Marcie Muehlke nominated by Paul Silva
Paul Silva is the executive director of Valley Venture Mentors in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Industry: Social Enterprise, fashion, bridal and fair trade
Number of employees: 1 (plus contractors)
What they do: As the owner and CEO (Chief Everything Officer) she does everything other than designing and making the dresses. Celia Grace’s incredibly talented designer (Alix Kivlin) and seamstresses (in Cambodia) take care of that and are such an important part of Celia Grace.
Marcie does everything else that makes the business run and grow – social media, accounting, production planning, import/export, customer service, supply chain management, invoicing, paying bills, pricing, partnerships, and of course the ever important big picture strategy and daily minutia.
What makes her company unique? Celia Grace is America’s first and only line of fair trade wedding dresses. Each Celia Grace wedding dress has a story behind it that is as beautiful as the dress itself – craft preservation eco silk, a fair trade women’s sewing group, and a water filter donated with ever dress.
What are some of her awesome achievements? Celia Grace has been featured in two of the nation’s top bridal blogs and their exquisite heirloom silk is like nothing else available in bridal. This year they got tired of turning away brides outside of the US and expanded into Europe and beyond.
What gives this entrepreneur that ‘Got Next’ glow? When she hears from a bride who had an amazing wedding and loved her dress AND getting to know the amazing seamstresses who make the dresses and whose lives are changed in the act. Marcie loves working with her brides and seamstresses, who are both beautiful inside and out.
Tell us why this entrepreneur should be a 2014 She’s Got Next winner: Celia Grace – America’s first line of fair trade wedding dresses – is redefining the perfect wedding dress. Celia Grace will launch its 2015 collection at bridal market in NYC this October and is growing rapidly. At the same time, Celia Grace is staying true to its mission to give brides a more meaningful wedding dress that she will look great in and feel great about. “I’m so proud of what we have accomplished, and I am so excited for what’s next” says Marcie, who founded the company, built the international supply chain, and overseas sails and business operations.
Let’s Talk to Marcie
Marcie: Amherst, MA
Lioness: Why did you decide to launch your startup?
Marcie: I got married in 2009 and had a wedding that was more wonderful than I could have imagined. The only disappointment was my wedding dress – I wanted to wear a wedding gown that I looked great in and felt great about. I was shocked to discover there were no good options for a wedding dress that was beautiful, gentle on the earth, and socially-responsible.
That was when I realized I could start a “win-win” social enterprise. A fair trade wedding dress company would help brides have a more meaningful and joyful wedding, and at the same time help seamstresses around the world find safe, fair, and empowering work. I was in business school and had a background in international development so it seemed like a great fit for my skill set. After lots of research I realized it was also a great business proposition—if I could create an international supply chain that could produce a highly complex garment in a “green” and socially responsible manner.
Meeting with the women’s sewing group in Cambodia that now makes our dresses took Celia Grace from dream to reality. I was inspired by the talented, smart, and caring women who made such beautiful silk dresses. I was dismayed that they had so few options for safe and fair work that would allow them to better themselves and their families. Once I saw how much joy this business could bring to brides and seamstresses, I knew I had to take the risk.
Lioness: How do you feel about being a Who’s Got Next winner?
Marcie: It is such an honor to be recognized as an up and coming entrepreneur. I think it is so important for business owners, especially women in startups, to share their stories and experiences. The Who’s Got Next awards are a great opportunity to do this. It has prompted me to reflect on where we started, where we stand, and what we dream of accomplishing for brides and women around the world. I am particularly happy to share my experiences as a social entrepreneur – someone who is running a triple bottom line business that considers profit, the planet, and people on equal footing. The timing for this award is great – we are currently donating water filters to families in Cambodia through our one-for-one program (where we donate a filter for every dress sold).
Lioness: What does being a female entrepreneur mean to you?
Marcie: I am so lucky to work in an industry where I am surrounded by strong, smart, capable, honest, supportive, and savvy businesswomen. I draw strength and insight from the women around me —l ike Celia Grace’s talented designer, Alix Kivlin, wonderful bridal boutique owners, the skilled seamstresses who sew our dresses, and the brides around the world who are beautiful inside and out.
From these amazing women, and from my own experiences, I am learning what it means to be a female entrepreneur. To me, being a woman entrepreneur means both independence and interdependence. As a business owner, independence means I get to be creative and flexible and do really interesting and varied work that I love. Independence also means working through challenges and constraints, being tough, and solving problems from the thrilling to the mundane.
While this independence can be delightful or lonely, I am also highly dependent on the women who make up my supply chain and sales channels. I love interacting with these savvy women and finding ways we can support each other, problem solve, and find mutually beneficial opportunities for our businesses. In short, a female entrepreneur needs to be brave enough to take risks and reach for her dreams, but humble enough to get and give support in order to succeed. Each time I hear from a delighted bride after her wedding, or about a seamstress who was able to send her daughter to school, I know that I made the right decision and it was worth the risk to start Celia Grace.