Kirkwood College - Associate of Applied Science in Marketing and Merchandising
Katie Behnke once was a teenager in Iowa dreaming of a life working as a clothing designer in New York City running her own line. Now, she's living her dream as the founder and creative director of Elegantees, an affordable line for the "everyday woman" who wants to dress fashionably. What makes the line extra unique is the company's plan to donate 100 percent of all dividends to fight sex trafficking. Katie will tell you she's most excited about the connections she's building with factories in Peru and Nepal that are transforming the community, some rescuing sex trafficked victims and providing them with sewing skills. Read on to hear how she is developing this socially conscious brand.
Sometimes things do not go as expected, but just keep learning and stay positive.
How did you discover your current job?
I’ve been dreaming of my job since I was a teen. It was discovered a year ago, while I was working at my former job as a production manager. It was not until I saw how well I did at running someone else’s business that I realized I could start my own, so I did!
What is your typical day like? What types of things do you do in your job?
I have a team of fabulous women that are always bringing great ideas to the table, and we bounce ideas off of one another. I also am answering customer service emails and monitoring my fans’ love for the brand on Facebook and Twitter. Other than those daily, reoccurring tasks, I can’t say I have a “typical” day. It’s always different! That makes my job both fun and scary, because there is an unlimited list of things I can do. Usually, I am working on all of them at once. My current projects include designing the September line and creating the samples, planning a fashion show in August, developing a layout for a magazine launching in late summer, coordinating a photo shoot, and monitoring the production process of the August line.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
For me, the most rewarding part of my job is seeing the women who wear my clothing. I know they feel beautiful in their Elegantees, because I can see them radiant! The women who wear the tees also feel great about knowing and being a part of my goal to fight trafficking, and the purchases support that mission. It also is encouraging for me because without the women who wear Elegantees, I couldn’t do what I’m doing, and I love what I’m doing and striving to accomplish. They truly bring more rewards to me than I bring to them!
The most challenging part of my job is having patience. I can’t wait to share my story with a national television network, but I think if I did anything of large scale now, I’d have a mess with all the orders! Building a company like this definitely takes time.
What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your job?
I haven’t made time to learn to cook. Every time I do, I walk away to check emails and get swept up into my work. When I come back, the pasta has turned black, and my pan is destroyed. I want to cook because I’m dating a man who I want to keep. Even though they say a way into a man’s heart is through his stomach, my boyfriend sure loves me a lot for not treating him with food. I just desire to cook for him because he’s amazing and deserves it!
What is one lesson you've learned in your job that sticks with you?
Sometimes things do not go as expected, but just keep learning and stay positive. Every time I design a collection, order fabric, manage a photo shoot, or plan a fashion show, it rarely goes exactly as I expected, but there’s always something to be said that is really stellar, and the lessons I have learned are priceless.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?
If you’re a sweetheart with a lot of skills like me, sometimes people will try to walk over you. The best way to fix that challenge is to not work with those people anymore. I’ve left some jobs because of this in the past, and today I continue to move forward to the next partnership or opportunity. I believe that because my business plan is working to attain goals that are noble, and my heart is right, doors will always open when another closes.
Who are your role models?
My dad for his problem-solving skills. I learned them from him, and I couldn’t be where I am without his guidance. Also my sister, Kelli, because she’s a very smart woman, and I consider her to be my best friend.
What are some of the rules you live by?
“It’s OK to be rude!” Let me explain … I’m a friendly people person, and it’s great, but I can only give so much emotionally and physically. Sometimes I turn my phone off for a few hours, or I won’t reply to certain emails or text messages. Some take offense or feel I don’t care for them. Those that do, I try to reply to them and reassure them I love them a lot, but that I am unable to give them a response in that moment. I try to please everyone, but it can take me in so many directions that I have to choose a focus and priority. Let go of the idea of always people-pleasing, and implement that taking care of yourself is necessary before you can truly love others.
“Alone time” is so crucial for visionaries. If I don’t take off my business cap and allow myself to walk through the park, or relax in peace at home, my creative side doesn’t come out.
What advice do you have for girls who want to be in your industry?
Not only should you be talented, but you also have to be passionate. People skills, technical skills and being willing to work are more important than talent. Intern and work for free to get the necessary experience, and have an attitude of gratitude. With everything you do, there is something to learn. (I learned something while packing up boxes to FedEx to India while working for free for a menswear line.) Even I continue learning something new every day!
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I know Elegantees is going to be successful, so in five years we’ll be rescuing girls from sex trafficking and giving them hope for healing and a life of joy and freedom. This is the heart of my job, and why I’m doing it 70 hours a week while maintaining such a love for it.
In my personal life, I desire a husband and babies, so hopefully I’ll be married to a very lucky guy by then. (I say lucky, because I will be the best wife and mom ever … that is, after I learn to cook!)
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’ve recently recruited an amazing team of people to come on board to help grow my vision. We treat one another with great respect as if we’re all at the same level, which makes work with them so wonderful! I love the saying, “A great leader’s courage comes from passion, not position.” As much as possible, I communicate to my team with the appreciation and praise I have for them. Even when the company grows to a place that we can pay them full time salaries, I will still desire to treat them with the same appreciation I have now.