Jessica Honegger is the founder and Co-CEO of the socially conscious accessories brand, Noonday Collection. She is also an author of her new book - Imperfect Courage! Noonday Collection is the largest fair trade accessories brand in the world, and we're thrilled to be chatting with Jessica to learn more about how it got started, entrepreneurial advice, and the steps they take that encourage success. Continue reading to see how their vision has unfolded into a flourishing company that gives back to those in need.
So happy to be chatting with you! My story starts in San Antonio, Texas, where I grew up in a beautiful tight-knit community. Sometimes tight-knit communities have tightly woven scripts and the script for little girls in my community expected young women to follow a particular path: a debutante party, followed by marriage, followed by life as a stay-at-home mother and wife. Despite those expectations, I always took after my Texas spitfire of a father and shared his entrepreneurial spirit – from the jewelry stands I set up to hawk my handmade wares to the summer camps I set up for younger kids when I was in junior high to earn money for a new bike. Putting that entrepreneurial spirit to work, I founded Noonday Collection in 2011 to help my husband and I fundraise for our adoption of our son Jack from Rwanda. Today, Noonday Collection is the world's largest fair trade accessories brand, and our collective impact reaches over 4,500 artisans and 20,400 family members worldwide. In keeping with our founding story. Noonday Collection has also donated over $600,000 to adopting families here in the US to help them bring their children home.
When I traveled to Kenya at age 16, I experienced the realities of global poverty for the first time. I also met a woman who was the recipient of a microloan and was changing her reality through entrepreneurship. It was then that I first realized that business had the potential to change the world. A series of winding career moves later, including a stint training midwives in Bolivia and a home-flipping business, I ended up founding Noonday Collection when I got connected to a talented young Ugandan couple named Jalia and Daniel. A friend told me that Jalia and Daniel were amazing jewelry makers, but had no way to sell their products. I began selling their handmade styles in my home as a way to fundraise for my adoption, and soon I started seeing the impact that creating a marketplace for their product was having on them. As the business grew, so did the impact. I realized that all over the world, there were talented, capable people who just needed a little bit of opportunity to truly thrive. Today Noonday exists to create those meaningful opportunities by providing Artisan Businesses with the marketplace they need to create dignified jobs in their communities.
I think now more than ever, people are waking up to the fact that someone makes their stuff. And more than ever, people really care about the people making their stuff. At Noonday Collection, we are all about style with a story. We believe that by being thoughtful with our purchases, we really can change the world. And the proof is in the numbers: Because of our customers' purchases, we currently partner with 31 Artisan Businesses in 14 countries across the globe, impacting 4,500 Artisans. Regarding the most important business decision I've made, I would say it is my decision to take the long view. This wise advice was given to me during a particularly hard season as CEO of Noonday Collection. After a period of crazy growth, during which we were named #45 on Inc's list of fastest growing companies in the country, we had hit a slump. We were over-inventoried and under-selling, and I was struggling to see a way out. I shared this with a friend, a successful figure in the investing world. He looked at me and said, "Take the long view. Let all of your actions now be about where you want to be years from now." Noonday Collection had been such a fast-growing success that I hadn't stopped to think about what taking the long view meant for my day-to-day decision making. That advice shifted my mindset and helped me realize that sometimes you need to choose short-term pains on the path to building a long-term Foundation.
Imperfect Courage is part memoir, part call-to-action, and tells the story of the lessons I have learned through this journey of launching and growing Noonday Collection. Specifically, how I have learned that to live a purposeful life, you can't wait for your fears to subside—you simply have to gather whatever courage you have at the moment and go scared. I wanted to write a book because I built something that matters to the world. I have realized that everyone is born with a voice, but not everyone gets to use their voice to reach a wider audience. I felt like the story of Noonday Collection is a story worth sharing, and that I should use my voice. Books have changed my life and influenced me. I wanted to be able to use my story to help someone else in the same way that people like Sheryl Sandberg and Brené Brown helped to shape me with their books. I want to help others see their potential and not listen to their fears more than they listen to what's possible. I want to use my story to lead people to stand up and make an impact in the world. I struggled––especially at the beginning of Noonday––with being held back by fear and insecurity. I thought that I needed to be the perfect mom and the perfect entrepreneur, and I wasted so much energy on those ideas. I want others to learn from my story so that maybe they won't spin their wheels, wasting energy on fear, and instead, will use that fear to catalyze them into a life of purpose.
Social has been one of THE key drivers for getting the word out about Noonday and my book Imperfect Courage. Obviously, the products are beautiful so Instagram is a natural fit, but people want more than just beauty in their feeds now. They want something to spark more in-depth conversations, to challenge them. They also want to hear about WHERE their products are coming from, so we try to focus on storytelling.
My top 3 tips:
1. Don't do what everyone else is doing. Sure some tactics work across most brands, but if you just fit in with everyone else, you're going to get lost in the stream of content that everyone is posting.
2. People talk about authenticity all the time, but there's real authenticity, and there's fake authenticity. Especially with my personal brand, I've been so cognizant and purposeful in creating real conversation and sharing stuff that's hard or uncomfortable because I know someone else out there is dealing with the same thing.
3. Don't let social media consume you. When my book came out, I found myself obsessing over everything around the book launch and it honestly made me feel insane. And the truth is, it didn't help sell more books. It just made me feel insecure and vulnerable and even a little burned out. Turn off your phone. I promise the real world is better.
At Noonday we have a ton of fantastic user-generated content coming through every day. Tools like PLANOLY allow us to curate and organize that content so that we can harness it to help build a social presence that is interactive and authentic to our audience. We're also able to thank our amazing fans and customers by managing commenting and engagement. Social media is supposed to be social after all, right?
We have such insight into other people's lives today––in large part because of social media. It makes comparing your beginning to someone else's end an easy trap. Don't fall for it. Everyone starts somewhere. You have to take your first step because you can't finish what you've never started. Don't despise the small things. There is scripture that says something like, "Do not despise the small days." I think that you've got to be able to run in your lane, knowing that eventually, you'll be able to look behind you. When you're just starting, you think, the starting line is just right there at my heels. But when you keep stepping forward, soon, you'll be able to look behind you and see a starting line that's much more distant, and a finish line that's much closer. Instead of looking to your right and left, run your own race with gusto and confidence. You'll reach your goals with a lot more joy this way.
Our goal at Noonday Collection is to use fashion to create meaningful opportunities for more and more people around the world. I am a future-oriented person, so I'm always on to the next thing, the next big dream. I dream of partnering with more talented entrepreneurs around the world to help them grow businesses that make a huge impact in their communities. That growth is going to come primarily from our incredible community of Noonday Ambassadors—our social selling force who we like to describe as stylists, storytellers, and social entrepreneurs. The more women who launch their own Noonday businesses in their communities as Noonday Ambassadors, the more women we can impact across the globe. So our big dreams are all about growing our Ambassador community and getting the word out about how women can partner with their local Ambassador to host a Trunk Show in their homes. Today we impact over 4,500 Artisans in 14 countries—but we see so much opportunity for growth and impact with this business. I can't wait to see where this wild journey takes us next!