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Makers: Seattle Leaders of Tomorrow, Part 1

In the PBS series Makers: Women Who Make America, numerous women from various backgrounds and professions have shared their stories on their career journey, work ethic, and contribution to transforming the way society looks at female leaders. With season two underway, Makers has shown that women who provoke change, creativity and new outlooks come from all walks of life. Here in Seattle—which is known for being a city filled with revolutionary thinkers and creators— KCTS 9 sat down with seven women who are reimagining, rethinking and redefining the area of their profession. From fashion and law to community service, these women are making changes for generations to come.

In this post, we talk with the founders of Hourglass Footwear and the dean of University of Washington’s School of Law. Stay tuned for part two, where we speak with more local Makers.

Kira Bundlie & Lisa Strom | Founders, Hourglass Footwear
Changing the ordinary and making it extraordinary

Back in 2012, friends and artists Kira Bundlie and Lisa Strom left the comfort of their full-time jobs to pursue a career where they could work together, be creative and utilize their talents. The duo came up with an idea that would combine everything they were looking for into one: custom made shoes.Since then, Hourglass Footwear has grown from a Kickstarter campaign to a fashion success talked about in The Los Angeles Times and on MTV. They currently have a workshop and showroom in Ballard. 

The shoes you both create go beyond fashion; what do you think these shoes represent for the women who purchase them?

Kira: That’s definitely true. I think one of the reasons people are drawn to us is because we can convey personality in a way other shoe manufactures can’t. It’s great to be able to help someone express exactly what they want to present to the world. It’s cool to see people’s personalities come through.

Lisa: There is nothing cookie cutter about the shoes. We always say, “People who wear our shoes have to be confident enough to get attention.”  Because you don’t wear our shoes and not have people comment on them.

Kira: The fact that we carry a wide variety of styles of shoes, not just the paint and designs, but everything from clogs to heels, really lets us cater to any type of women out there.  We have had men request some, too! We really are open to all demographics, anyone who wants cool shoes.

All of the artists at Hourglass Footwear are women. Was that an intentional move or did it just happen that way?

Kira: It’s kind of intentional.

Lisa: But it also just happened that way. We started the company with a group of friends that we wanted to continue to work with who all just happened to be women.  There is something nice about it - for the most part, as we do sell our shoes to men - being by women for women. To that aspect, it works really nicely. There is a sort of aesthetic that I think comes through with Hourglass that is very feminine. It’s not cutesy girly, but it’s very feminine.

Kira: It’s not that we would be against hiring a male artist; it would be interesting to see the type of guy who would want to paint for us. It’s been nice - supportive and empowering - to have this company be founded by women and operated by women.

What woman in your life has had a tremendous impact on you? Why and how did this person impact your life?

Lisa: My mother is a writer, a freelance writer, and she has made her living throughout her life as an artist, finding her own path for her career, and that has been huge for me to see that it can be done. That you can follow your passion and that you can do what you love even if it is not the standard way of making a ton of money.

Kira: I would probably say the same thing, my mother. My mom was a women’s studies major and yet she stayed home and raised us. She had this interesting balance of a stay at home mom and kind of radical feminist. She has been a great motivator for me.

Lisa: And we both kind of come from an era where there is never a question that woman can’t do anything. It would never occur to us that for some reason, because we are women or that our team was all women, that we couldn’t make this business work. Of course it’s going to work. Because it is talent and drive and people who work well together and I feel like all us being women is a benefit.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

Kira: Saying no. When we first started out we were saying yes to just about everything. These opportunities helped us to build and grow, but as time went on we just realized that you just can’t say yes to everything. Somebody told us, “You just have to say no or you will burn out.” It made a huge difference to us. 

Have you ever experienced any objections from people in the workforce due to you being a woman? If so, how did you overcome such matters?

Lisa: I feel like when we started this business we were looked at as a novelty. We are two blondes with a bunch of cute artists who make cute shoes. People just didn’t take us seriously and we had to really work hard to say, “Yes, we wear our high heels but we are also business women.” Our artists work hard, and just because they work from home doesn’t mean they don’t work constantly.

Kira: I think it happens to all women - in and outside of work - just going through your day, you encounter that. Ever since the hashtag #YesAllWomen came up, it’s been on my mind a lot lately. [Click here to read about the #YesAllWomen conversation spurred around the Santa Barbara shootings earlier in 2014.] Just as I’m sure a lot of men don’t realize . . . how walking through your day, you have to encounter not only harassment but subtle belittling. For us to be in a company, we are taken less seriously than we deserve.  We have to fight three times harder to be taken seriously compared to men in our field.

Lisa: Two blondes in high heels don’t automatically get people to think that they are smart. But we proved them wrong and we will continue to do so.

Kellye Testy| Dean, University of Washington’s School of Law
Taking the law into her own hands

With a career in law, Kellye Testy has played every role: from student, research aid, professor and most recently, dean. Though she held the dean position previously at another university, it wasn’t until Testy secured the permanent dean position at University of Washington in 2009 that she made school history by becoming the first woman dean at UW’s School of Law.

You became the first female dean in the history of the UW School of Law. Having that honor and being in that position— what do you think that has done for you, as well as for female students at the university? What change do you believe is coming or came from this?

Kellye: It’s an incredible honor to lead this law school and to be the first woman as the permanent dean. I just feel like it’s been a great challenge. It’s been intellectually really interesting. And to understand the inner discipline of the role we can play here and the global footprint that our law school has; which has been something new for me and really exciting.

You know, in terms of thinking about what it means for other people to see me in this office—I don’t think about that a lot. Yet, now that you ask about it…I think that if you walked up to most people on the street and said, “Describe a law school dean,” they wouldn’t describe me. They would describe an older, probably white man and maybe more uptight and different. I think it’s good for our students to see that the model they may have in their heads is not necessarily the model that’s here. I hope what that does is help each of those persons understand that they can be what they want to be . . . that they can achieve what they want to achieve. Any perceived barriers may be more perceived than real. I hope it has some good effect.

You are a first-generation college graduate; how did reaching this milestone change your work ethic?

Kellye: I grew up not having a lot of windows into expecting to have a professional career. I didn’t know any lawyers or professionals, so being a first-generation college student is huge for me, it really is. People might say, “Oh, I was held back by the fact that I didn’t go to a great private school.” I have been so grateful. As a first generation college graduate, I never take it for granted that I am here. I work in education, and I see education as an amazing privilege. I feel blessed every day that we open our doors to students of a variety of lives and see them grow during the time they are with us. So having that background, I feel every day, with everything I do, that it comes through in some way. I think I see the world differently than I would if I had been something that was routine or expected. I am grateful for that standpoint and always really eager to try and help, so more and more people have that access to education that they deserve. 

What do you think has contributed most to your growing success and mission?

Kellye: I think so much of life is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. You just need to do the work. I think I have a good work ethic, but beyond that there are so many other things that come in. Some of it is luck or timing, but a lot of it is relational.  I like people. I like to listen to them, help empower them. I always had a strong desire to be a good force in some way and I don’t know exactly where that comes from, but I think that is helpful. There are a lot of people that do think about just their own work, but a lot of times you need somebody who is less focused on exactly what they’re doing and more focused on how do you get people to work together. I just always enjoyed that.

Have you ever experienced any objections from people in the workforce due to you being a woman? If so, how did you overcome such matters?

Kellye: That’s an interesting question for me, because I actually don’t feel like I have encountered a lot of inequity due to being a woman. I wouldn’t say that I felt inequity was around my gender, but—my partner is a woman— and so when I was at a private institution where it was very religious, I felt less openness. We are lucky in Seattle because Washington is fairly progressive. However, I wouldn’t say either of those things has been severe, but they are structural to our world so there is no way that anyone is not affected by it. One of the things I think is really important for us to keep in mind is that, just because I didn’t feel it or wasn’t held back by it, doesn’t mean that all women are not. Maybe I am wrong about that, maybe things have happened to me that I don’t know. It has been interesting to me to see a number of law school deans that have become presidents of universities and almost all of them are men even though there are a lot of us women law school deans who have been in a position longer or done as well.

People often wonder about the differences between how men and women lead. How do you answer the question of whether women lead differently than men?

Kellye: There is a difference, but I don’t think it’s due to biology. I think it’s due to the way people feel about power. If you have never in your life not had power you think about leadership differently from those who have always had power. More men have had power than women. So a lot of times women lead differently because they know what it’s like to experience powerlessness. Once you have experienced powerlessness, you know that it feels bad . . . you don’t want others to feel that way. The other thing that is really true about that is the world is—because of gender stereotype— still it accepts authority less well from women, and so it’s harder for a woman to be the command and control sort of leader. They expect women to carry a different persona. That’s unfortunate because I think to be an effective leader, the most important thing you can do is be who you are. I am not a command and control kind of leader, but some women might be. Yet, I think that option is not there for them because it’s less accepted. It’s not about biology and more about power and how you think about it and experienced it that leads to those differences. 


Can't wait until part two of our Makers piece? Explore additional stories of women leaders from last years Makers workshop.