As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Denise Reddy.
Denise is the President and CEO of Harebell Sustainable Shop. She is an expert in sustainable living and Latin American eco products. A professional latina businesswoman and mom living in Los Angeles.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I’m so happy to be here and thank you for having me. My story began back in Argentina and our family holidays. I was raised in Buenos Aires, the central city and capital of Argentina. But every holiday we went to our family home in the middle of the mountains in Cordoba. I was lucky enough to have parents who enjoyed a month off work so we grabbed our car, some stuff and headed to that beautiful, precary old mud house. We had no electricity there, only oil lamps. No hot water, only the river. No laundry machine, only our feet and a big bowl with soapy water. And so on. These summers were the best of my life and the impact of going there since I was in my mothers tummy until my teenage years, huge. When getting so close to nature at such an early age you learn to love it so deeply. It creates such an awareness!
Once I grew up, I started working in companies mainly in the communications and PR departments following with higher range leadership positions. I came to the United States to open a vegan restaurant helping a friend who was that business owner. It was an interesting and amazing experience, but it fell short. I knew I wanted to create something bigger. After having my son, it was crystal clear. I was going to help consumers and companies make better and more sustainable choices. Hence, Harebell was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I was founding my company I knew I wanted a name related to plants, because they take from the earth only what they need and give back so much more creating oxygen. Somehow it always felt that’s the type of company I wanted to build. Laying in bed with my son he found a book I was reading about Flower Fairies. I had just started it and it was a Christmas gift from my grandma when I was 13 years old (a long time ago!) I had never really read it. My son found a page with a mark. It was the Harebell Flower Fairy! I read the poem and found out at that precise moment that the book had been a gift from my grandma’s grandma to her. Harebell’s name travelled through five generations and found me. I love it deeply.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Well… It’s been quite a journey. Being a small entrepreneur the learning curve is usually a roller coaster, mainly when entering new businesses. I tried to organize the first product photoshoot by myself having no experience in the fashion industry at all. And… though I hired great professionals, I learned that expertise counts in every aspect. Photographs need guidance to be able to talk that specific language and tell your story. Now I am working with a great team and creative director and we achieved the look I was aiming to. I couldn’t be prouder. Looking back, I would do that first “hands in” photoshoot again. Being involved in all the small steps gives us entrepreneurs invaluable information. Those first photos were deleted forever! hahahah
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Definitely! I work with a coach, Romina, that is with no doubt the reason I trusted myself in this process. It is hard as an immigrant Latino woman to do business in a more intuitive way… trusting your heart more than your mind. The internal talk needs work, feeling diservful, abundant and learning to see money in a positive way. It’s a lot of barriers to break and I am a different Denise since I started working with her. I put in the work and challenges came, but she led me to be my better version and I am super grateful to have met her!
I also find Sara Blakely’s Masterclass so inspiring. I follow Amanda Frances and read her book. I love Human Design and hope whoever reads this can take as many tools as I did from these great teachers.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
Oh! I do need to take breaks and feel my heart. It can be a minute to look through my office window to the mountains and breathe or 10 minutes to renew my mate (tea drink from Argentina) and walk a bit. But aligning my chakras is the main practice before any important meeting. The more aligned I am, the better decisions I make, the happier I am. My way to get aligned consists in placing my hands down and exhaling releasing energy through the palms of my hands to the earth. That cleared energy comes back up and enters my body going chakra by chakra leaving me light as a feather and feeling super confident.
There are also small daily routines I love like walking my son to preschool and looking at the trees or talking to him about the flowers we find on the way. It’s all about those little moments. Quality time together, really being there and connecting with one another.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Yes, of course. The more diverse experiences we have, the better we understand the world and therefore the better we can represent others. As humans, we are used to judging all the time. I get asked so often if I’m Italian by fellow Latinxs. I might not look like a Latin stereotype, but I was born and raised as a Latina. I believe the less we judge by a book’s cover, the better.
In my line of business, retail, size is a big thing right now. To try to represent different body types and genders is key, simply because that’s as real as it gets. I have all types of friends. They look different, they feel different and they are attracted to different types of genders. And it’s all so beautiful, but sadly we still have a lot to learn about really showing that real representation in our companies and the government. Big steps are being taken, but without equal access to education and opportunities it’s still hard. As I said, the more diverse the representation, the better understanding of the issues and potential solutions.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
What I like the most is the diversity of the job. In my line of work, I work closely with factories, designers, communications and finance. And with all I learn, with all I am open hearted and grateful. This job is perfect for active people who get bored easily. It’s not for people who like routine or consistency. My job is to understand our company’s vision and help the different teams execute the best way possible to achieve that goal. To do all that you’ll need great leadership skills, not all meetings are great news. You’ll need to be humble as well and learn from your mistakes. You need to know yourself and trust your decisions, even the tough ones. And to have left over energy to network as well. For me, that’s going personally to the runways. Our next one is in Mola Week, a Latin American Sustainable Fashion event in Colombia. Also, meeting celebrities and colleagues and let’s not forget to create content for social media or my community managers will kill me! All of it, leaving time to enjoy my son and husband as well. It can get busy, but it is perfect for me and I love my job. I couldn’t be prouder and humbled by the honour of representing so many Latin American Sustainable brands and opening the American market for them and their families.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
That you’re working all the time and your only priority is work and money. I am a mom and own a value- based business. Yes, I work a lot but I also allow my heart to guide my days as much as I can. If one day I want an afternoon off, I allow myself to have it. Those small breaks in the agenda create force and focus and allow you to perform better. It’s the contrary of what we’ve been taught. It’s not about running on the hamster wheel all the time. It’s about really focusing when you have to and allowing yourself to feel the need of breaks or pauses.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
We are a minority. We come from a family tree with a lot of generations that did not have this opportunity. Women were always behind men. Men were the ones allowed to earn money and have more important jobs and vote. It’s not only going against the information your family tree has, but also against society’s norm.
Society is not used yet to having women in a higher hierarchy both in organizations and the government. They are regularly featured as b*, climbers or exceptional (which comes from exception… unavailable for regular women.) Men on the contrary have clear examples everywhere in the family, society and government. They do face challenges as well of course, we all do.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Well I really thought way back it was about power and success. What the entertainment industry sells is that being on a corporate hierarchy and being rich means being aggressive doing business, tough, unstoppable and those are very masculine characteristics. I am talking about energy not gender. And the further I go, the more I learn that balance is the key. That there is another way of doing business without hurting others (people, the environment, living beings), without competition but collaboration and including femenine characteristics as well. I love helping others grow through Harebell, nothing gives me more pleasure than not being the smartest in my company.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Oh by no means! We are all different. I always think of my fellow mom friends who decided to stay home with their kids. What a blessing. That’s not me and it is ok. I believe we need to keep on understanding that different people have different needs, feel different and therefore choose different. I know some people like to have others make the decisions. Others prefer to have a structured day, they like a constant job. If that is you, then probably it’s best to have someone else deal with the executive part of your business. As mentioned before, it’s not about not pursuing your ideas and funding a company. Anyone can do that…go for it! But make sure to find the right people to execute those dreams. And it is not written in stone. You might feel that now is the moment to have someone else take those decisions and someday it’s you and that is ok. We are allowed to change our mind and we are growing and changing all the time anyway :)
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Keep on working on yourself, on your personal growth. Prioritize yourself and those moments that give you joy. Make time to relax and reset. Again, I believe that the more aligned you are as a leader, the better your team will thrive. Each leader has a different style. My style is doors open and transparency. Maybe others prefer to do it in another way, but make sure your communication is fluent and your team knows where to go when having fears, doubts, feedback. Also, role description and precise tasks is key!
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
For me being able to earn more money and support more business and causes aligned with my values is a blessing. Seeing my team grow and my team members take new, different, uncomfortable challenges makes me thrive. Also, “covert” business owners and brands to being sustainable is the icing on the cake. Being able to show that fully home compostable products are possible. Fully circular business models too. It might take some more research because it goes against what everyone does, but it heals so deeply both business and earth.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Just keep moving! It’s ok not to know the final product or company you want to make, do not let that discourage you from moving toward it. Once the time comes, you will find it. When I founded Harebell I knew I wanted to work toward improving our world and the environment. I had no idea I would end up in fashion! I just kept going, exploring, working until I finally learned about the fashion industry impact and the sustainable fashion movement. It blew my mind and here I am…
- Money is not the only success measurement. Of course we need money and the more we have, the bigger impact we can create, but that’s not the only thing. Trust your process, yourself and money will find you. When beginning a startup it’s very common to have people ask you how much you’re selling. Do not let money be the only possible answer to that question. There is so much more involved in how the business is going and creating a healthy company. It’s hard to launch a business and sell buckets right away. My business is always doing great, even at the beginning when the cash flow was limited. I knew I was changing people’s lives, healing my family tree, creating jobs and opportunities for so many.
- Don’t let others unbalance your alignment. It’s so common to get discouraged by what others say and understanding that sometimes it has to do with their own fears is a great way of protecting yourself as well as your company. Healthy boundaries are a must. For example: “I’m not looking for feedback right now, thank you.”
- Plans are not written in stone, let life surprise you! It’s hard to keep the bigger picture when getting stuck in the small details of daily life. It happened to me too many times that something got cancelled for the better or a box of defective products got delayed in customs. If you trust and keep the bigger picture you’re able to see things differently and learn taking advantage of all the information that would get lost when not doing so.
- Keep working on your personal growth! As leaders it is risky not to do so. Your balance, awareness and vision is what will make your company great. I see the results in a completely different way when I am aligned than when I’m not. Doors just open by magic when your centered.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Indeed. I believe Harebell heads that way. My company is an umbrella company. Harebell Shop is the first of hopefully many business units. I aim to change as many industries as possible and am tackling plastic packaging next with Harebell Sustainable Packs.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Sara Blakely SPANX FOUNDER
“The goal is not to be successful. The goal is to be valuable. Once you’re valuable, instead of chasing success, it will attract itself to you.”
I had a hard time learning how to be receptive and found it to be the key to my personal as well as my business growth. Now instead of chasing and working with effort I enjoy the ride and let life surprise me. This phrase resumes a lot of things for me. Value is placed into being aligned doing what you love each second of your life. Also, the power of attraction we have when vibrating high. And that that success and possibility is there for you to take!
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
Jonathan Van Ness!… And Sarah Blakely, of course.