Tag: green

Entrepreneur Profiles: Fashion Entrepreneur Sukara Sterling

Note: This post is the second in a new series called “Entrepreneur Profiles.”  These posts focus on an interesting entrepreneur who I’ve gotten to know and hopefully provide a window into their business that you might not otherwise find in a newspaper or magazine. Sukara Sterling is a young entrepreneur and friend who started her own clothing boutique on State Street.  This post is about her experiences with life after her store.

HI! my name is Sukara Sterling and I am a young entrepreneur. I opened up my very own clothing boutique when I was 21 years old on famous State Street in Madison,Wisconsin.  I named my shop after me, calling it Sukara Sterling.  I owned and operated it for nearly 5 years, closing it in July 2009.  After closing my store, I searched and searched for the right job, and was offered many, but I really realized I really wanted to be my own boss.

People always ask me “how did you go from growing up in the country to owning your own boutique at age 21?”  It all started at a young age.  I was always interested in fashion as a child.  I grew up in the country playing outside with my siblings, exploring abandoned buildings and playing in the Maribel caves. Being the outdoorsy child that I was, I somehow also had an interest in fashion.

I can remember making my first garment, I think in 4th grade. It was made out of a farm print fabric (I’d like to bring that look back….hahaha). Anyway, from there I continued to have an interest in fashion and also started to learn more about business. I remember buying my first business book as a Sophomore in high school and bringing it to class with me.  The book brought a ton of attention and lots of questions from the my teachers and students. I told everyone I wanted to own my very own clothing boutique. I definitely got a mixed response.  Some thought I could never do it and others gave me their full support. (Thanks to those who did ;).

Next, I graduated from high school and went on to college. Let’s just say I picked the wrong school and switched colleges a few times. Never finding my niche at school, I ended up dropping out, even though I loved fashion and had been able to choose to major in fashion marketing.

I had two major problems.  First, I had to pay all my bills through school, leaving me with hardly any time to study. I had two part time jobs and I was also a full time student.  My first job was as a waitress.  I loved that job, the money was good, and I had a blast running around the restaurant with my co-workers.  Some of the girls are now my life long friends, they were also college students at the time, and moved on to other things.

The second problem, and this one was a BIG one was, in class I would sit and think, “gosh why cant I just do this in ‘real life’, and skip the stuff I don’t need?” Well, that is exactly what I decided to do. The second part time job I had was at a clothing boutique called Lupe. The women who owned it wanted to get out of her lease and I saw this as a great opportunity to start my own store by taking over her lease.

That is exactly what I did. After a few weeks of getting everything needed together including taking out a small loan, I inked my name on the lease with a hefty monthly rent. I really wasn’t worried about how I would pay the bills, I just knew that it was what I wanted. For me when there is a will, there is a way.

I changed the name of the store to Sukara Sterling, restocked the store with my own inventory and was on my merry way for a great learning experience. Let’s just say I jumped into this.  I didn’t know much about business and only had read a few books. I went with the flow and learned what I needed to run a successful business and grew with my new company. I learned to do everything including, HR, Accounting, Taxes, Managing, Operations and my favorite the buying. I remember going to my first show for a buying trip in LA and having no idea what I was doing. I just nodded my head and agreed acting the part, they bought it. It worked.

A few weeks later I was ripping open boxes of new inventory, and reaping the benefits of checking out customers and making some cash. As a few years went on, I got bored with being in the same place; I needed more flexibility in my life, not to mention the economy decided to tank and sales were down. I saw this as the perfect time to sell out my inventory and move on with new ventures. Owning and operating the store gave me tons of experience and exposure and enabled me to be qualified for some pretty sick jobs. I closed in July of 2009 and attempted to move to Los Angeles. I made some money, learned a ton, but it was time to move on.

My beautiful sister is also an entrepreneur, running her own jewelry label out in LA.   She was lovely enough to fly home and road trip with me and my dog Benson across the country from Wisconsin to California. In California I was lucky enough to find some great job opportunities even though California’s unemployment rate is very high compared to other places. I was offered an office job and a job as a store manager for a fashion label, but, let’s just say LA is not my bag, so I turned down the job offers.

I found that it was great to visit, but decided it wasn’t right for me to be living there. Among other reasons, oddly enough I needed rain, and there was hardly any rain in California and bunch of other stuff I didn’t love. I packed up everything and came back to where I am from, still in search of my perfect place to live.  I was comforted where there was fresh rain and green cut grass in good old Wisconsin. I drove solo across the states in 36 hours.  If you drive straight through, it takes 30 hours. So if you do the math, you can see I slept little and only stopped when needed for gas. I slept once for 4 hours in the beautiful Rocky Mountains, waking up to a shiny dusting of snow. I loved driving across the country solo, it gave me plenty of personal one on one reflection time and thinking time, which I love.

I applied for jobs in several different states when I got back.  I still didn’t know where I wanted to have my home base. I was lucky enough to get job offers in several different states from several different companies. I was offered a job in Boston, but wasn’t ready for Boston.  Got offered a job in Chicago as Store Manager for a clothing line that I love, but I finally realized that I did not want to live in a big city whether it was LA or Chicago. Finally, I took a job in Milwaukee, working as store manager for a large clothing retailer.  I saw this as a huge opportunity because I would be managing a store that did $7mm  a year in sales, and it was a different path for me coming from my background in boutiques. However, that wasn’t for me either.

I realized that corporate America is really not my friend and I needed more freedom and flexibility in my life. That is when it dawned on me that I need to be doing my own thing again, fully running my own show. I decided I would look for some consulting work and quit when I found that.

Fortunately, my experience has given me a leg up in the harsh world of trying to find a job. The work came to me faster than I thought. I went in for an interview and I was on the payroll 5 minutes after my interview ended and immediately started working that same day. I am now currently working for a company called Madison Avenue Worldwide. This awesome couple who I adore dearly has given me a great opportunity. They were looking for someone to help them start a retail store from scratch. That is where I come in. I was hired to do exactly what I know how to do. Start a retail business. It is the closet thing to working for myself that I can get right now.

My job is to implement all the procedures and operations for a retail store that was just started called Fashion Playground. I am in charge of basically starting the store from scratch and getting it running and profitable. I am doing all the public relations, marketing, HR, writing the store manuals and implementing all the procedures and policy’s etc. for store operations. It is a great concept idea for a store where the kids get to come in and be their own designer for their own garment. I was recently informed that after I finish up with my current project with them, I get to start traveling for their other company and will be doing marketing and PR which I am really excited about. The owners of this business are very lovely and have given me the flexibility that I want and positive feedback that I was hoping for.  This jobs gives me a good mix of entrepreneurship and the steadiness of knowing I’ll have a paycheck.

While moving around and trying to figure out where I should live I also realized that I need to be a citizen of the world, because I love traveling so much. I do however, still want a home base but am not sure yet where that is going to be. I am thinking a mountain town somewhere, perhaps Big Sky, Montana where my brother lives or the northern west coast in Portland to join my friend Mrs. Tedford.

I’ve also learned that its kind of fun not knowing.  I like to go with the flow and see what happens because it keeps life more exciting. The moral of my professional life story thus far is that I would ultimately like to be fully running my own show from a laptop and a cell phone from anywhere in the world. In order to get to this point, I need to work hard and get my own business’s going.

In addition to working fulltime, I am working on a few other companies that I am starting, designing a fall 2010 clothing line, representing a clothing line outside of New Zealand called Federation as the USA and Canada rep, working with global summit (a non-profit that I helped found) and doing other consulting on the side. Hopefully it will all will pay off so I can get the lifestyle that I want and ultimately strive for!

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Are you Missing the Unintended Consequences?

I attended a talk by Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, last night at the Kohl Center in Madison.  Pollan is one of my favorite writers and thinkers because he almost always has a new take on old problems that bring new and interesting points to the debate.  Pollan is most famous for In Defense of Food, an “eater’s manifesto” on how to eat well and forsake the “western diet” of processed foods and refined carbohydrates.  His book is interesting on many levels, but what struck me during the talk was how many of the problems that Americans have relating to their diet are unintended consequences of well-intentioned policies crafted by nutritionists, nutritional scientists, government bureaucrats and health-conscience consumers.

For example, Pollan talks about how throughout American history, there have been “blessed” and “evil” nutrients.  In the 1800s, protein was evil and John Harvey Kellogg led the charge against this scorage, leading many Americans to give up their traditional eggs, bacon, sausage and pancakes for boxed cereal, with the blessed carbohydrates.  Later, it was fat, leading to the creation of margarine and transfat to replace real butter and animal fat.  The Atkins phenomenon brought protein back because carbs were supposedly bad.  There have been many other examples of this throughout American history, but these are the easiest ones to see.  Each of these movements were started by people with good intentions who wanted to make Americans healthier.  At best, they did not work.  At worst, they made things worse.

The margarine and other plant fats that scientists created ended up being worse than the fats that they were replacing.  Pollan claimed that this switch led to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths from heart disease and other preventable diseases.  These deaths were an unintended consequence of food scientists and the government’s good intentions to help American live healthier lives.

Pollan’s talk led me to start thinking about other unintended consequences and how many people miss their impact in everyday life. I found some relating to our food, including some potential ones relating to Pollan’s “eater’s manifesto.”  Subsidizing the corn and soybean market after the USSR’s wheat crop failed in order to ensure that we never went hungry led to monocultures and a crash in farm prices, which led to fewer family farms.  It has led to America’s overproduction of cheap corn, which made high fructose corn syrup the cheapest and easiest sweetener to work with, leading to cheaper manufactured food and fatter, less healthy Americans.  Cheap subsidized corn and soybeans make it tough for farmers in Africa to compete and pull themselves out of poverty.  Now I don’t believe that each of these are straight cause and effect relationships, but its clear that these unintended consequences of trying to make sure that America’s food supply is secure have continued to ripple across the world since the 1970s.

Pollan’s manifesto advocates that we eat food, not too much, mostly plants and move away from packaged, processed “food like substances.”  This is a good goal, but he also advocates moving away from monoculture and large industrial farms.  The thinking is that we we have healthier plants, animals and humans if we diversify our food supply and stop growing huge amounts of corn and soybeans for use in just about everything.  Pollan believes that these types of changes could help solve global warming, the healthcare crisis and  potentially the current economic crisis.  It is clearly a noble goal, but what about the unintended consequences?

If farmers move away from high yielding monocultures, might we be at a larger risk of famine in the future as populations rise?  Could we lose jobs in the current food industry?  Could lower yields lead to higher food costs, much like how increased demand for corn based ethanol raised food prices worldwide, with most of the increased hurting the world’s poor?  Are there some other unintended consequences that Pollan’s way of thinking might bring about, much like the other big changes to our food supply brought to America’s dinner tables?

Personally, I think it is worth experimenting with Pollan’s ideas because I’m not sure we can do much worse than we are doing now, but it would be foolish to simply accept them and begin to implement them immediately.  I don’t believe that Pollan is calling for this, but I have not seen much research into the potential unintended consequences of his ideas. It reminds me a story I just came across the other day about tuna fishing.

In the early 1990s, groups like Greenpeace were outraged that tuna fishing companies were killing hundreds of dolphins with each catch.  Here’s how tuna fishing works

The main way that tuna is caught is through purse seines in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Basically, after a large group of tuna is located, a miles-across purse seine net is closed around them via a group of small boats associated with a large factory ship.  It’s an effective way to catch large amounts of fish for not a lot of money.

This technique is pretty standard- the main variation lies in how the large group of tuna is located. There are basically three ways to do this.

1) Get lucky and happen to stumble across a large group of tuna visible from the surface in the middle of an enormous ocean. Obviously, this isn’t terribly practical.

2) Attract tuna using floating objects.  Stay tuned, we’ll come back to #2.

3) Follow dolphins, because dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific are often associated with large schools of tuna. Dolphins are easy to follow because, unlike tuna, they have to come up for air.

For a long time, #3 was the most common way of catching tuna. The problem with this method was that by definition, dolphins are right there- and they get caught in the net as well. Despite the honest effort of many sailors to free dolphins (there is a long maritime tradition of respecting dolphins), by some estimates, around 500,000 dolphins a year were killed as a result of bycatch.

Sounds terrible, right?  500,000 dolphins EACH YEAR were killed as a result of this tuna fishing.  Groups like Greenpeace and others marshaled public support and got the rules changed, making dolphin following illegal.  People could not fish for tuna by following dolphins to big groups of tuna.  So what happened?

Tuna fishing fleets rapidly switched over to method #2, attracting tuna using floating objects.  If you put a log in the middle of the ocean, within hours it will be surrounded by fish. It may have something to do with the fact that many open ocean fish can go their entire lives without encountering a hard surface.

The floating objects now used by tuna fishing fleets are quite high tech- they have sonar and video cameras that allow the flagship to detect how many fish are near that object. Once there are enough, the purse seine comes and scoops them all up- and the floating object is redeployed.

The big problem with this method is that floating objects don’t only attract tuna. EVERYTHING is attracted to floating objects, including sea turtles, sharks, seabirds, billfish, and, yes, dolphins!

Well-intentioned groups like Greenpeace and others tried to help the dolphins by making fishing for tuna by using dolphins illegal, but the unintended consequences of their actions have created “The Ecological Disaster that is Dolphin Safe Tuna.” Here are some stats comparing the bycatch of both methods of fishing.  First, the floating log method, then the old, dolphin method:

Ten thousand sets of purse seine nets around immature tuna swimming under logs and other debris will cause the deaths of 25 dolphins; 130 million small tunas; 513,870 mahi mahi; 139,580 sharks; 118,660 wahoo; 30,050 rainbow runners; 12,680 other small fish; 6540 billfish; 2980 yellowtail; 200 other large fish; 1020 sea turtles; and 50 triggerfish.

By trying to help dolphins, groups like Greenpeace caused one of the worst marine ecological disasters of all time. Few other fisheries are as bad for groups like sharks and sea turtles as the purse seine fishery, and none are as large in scale.

“Ten thousand sets of purse seine nets around mature yellowfin swimming in association with dolphins, will cause the deaths of 4000 dolphins (0.04 percent of a population that replenishes itself at the rate of two to six percent per year); 70,000 small tunas; 100 mahi mahi; 3 other small fish; 520 billfish; 30 other large fish; and 100 sea turtles. No sharks, no wahoo, no rainbow runners, no yellowtail, and no triggerfish and dramatic reductions in all other species but dolphins.”

In other words… the only species that “dolphin safe” tuna is good for is dolphins!  The bycatch rate for EVERY OTHER species is lower when fishing dolphin-associated tuna vs. floating object associated tuna! The reason for this is obvious- floating objects attract everything nearby, while dolphins following tuna doesn’t attract any other species.

If you work out the math on this, you find that 1 dolphin saved costs 382 mahi-mahi, 188 wahoo, 82 yellowtail and other large fish, 27 sharks, and almost 1,200 small fish.

“Dolphin Safe Tuna” is one of the most egregious examples of unintended consequences that I have heard about in a long time.  I wonder if we may repeat similar mistakes with global warming (now called climate change), health care, taxes, the bank bailouts and our monsterous national debt.  We should at least try to look at the potential downsides and unintended consequences of our larger decision in all aspects of our lives – political, business and personal – so that we do not make another mistake like margarine or dolphin safe tuna.

Social Media’s Response and an Iranian’s Possible Last Post

I talked about Twitter’s influence and response to the Iranian uprising compared to Google’s in a post a few days ago here and here.  Google had been removing YouTube videos of the sometimes violent demonstrations because they “contained violence,” which violated their terms of service.

Google has now reversed itself, recognizing the social and political importance of videos about the Iranian protests that have been posted to YouTube.  Iranians and their supporters had been petitioning Google to change its front page logo for a day to show support for the protests.  Instead, Google launched a Farsi to English translator that allows people all over the world to translate Farsi bloggers, tweets and emails.  Google did not want to insert itself into the conflict,  but it did want to help out:

We feel that launching Persian is particularly important now, given ongoing events in Iran. Like YouTube and other services, Google Translate is one more tool that Persian speakers can use to communicate directly to the world, and vice versa — increasing everyone’s access to information.

As with all machine translation, it’s not perfect yet. And we’re launching this service quickly, so it may perform slowly at times. We’ll keep a close watch and if it breaks, we’ll restore service as quickly as we can.

Facebook also realized how its service was being used to help spread information and quickly translated its service into Farsi as well:

Since the Iranian election last week, people around the world have increasingly been sharing news and information on Facebook about the results and its aftermath. Much of the content created and shared has been in Persian—the native language of Iran—but people have had to navigate the site in English or other languages.

Today we’re making the entire site available in a beta version of Persian, so Persian speakers inside of Iran and around the world can begin using it in their native language.

Its clear that Twitter, Google and Facebook all recognize the important role they are playing in the Iranian uprising.  All three have been amazing tools to get information from inside Iran to the outside world.

I’ll leave you with a blog post (translated by google translator) by an Iranian my age who is ready to protest tomorrow, even in the face of the Supreme Leader’s declaration that protesters will be punished tomorrow.  He basically threatened to allow the army and the Basij to violently suppress the uprising.  Many think that tomorrow’s protests will be put down, a la Tienanmen Square. 

“I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow.  Maybe they will turn violent.  Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed.  I’m listening to all my favorite music.  I even want to dance to a few songs.  I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows.  Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see.  I should drop by the library, too.  It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again.  All family pictures have to be reviewed, too.  I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye.  All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them.  I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that.  My mind is very chaotic.  I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure.  So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them.  So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism.  This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…” 

Hopefully she will be able to do all of these things tomorrow night too.  I wish all of the protestors good luck and hope to see more posts tomorrow.

How Much Pollution do your Google Searches Generate?

Alex Wissner-Gross, a physicist and owner of CO2stats.com, claims that every two Google searches uses as much energy as boiling a kettle of water.   I have no idea if this is correct, but it seems very high to me.

Experts have also claimed that the Internet industry produces about as much carbon emissions as the aviation industry.  Server farms produce huge amounts of carbon because they are running 24/7 and have to handle huge amounts of calculations at all times.  
Wissner-Gross claims that Google is a big offender because of the way searches are handled.  When you submit a search, Google sends the information to multiple servers competing against each other for speed.  This procedure makes the site very fast, but wastes the server capacity for the requests that are not displayed to the searcher.
He has set up a website that allows companies to “make their sites carbon neutral.”  Its a similar idea to a company that two UW students have started: Powered Green.
Powered Green sells stickers to put on laptops that advertise that the computer is “Powered Green.”  The proceeds from the stickers fund alternative energy projects that offset the energy used over the life of the laptop.
I really like both of these ideas and it will be interesting to see if this type of personal environmentalism continues to catch even as the price of energy continues to crash.