Mindy Kittay Of The Kama Connection On The Benefits Of Running A Purpose-Driven Business

An Interview With Chad Silverstein

Build a Supportive Community: Surround yourself with people who share your values and mission. This includes your team, advisors, and even customers. Create a community that believes in your purpose and is passionate about making a positive impact. I’ve seen this work wonders in my own business, with customers becoming advocates for our mission.

In today’s competitive business landscape, the race for profits often takes center stage. However, there are some leaders who also prioritize a mission-driven purpose. They use their business to make a positive social impact and recognize that success isn’t only about making money. In this interview series, we are talking with some of these distinct leaders and I had the pleasure of interviewing Mindy Kittay.

Mindy Kittay, a dynamic entrepreneur and community advocate, has dedicated her life to fostering meaningful connections and driving positive change. With a background as a former library director and now as the owner of The Kama Connection, she exemplifies the transformative power of community and the importance of supporting local and global artists. Mindy’s journey is a testament to her commitment to inspiring others to embrace social impact and connection, both locally and globally.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in a small Colorado town, deeply influenced by my grandmother, a renowned painter, and NYU professor, who instilled in me a profound love for art. She opened doors to a world of creativity and cultural exploration, taking me on trips to places like Russia, where we spent an unforgettable week at the Hermitage. This early exposure fueled my passion for connecting kindness to action, and I’ve always been a doer, finding fulfillment in projects that positively impact others.

My professional journey began as a CFO in a construction company, where I enjoyed financial success but felt an inner longing for a more significant purpose. When the opportunity arose to transition into a career as a librarian, I seized it, even though it meant a significant pay cut at first. Over time, I returned to school, ultimately becoming a library director, a role that resonated with my sense of purpose and compassion.

During my time in library sciences, I discovered the best parts of myself and cherished the profound sense of purpose it brought. I also delved into jewelry design and continued to explore the world in my free time. As life evolved and presented its challenges, I took a year off to travel, and during that transformative period, The Kama Connection was born, a testament to the enduring spirit of exploration and creativity.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

One of the most fascinating experiences since launching my business was how I unintentionally became a community connector during the challenging times of the pandemic. Opening my store in Joshua Tree when shopping and entertainment options were limited, I saw an opportunity to create a space for people to come together. I opened my parking lot for local artists to showcase their work, turning it into an open-air market that drew visitors to the desert. With the support of the community, we even constructed a stage, hosting free live music events behind the store. People brought their chairs, drinks, and an undeniable sense of unity, filling a void that was deeply felt during those times. It was an unexpected and heartwarming turn of events that highlighted the power of community and creativity.

We often learn the most from our mistakes. Can you share one that you made that turned out to be one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned comes from a mistake I made when I initially ventured into retail. I realized that “less is more,” and introducing too broad a product range can be overwhelming for customers, leading to decision paralysis even when everything is beautiful. Additionally, I jumped into securing a retail space a bit hastily. While everything ultimately worked out for the best, in hindsight, I would have opted for a more patient approach, taking my time to make decisions and avoiding the rush. This experience taught me the significance of pacing oneself and ensuring every step is thoughtfully considered.

As a successful leader, it’s clear that you uphold strong core values. I’m curious what are the most important principles you firmly stand by and refuse to compromise on. Can you share a few of them and explain why they hold such significance for you in your work and life?

The core values I hold dear and refuse to compromise on are compassion, creativity, inclusion, and gratitude. These principles are at the heart of my work and life for several profound reasons.

Inclusion holds immense significance to me, especially as a plus-size woman in her 60s who has faced various challenges. I’ve always struggled to find stylish clothing that caters to my body type. That’s why I’m committed to showcasing diversity on my site, featuring women of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and gender identities. Inclusivity is about ensuring that everyone feels seen and valued.

Gratitude is a fundamental aspect of my daily meditation and journaling practice. I make it a point to express my thankfulness regularly, not only for the simple joys in life but also for the people who support my business. Without their patronage, I wouldn’t have been able to realize my dream, and that’s something I deeply appreciate.

Compassion is a guiding principle that drives me to share what I can with small cooperatives and nonprofits, particularly those dedicated to supporting children and promoting Buddhism worldwide. I strive to source and buy from them and donate as generously as possible, knowing that even small gestures can create a meaningful impact.

My ultimate dream is to establish a business in the United States, where I can offer training and opportunities to women who have faced a range of hardships, including homelessness and domestic violence. Drawing from my own experiences of being underpaid despite outperforming my male colleagues, I’m committed to providing a supportive environment where these women can develop a career while learning to create clothing and jewelry. This vision represents a twofold blessing — producing quality products in America and empowering women on their path to self-sufficiency. These values underpin my work and fuel my commitment to making a positive impact, both locally and globally.

What inspired you to start a purpose-driven business rather than a traditional for-profit enterprise? Can you share a personal story or experience that led you to prioritize social impact in your business?

What inspired me to pursue a purpose-driven business rather than a traditional for-profit enterprise was a deeply impactful experience in Bali, just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. During my visit, I witnessed the severe economic hardships faced by local dress and jewelry makers who were struggling for business. When I returned home to a world in lockdown and retirement, an opportunity presented itself with a small space in Joshua Tree. Recalling the people I had met in Bali and their desperation, I reconnected with them and placed orders for clothing, jewelry, components for mala necklaces, and more.

As Bali faced stringent lockdown measures, I unexpectedly became a lifeline for my partner factories. Knowing that my business was instrumental in helping them stay afloat fills me with pride. This experience affirmed the importance of prioritizing social impact in my business, as it not only supports local artisans but also symbolizes the interconnectedness of our global community, especially during challenging times.

Can you help articulate a few of the benefits of leading a purpose-driven business rather than a standard “plain vanilla” business?

Leading a purpose-driven business comes with a unique set of benefits that go beyond financial success. Firstly, it fosters a profound sense of gratitude, both from the small businesses and cooperatives I support with my orders and from the customers who purchase from me. Knowing that our transactions have a positive impact on people’s lives adds a deeper layer of fulfillment.

Secondly, it just feels right. The traditional consumer-driven approach doesn’t resonate with me. My heart calls me to make a difference, and I’m passionately in love with a job that has the power to change lives every single day.

Lastly, the most rewarding benefit is the ability to boost people’s self-esteem. When a woman walks out of the dressing room, feeling beautiful and confident, it fills my heart with joy. Many women grapple with self-criticism regarding their bodies, and knowing that I can contribute to their journey of self-love is incredibly gratifying. It’s not just about making sales; it’s about making a positive impact on individuals’ lives, and that’s something money can’t buy.

How has your company’s mission or purpose affected its overall success? Can you explain the methods or metrics you use to evaluate the impact of this purpose-driven strategy on your organization?

The mission and purpose of my company have had a significant impact on its overall success. This purpose-driven strategy is not just about selling products; it’s about creating a meaningful connection with our customers and the community. The methods and metrics I use to evaluate the impact of this strategy on our organization include:

Customer Support: I’ve had women reach out to support my business because they know that by doing so, they are also supporting a network of women in business. This sense of community and shared purpose has been a driving force behind our success.

Motivation: Having a clear “why” behind what I do motivates me and my team every day. It provides a sense of purpose and a commitment to making a positive impact.

Personalization: We strive to give our customers a unique experience by keeping notes on their purchases and preferences. This level of customization fosters a stronger connection with our clientele.

Supplier Relationships: We keep a close eye on our suppliers and actively seek ways to positively impact their lives, whether it’s through fair trade practices or other means. It’s not just about business transactions; it’s about creating mutually beneficial relationships.

Philanthropy: I donate a portion of my profits to organizations that I support. This not only reflects our commitment to giving back but also allows us to measure our social impact.

The combination of these factors has led to some incredible and serendipitous encounters. It feels as though the universe aligns to bring the right people into our path, and this sense of alignment has been a significant contributor to our success. It’s not just about selling products; it’s about building a community and making a positive difference in the world.

Can you share a pivotal moment when you realized that leading your purpose-driven company was actually making a significant impact? Can you share a specific example or story that deeply resonated with you personally?

The most pivotal moment for me was when I managed to keep my partner factories in Bali operational during COVID despite the dire circumstances. The realization that my actions were helping these artisans and their families through such a challenging time was deeply moving and humbling. I had never imagined that I could make such a meaningful impact, especially so early in my journey as a purpose-driven business owner. This experience served as a powerful reminder of the real difference we can make when we commit to a mission larger than ourselves.

Have you ever faced a situation where your commitment to your purpose and creating a positive social impact clashed with the profitability of your business? Have you ever been challenged by anyone on your team or had to make a tough decision that had a significant impact on your finances? If so, how did you address and reconcile this conflict?

I face the challenge of balancing purpose and profitability in my business every day. The reality is that we operate within a capitalistic society, which can sometimes create tension between our mission and financial sustainability. I’m proud of my commitment to a purpose-driven business, but I also have to set boundaries and ensure that we can remain operational.

In this journey, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, but I see them as opportunities to learn and grow. For instance, I opened a retail storefront with the aim of scaling our impact. However, I later realized that I could be more profitable and have a broader reach through our online store. Making the tough decision to close that retail space was a strategic move to better align our purpose with our financial sustainability. It’s about finding that delicate balance and being flexible enough to adapt to what truly works for our mission and our bottom line.

What are your “Top 5 Things You Need To Know in Order To Create A Highly Successful Purpose-Driven Business.”

  1. Know Your “Why”: Understand your core purpose and why you’re embarking on this journey. For me, it’s about making a positive impact and empowering women. Everything you do in your business should align with this fundamental principle. This clarity will guide your decisions and inspire your team.
  2. Learn from Others: Study and draw inspiration from successful purpose-driven businesses. Look at how they stay true to their core purpose while achieving success. For instance, I’ve admired companies that not only sell products but also actively engage with their communities and contribute to causes they’re passionate about. One such company donated a portion of its proceeds to provide clean water to those in need, showcasing a perfect blend of purpose and profit.
  3. Build a Supportive Community: Surround yourself with people who share your values and mission. This includes your team, advisors, and even customers. Create a community that believes in your purpose and is passionate about making a positive impact. I’ve seen this work wonders in my own business, with customers becoming advocates for our mission.
  4. Measure Impact: Find ways to quantify and measure the impact your business is making. It’s not just about profits; it’s about positive change. For instance, we track how our support of small cooperatives and nonprofits affects the lives of artisans and communities. Having concrete data allows you to demonstrate the real-world difference your business is making.
  5. Adapt and Be Flexible: Be open to adapting your strategies and business model. Sometimes, the path to a highly successful purpose-driven business might require shifting gears. I’ve had to make tough decisions, like closing a physical retail space, to ensure that we could focus on what truly matters to our mission. Being flexible and willing to evolve is crucial.

I’m interested in how you instill a strong sense of connection with your team. How do you nurture a culture where everyone feels connected to your mission? Could you share an example or story that showcases how your purpose has positively influenced or motivated people on your team to contribute?

Creating a strong sense of connection with my team involves open communication, a shared vision, celebrating success, providing a supportive environment, and actively engaging with the communities we support.

For instance, starting the open-air market brought together purpose-driven artists and business owners, motivating all of us to help each other and allowing me to increase my contributions to the causes I support.

Imagine we’re sitting down together two years from now, looking back at your company’s last 24 months. What specific accomplishments would have to happen for you to be happy with your progress?

My ultimate dream would be to achieve sales significant enough to realize the opening of my dream factory location in an inner city. This facility would not only provide employment opportunities for women but also offer job skills training and ensure excellent pay and benefits. It would stand as a compelling example for other businesses, showcasing how to create a workplace where people take immense pride in their work, leading to an unparalleled quality of life. Additionally, implementing profit-sharing initiatives would underscore our commitment to our team’s well-being and success, solidifying our dedication to a purpose-driven mission. Just thinking about it makes me emotional.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

If I could inspire a movement that would bring substantial good to a wide-reaching audience, it would be to encourage and support purpose-driven businesses that prioritize social impact. The movement would focus on nurturing companies with a commitment to both profitability and making a meaningful difference in the lives of the people and communities they touch. It would advocate for fair pay, job skills training, and profit-sharing initiatives that can provide employees with an excellent quality of life and a sense of pride in their workplace. By championing these values, we can create a global network of businesses that uplift individuals and promote positive change.

How can our readers further follow your work or your company online?

Explore our website at www.thekamaconnection.com to discover our unique products and the impact we make. Additionally, you can stay updated on our mission, products, and stories by following us on Instagram @TheKamaConnection.

This was great. Thanks for taking time for us to learn more about you and your business. We wish you continued success!

About the Interviewer: Chad Silverstein is an accomplished entrepreneur and visionary leader. He started his first company, Choice Recovery, Inc., while attending Ohio State University and grew it to become an industry outlier before selling the business after 25 successful years. With the launch of his second venture, [re]start, a career development platform, Chad aimed to help people find meaningful career opportunities. Under his leadership, his team was recognized as a “Top Workplace” award winner for over a decade, twice being ranked the #1 small and medium-sized business to work for in Central Ohio. Chad sold [re]start in 2023, enabling him to focus on building an online community of high-performing leaders and continuing to make a positive impact in people’s lives.