An Interview With Doug Noll
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Melony Huber.
Melony Huber is the Owner and Design Director of La Peony, an ethical women’s luxury clothing collection crafted to move with you through every stage of life. With the practiced eye of a novice interior designer, Huber brings to life beautiful, versatile fashion that cultivates the blossoming beauty in every wearer. She is a talented creative artist, deeply passionate about supporting global artisans and contributing to a more fair-trade marketplace. The vision for La Peony is established on relationships she forged with a community of Mexican textile craftswomen seeking to support their families through artistic enterprise.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Ihave always been a creative mind and at the same time deeply reflective and in search of purpose. Now in my 50’s, I decided to take action to create the life I always wanted utilizing my key strengths. Starting with a passion for interior design, travel, and philanthropy, I found an opportunity in fashion. I am able to create, travel and do social good in one.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One interesting story since I began La Peony Clothing has been the reaction of many people when I describe the brand, my mission and our name! Not everyone knows about a peony flower and the pronunciation, so I have heard many variations, of course, and it remains a conversation starter at times. Others are not acquainted with Oaxaca Mexico and assume LPC’s designs are indigenous rather than the indigenous designs highlighted and blended into a contemporary American-made garment. And another part of my story and conversation entails my mission which is not yet about giving back a percentage of profits to communities. Instead it is more about empowering the people I work with. Artisans, Manufacturers, Digital and Public Relations Teams, along with others abroad and at home, earn money by receiving the fair and competitive wages that La Peony offers.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I have to giggle a little in my mind about my answer to this question because I see mistakes as learning lessons and most of my mistakes have not been very funny. Instead they have been costly mistakes but none that will impede my determination to succeed with the brand. I have had some unrealistic design expectations that drew laughter and eye rolling from pattern makers. I have also learned a lot about design limitations and costs associated with creating complex designs but I am learning how to get the complexity I want for the best price in the best quality!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There is not just one person whom I am grateful for getting me this far. I value many persons’ support, whether it has been through services, technology, ideas, emotional support or spirituality. All of these facets play a major role in where I am today. However, I founded La Peony with a long-time friend’s help in the first year. I can say that she was instrumental in helping me stay focused, bounce ideas around, and gain structure for my work day as I am creative, remember? Structure and focus have required attention and commitment. She was also one of the persons that boosted my level of confidence whereby I now better trust my judgment and intuition about my business decisions. She no longer accompanies me on this journey, but I am grateful for her help and support along the way.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
Time and money. Women still carry much of the weight for nurturing children, aging parents and managing the household and this takes a lot of time when trying to balance running a company. Of course, money always presents challenges as well. Self-funding is not an option for many women and without funds, success takes longer and requires more hustle, in turn again, taking up more time. It is a circle that has to be broken at some point with a combination of time and money.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
I think as individuals, we can get creative in how we help each other. We can offer services to an emerging business owner at reduced rates or even on a “loan” type basis whereby we get paid when that company gets on their feet and able to start paying. We can partner in a variety of ways and collaborate. On a governmental level, easier access to affordable business loan programs are one idea. Affordable childcare is also important. As a society, we can use social media and word of mouth to support one another to launch new businesses.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Women offer a different perspective for business and can introduce fresh, unconventional ideas for doing business. Women are also role models for young people and lead by example when they walk the talk. And my biggest reason for more women becoming founders is for the mere purpose and good that stems from it. Women feeling good about themselves and empowered by their own gig drives a confidence and happiness that radiates into the greater good. That is powerful and makes our world better!
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
I am not sure of “myths” but I will assume that one might be that a founder has to have an MBA, understand all facets of business and be professionally trained in the key area of their business. I can dispel that “myth.” I am proof of that. I do not have an MBA, my undergraduate degree is in Biology and Chemistry and I knew very little about the Fashion Industry other than the fact that I love clothes and feel on top of the world when I know I am rocking an outfit! If a founder has key strengths that allow for growth into the business and knows how to find the right team to fill in the gaps, then I feel all is possible.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
I think everyone is capable of being a founder but that does not mean that everyone will be happy and thrive as a founder. There are specific traits, in my opinion, that belong to a founder as opposed to a “regular job” employee. Founders must be comfortable with the unknown, the anxiety that uncertainty brings with it, and founders must be able to make quick decisions on-the-fly with confidence to pivot where and when necessary. They must also dream big and have the courage to go against the grain but also the courage to listen and step back to re-think when necessary. Those that find the aforementioned traits daunting are probably better suited for the certainty and set job descriptions and responsibilities of a “regular job” employee.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1 . Do not mix business with friendship. It will not last! I had heard this but did not listen and in the end, it was uncomfortable and required energy that could have been focused elsewhere.
2 . Plan ahead — far in advance, especially in Fashion! From La Peony’s formation, development to launch of 1st capsule, it was just 11 months and I am still trying to catch up to the industry’s seasons. Everything takes longer than I thought it would.
3 . You can’t be everything to everyone! I want to create fashion that works for everyone and thought I could but we are all very different with different tastes and needs. I have had to humbly accept the limitations but I continue to try to adorn as many women’s bodies as possible.
4 . Investing in people and the planet is not easy! I naively made the assumption that using sustainable, eco-friendly materials and paying fair wages would be easy and add just an incremental cost to my clothing. Nope! Investing in people and the planet costs more money than I thought but c’est la vie, it is an important value for me and La Peony and it will be my challenge to find ways to make my pieces affordable to all while maintaining quality and social good.
5 . You will become profitable and able to grow in X-amount of days, months or years! Well, only time will tell and I am comfortably pursuing a path to profitability so that I may continue to employ the most amount of people as I possibly can.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I am still striving to make the world a better place. I try to use the best choices in materials. I pay as best I can to the most amount of people. My goal is to create as ethical and beautiful clothing brand as I can. As I navigate this business, I hope to spread my message and reach as many people at home and around the world as I can, whether they are working to create La Peony or wearing it!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
My movement has begun through fashion. The movement is creating jobs for as many as possible and at the same time creating fashion that gives every woman confidence to focus on pursuing their passions.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Gayle King!!! I watch her every morning on CBS and hope to get one of my designs on her some day. Her authenticity shows through on TV, her style is one of ultimate class and celebration of a woman’s curves and her laughter and smile are infectious. Her longtime friendship with Oprah Winfrey speaks to who she is as well. I love the message that both women project in this world and find them to be truly inspirational.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
About the Interviewer: Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA was born nearly blind, crippled with club feet, partially deaf, and left-handed. He overcame all of these obstacles to become a successful civil trial lawyer. In 2000, he abandoned his law practice to become a peacemaker. His calling is to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, teacher, and trainer. He is a highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts. Doug teaches his innovative de-escalation skill that calms any angry person in 90 seconds or less. With Laurel Kaufer, Doug founded Prison of Peace in 2009. The Prison of Peace project trains life and long terms incarcerated people to be powerful peacemakers and mediators. He has been deeply moved by inmates who have learned and applied deep, empathic listening skills, leadership skills, and problem-solving skills to reduce violence in their prison communities. Their dedication to learning, improving, and serving their communities motivates him to expand the principles of Prison of Peace so that every human wanting to learn the skills of peace may do so. Doug’s awards include California Lawyer Magazine Lawyer of the Year, Best Lawyers in America Lawyer of the Year, Purpose Prize Fellow, International Academy of Mediators Syd Leezak Award of Excellence, National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals Neutral of the Year. His four books have won a number of awards and commendations. Doug’s podcast, Listen With Leaders, is now accepting guests. Click on this link to learn more and apply.