The Hip Humanitarian

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The Hip Humanitarian

A first taste of entrepreneurship and finding beauty in its failure. 

By Hayley Swindell

Hellooooo Austin, Texas!! My name is Hayley and I am the Founder of The Refinery - some of you may have read my "Message From The Founder" section of our site and if you took the time to do that I want to say thank you!! Now if you are reading this you have really shown some true dedication. And for that I thank you as well and I hope I won't disappoint. 

To kick off the official blog for The Refinery I thought I should start be going a bit deeper into the honest truth about how The Refinery blossomed from my first passion project, The Hip Humanitarian. 

There's me with my label printer and scale trying to figure out how to make packaging labels look somewhat decent on my first round of subscription boxes.

That's me with my label printer trying to figure out how to make packaging labels look somewhat decent on my first round of subscription boxes.

A few months before starting to think about The Hip Humanitarian I had landed my dream job as a Director of Development at an nonprofit organization that still holds a strong place in my heart. This job meant the world to me and I truly couldn't believe I had gotten it. I was elated to be doing something I love and even though I couldn't wait to get started, I could feel deep down that I was going to need something even more. Something I could create, foster and grow all on my own. 

Let's go back even farther...I had originally launched The Hip Humanitarian Project in college as an effort to resell unwanted, gently used designer clothes from sororities at the University of Texas. The idea was to collect designer clothes from sororities, resell them and donate 100% of the profits to a different organization each fashion season. This Culture Map article from 2011 can give you all the juicy deets from our first pop up sale in the UT Kappa Kappa Gamma house.

After graduating all I wanted to do was "Hip," but Hip didn't quite pay the bills and long story short, I decided to close down shop with the promise to myself that I would somehow bring it back to life down the road. 

"Oh hey 2013...What? Subscription boxes?? Yes...Yes....That's it!"

I remember sitting in my office at the time when the lightbulb went off. I had read Blake Mycoskie's, Start Something That Matters a year prior and had been searching for my "something" ever since. This was going to be the perfect something that would bring Hip back to life! 

About sixth months later I left my dream full time job to tackle Hip head on and could not have been more excited/terrified. I was going to be able to work form home, manage my own schedule and really grow something special from the ground up. Sounds like the dream right!? 

Here's the truth - After about a month of working at home I started to get a little loopy, craving interaction with other people. And not just anyone...I needed people who were in the same boat that I was in because I had questions, ideas, decisions to make - And I needed guidance! That's when I started looking into coworking options. There are so many incredible spaces out there but what I found was that there were none that worked for me and my e-commerce business needs. I needed a place where I could take great product photography, a physical spot I could showcase my products in, a place that filled my day with a like-minded community, a place where I felt comfortable to ask honest questions about finance, marketing, sustainability...everything! Needless to say I didn't find anything that accomplished all of these needs so I shook it off and headed back to my tiny apartment because I was just going to have to make it work!

A few months later I slipped right back into that lost feeling - My product photos were terrible because of the constant lack of natural light in my apartment, I felt like I had no idea how to really make my company sustainable and I started to loose that drive that used to fill me with endless excitement and possibility.

That's when I started to look for a what I used to call "a big kid job" again. 

I'm not going to lie to you here - I got lucky and quickly found a bad ass job at (a company I had been semi-stalking for a while) that allowed me to get into the world of corporate philanthropy, but I promised myself that I would continue to do Hip on the side. I fell so in love with my 9-5 job that I found myself not giving Hip the love it deserved, which meant watching my brand slip into something that was lifeless. With six hundred subscription boxes left in my apartment, endless baskets of organic beauty products and a very hurt sense of pride, I closed up shop and decided to it was time to move on. 

About two years later, I finally found the space that could have met all of Hip's needs. It has a photography studio, work space, a creative community, workshops, classes, relative events, a retail store - Ahhhh everything I had needed to grow my company and fuel my soul!

It was there all along...I just had to create it!