I had the pleasure of interviewing Kym Gold, a born business leader, author, and mom with extraordinary drive and determination. She possesses the gift and power of taking something unremarkable and giving it beauty and purpose. Kym is the original Co-founder/Designer for True Religion Brand Jeans. Her talent and passion for design has been translated into other premier brands like Babakul, Bella Dahl, Hippie Jeans, and most recently Style Union Home. “Fashion for the home,” Style Union Home is handcrafted, fired with love ceramic houseware. A luxury passion project where Kym employs her innovative “disheveled sexy” aesthetic approach to designing timeless, cohesive, unique, interchangeable Home Fashion. Part of her business success hinges on her long held belief that “you are only as good as your team”. Kym paves the way for her team’s growth and autonomy. She leads by example and welcomes collaboration.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
When I first started on the boardwalk in Venice, I would go downtown and buy others’ irregulars or stuff leftover from the season. I bought something called Garon, and they had adorable cotton tops and sweatpants. It was an athleisure line, but they were what you call, “prepare for garment dye,” so I got to garment dye my own colors. I was married to Mark Burnett, and I remember calling him to tell him that I came across these great damages and overages and that I was going to garment dye them. He did not think it was a good idea, but as in my nature, I did it anyway.
I set up a booth on Venice beach to sell my new products, and a girl who owned Garon came up to me and said: “This is my company.” I told her that I naively bought these damages from her and resold them with her label. She was upset at first, but I think my transparency and honesty impressed her. It was a teachable moment for me on the ethical protocol, and she and I have been friends now for 30 years!
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?
I’m most grateful for my mom because she always said, “You could do anything no matter what” and, “I’ve never met a person who can’t make nothing out of something.” Sadly, she’s no longer here, but her words, love for me, and support always carry me through.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
In every company that I’ve had, I always desired to uplift women. With my design talents, I found a way to make women look and feel their best, no matter their size or race. Women are so badass, and they deserve to feel confident and sexy. When a woman feels this way, she can be her best in the many roles in life she plays. My home design company, Style Union Home, strives to do the same thing. I don’t just design plates and bowls; I create lifestyle pieces that enhance special moments like family dinners and gatherings. I come from a big family and a mom who placed a high value on Sunday family dinners. I cherished those family moments, and that’s what prompted this company. I want to help other families make those memories.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
There have been a few times. In 2008, I started a company, and then the recession hit. I had a similar experience when birthing True Religion and Bella Doll during a time the stock market and economic environment was soaring downward. My most recent company, Style Union Home, was launched during the pandemic. Though I have faced many setbacks, I always try to be positive. I think when you give in, you’re only as good as your team. During these times of uncertainty and stress, communication with yourself and your team is critical. I strive to continually talk about what’s happening and how we can change or pivot with the world. That’s all I’ve been doing through this company- pivoting and learning new ways to do Zoom, online sales, etc. These shifts are essential and have been a learning experience for me at this particular time. It’s not always easy, but being positive and having the passion for what you do leads you to your result of making a company happen, flourish, and become successful.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I never give up. My motivation is always to see things through, and giving up is not in my vocabulary. What sustains my drive is my passion for what I do- getting up in the morning and making things or learning new things about what I’m trying to achieve in my business. If you have excellent business acumen, it doesn’t matter what you’re making. It could be paperclips, clothing, posters, clay… It’s a fabulous thing to learn something new, and for me, that’s what life’s about, and that’s how I’ve raised my children. There’s always going to be challenges whether there’s a pandemic, difficult times economically, or trying to hire or manufacture. It’s all about how we as humans get through this, and to remember, we can do it together!
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Staying positive and making sure that everybody feels good about what they’re doing together as a team. Everybody is incredibly vital as the next person on your team. It takes a team, much like baseball, basketball, volleyball. Growing up as a volleyball player, I learned that out of the six players on the team, everyone is equally valuable and has to work together. If something falls off or if somebody on the team needs help, you support that person. So, I believe it’s all about the team, and it’s a daily mantra I repeat.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
I like to boost morale by striking a balance. Whether that means having lunch with my team, taking time off, occasional shorter workdays, or joking and laughing together, it is essential that everyone feels supported. With True Religion, I made a point to check in with my team to see if anyone needed anything or could be more supported in their role. Communicating is crucial for pivoting, and team building is vital for productivity. Especially in times of uncertainty. I also believe in collaborative, big-picture leadership. I encourage engaging workplace conversations and positive reinforcement like, “What do you think?” or “Oh, that’s a great job.” I feel that people do better when they think they’re a part of a team or they’re contributing to something with a bigger picture.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
It is always best to be transparent and honest. Difficult news always happens, there are always situations where you could ship something, and it’s returned, or some team member made something that didn’t come outright. In that case, I say, “Oh, that’d be a great gift. We’ll use that somewhere else”. Always try to turn something challenging into something positive, I think it’s the best way, and I’ve always done it with my kids. We have a barometer of when things are going well- that’s great, now keep the gauge as it is. If things aren’t doing well, then you have a discussion and communicate a possible pivot.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
I’m in that process right now! I have been racking my brain about the best way to handle sales, pivot ad campaigns, and work with my PR firm and strategic marketer. It’s always great to prioritize what you can do now first. You also have to get real and admit that nobody knows what the future holds. Constant discussions with your team on where you stand are your responsibility as a business owner.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
There’s always a number one principle that can help guide any company through ups and downs, and that’s still positive reinforcement. People like to know that they’re doing a good job, that they’re important, and hear that we will get through this together, It’s essential to be supportive and engage in positive reinforcement all the time. I will say laughter has been an excellent and incredibly therapeutic thing for me because, at this point, no one knows what the hell is happening.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
I think number one is being narrow and deep in your products, as an owner and a designer. While you want to show everything because you’re excited, holding back on a product is always a good idea. Like the iPhone, you have the phone and what, two months later, got a new one.
Number two is in inventory- scaling down on the list because it eats up all of your finances. If you have allocated a certain amount of dollars towards inventory, then scale back. If we’re going through something challenging, you don’t want your money sitting in a warehouse.
Number three is hiring too many people or having too large of a staff. If there are people on your team that can go the extra mile, that’s important. Also, don’t overwork your team. It isn’t easy going through this, but allow people to work smarter and not longer.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
I started Style Union Home during the pandemic, so I think that you have to forge ahead and work smarter. Like I said prior, working smarter hours, finding new ways not to have inventory, and finding new ways to make sales. As far as not losing growth, I’ve managed this by keeping all of my inventory in my home. I know many people can’t do that, but overhead to have space adds to your profits, so if possible, try to scale and think about your infrastructure so that you’re not hiring too many people.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Embrace Integrity and Transparency
As I stated above, in my story with selling Garon, I learned early that integrity and honesty separate a regular entrepreneur from a leader.
2. Work Smarter
When you work proactively and smarter, you are more efficient. One of the ways I do this is by prioritizing administrative duties at the top of my day, like answering emails. That way, I can spend the rest of my day in a creative headspace.
3. Never be Afraid of Mistakes or Failure
With my company Babakul, I spent a lot of my investment in inventory because I thought sales would be better than I predicted. They weren’t, and I ended up with an overstock of inventory. Now, I never keep a large inventory. It was a difficult lesson to learn but necessary.
4. You’re Only as Good as Your Team
I had a great team at my last business and have the same now. When you have reliable people on your team that feels appreciated and empowered, your business can be unstoppable. Surround yourself with competent and dedicated members that you can trust delegating tasks.
5. Lead by Example — Never Ask Anyone to Do Something You Wouldn’t Do
In my current business venture, Style Union Home, I had ceramicists come over to my studio to teach me pottery. I learned how to throw, bisque, glaze and fire the clay to make the products that I sell. That way, when I speak about my product, I know as much about it as the ceramicist, and they see a more involved owner. We also work collectively in keeping the studio in order. If that means that I’m on my knees scrubbing dried clay off the floor for hours, be it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Not looking for a no, always looking for a yes” This is important because rejection is inevitable. You’re going to get a lot of no’s, that’s for sure, but all you need is a yes.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can keep up with new collections at Styleynionhome.com or you can follow @styleunionhome and @kym.gold on Instagram!