As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Powers Struble, owner and CEO of BANDED, a fashion accessory company on a mission to create great products that serve an even greater purpose.
With more than 25 years of experience in the apparel industry, Lisa has led global teams in technical design and product development and has been featured in Sourcing Journal, Nashville Fashion Week, Textile Excellence and many more. After 15 years at Abercrombie & Fitch as the Vice President of Technical Design and 5 years at UnderArmour as the Vice President of Product Development and Quality, Struble moved back home to Tennessee for a much-needed break. During those few months off, she discovered BANDED in her hometown and instantly fell in love with the brand and mission. After serving as the Executive Vice President for a season, Struble jumped at the opportunity to purchase the company. She hasn’t looked back since.
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?
My career started over 20 years ago. I spent the majority of my career in Technical Design at Abercrombie and Fitch and then at Under Armour as Vice President of Product Development. In 2017, I moved back home to Tennessee for a much-needed break. After a few months, I discovered BANDED in my hometown and instantly fell in love with the brand and mission. I had been looking for a way to combine my particular skill set with some sort of philanthropy and BANDED was the perfect fit. After serving as EVP for a season, I jumped at the opportunity to purchase the company — and I haven’t looked back since.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
My funniest mistakes seem to happen when traveling — and there have been a lot. The most memorable was when I was traveling in Thailand for the first time. I was visiting a factory and there was going to be a presentation that morning. I walked in and sat down near the front waiting for the presentation to start. The training room was packed with people all sitting behind me. After about 15 minutes I said to the person next to me, “Do you know who we’re waiting for?” and he said, “Errr…they’re waiting for you to start your presentation.” I had just been sitting there and no one said anything! I was mortified. Luckily, I had a few samples with me and there was a whiteboard, so I just jumped up and dived right in talking and sketching. I learned two lessons: 1) Always be prepared and carry a few props! 2) You can live through any embarrassing moment just by taking a deep breath and diving in.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I’ve worked for two fast-growth companies when they were moving from U.S. based to Global. Once when taking on a large team that was really struggling with the constant changes — especially changes in organizational structure, I read Who Moved My Cheese? I tend to thrive on change so I sometimes need a reminder that many people are fearful and extremely anxious about change — even positive change. I remember that book getting passed around the team a lot.
Books like Tipping Point by Malcomb Gladwell have also had an impact. I like books that help me see things from different perspectives. This past year I’ve been watching the Master Class series — I like learning from true professionals — people from different industries and backgrounds who are successful in their field and are willing to share the ups and downs of their journey.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I’m not the founder of BANDED, but when I joined the company, I found there was a lot of extraneous product development creating a lot of distraction. The team was constantly chasing the next big idea but many of the ideas were simply not right for BANDED. The products were not a natural extension of our assortment and didn’t serve the same customer base. My vision was to eliminate the noise and focus everyone on BANDED product, our BANDED customer and our Give Back program. Everyone on the team had joined the company largely due to the give back aspect, but it’s so easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day grind and forget why you’re doing what you do. Now, we are laser-focused on creating great BANDED product and feeding as many kids as we possibly can. We can’t be everything to everyone, but we can do this.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Keep making decisions, and keep moving forward with a positive, consistent attitude. It’s easy when things are good, but even when the situation is hard or undeniably bad — hello 2020? — you can always find a way to keep a positive, encouraging attitude while finding a path forward. If my mood or behavior changed with the ups and downs of the business, our entire team would be on a never-ending roller coaster ride. Consistency in a leader is key; it can create a little calm even in the chaos.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
First let me say that I don’t have any school age children so I cannot imagine trying to work and homeschool at the same time. My hat is off to all the parents and teachers! For me, the biggest issue has been isolation and anxiety. My husband suffers from a chronic illness and has a compromised immune system. We’ve been super careful to avoid unnecessary exposure. Our daughter lives in Baltimore and it’s been really hard to go for long periods without seeing her. We have had several zoom meals together and a few virtual happy hours with groups of friends. Getting outside for walks really helped too. I’ve always loved to read, so I admit I often “escape” with a good book. It’s tough not to feel anxious and a bit depressed but focusing on my family and other things I’m grateful for really helps keep “the blues” in check.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Almost everything work-related was a challenge during this pandemic. It felt like everything changed overnight. We were having a strong Q1 and then suddenly we started receiving order cancelations, returned goods, notices of extended payment terms; we were in an area where Stay at Home orders were issued. It would’ve been easy, even reasonable, to panic. But we found that headbands are sort of essential. With salons being closed and everyone dealing with not being able to get a haircut, functional hair accessories were very much in demand. We just had to pivot.
Many of our trendier best selling items stopped selling practically overnight and our more functional/core products were suddenly in demand. This was a big opportunity — and we totally embraced it — but it also created a huge inventory challenge. The pandemic has re-enforced for me how important it is to have great partnerships. We were able to work with our suppliers to get the products we needed and agree on atypical payment terms we could both live with.
Another thing that helped was the Paycheck Protection Loan. In the early months, we had some of our accounts file for bankruptcy or postpone payments indefinitely. We had a large gap in funding due to needing the right/different inventory.
Working from home was actually not too much of a challenge. I have a lot of experience managing global teams so the idea of everyone being physically separated didn’t really alarm me. Our team is very collaborative so we just continued to talk over the phone or via Zoom. We had samples sent to our homes and would then drop off samples to whoever needed them next, wherever they needed them. We actually shot an entirely new product catalog during Stay at Home orders and it turned out to be one of our best catalogs. The BANDED team is super talented; the pandemic brought out our best in terms of creativity, resourcefulness and teamwork.
We also developed and manufactured a new product during the shut down: A utility headband w/ buttons for attaching your face mask. This product was a perfect way for BANDED to address the actual needs of our customers — healthcare workers in particular. Besides creating the utility headband, we also donated hundreds of yards of fabric for local mask making and sent thousands of headbands to healthcare professionals. It was a great way for BANDED to show support to our community and was also a way to boost team morale. It helped us feel connected with our community even when ordered to stay at home.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I’ve tried to just listen, not judge, and be supportive. The fear and uncertainty are very real for all of us but talking it through together makes us feel less alone. Remembering all the things we have to be grateful for and sometimes just saying those things out loud is helpful. I also think it helps curb anxiety when we can give back or help someone else who is struggling. Most people are struggling with something right now — it’s different for everyone. Helping someone else, even in a small way, can help you feel more in control and less alone.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy
I see a lot of opportunity and desire to support small business, to support woman-owned and minority-owned businesses. I believe ecommerce is absolutely here to stay, but I also think people miss the experience of shopping brick and mortar. I don’t think the old retail experience is what people are looking for; I think they’re looking for kinder, much better service. I think there is an opportunity for brands to create something that feels more like a partnership than the traditional seller/consumer relationship. Unfortunately, a lot of businesses will not reopen. While that is extraordinarily sad, it also creates gaps and opportunity for a new generation of businesses who will have a new take on how to be successful in the post-COVID economy.
I also hope there is a continued interest in manufacturing more product in America — but we need to build a full supply chain. It doesn’t really help to sew items here if the materials all come from overseas. I love my international suppliers and plan to continue growing my business with them — they proved to be incredible partners during the pandemic — but we are also launching a small Made in USA product line this Spring. I think there is some opportunity there.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Personally, I can’t imagine going back to shaking hands with hundreds of people at a conference. Or eating from a buffet. I think crowds will make me nervous for quite some time.
I believe ecommerce is here to stay and will continue to evolve — it’s just so easy to have everything delivered right to your door. Shopping for me will be completely about the experience, because in-person shopping is no longer a necessity. I won’t accept a bad store environment or bad service. With that said, I miss my shopping trips with my sister and friends! Again, it’s about the experience.
I hope the idea of work from home — or more specifically working remotely — is finally embraced corporately. People need flexibility and I think people have shown they can be trusted and the work will still get done. I foresee a lot of office downsizing — hopefully not people — just space. BANDED is moving into a smaller office space and our team will continue working remotely as our new norm. We will meet in the office maybe 2x per week, but otherwise everyone is free to work from wherever they choose.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We will do whatever we can to help our small business retailers get back up and running. We will give them the absolute best service and be the best partners they can imagine. We are also focusing on improving our own direct to consumer website and offering our customers more in the way of rewards and loyalty programs. We have amazing, repeat customers and we want them to know how much they are appreciated. I am also downsizing our office space and thinking about how I can make working remotely as easy and productive as possible for our team.
From a product standpoint, we are working on a new “essentials” product line and testing some Made in the USA product. We will continue to offer two new collections per year so our customers have lots of options.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Build great partnerships when times are good because you’ll need those partners when times are tough. Also, build a corporate culture that works in good times and bad, in person or remotely.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I am a person of faith, and my go-to quote is “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” When you tell yourself repeatedly “I can do all things”… it’s pretty powerful and a great way to keep moving forward and keep anxiety at bay.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Follow BANDED and myself on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn! They can also explore our products at our website!