On March 8th, the world will come together to celebrate International Women’s Day – a day dedicated to celebrating the incredible achievements of women around the world. For small businesses, which is the backbone of the U.S. economy, this day holds particular significance as it provides an opportunity for us all to recognize and celebrate the valuable contributions of women in the workplace.
Whitestone is fortunate to be surrounded by courageous, smart and incredibly talented women both internally and externally through the customers we work with and the suppliers we manufacture from everyday.
As we think about this occasion, and how we could celebrate this day, we are shining the spotlight on several female founders who have helped pave the way in our industry. Each of these female founders manufacture valuable products and without them, we would not be able to offer their quality products and services to our clients. These women have overcome obstacles and faced challenges head-on to build successful businesses that are making a real impact through the products they are taking to market and through the people they employ and the examples they set for their families and communities.
We spoke to each of them to learn more about their experiences and the lessons they’ve learned along the way. Join us as we celebrate the achievements of these remarkable women and gain insight into the strategies and mindset that have helped them build thriving businesses.
OWNER: ELLIE BATHE
“It’s never too late to reinvent yourself.”
— Ellie Bathe
Ellie is the founder and owner of LogoJojo. She noticed a gap in the promo industry where there were no suppliers creating custom labeled, high-end speciality coffee. She wanted to create a product that said “no” to cheap, stale K-Cup coffee, or as she likes to call it, “craffee.”
Ellie’s son, Rob Bathe, owns Folly Coffee Roasters in the Twin Cities. With a shared love of coffee, Ellie partnered with Rob and Folly Coffee to create Logojojo. The goal was to get Folly into the promo world and share the joy of Folly Coffee with more people.
What makes this partnership even more perfect is the contrast between Rob and Ellie. Rob is a hipster while Ellie is nearing the age for hip replacements. Despite their differences, they share a passion for coffee and a desire to bring high-quality coffee to the promotional products industry.
Ellie believes that “it’s never too late to reinvent yourself.” She shared that while she’s approaching the age for Medicare eligibility, she’s still continuing to learn and in starting this business has had to check her fears at the door.
One piece of advice she gave us was to “Never underestimate the willingness of colleagues to support you or lift you up.” Our whole team notices that this is something she embodies herself everyday, as she leaves a smile on everyone’s face after each interaction. She believes there is so much goodness in the world, if you just extend your hand.
Ellie’s journey is a testament to the fact that age is just a number. Her passion for coffee, family and helping others has led to her creating a successful business that is bringing joy through coffee to the promo industry.
OWNER: MICHELLE CHEN
Michelle and Judy Chen are a mother-daughter team that are leading the way at Fossa Apparel, a company that specializes in creating quality and sustainably-minded apparel for the promotional market. They have set out to deliver fashion and quality to the corporate market, for both men and women, something they believe is lacking. We think that if you check out their line of apparel, you’ll see they’re doing just that!
They are first-generation immigrants, who have cherished building this business. When it comes to running a small business, Michelle believes that “honesty is the best policy.” Open communication and having a game plan between herself and the client are essential to building trust and confidence. While things may not always work out exactly as planned, she always strives to find the best solutions for her clients, even if it means delivering an alternative solution that may not align with the customer’s initial vision. She stays true to her values and gives it her absolute best effort, which Whitestone has always appreciated.
“Honesty is the best policy.”
— Michelle Chen
Michelle advises entrepreneurs and young professionals to not to be afraid to chase after what matters. She admits that she was not born with thick skin, but the business has taught her the lesson of patience and perseverance. She mentions that what helps her is focusing on what she can control and less on the actual outcome, knowing that if she does her job to the best of her abilities, the results will come. This approach and perspective have given her the new alignment she needs to stay in the game with a clear mind.
Michelle is making a difference in the apparel and promotional market and inspiring others to pursue their dreams along the way. We are proud to support Fossa and someone we can all look up to and look to as a role model.
C&S Hot Stamping
OWNER: CARMEN MARINO
“It’s crucial to do whatever it takes to honor your word and your commitment to your clients.”
— Carmen Marino
Carmen Marino is the founder of C&S Hot Stamping, a boutique contract printing company offering nine different decorating methods all under one roof. They are who Whitestone turns to when we need to decorate Keurig machines, Allbird sneakers, tennis balls and anything most others would find challenging to decorate beautifully.
Carmen’s passion for hot stamping and leather began at an early age. They initially offered debossing/embossing and foil stamping on leather wallets and bags. The company quickly gained a reputation for professional workmanship and quick lead times, leading to requests for additional services.
C&S has successfully been in business for over forty years, which is due to a lot of factors, but knowing what I know about Carmen, it all starts with staying true to her core values and instilling those throughout the company. Her unwavering commitment to the quality and craftsmanship of their art has also played into their success.
Two of the core values she leaned into were Integrity and self respect, which she believes to be key and have helped them stay true to their mission and reason for being in business.
She goes about her business understanding that unforeseen circumstances are inevitable and to maintain a good reputation, it’s crucial to do whatever it takes to honor your word and your commitment to your clients. Whether that means driving hours to pick up replacement parts or missing personal events and commitments, Carmen emphasized to us the importance of always delivering, because of the trust her clients put in her. She holds high standards for herself, and as a business owner, her values have led to longevity, impeccable relationships and one of the best reputations for decorating services in the New York Tri-State Area.
Carmen’s expertise in leatherwork even led to an exclusive on-site hot stamping service for a prestigious flagship store in NYC. In addition, C&S expanded its offerings in 2008 to include throw pillows, becoming the first and only product that C&S sells. With a focus on hard goods and unmatched quality standards, C&S is truly able to print on everything. Without C&S, we would struggle mightily to decorate those not-so-easy to brand items.
Riviera Towel Company
OWNER: SHANNON DIPADOVA
Shannon DiPadova is the founder of Riviera Towel Company, makers of genuine handmade towels. She has built a mission-driven company that is focused on creating stylish, versatile, and ethically made products.
The inspiration for the company comes from Shannon’s coastal home in Santa Barbara and her family’s love of travel. The company works with artisans in Turkey and has family-owned factories which they visit annually.
One of the most valuable lessons that Shannon has learned is that “Small is the New Big.” This is something that I can relate to personally with my experience growing Whitestone. They have decades of experience and shared that while growth is important to the company, Shannon and her husband Albert have decided to keep their company size small intentionally to maintain their boutique-like feel and exceptional quality standards. By staying small, they can be fast-moving and highly responsive to their clients. This also allows for faster decision-making, more nimble responses to changes, and a stronger company culture. Shannon believes that staying true to the values and principles that have made RTC successful thus far is the key to remaining flexible and adaptable as the business evolves
“Do Good, Feel Good.”
— Shannon DiPadova
Philanthropy is also an important part of Shannon’s business strategy. RTC donates 5% of its net profits to marine agencies dedicated to healing and protecting our oceans. The company believes that being a good corporate citizen is an essential part of being a good company, and encourages employees to volunteer their time and skills. Shannon’s motto is “Do Good, Feel Good,” and by purchasing RTC products, customers can do something that gives back to the community. The company is more than just beautiful towels; it’s about helping people to make good choices and feel good about their purchase.
Before Whitestone was introduced to RTC, the only towels Whitestone was able to offer our customers were Cotton, Terry and Microfiber options. Shannon has birthed an exceptional mission-driven company that values ethics, quality, and philanthropy. And they’re a company we are proud to support and work alongside.
OWNER: STACY STAHL
“Do the first step.”
— Stacy Stahl
Stacy Stahl is the founder of Sweeter Cards, a greeting-card-meets chocolate bar brand based out of St Louis. Stacy combined her love for chocolate and greeting cards to create the first-ever greeting card and gourmet chocolate bar in one. In her constant search for meaningful ways to be thoughtful, Stacy found it repeatedly difficult to find things that were more than a card, but less than an overly expensive (and oftentimes wasteful) gift. By combining chocolate and cheeky greeting cards, Sweeter Cards was born!
What we love about her company and want to shine a light on is their fair trade certified chocolate, recyclable card packaging, and that they employ adults with disabilities to bring their two-for-one concept to life. Stacy has created a refreshing new concept that is so easy to support and get behind.
One of the most valuable lessons she has learned throughout her journey as an entrepreneur is to “keeping it simple.” She is a self described “path of least resistance” entrepreneur, which means she doesn’t overcomplicate things. Stacy ensures there is as little friction as possible in her communication with her customer, supply chain, production processes, and so on.
Keeping it simple and taking the path of least resistance allows Sweeter Cards to make a great product, provide excellent customer service and have a well-oiled production machine. This lesson has also taught them to lead with intuition by doing the things that feel good.
You would know Stacy better if you knew that this is her second business she founded rooted in love and sentiments, having started and successfully sold HowHeAsked.com to The Knot. She believes that in order to get any business or venture off the ground, one needs to “Take the first step.” Sounds so simple! But, that’s it she has shared with us. When the first step is done, do the second one. When that one is done, do the third. Remember that EVERYONE started with step one. No one who “made it” started from any other point than you’re at now. Starting something is simply STARTING it. You do not, and will not, know everything from day one. None of us did. We might seem like we “know so much more” but we didn’t when we were at the exact same point you might be in now.
FInally, Stacy and her company live by the motto “Say yes, and figure it out later!” This lesson is two-fold. First, it encourages their team to be open-minded and positive-thinking. Second, it puts some healthy momentum behind them and forces the team to problem solve. It’s a mindset that keeps a company or business owner growing and learning.
OWNER: MARY DOBSCH
Mary Dobsch is the founder of The Chest Inc, a company that delivers innovative and custom promotional products to our industry. They specialize in packaging, puzzles, mailings, and so much more! Their diverse product line, in addition to their “custom to you accommodations”, meet a wide array of our clients needs. The Chest Inc has been helping their clients for over 35 years with beautiful, eco-friendly packaging, kits, and more.
Throughout Mary’s many years of leading The Chest Inc, she has learned several valuable lessons that can be applied to anyone looking to start their own business. She believes in “Doing what you love.” Mary feels like she never really got a job. She loves what she does and enjoys the people she works with. To Mary, everyday she goes to work doesn’t feel like work.
Everyone wants to do business with fun, positive people – Mary included! At Whitestone, we love the positive attitude that Mary maintains with every request we send her way. We met Mary and her husband last year at a sales conference and she had our whole team crying of laughter. That is Mary, fun loving and always quick to lighten the mood.
Throughout her career, she has learned that it is important to keep a work/ life balance. This is something many entrepreneurs, including myself struggle with. Mary feels that your job should not own you and family should always be the priority.
“Whatever it is, the way you tell your story online can make all the difference.”
— Mary Dobsch
The Chest Inc has been an invaluable partner to us at Whitestone, especially through the pandemic, as we had to source new packaging vendors. We appreciate the positive attitude and creativity that Mary and her team bring to every project. We look forward to continuing our partnership with The Chest Inc and can’t wait to see what innovative ideas they’ll come up with next!
Redwood Classics Apparel
OWNER: KATHY CHENG
“There is no substitute for a dedicated team of skilled, professional artisans using high-quality materials to craft garments by hand.”
— Kathy Cheng
Kathy Cheng is the founder of Redwood Classics Apparel. A vertically integrated apparel manufacturer that controls every aspect of the production process. It starts with the fabric they stock, to cutting, sewing, private labeling, dying, washing, embroidering, screen printing, packaging and shipping! Their entire process combines traditional, handcrafted practices with state of the art technology and computerization.
The business has become a reflection of Kathy’s commitment to producing premium apparel while prioritizing people, the planet, and prosperity.
Redwood Classics was established in 2009 as an in-stock premium apparel line, owned and operated by WS & Co. Ltd. Today, the company produces for fashion retailers and designer brands globally, with a focus on combating offshoring and promoting Canada as a leading destination for premium apparel manufacturing.
At the core of Redwood Classics’ philosophy, there is no substitute for a dedicated team of skilled, professional artisans using high-quality materials to craft garments by hand. This philosophy inspired the company’s North Star values to reflect their commitment to prioritizing people above all else, including creating jobs that support diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through various social media campaigns, Redwood Classics has built a community that appreciates the company’s values and impact on the planet. In addition to creating clothes, Redwood Classics is creating a movement that lifts marginalized communities and ensures diverse suppliers have their voices heard.
Whitestone has even felt the benefits of their social media campaigns, specifically their #WomanOftheWeek. A few of the talented directors at Whitestone have been featured in this campaign. It was a thoughtful way to recognize the hard work that our leaders put in every day.
Redwood Classics Apparel is more than just a clothing company. It is a group of people who take pride in what they make and care about their impact on the planet. Through their commitment to premium craftsmanship, ethical practices, and community involvement, Redwood Classics Apparel is a shining example of how a company can succeed while prioritizing people and the planet.