Since I told our first Love Maker’s story, a lot has happened.
As I suspected, things didn’t go exactly as planned. In fact, pretty much nothing went as planned. That’s the beauty of the becoming, the unfolding. I’m learning to dance with it instead of fighting it. (I dance much better than I fight, but that’s a story for another day.)
You met Kristen of Colette Sol USA, her partner in crime. Now, with two summer styles available exclusively for HeartStories pre-order, I’m excited to introduce you to Amanda Wengerd, founder of Colette Sol USA.
First things first Amanda. It’s hard for many heart-centered female entrepreneurs to step up to be the face of our companies. We want all the attention to go the cause, to the people we seek to serve. When really, what they’re looking for is someone who will say, I’m the one who cares enough to do this. It’s not easy, but I’m not giving up. They want to know we’re for real. This has been particularly hard for me. But I’ve seen that the more I do it, the more I put myself out there, the more our message resonates with the people we are meant to serve.
What’s that journey been like for you?
Agreed! I have found the more I step out the more people get behind the cause and the shoes. I think it is easy to say yes to pursue something you love and suits your talents and skills. It may not be so easy to do but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. When I tell friends and family what I am up to, I get two responses; either “Wow, that’s awesome. I could never do that.” or “I want to do something, too!” Each of us has a unique set of gifts and the way to feel fulfilled in life is finding one’s sweet spot. A job should involve hard work, but should be a joy rather than a chore.
Would you tell us a little about your personal life?
I guess you could say I’ve always seen myself as loving adventure and not being afraid to try new things! Born and raised in Seattle, WA. I thought college would offer a great time to experience the East Coast, so I attended Harvard University and graduated with a B.A. in Visual Environmental Studies. Arising out of my love of photography and travel, I became interested in inspiring another generation of scientists, conservationists and readers, so I co-authored the children’s book series Adventures of Riley, which was eventually picked up and published by Scholastic. Currently, my husband, three kids and I live near Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. We LOVE spending time outdoors!
What were you doing before you started Colette Sol USA?
I was a stay at home Mom, whose life was interrupted when my husband and I took a trip to Bulgaria and Greece to participate in efforts to fight human trafficking. I really didn’t expect to be inspired to attempt something like starting Colette Sol USA, since I don’t have a fashion background, but I was simply so impacted that I felt I had to do something. My husband, another entrepreneur, and I are passionate about building things of longer term value, which is why we chose to invest in starting a company rather than just give a one-time gift to an anti-trafficking organization.
Tell us about the moment you knew for sure you had to do something.
On the anti-trafficking trip with my husband 2½ years ago I found myself in a group walking around Thessaloniki, Greece stopping traffic and making national news as Europe 1 covered our activities. Our lips were sealed with black tape and our black shirts advertised a new hotline call number (similar to 911) for trafficked victims. We handed out relabeled water bottles and leaflets advertising the same number to everyone around us, knowing full well that we were offering them to pimps and prostitute customers. Some were appreciative, but most were either indifferent or outright hostile.
I knew I could no longer keep my mouth shut.
When I went home, my husband and I knew our lives would not be the same unless we did something to fight modern slavery. To me, it wasn’t really a question of whether or not we did something; Colette Sol USA was just the answer I was looking for to take a stand and help to fight human trafficking.
How did you get started?
My husband and I teamed up with my brother and his wife to invest in the formation of Colette Sol USA. We established a relationship with a shoe designer, Colette, who already had founded her company in The Netherlands. She had relationship with glowbalact, an international organization that fights human trafficking, by supporting their nationally recognized Stiletto Run, in Zurich. Our goal has been to popularize the shoes and our mission to fight human trafficking in the U.S., as well as to lead in the luxury fashion space, similar to what Tom’s Shoes has done in the mass-market segment.
We are a 21st century company – everyone on our team works remotely!
What keeps you up at night?
Life should be purposeful and meaningful. If I am not doing something I love, even if it takes countless hours and energy to make it happen, then I am in the wrong profession.
For fun, my husband and I stay up late thinking about how to change the world. That may seem cliché, but we truly do that. It doesn’t matter the subject. Why does the world have to stay the way it is?
It only takes one person to see it differently and believe that the world we know doesn’t have to stay that way.
My grandpa taught me that for those of us who are privileged to live in such a great country with its massive potential for impact, we have a responsibility to create solutions for those that can’t act for themselves.
Tell us about your support system in this journey.
My husband is my greatest supporter and critic. He is always sharpening me and causing me to push the limits and ensure what I am saying and doing is communicated clearly. Beyond that I have a few girl friends who sharpen me just as I try to sharpen them.
What’s been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?
This is probably true for many, but the biggest sacrifice I have made is time and money. My family has forgone things we would have done to invest in this dream.
How has your decision to to give your life to this affected your family?
My kids are my biggest fans! A box comes in the mail and the kids ask “is that for Colette Sol USA?” I have two girls (and one son) and the girls can’t wait until they can wear Colette Sol USA shoes. Even though my kids don’t quite understand the ramifications of human trafficking they know Mom is involved in helping people.
I am also passionate about encouraging my kids to find their passions early and my husband and I are working hard to provide the tools and opportunities for them to discover and develop their dreams.
What is the negative soundtrack in your mind, you work hard to overcome?
We started the business the same year we had more than three major changes in our lives. I homeschooled for an interim year. We moved our family to a new state, where my husband and I were helping also found a school! The list could continue, but you get the gist of it. I could have made the excuse and said it isn’t the right time to start a business, but my gut said You can’t wait any longer. The need is now.
I’m the most afraid of failing. It takes lots of capital along with my energy. I really want this company to reach a point of sustainability so it can continue to grow and help disadvantaged women in a significant way. As a startup company, we’re making progress but we still need to keep selling shoes and growing!
If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?
I would have brought Kristen Seidle on earlier. 🙂
Have you experienced negative feedback along the way?
A few customers have complained about the price of our shoes and asked if we offer a discount. Our mission is to raise funds for fighting human trafficking. Each of our shoes are hand crafted in Turkey and made out of top-line materials, especially our leathers. In other words, we have chosen not to sacrifice quality, which makes our margins smaller.
In order to have anything to give back, we really can’t be a discount brand. On the other hand, we constantly get compliments from our customers who absolutely love our shoes and praise the quality and comfort.
What would you say sitting across the table from another woman who says, “Sure. But you had money, experience, relationships, etc. . . You’re brave. You’re fearless and I’m risk averse, I’m … (fill in the blank).” The woman who is subconsciously letting herself off the hook.
At one point, I was sitting in your shoes, but I decided I didn’t want to my life to go by and realize I never tried. If you don’t try, you’ll never know if you could have been successful. The only real way you lose is if you refuse to try at all or give up early.
Even a loss or failure can be seen as a learning step and can teach you what you need to be successful the next time.
Is there a quote you have on your desk, your wall, or just stored in your heart that keeps you going or lifts your spirits when you’re down?
My husband doesn’t allow our kids to say “I can’t do…” He encourages them to say “I am working or learning to accomplish this.” There is power in what we say over our own lives and those around us.
If I feel down, I remember my kids are watching and my life is ticking, so what am going to do today to make it count. I am not afraid of big projects. It just takes persistence and determination. The determination to watch your words and attitudes
Do you feel like the same person you were when you joined Colette Sol? How have you changed?
I am becoming more truly who I am. Starting Colette Sol USA has encouraged me to not just be a sideline person watching others do something, but it has pushed me to get into the shuffle–To discover more about myself and my world. This journey has also caused me to be more conscious, more aware, of hurting people.
How can we best support you and your incredible HeartStory?
Thank you to HeartStories for helping us spread the word! We love new customers who not only want to buy our shoes because of the fabulous designs, comfort and quality, but who also WANT to talk about this uncomfortable topic!
Use your shoes as a conversation piece to get the dialogue going with others that might be less aware.
What are you the most passionate about regarding your business?
What is your passion? Is there a problem in the world that you have always wanted to do something about? What is the thing that you always wanted to fix, but haven’t done anything yet?
Not long ago, I was the one on the sidelines waiting for someone else to do something, when I decided enough is enough. My trip to fight human trafficking showed me that I can’t just take one trip and call it good, but I need to make a lifestyle change. I will stand up and be a voice against modern slavery.
Selling shoes is about giving you and me a vehicle to tell a story, to tell someone else’s story. To take a stand.
Someone whose rights and freedoms have been forcibly removed. Help us spread the word about modern slavery!
Take a stand, a step to make a difference in the world around us.
P. S. Check out our exclusive pre-order summer styles from Colette Sol USA below.