Tracy Squillante of Haven Collective
I met Tracy Squillante when she was doing a trunk show of her Haven exercise wear collection at my gym. I not only loved her product, but I was enamored of her enthusiasm, her verve and the fact she had launched this endeavor mid-life and was totally in her zone. I thought she would be a great first interview for the site as she all about balance and beam in every way!
Tracy Squillante, the founder, designer, and owner of HAVEN activewear is a native New Yorker. “I have lived, loved, learned, laughed and cried in this city for over 25 years.” The yoga-loving entrepreneur says.
Tracy started her career at Macy’s in Herald Square. She was Vice President of Creative Development of David Yurman when after returning from a yoga retreat in Costa Rica she decided to set out on her own and start a business.
- How old were you when you left the high powered job, and started your own thing?
HAVEN really kicked off as a seed of an idea when I was 43 and I left David Yurman for a Month long Yoga Teacher training in the Jungle of Costa Rica.
- What was your moment of realization that you needed to move into something else? Was there a catalyst?
Yes, it was Valentines Day and I was single, sitting at my desk on a cold winters night thinking “hell no – not one more day” – that night I put the deposit down on the Costa Rican adventure!
- Had owning your own line been something you had always dreamed of or did it come out of something else?
No, not at all – it was really hatched in over years of practice.
Having always been a curvy girl – and having practiced yoga for 16 years -I had these 3 reoccurring thoughts while shopping:
- This will never fit me 2) If this cost $10 how much was the person paid who sewed it? 3) I can’t support the culture of Lululemon.
(CEO Chip had just announced his failure to make a quality product was, in fact, the fault of women size 12+ )
So I thought – “I’m going to make a few pieces for myself.”
- Did you know what you were doing? Did you have a game plan?
I had only 3 standards:
1. They have to fit me
2. They must be Consciously Created through a Mindful Supply chain
3. They must be high quality and timeless – I want people to keep their pieces forever –
- What were the biggest obstacles walking away from a big job and consistent paycheck into the land of the unknown, using your own money and throwing yourself into the world like that? Were you nervous?
I managed to raise capital early on – not a lot but enough to give me a false sense of security in my launch year. By year two the nerves set in, the original “oh isn’t this fun being an entrepreneur” spiraled into “what have I done!”
That for me was the toughest year – you decide to either quit or fight. I chose to work it out, how much do I need to sell, who will be the best partners to do that, how do I improve quality and ease in every part of the business?
I changed fabric suppliers, manufacturers, employees, accountants, and distribution. Literally had to re-engineer the entire work process. Year three became about finding the ease and balance so that I could build strategically. And now we are just kicking off year four!
- Do you have a mentor?
I have a group of “go to” mentors. Some for product, others for marketing or strategy. But this is ultimately a pretty solo path.
As much as your network believes in you and wants to support you, they don’t go to bed with your fears. You have to find your own inner voice, she is your greatest mentor and is really the only one who can guide you authentically. The challenge is making sure you make the time and space to listen.
- How did you start it, what were the first steps?
Well, I believe you have to start with a reason… and if that reason is not strong enough to get you through the hard times – you’ll know it pretty quickly. Then I convinced a few of my nearest to believe in my concept – they supported me and as a group gave me enough of a financial platform to buy inventory, pay an employee, invest in creative and media for about the first year.
- It’s hard for people who have been at the top of something big to suddenly find themselves at the bottom of something that isn’t really even formed did this bother you? Were you challenged? How did you deal with this?
I don’t really attach myself to the idea of top or bottom in terms of life positions. What was challenging was to not be able to use the “level” that I was at professionally to influence the response I receive from HAVEN. So any illusions that I had of using my status were quickly washed away. Sometimes, as a laugh when dragging a rolling rack across a yoga festival I might remember the days of private planes to photo shoots on St. Barths with Kate Moss – but it’s fleeting and humbling and then life goes on. My yoga practice – mentally and spiritually keeps that type of attachment in check.
- Was it a slow grow? How did you look at how you would grow this company and what were your expectations?
Ah, this was a tricky one – I fundamentally believe that expectation = disappointment. But we conveniently turn expectations into “projections” for business purposes. The name change does not save you from the disappointment.
I was ambitious and unrealistic at the start – I have level set now. The business has been growing slowly but stable for the last 3 years and we kicked off 2018 with 22% growth over last year. That type of growth is where I like to work – it’s stable and honest.
- What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned? Almost every time I jumped to a solution or conclusion it was a problem.
The lesson – slow down – it’s your race and you are the only one on the track. The only solution is a well –reasoned choice.
- So many women find themselves out of work or in transition between 45 and 60. They want to work and often need to start their own thing, what advice would you give them?
This question breaks my heart because these are our earning years – we have the knowledge and the experience to truly impact the world. What also breaks my heart is that female-founded businesses only received 2% of the venture capital dollars in 2017. So, the truth or my truth is you have to really know yourself – do you have the grit to do it on your own? Even with the most well-intentioned friends and family – you are on your own. My next piece of advice is do something that matters to you. Why it matters is up to you – but make sure it matters.
- The fact your line is for all women, being women of all body types you are giving back while you are actually running a company was this your intent? How do you feel? What has the response been?
It was never that prescribed – only that I wanted clothes that I could wear and feel good in. As a student of design, I appreciated the challenge of making them myself. I sort of thought “well if I need them, I imagine other women will too”. They do, and that’s a great moment for me.
- Do you have a mantra that gets you through the day when it all gets to be too much or you feel overwhelmed?
I have one Mantra – and I invoke it quite a bit – but that one is personal.
I often say “Ok, that’s enough for today”. I know then that I have hit my limit, I did my best – now time to rest.
- What has been the greatest reward in this venture?
Knowledge on every level, Strategic, Operational, Financial and ultimately self-knowledge.
And I get to decide whether we close snow days! We do and sometimes it’s not even snowing 😉
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