On a spring evening in March, more than one hundred women gathered in the art gallery of 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, ready to be inspired.
Sponsored by Garnet Hill and presented by Wild Adventurous Life, the event — called Blaze Your Own Trail — brought together female trailblazers of all ages to share their stories, empower one another and network in an engaging, fun environment.
“The Wild Adventurous Life Trailblazer event was designed to inspire women to live with a sense of adventure. It effortlessly aligns with our brand values,” said Robyn Pagluica of Garnet Hill. “We believe that by offering beautifully designed and responsibly sourced products, we encourage women to confidently evolve their personal style.”
Wild Adventurous Life Founder/CEO Jennifer Desrosiers hosted the evening, noting in her opening remarks that this wasn’t a typical business networking event. “As entrepreneurs, we’re walking the precipice every day,” she told the enthusiastic audience. “It’s about will and resilience to get to the top. We’re talking tonight about the mindset to blaze your own trail… tonight’s about the scary stuff. Are you in?”
Sitting together on a raised stage, set against a rough-hewn wood wall, Desrosiers and five female entrepreneurs spent a freewheeling hour sharing their journeys in business and life. The powerful panel included Jay Adams, co-founder of Brass, a Boston-based women’s clothing brand; Angela Garcia, founder/CEO of AG Fitness in Stratham, New Hampshire; Whitney Swaffield and Samantha Finigan, founders of Gus & Ruby Letterpress in Portsmouth and Portland, Maine; and Amy VanHaren, founder of VanHaren Creative and pumpspotting, a brand dedicated to providing connection and support for breastfeeding women.
The evening featured plenty of laughs, knowing nods, and shared wisdom. Here were a few takeaways:
Take the leap. “If you want to learn about yourself, open a business,” said Desrosiers. Several panelists noted that taking risks was worth it. Adams urged future entrepreneurs to “just put your idea out there. Don’t wait until it’s perfect.” Finigan noted that she and Swaffield “had no idea what they were doing” when they opened Gus & Ruby Letterpress, using Swaffield’s grandfather’s late 1800s-era letter printing press to create one-of-a-kind wedding invitations and greeting cards. Finigan attributed her willingness to be an entrepreneur to her parents. “My parents were both self-employed,” she said. “I grew up never being afraid to take risks.” VanHaren advised, “Pay attention to what speaks to you and follow it.”
Defy the negative story you tell yourself. Olympic snowboarder Scotty Lago sought out Garcia, a personal trainer and former professional dancer, to be his strength and conditioning coach, even though she had no prior experience coaching elite-level athletes. “I thought, ‘I can’t do this, I’m not capable’,” she said. “I would’ve shut the door on myself. I turned that around to ‘you need to give yourself the opportunity’.” Garcia went on to train Lago and travel with the U.S. Olympic snowboarding team—“even though I’ve never been on a snowboard!” she said.
Find your tribe and believe what they say. When she was meeting with possible investors for pumpspotting, VanHaren at first questioned whether she was qualified to ask for money, or even be at the table. She discovered that surrounding herself with supportive friends who believed in—and accepted—her was key to moving forward. “I find people now who can mirror back to me,” she said. “I’m in an incubator of successful women. In those moments I know I belong and that I’m doing important work.”
You can love your job and love your life. Work-life balance is always a challenge for entrepreneurs but Swaffield and Finigan find they manage because they love their business—and rely on each other. It helps, Swaffield pointed out, that they’re at the same points in their lives right now—married, with young children. “You don’t have to dislike your work because you’re doing it all the time,” she noted. “I love work as much as I love my family.”
Embrace failure. Fear of failure was a common thread among the business owners. But the biggest opportunities come from taking risks. “Put it out there and the universe will respond,” said VanHaren. She detailed how she ran out of money for the pumpspotting-branded mobile support van. “I gave too much away for free,” she said. “I should’ve followed my gut and stuck to my vision about the van’s value.” Forgiving yourself for your mistakes is key as is recognizing that striking out is part of the process. “Celebrate it when you open the door to yourself,” she said. “There’s grace in the mess.”
Don’t be afraid to talk about money. All of the panelists agreed that female entrepreneurs need to be comfortable discussing money and salaries. “As a business owner you need to get comfortable asking for money,” advised VanHaren. “Recognize that it’s a reasonable request.”
“Seeing women support other women in our close-knit community is always uplifting,” said Robyn Pagluica. “So many different types of people coming together for one cause, the recognition of women and the work that we all do.”
Afterwards, guests kept the energy going, chatting over cocktails in the lounge area and posing for pictures on stage. “I so appreciated the panelists real and honest answers,” said attendee Robin Drunsic. “The room was filled with so much positive energy and I left feeling truly inspired!”
Debbie Kane is a freelance Garnet Hill writer based in Exeter, NH.