Home Interviews Abby Alley of ABBY ALLEY: How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur

Abby Alley of ABBY ALLEY: How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur

by Charles Purdom
Abby Alley of ABBY ALLEY: How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur

Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur  we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Abby Alley.

Abby Alley is an elementary school teacher turned entrepreneur who launched her business, ABBY ALLEY, after being inspired while teaching at a school in Tanzania. Abby works with artisan partners in East Africa to design collections of jewelry and leather bags that reflect ABBY ALLEY’s founding principles of exceptional quality, timeless design, collaborative spirit, and authenticity. Starting this business was a leap of faith for Abby. She hopes to inspire and encourage women who are seeking to live a life full of courage, daring to step out, even in the midst of uncertainty.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Abby Alley: I was an elementary school teacher in Chicago when I decided to move to Tanzania to be a volunteer teacher. That was a life-changing experience that opened my eyes to how much I love East Africa, the people there, and the culture. I started learning about fair trade and exploitation in the fashion industry and realized there were incredible artisans in Africa, but there wasn’t meaningful access to their products in the states. After a few more trips, I was inspired to turn my relationships and connections with the artisans, their skilled craftsmanship, and my passion for ethical and sustainable goods into a business.

 

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Abby Alley: There wasn’t a specific “aha moment” necessarily. Instead, it was a domino effect of the right things happening at the right time. When I got back from volunteer teaching in Tanzania, I got a job at a private school that only paid half of what I had made at my previous public school, so I needed a side job. I started looking, and during my research, I became more interested in fair trade. I realized the great connections I had with artisans in Africa could become a business partnership. I thought about it for a while, then a year and a half later, I went back to Africa with the intention that I was going to make it happen.

In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?

Abby Alley: It’s funny, I still don’t think of myself as an entrepreneur, even though I’m running my own business every day. If I took a personality test, I don’t think it would say I’m suited for it. But, I think with anything, if you have great leadership skills and passion, you can do it.

When I started ABBY ALLEY, I had to learn how to have total confidence in my decisions before I could take the leap of faith. I didn’t have a background in business, so I learned a lot of things along the way. Luckily, my dad and my aunt are both entrepreneurs, so I’ve seen it done before. I knew I could do it too, but I’m still learning every day.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

Abby Alley: My family has been supportive from day one. Because my dad has an entrepreneurial background, he was a great person to go to. I need that eternal optimistic belief that things will be okay because I’m the type of person who thinks of all the things that could go wrong. My sisters and my mom were also crucial in supporting me to take that leap of faith. If they hadn’t encouraged me to do it, I wouldn’t be here today.

Meeting my artisan partners during my trips also inspired me to start this journey. If I hadn’t met any of them, this idea for an ethical and sustainable jewelry and handbag brand wouldn’t have happened. Knowing their stories and their skills to make incredible products made me excited to work with them to bring the designs to life.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Abby Alley: There are so many brands and companies that are doing great things, but the people I work with and the designs they turn into beautiful accessories are what make ABBY ALLEY stand out. My designs are unique to my brand because I work closely with my artisan partners to perfect them and make them possible. We’ll go through many design stages before each piece is fully developed and ready to be sold. You won’t find them anywhere else.

The dynamic partnership between the artisans and me also makes ABBY ALLEY different. We work together as a team, knowing we both value and trust each other as partners. It’s turning the consumer business model on its head.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Abby Alley:

Authentic — I am genuine in representing my beliefs, and I’m not going to sacrifice my values. As a designer starting a luxury fashion brand, I could’ve easily sacrificed my values at any point along the way in order to look good or make more money, but this is not something I’m willing to do.

Focused — I feel like I’m stubborn in staying true to what I think is the right thing to do, but that helps me be focused on the task at hand. I have set healthy boundaries in my life, so work doesn’t become everything. I’m focused on my mission and sharing that with the world through ethical and sustainable jewelry and handbags.

Purposeful — Do you know the “why” behind what you’re doing? I am passionate about doing something for a reason. It’s important to know your purpose so you can be focused and authentic to your mission.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

Abby Alley: Luckily, I can’t remember many times when I got bad advice, but I learned early on that you don’t need to follow the same advice that is given to everyone else when it comes to social media. People often tell you when you’re starting or growing a business that you need to do social media a certain way to go with the algorithms. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s easy to let those algorithms run you instead of your mission. You need to step back and think, “Do I have to do it the way everyone’s doing it, or can I do it in a way that works for me?”

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?

Abby Alley: I don’t currently have employees, so I may not be the best person to answer this question. That said, boundaries are so important when you own your own business. Whether it’s for yourself or your employees, it’s important to be able to separate life and work and set boundaries with your time. Valuing the whole person enables employees (including yourself) to thrive.

What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?

Abby Alley: Our culture and how people trust companies have changed over the past few years. If you’re looking to build credibility, you now need to be clear that you’re not necessarily an authority who knows everything. We all have the knowledge, and while some have more than others, we’re all still learning. People want companies and brands to admit weaknesses and to be transparent about their imperfections. Don’t be someone you are not. Being honest is important in today’s world where so many people don’t believe what they see. If companies and brands continue to be transparent, they’ll be seen as credible and trustworthy leaders in their industry.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Abby Alley: I think mistakes are important to make as an entrepreneur. Everyone makes them, and that’s how you learn. The mistakes you want to avoid are those you can’t come back from. It might be getting ahead of yourself by investing too much upfront or carrying too much inventory. Go to someone you can trust for financial decisions before you make them. Don’t make those big decisions alone, and ask the necessary questions to know what’s right for you.

 

Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?

Abby Alley: No matter how successful I am, there is always a fear that the floor could drop out from under me at any moment. Owning a business and being my own source of income means that any decision I make for ABBY ALLEY feels like a major financial decision for the company and myself. One wrong move could have a huge impact.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

Abby Alley: In a consumer-facing business, you’re always chasing the sale. You can never predict how well a product is going to sell. When I debuted the Sling Bag last November for example, it really took off. Since then, it’s continued to do so much better than I ever expected. It’s not only the best-selling bag but my best-selling product in general. The success was surprising because, in my experience, bags generally sell slower than jewelry.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

Abby Alley: For me, my highs and lows often come from sales goals. November and December are typically the best sales months of the year. As a business owner, it feels so amazing to have that support. Then January hits, and even though you’re prepared for a slower month, it can feel so dramatically different than the previous months that doubt and fear creep in. It’s really easy to see these fluctuations week to week or month to month and think, “Why am I doing this?” A small change can make you rethink all of the good things that happened, but it’s important to look at the bigger picture and long-term goal, instead of the small highs and lows.

Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?

Abby Alley: You have to know that nothing is going to stay the same. If you’ve been depressed or had anxiety, and then looked back on that moment in time, it went away. It’s almost like a numbers game. It has to get better because you’re not just going to keep failing. I keep telling myself that tomorrow is a different day. You really have to ride it out.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Abby Alley:
  1. Community — You need to surround yourself with people that believe in you and your mission. I’ve been lucky enough to have the support of my family, but I also met fellow entrepreneurs who have similar missions or passions that are there to support me too.
  2. Belief — You have to believe in whatever it is, whether it’s your idea or in yourself. When I started ABBY ALLEY, I had to do both. I had to believe that I could do it and that my mission is important enough to share.
  3. Access— You need to have access to resources for continued learning. Business owners are really responsible for their own learning. To lead a successful business, you need to continue to adapt and learn along the way. That’s been important for me coming from the world of teaching.
  4. Other interests — Setting boundaries is important, but it’s also important to have other interests outside your business. Your company cannot become your sole identity, but it’s easy to let that happen. My business is named after me, but it’s still important that I separate myself from it and continue my other hobbies and interests outside of work.
  5. Sense of humor — There are many times when you’re going to be stressed out. Having a sense of humor in those moments can make all the difference. In fashion, it’s easy to get stressed out about your products, but necklaces and earrings should be fun!

We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Abby Alley: Resiliency means that you keep putting one foot in front of the other and remember you can do hard things. When I’ve talked to my artisan partners, it’s apparent how differently we deal with struggles. In our culture, when we think things are hard, we want to get out of that hardship as quickly as possible. In their culture, they have a deep sense that struggle is just a part of normal life. I’ve learned from them that resiliency is knowing that struggle is okay and part of the journey.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?

Abby Alley: One thing that helped build my resiliency and made me the person I am in sports. I went to college on an athletic scholarship to play lacrosse. I learned so many lessons from sports. There is emotional, physical, and psychological resiliency in playing on a team, pushing yourself, and wanting to compete at a high level. The grind prepared me to know things are hard, but I can do them anyway. I can push through it.

In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?

Abby Alley: Difficult situations are hard, so it’s okay not to have a positive attitude all the time. That said, when I am faced with adversity I try to remind myself of my “why.” I started ABBY ALLEY to share ethical and sustainable fashion with women. When I remember that there is a bigger reason why I started this business, it makes it easier to tackle each difficult decision. I also remind myself that I had the courage to step outside my comfort zone and with that comes growing pains. Starting this business was a leap of faith for me. If I can do it, I can inspire and encourage other women to do the same.

Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.

Abby Alley: I believe a positive attitude starts with being true to yourself. My goal is to put people first, which sometimes can be difficult when you’re working on a deadline or need something to turn out a certain way. When you work with people halfway across the world, things tend to take longer and challenges arise that are out of my control. I’ve learned so much from working with people from a different culture and that has helped me in times of stress. If I stay true to my value of putting people first, it reminds me why we’re doing this and becomes a positive part of the process, instead of worrying about imaginary deadlines.

Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?

Abby Alley: My favorite quote is, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it,” by Maya Angelou. This quote is the backbone of why I started this business. I wanted to not only like what I do but how I do it, and that’s why I work with artisan partners in Africa to make ethical and sustainable accessories. This quote encompasses my passion and the ABBY ALLEY mission.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Abby Alley: You can visit my website abbyalley.com, or follow ABBY ALLEY on Facebook: ABBYALLEYthebrand and Instagram: abbyalley_thebrand

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with
this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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