CEO Kendra Scott on combatting the ‘cutthroat’ fashion industry and how philanthropy fits into her business

Designer Kendra Scott began her company from her spare bedroom in 2002. While the brand began with only $500, it’s now a major competitor in the fashion world, in addition to a philanthropic entity. Ladders spoke with CEO Kendra Scott to hear her thoughts on scaling a business, avoiding the “cutthroat” environment of the fashion industry, and what she looks for when adding new members to her team.

What’s your advice to anyone trying to scale a fashion-lifestyle brand as successfully as you did?

“My advice is to find your core values, take them to heart, and use them to drive everything you do. When I was a young mom with a big dream, I knew I wanted to create a business that did something more, that did something good. That passion led to the creation of our pillars: Family, Fashion, and Philanthropy. Every decision we make, from hiring to strategy to management, is guided by these pillars. They’re truly our foundation for prosperity; When you live your core values, do work that you’re proud of, and lead by example, you will find success.”

How has your role changed as the Kendra Scott brand has grown since its founding in 2002?

“Every morning when I wake up and drive to the office, I’m walking into a company that is bigger than it was the night before. That kind of growth requires my role to change daily (sometimes hourly!), but I’m still committed to being as involved as possible. As the founder, CEO, and designer of this company, I wear many professional hats. Every day is different, but whether I’m visiting a store, dreaming up new designs, attending board meetings, or brainstorming new ways to innovate, I love it all, and I’m especially grateful for the team we’ve built that helps me propel our brand forward every day.”

What has been the most difficult part of being CEO?

“As the sole founder of an eponymous brand, I carry the brand with me wherever I go – whether I’m sitting in front of other entrepreneurs at a panel or I’m at the park with my youngest son and a group of parents. That being said, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my job, and I wake up every day excited to come to work and collaborate with my team. I keep that thought top of mind whenever struggles present themselves. This is my dream, and I enjoy working to bring it to life every day. Yes, even the hard days!”

Are there any false stereotypes that exist around industries that are made up largely by women?

“The fashion industry, in particular, has been stereotyped as an exhausting, cutthroat environment. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want that – I wanted to create a utopia for working women like me. Our culture at KS is centered around being supportive and collaborative, and I’ve seen that, especially with a team of 98% women, that culture really works! When women work together, we can be unstoppable.”

Philanthropy and fashion aren’t exactly a natural pairing in most people’s minds. Why is it important to you that the company keeps Family, Fashion, and Philanthropy as its core values?

“These pillars, Family, Fashion, and Philanthropy, are the things that are most important to me personally. When I started this business as a young mom, I was chasing my dream and giving back what I could. I believe that holding true to those core values over time IS our definition of success and something that sets us apart.”

Is your morning routine an important part of your day? Why or why not?

“At this point in my career, I’ve accepted that there is no typical workday – which is why holding onto a few parts of my routine is so important! For example, I really value sitting down and having breakfast with my husband and boys every morning. Having that moment together in the midst of a busy schedule brings me a sense of much-needed normalcy.”

How would you describe your management style? Does that change with Millennial and Gen Z employees at Kendra Scott?

“As an entrepreneur, I want to be involved in every part of the business. But as a leader, I’ve learned to hire people who are strong where I am not. This has been such a crucial skill because I now have an outstanding team of people who focus on the other important aspects of the business, and together, we’ve built a billion-dollar company.  Businesses today are creating flexible work environments for Millennials and Gen Zs who want to do it all. We want to support that too, so we offer a flexible schedule that promotes a healthy work-life balance. Plus, we just implemented “Flex Fridays” in our Home Office, allowing our team members to work from home or take some time for themselves!”

How would you describe the company culture? Has it been hard to maintain your ideal company culture as the company grew?

“We’re a family. I’ve mentioned our core pillars are Family, Fashion, and Philanthropy. Family comes first on that list, and it comes first in our daily practices. We treat each other with respect and support, which creates a welcoming environment that really feels like home. As far as maintaining that during growth, I’ve learned that it is crucial to prioritize culture, and we do that by using our pillars as a North Star when we’re hiring or making changes in the workplace.”

When looking for new talent to add to the Kendra Scott team, do you put more weight on hard or soft skills? What kind of traits do you look for?

“While we definitely want to bring on qualified team members, we hire on heart – not resume or credibility. The right person, someone who shares our values, is more important to me than a gold-plated resume. We look for people who share our passion and believe in the work we’re doing. Then once we get them in the door, we continue to treat them with the support and care that keeps their passion alive.”

What advice would you give to someone interviewing at Kendra Scott?

“Be yourself! We’re looking for more than just standout work experience; we’re looking for a new member of our family. Show us your strengths, your passion, and the things that can’t be listed on a resume.”