Live to Work

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to pursue my passion. The problem was, I wasn’t totally sure what that was. I knew I wanted to do something that I was proud of and gave me fulfillment, but I didn’t have an obvious passion like cooking or photography.

I started working when I was sixteen, went to college, graduated with an engineering degree, got a job, didn’t love the job, then got a new job. I earned promotions in my career, but I felt like something was missing. I would come up with ideas like opening a coffee shop or fitness studio, or reinventing myself as an event planner, but they were all just dreams and wishes, and none of them filled me with the sense of satisfaction I craved.

At my 8:00-to-5:00, I could identify the things that really got me going: our company’s goals, office culture, and team building. As I was lying in bed one night, I had the realization that my passion didn’t have to be a specific skill—it could be something broader. Something like entrepreneurship.

I started thinking about cultivating a culture and team that was based on integrity, honesty, and philanthropy. I thought about creating a workplace that people enjoyed coming to every day, and I kept coming back to a particular conversation a few months back. I was at a friend’s house and I was talking to another woman to whom I had just been introduced. In casual conversation, she said to me, “I assume you work to live instead of live to work.” It was nothing more than small talk, but that comment stuck with me.

As we were driving home that night, I knew I wanted to be able to say it was the other way around. I wanted to say I live to work—that my career is not just a means to an end, it’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. I wanted to start my own company.

I started paying attention to all the things around me, trying to find a gap in the way we do things, or a product that would be helpful in certain situations. I had been doing this for a few months, and was about to give up on the idea, when I found what I was looking for.

I was at an auto show in Detroit, Michigan and the room was filled with 8:00-to-5:00ers like myself. I noticed that the majority of men in the room carried backpacks, but the majority of women either had notebooks in hand or heavy tote bags. As I watched the women more closely, I saw them shifting their tote from one shoulder to the other or setting it on the floor. I personally carried a backpack to work, but I hadn’t taken it to this event because it didn’t look as polished as a tote bag. When I got home that night, I googled “backpacks for professional women,” and I was surprised at the lack of results I found. That’s when I made the decision to create one.

How I was going to do it, I had no clue. I have no fashion background, and I’m from a small town in Michigan that’s known almost exclusively for automotive industry. I turned to my good friend Google, found some consulting and business coaching resources, got a partner for this business, and off we went.

We knew early on that we wanted to do more than just create backpacks. We both had the entrepreneurship bug, but we also wanted that feeling of fulfillment. Once we were selling products, we thought about giving a portion of our revenue to philanthropic efforts. We love the business models of companies like Toms and Warby Parker, but we didn’t want to copy them exactly.

On my way to work one morning, I went through the Starbucks drive-thru for some much-needed coffee. When I got to the window, the barista told me my drink had been paid for by the person in front of me. This unexpected kindness brightened my day, and I paid for the person behind me. Knowing that I had been able to bless the stranger behind me the same way I had been blessed had me on a high for the rest of the day, and I wanted to replicate that feeling over and over again. The only problem was, I didn’t have the means to always pay for double when I stopped for coffee. That’s when it clicked that while I personally didn’t have the funds, a sustainable company could.

That night, I wrote down my vision for our company: “A fashion brand on a mission to positively impact the world.” With a portion of our revenue, we are going to conduct random acts of kindness. I got so excited thinking about the significance these acts could have. There is so much beauty in the thought that a random act of kindness could make a difference in someone’s life.

We are now on the adventure of launching a company that encompasses everything we have a passion for.

My story and journey are still being written, but I can tell you this: I never would have thought that I would have the title fashion designer. Once I was able to discover what really moves and inspires me, it gave me the opportunity to pursue a dream.

Taryn Kutches is a wife, mother, friend, daughter, dreamer, and coffee and wine enthusiast living in West Michigan. Her best days are spent boating on Lake Michigan with her husband, daughter, and their pup or enjoying pumpkin spice lattes in the cool weather of fall. She strives to live life to the fullest every day. Find her on Instagram (@parkerdesignco), Facebook (@parkerdesign), and Twitter (@parkerdesignco).

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