with, and I fully agree, the journey is graceful and be graceful with yourself on the journey because I’m still gonna have trip-ups, you know? I mean, our upcoming economy might prove that out soon, but in the midst of that I still want to be on that definition of success that, as you said and I’ve said, my family’s my barometer. If this is going well, then I can go out into the world and strike from there.
Rebecca Ching: I mean, Barrett, I cringe when I look back at myself, too. Don't get me wrong.
Barrett Ward: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: I’m like, “Oh!” That’s my barometer, like, okay if I’m cringing I know I’ve grown. [Laughs] It’s like okay.
Barrett Ward: Yeah! That’s well said.
Rebecca Ching: It’s like I hope I didn't do too much harm in the process, but oy, okay, all right, I’m not there anymore.
Barrett Ward: Well said.
Rebecca Ching: Phew, okay, what else do I need to work on? All right, so I’ve got a set of quickfire questions that I love to ask guests at the end of my interview, and I’d love to start with what are you reading right now?
Barrett Ward: Oh, man. I’m not reading anything right now. I have read something in the past, but right now, as we talked about earlier, my ABLE is to claim busy right now and I’ll tell you what I’m ready a lot of is fouth grade, first grade, and sixth grade homework.
Rebecca Ching: There we go. We’re in it!
Barrett Ward: I’m reading a ton of that.
Rebecca Ching: ‘Tis the season. Yes, we’re back at it here, too.
Barrett Ward: ‘Tis the season.
Rebecca Ching: So, what song are you playing on repeat right now?
Barrett Ward: And, also, with four daughters, the song that I’m playing mostly on repeat is every single morning we blast the song “Happy” from Despicable Me the first one. We just sing the song “Happy” and dance it out every single morning before we head to school.
Rebecca Ching: You know, dancing it out is a leveler. It is a leveler. My kids are older, and they're like, “Mom, please stop.” I’m like, “I can't! Can’t stop. Won't stop. Sorry!”
Best TV show or movie you’ve seen recently?
Barrett Ward: Vivo.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, yeah.
Barrett Ward: Vivo is so good. Have you seen it? It’s on Netflix.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah. Yeah.
Barrett Ward: Yeah, it’s adult-worthy for sure.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] Favorite eighties movie or piece of eighties pop culture?
Barrett Ward: Lucas. Do you remember Lucas?
Rebecca Ching: Oh, my gosh! Yes! I have not thought about Lucas.
Barrett Ward: So good. There’s a lot of…
Rebecca Ching: Oh, what’s his name?
Barrett Ward: That was Charlie Sheen and Corey Haim, if I remember correctly.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah. Yes, I was about to say Corey Haim but I don’t think he’s longer…
Barrett Ward: And Kerri Green.
Rebecca Ching: Yes!
Barrett Ward: Red head!
Rebecca Ching: Hey, gotta represent! Two percent of the world’s population. What is your mantra right now?
Barrett Ward: That’s a great question. What am I telling myself these days?
Rebecca Ching: Mm-hmm.
Barrett Ward: I mean, there’s that igbok like it’s gonna be okay. I’m definitely in a phase right now where I just have to remind myself it’s gonna be okay.
Rebecca Ching: Especially with the economy doin’ what it’s doin’. I hear you.
Barrett Ward: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: What is an unpopular opinion that you hold?
Barrett Ward: I mean, along the lines of wages and making sure everybody’s paid a living wage, it is an unpopular initial opinion to start raising wages every time that happens. We just recently had to do that in Nashville because the living wage increased, and what I would say is it sounds initially unpopular but the beauty of the ABLE team is they embrace it and they get after it and they figure out how to make those costs fit in. And sometimes it gets passed onto the consumer, and I think if we’re transparent with our consumers in saying, “Hey, there's a price hike coming and here’s exactly why,” they’ll embrace it. So it doesn't sound popular at first but it always lands.
Rebecca Ching: Who or what inspires you to be a better leader and human?
Barrett Ward: Oh, my children. My children. You know, I was just… [Laughs] I love having girls. I was just recently taking two of my daughters to school, and one of them is in third and the other in fifth grade, and I was telling the fifth grader how proud I was of her because she was doing a really good job in school with focusing, where she had struggles with that in the past, and as I told her I was proud of her, her little sister, Marian, looked over to her as a third-grader and said, “Lena, I’m so proud of you! I love you so much,” and I was just, like, done in the rearview mirror as I veered off the street into a pole. That didn't really happen, but I just think watching them and how freely vulnerable and loving they are just makes me so excited about being a better person.
Rebecca Ching: Ah, I love it. I can see that joy on your face, too.
Barrett Ward: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: Barrett, this has really been a pleasure. Thank you for your time. Thank you for kind of taking us behind the curtain, not only in your business but in your story. I know so many people are gonna benefit from so much of what you shared. I’ve learned a lot. I feel even challenged in some areas so thank you for your time.
Barrett Ward: Likewise. Yeah, it means a lot to share this stuff, and I am thankful for what you're doing and a voice and space that says, “Hey, you are not alone. You are not alone.” What an important message that is the very essence of what you're creating here so thank you for doing what you're doing as well.
Rebecca Ching: It was a pleasure. Thank you so much, Barrett.
As I learn more and more about how I consume for comfort and how I lean on what I purchase to make myself good and moral, I can better detect savvy marketing and branding that plays to my values and also my fears. I can also ask better questions. When we ask questions that go beyond how a company makes us feel versus taking their promises at face value, we can deepen our practice of conscious consumerism versus just the identity of it.
I so valued Barrett meeting my questions with answers, data, processes, and his own reflections for growth and learning and, again, his push for transparency and honesty over perfection is not an easy one, but it is refreshing and sets a standard that calls up many in his field and beyond.
So, I’m curious for you, what matters to you when you’re making purchases with a business or an organization? What does being a conscious consumer mean to you in your work and life? Which brands that you love would benefit from a deeper understanding on how they do business beyond their claims?
When, as a business owner, you’re asked hard questions, it can be a vulnerable experience to share less-than-perfect results with your team and your community, but as Barrett said, it is better to be honest than perfect, and this is the work of an unburdened leader.
Leading is hard. Leading is also, often, controversial as you navigate staying aligned to your values, your mission, and your boundaries. Navigating the inevitable controversy can challenge your confidence, clarity, and calm, and even push the edges to your mental wellbeing. Now, I know you don’t mind making the hard decisions but sometimes the stakes seem higher and can bring up echoes of old doubts and insecurities during times when you need to feel rock solid on your plan and action.
Finding a coach who gets the nuances of your business and leading in our complex and polarized world can help you identify the blocks that keep you playing at safe and small. Now, leading today is not a fancy title or fluffy bragging rights, leading today, in fact, is probably one of the hardest things to do. It is brave and bold work to stay the course when the future is so unknown and the doubts and pains from the past keep showing up to shake things up.
Internal emotional practices and external systemic strategies are needed to keep the protector of cynicism and overwhelm at bay and foster a hope that is both actionable and aligned.
So, when the stakes are high and you don't want to lose focus, when you want to navigate inevitable conflict between your ears and with those you lead, when time is of the essence and you want to make hard decisions with confidence and clarity, then Unburdened Leader Coaching is for you, where you deepen the capacity to tolerate the vulnerability of change, innovation, and doing things differently than the status quo, and today’s conversation is a powerful example of this.
Now, to start your Unburdened Leader Coaching process with me go to www.rebeccaching.com and book a free connection call. I can’t wait to hear from you!
Thank you so much for joining this episode of The Unburdened Leader. If this episode meant something to you, I’d be honored if you went to leave a review, to rate it, and to share it with someone who you think would benefit from it. You can find this episode, show notes, sign up for the free Unburdened email, and receive free Unburdened Leader resources, along with ways to work with me, at www.rebeccaching.com.