There is no better way to kick off our Founding Females: I Declare My Independence series than with Heather Stark, founder of Grace & Grit.
Grace & Grit is a subscription box service designed to empower young girls. Each Grace & Grit box highlights a special character trait of a historic female who achieved great things. Girls are learning about women in history, the contributions they have made to society and how powerful the female narrative can be.
In addition to the boxes, Grace and Grit also provides a curriculum for school counselors to use in their girl groups or for guidance lessons.
One amazing aspect of the gift boxes and curriculum is the “Play It Forward” cards. After the girls learn about the historic woman and what she accomplished in her life, the girls are asked to “Play it forward”. Every box has nine play it forward cards that encourage girls to share the lessons with other girls. Some cards ask girls to recognize other girls who show courage, leadership, and/or empathy. Other cards ask girls to buy another girl a drink at the local coffee shop, assist a girl who is having a hard time, or encourage the girl to be curious about her community.
Heather didn’t always know she was going to be an entrepreneur. She, herself, was a school counselor and thought she would be for life. One day her husband came home and said, “I think you are supposed to start a business for girls.” She laughed it off.
But she couldn’t shake the thought, and the idea began to build inside of her.
ALV: What inspired you to start your business?
HS: For the majority of my life I thought I was broken. I was unworthy, I didn’t belong, the story of my life was shame.
I went through an eating disorder, anxiety, depression, thoughts of ending my life. I believe every female needs to know she is worthy. She matters, her story matters. Every girl should feel empowered.
The stories of our lives- those formative experiences that shape us- place a huge role on our self-worth and I want females everywhere to know that you get to be in control of your story. Your story is not a place of shame. It is a place of growth, wisdom, and empowerment.
I want every young girl to know she is worthy and her potential is limitless. I do this through telling the stories of women.
I believe people’s stories should be celebrated- no matter how gritty, muddy, or marred we need to use our stories to connect and empower instead of shame. I was inspired to start Grace and Grit when an influential woman gifted me the idea of a subscription box company for girls. Telling the stories of women throughout history who overcame adversity and obstacles to become the women we know them to be today is a powerful tool for today’s young girls.
Too many times in life we start comparing ourselves to one another and we forget that everyone has a dry season and a fruitful season. Understanding that everyone has the same seasons helps us be resilient and resilience leads to empowerment.
Fast forward two years and Heather had started a nonprofit and written a curriculum to help girls overcome self-doubt, work through “drama” and build authentic relationships with other girls.
Nine months later, she started a separate LLC called The GgBox – Grace and Grit Box – that works to empower girls through the stories of women in history that overcame adversity.
Then two years later she started the blog and podcast series – This Is Me – that celebrates the stories of women.
While Heather says it “all happened so naturally,” we know that an incredible amount of work and courage went into making it happen. But when you absolutely love what you do and know you’re on your path, all the sweat and tears are worth it.
“I could never go back to my traditional job. The love and passion I feel now when I work it is beyond anything I could have ever imagined feeling.”
ALV: What are you most proud of in your business:
HS: I am most proud of the impact Grace and Grit has had on our customers. I get the most precious stories from moms, dads, and counselors about how the girls have enjoyed the learning and empowering experiences in each box.
A few years ago a grandmother bought our Devotion Box for her granddaughter who is visually impaired. Our Devotion box features Anne Sullivan who was Helen Keller’s teacher. I was able to meet this sweet girl a few weeks later. Sitting and talking to that sweet young lady was a very impactful experience for me. I remember her telling me how she liked reading about people like her because she knew she wasn’t alone. Whoa.
This summer I had the opportunity to travel to India and work with 38 girls living in an all girls home. At this home, they are given an education, medical and dental care. I was there to help them work through some of the traumatic events in their lives. In doing so they started to understand their potential and work to change the narrative of their story. From now on, they get to decide how their story will be written. Hearing these stories and was an honor.
While I was in India I also had the opportunity to speak to a group of women about what I do for a living. Afterward, several women came up to me and asked me to pray over them. One of the women brought her older daughter up to me. Her daughter wanted to attend college and asked for prayers of support.
If you’re anything like me, Heather’s words have given you chills by now. Her genuine passion for making others feel supported loved and not alone is truly inspiring. And her business is undeniably making an incredible impact in the world.
But that doesn’t mean running it is without its challenges.
HS: There are always financial challenges or challenges in learning to manage your time. Every day there is a different problem to solve and every day I tell myself- everything is figure-outable. And it really is– as long as you are asking yourself the right questions.
When you do something that flows against tradition (leaving a 9-5; being a feminist) it attracts the opinions of others rather quickly. Working through my own self-doubt and the negative opinions of others has probably been the hardest challenge for me.
That is where every book that I have ever read by Brené Brown comes into play. She equates living an authentic and wholehearted life as “entering the arena”. Unfortunately, every arena comes with a nose bleed section of seats that people like to sit in and pass judgement. The trick is knowing how to work through those sticky opinions and judgments.
You also have to learn to rise from your mistakes because you will make a lot of mistakes and that is okay! I read somewhere that the beautiful thing about failure is that the minute you learn from it- it is no longer a failure. You have to make mistakes; it’s vital to your success. Every mistake brings a bit more wisdom. Learn how to rise from your mistakes.
It is incredibly difficult to start a business. There is no denying that. Sure, one of the perks is greater flexibility which is one of the reasons why entrepreneurship is so appealing. But with it also comes an unprecedented level of responsibility and ambiguity.
ALV: What is a misconception about what you do?
HS: A big misconception – I don’t work as hard as I did when I had a traditional job. Someone once said to me “Well you don’t HAVE to wake up early anymore.” Yes, yes I do. In fact even more so now that I started my own business. To make an impact, to achieve goals- I have to start work early, work on the weekends, work on vacations. As an entrepreneur, you do it all until you can hire people to help you.
I hate the glorification of busy so I very rarely talk about everything I do in a day. But the hustle is real.
Even if you see me at the gym at 1:00 in the afternoon. Please know- I have been up working since 4 am. (Side note- I believe that working out 30 minutes to an hour a day should be considered part of the working day. It makes you more productive and helps manage stress.)
Another misconception is that because my companies highlight the stories of women it means that don’t care about boys. I have a son and I care deeply about my son’s upbringing. My mission, my purpose, my calling, my why is- empowering girls. I can have a business that empowers girls AND still care about the upbringing of boys.
For years our world has catered to males and no one questioned it. Why am I questioned when creating companies specifically for girls? It’s a bit of a double standard. My son understands the history of female oppression. He understands why my work is important.
I can tell you first hand that every day as an entrepreneur is a rollercoaster, and you can never say with 100% certainty that you are doing the “right” thing. All you can do is make the best decisions you can with the information you have. You make constant mistakes, but you are always learning. About business and about yourself.
ALV: What would you do differently?
HS: Everything that I have done, every mistake, every failure, every humiliation has proven vital to who I am now- four years after starting this venture. There is nothing I would do differently. As hard as it was, as scary and sweaty as I felt- I would do it all again. I simply can not take it out of my story. It was all part of my climb. All of the missteps has brought me closer to God, my husband, and brought me back to me.
And guess what- I have lived through all of my worst days. All of the things I was scared of- I lived through. All the criticism, sleepless nights, heartache, financial hardship, changing relationships, all the tears- I lived through it all and appreciate it all because it has made me wiser, stronger, and empowered.
If you’re thinking about starting a business but can’t seem to overcome that natural fear inside of you, Heather has some advice:
HS: That scared feeling will always be there- it a vulnerable thing to start a business because there are no guarantees. But that also means you are brave. Bravery cannot happen without vulnerability.
Take a deep breath and jump.