Elena Pérez Of The Hip Hat

An Interview With Chad Silverstein

"Find something that you are passionate about; it can be more than one thing. Try to blend them and come up with something unique. For me, it was a blend of the love and connection I have with Ecuador, my home country, its people, and its art, with the true belief that sustainable fashion needs to be widely accessible, fun, and approachable."

Asa part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Elena Pérez.

Elena Pérez was born and raised in Quito, Ecuador. She holds a Law degree from Universidad San Francisco de Quito and an LL.M degree from University College London. She has had the luxury of living in many different places in the world and experiencing the wonders of getting to know other cultures. Aside from her beloved Ecuador, she´s lived in Switzerland, UK, USA, and Spain. She finds immense joy and satisfaction in having created and running The Hip Hat, a purpose-driven business with the clear mission of creating sustainably handcrafted headwear and fashion accessories that inspire and tell stories. Elena defines herself as a woman in a constant state of creation, be it ideas, products, businesses, or stories. She´s also an avid reader who will devour a good book. She´s happily married to the man of her dreams and the mother of two wonderful boys.

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?

Absolutely! My “Origin Story” is like an Ecuadorian tapestry: woven with colors of passion, purpose, and adventure. I was born and raised in Ecuador, a beautiful country where nature, colors, traditions, and creativity exist in perfect harmony.

Growing up in Ecuador was like being immersed in a living work of art. I was surrounded by breathtaking snow-capped Andes mountains and patchwork landscapes, lush forests, unique ancestral architecture, colorful crops, flavors, and smells capable of awakening all the senses.

These natural wonders instilled in me a deep appreciation for the environment and a sense of responsibility to protect it.

My upbringing also introduced me to the incredible artisans of Ecuador, whose skill and craftsmanship are unparalleled. These talented individuals work magic with their hands and with natural and renewable materials, creating fashion accessories that are not only beautiful but also sustainable.

Fast forward to my life in Alpharetta, Georgia, where I now live with my husband and our two perfect boys. Juggling the roles of motherhood and the desire to return to a fulfilling professional career, I found myself yearning for a path that would allow me to blend these aspects seamlessly.

Enter “The Hip Hat” — a vibrant fusion of my love for Ecuador and my passion for purpose-driven business. It was born from the idea that fashion can be a force for good, supporting both artisans and the environment.

So, my journey from the colorful streets of Ecuador to the bustling life in Georgia led me to create The Hip Hat, where I get to celebrate and share the extraordinary talents of Ecuadorian artisans while pursuing a greater good through fashion.

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

The most captivating experience that first comes to my mind revolves around the fusion of both the business and personal facets of our mission. While the business side is undoubtedly fascinating, it’s the deeply personal stories that have left a deep-seated mark on me.

Allow me to share one such remarkable personal connection that touched my heart profoundly. It all began during a work session with Gladys, one of the artisans we collaborate with on crafting our exquisite tagua jewelry. While having a design and creative session at her workshop in Quito, she candidly spoke to me about her teenage daughter, who had been diagnosed with being on the autism spectrum.

As we continued to work and Gladys shared her story and the challenges her family faced in providing therapy and support for her daughter, it became even more clear to me the genuine impact that The Hip Hat was making and could make beyond simply creating beautiful fashion pieces.

This poignant work session and conversation stirred something within me to take a meaningful step forward with The Hip Hat. In response to Gladys’s story and the countless others we may not have heard, a partnership was established with Fundación Camina Conmigo in Ecuador. This collaboration allows us to allocate a portion of our profits from our jewelry collections specifically to fund therapy for children on the autism spectrum, particularly those from families who may be struggling financially.

The power of the personal connections built through The Hip Hat and the subsequent commitment to giving back to our artisan community has been nothing short of inspiring and fulfilling. It’s a testament to the profound impact that purpose-driven businesses can have, not only on the individuals that we work with but also on the broader community. In essence, it reaffirmed our belief that purpose should always precede profit, and it continues to drive our mission at The Hip Hat to this day.

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 impactful mistakes I’ve made, which eventually led to an invaluable lesson, was the decision to hire a social media agency for The Hip Hat. At the time, I believed that I lacked the expertise to cultivate the brand’s online presence and grow its social media following. It seemed like a logical choice to entrust this aspect of the business to professionals who specialize in social media management.

However, in hindsight, this decision turned out to be a pivotal moment in this business journey. Initially, working with the agency led me down a path filled with self-doubt. I found myself questioning whether The Hip Hat had what it took to be a successful venture in a competitive market, and I was surrendering a significant slice of the brand’s responsibility to a third party.

Ultimately, what became abundantly clear was that the agency didn’t fully grasp The Hip Hat’s essence, its core values, and the unique voice that defines it. They adhered to a generic script that didn’t align with our specific needs and vision; hence, the collaboration did not work for either party.

It was during this phase of trial and error that I realized the importance of authenticity and staying true to a brand’s identity. Once I reclaimed control over the brand’s social media strategy, I was able to map a path that was uniquely tailored to The Hip Hat, which, in turn, was crucial to its growth. The Hip Hat’s online presence began to reflect our brand’s values, mission, authenticity, and aesthetics more accurately. This shift allowed us to connect with our audience on a deeper level and fostered organic growth.

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?

Let me start by saying that I’m on the path to becoming a successful leader, but I haven’t quite made it to the cover of “Leaders Monthly” just yet! However, I do believe in hard work towards that goal.

In my journey with The Hip Hat, I’ve come to stand firmly by the principle that values should always be at the core of any business. It’s not just about profit margins or market share; it’s about the values that guide every decision we make.

Two of the most important principles that I hold dear and refuse to compromise on are honesty and respect — both for myself and for others. These two pillars are, in my opinion, the keys to success in both business and personal life.

Honesty, first and foremost, because it’s the foundation upon which trust is built. Trust is the currency of any relationship, whether it’s with your team, your customers, or your partners. Without honesty, that trust crumbles, and it’s nearly impossible to sustain any meaningful connection.

Respect, on the other hand, is like the glue that holds everything together. It’s about treating everyone with the dignity they deserve, acknowledging their hard work and effort, their perspectives, and openly valuing their contributions. To me, in business, this means respecting the team I work with by acknowledging their long-learned and inherited trade, the art they create with their hands, and the expertise and the remarkable connection they have built with the wonderful materials they work with. It means respecting my customers by delivering quality products at competitive prices while providing them with excellent service. It means not taking abuse from anyone.

I can confidently say that honesty and respect are the guiding principles in both my business and personal life. The beauty of these values is that they are universal and can be applied to all aspects of our lives, regardless of the roles we play. These principles provide a solid foundation for creating a better world, whether we’re dealing with small or significant responsibilities.

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?

In essence, my journey into the world of purpose-driven business was motivated by a desire to empower myself as a working mother and to amplify the talents of the artisans I have the privilege to collaborate.

Creating a purpose-driven business stems from a union of personal and profound experiences. On one hand, my own need and desire to find a way to balance my role as a mother to two young children with my ambition to work and make a meaningful contribution to the workforce acted as a significant catalyst for me to embark on this journey.

On the other hand, as a cheerleader for Ecuador and all its beauty, I was always mesmerized by the artisans’ passion for their craft, their commitment to sustainable practices, and the utilization of natural, renewable materials, all of which deeply resonated with me. So, I realized that their exceptional work deserved to reach far beyond the borders of Ecuador, to be appreciated and cherished by a larger audience.

However, what continues to solidify my commitment to The Hip Hat and its social impact is my constant travels to Ecuador, where I have the opportunity to work and collaborate closely and in person with the remarkable team of artisans who craft our unique products. I join their ranks, I get my hands dirty, I share breaks and eat with them, I carry cartons and boxes, we have conversations, we design, we laugh together, and so we have become co-workers and friends.

These personal connections born from my time spent working hand in hand with the wonderful artisans who collaborate with The Hip Hat not only provide me with a firsthand understanding of who they are, their stories, their solid dedication, and their profound love for each creation they meticulously craft, but they highlight the importance of prioritizing social impact in my business. From the beginning of The Hip Hat, it became clear that its purpose went far beyond profit. It was about creating more opportunities for talented artisans, supporting their communities, and sharing their extraordinary creations with the world.

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

To me, working with a purpose-driven business is like adding spice to the basic flavor. It’s not just about making profits; it’s about passion, values, and making a positive impact on everything we do at The Hip Hat.

When the team is interconnected and believes in the mission and values, they’re not just working; they’re on a meaningful journey. That enthusiasm translates into fantastic ideas and designs, high productivity, and people just sticking around because they genuinely love what they do.

Also, when people see that your business isn’t just about money but genuinely cares about society, they want to be a part of it. We get more business opportunities because our clients and customers want to work with a brand that stands for something bigger. When your focus is on making a difference, you also open the door to endless creative possibilities. It’s like you take part in a friendly competition where we’re not just keeping up but also setting some of the trends.

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?

My firm belief that purpose should precede profit has been instrumental to The Hip Hat’s journey.

One key metric I use to evaluate the impact of our purpose-driven strategy is customer engagement. I’ve found that The Hip Hat’s customers not only love and appreciate the overall quality of our products but also feel deeply connected to the story behind The Hip Hat. When they purchase our products, they are not just buying accessories; they are becoming part of a larger narrative that promotes sustainability and supports talented artisans in Ecuador. Also, and I need to point this out, our wholesale program growth has been a huge indicator of the success of The Hip Hat. Our wholesale program allows smaller businesses to be able to access our products without making large investments in inventory. Therefore, the positive impact of The Hip Hat goes beyond supporting artisans in Ecuador. It reaches small business owners in the U.S. and Canada who have been purchasing our products and growing their businesses.

This emotional connection translates into a loyal customer base and word-of-mouth referrals. Our customers become advocates for our brand, sharing the story of The Hip Hat and our commitment to social impact with their customers and networks. It creates a domino effect of positivity that extends far beyond our initial reach.

Also, we regularly assess our impact on the communities we work with in Ecuador. We measure the economic empowerment of our artisan partners, their access to resources, and the overall well-being of their families. These metrics allow us to gauge how effectively we are fulfilling our mission to create meaningful change.

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?

I need to go back to Gladys, who I mentioned earlier. She is a remarkable hard-working artisan, she’s a mother, a daughter, and a housewife, who creates exquisite Tagua Nut jewelry. Gladys and I have built a strong working relationship over the years, and when she candidly shared her deeply personal story about her 13-year-old daughter, who had been living with autism, but had never received any treatment or therapy due to financial, social, and overall societal circumstances, my heart was moved. She was not asking for help; she was just sharing her story.

I knew that The Hip Hat had the potential to make a real difference in this young girl’s life, her family’s life, and the lives of others facing similar challenges. It was a moment of realization that our purpose-driven approach wasn’t just about creating beautiful accessories; it was about transforming lives and making a meaningful impact in the world.

Knowing that Gladys’s daughter now receives the much-needed therapy she deserves serves as a daily reminder of the tangible difference we can make in people’s lives. Hopefully, in the future, we will be able to dedicate even more profits from our Tagua Nut jewelry collection to Fundación Camina Conmigo in Ecuador to fund therapy for children on the autism spectrum, particularly those from families who may struggle to afford it.

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

Yes, we have faced situations where our commitment to creating a positive social impact has come into tension with profitability. One common challenge I’ve encountered is customers requesting discounts, particularly given our already competitive prices.

I use transparency as my currency to tackle this issue. I always and openly communicate with our customers, explaining that our prices are already set at a competitive level, leaving little room for further discounts. We emphasize the value they receive in terms of the quality and uniqueness of our products, our commitment to sustainability, and our support for artisans.

Fortunately, the vast majority of our customers appreciate this transparency and the value we offer. They understand the bigger picture and the positive impact that their purchases have on both the artisans and the communities we work with. As a result, most customers choose to proceed with their orders with a deeper understanding of The Hip Hat’s values and mission.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs who wish to start a purpose-driven business? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know I Order To Create A Highly Successful Purpose-Driven Business.”

1 . Find something that you are passionate about; it can be more than one thing. Try to blend them and come up with something unique. For me, it was a blend of the love and connection I have with Ecuador, my home country, its people, and its art, with the true belief that sustainable fashion needs to be widely accessible, fun, and approachable.

2 . Have a clear idea of the positive impact you wish to make. It can start with a specific goal and over time, this goal can evolve into a broader mission just like it happened to me. Initially, I was looking to create a sustainable fashion industry while supporting artisans and their work. However, as The Hip Hat’s journey progresses, I see the transformative power of our purpose-driven approach. Today, The Hip Hat is not only about fashion accessories; it is about empowering artisans, championing sustainability, educating others on the beauty of tradition reflected in artisan products, and catalyzing positive change in the lives of the communities and small businesses we touch.

3 . Follow Darwinism and adapt. Be open to adaptation and change. One road to fulfill your mission may take unexpected turns. Don’t be afraid to shift and pivot. For me, it was shifting from exclusively working with Toquilla Straw Hats, also known as Panama Hats (this subject alone deserves an interview by itself!) into Merino Wool Hats. I discovered a pressing need in the market for the latter as well. I embraced this shift as an opportunity and kept going.

4 . Embrace mistakes for they will be your best learning tool. Mistakes are inevitable, but if you allow them to teach you, they will reveal valuable business insights and foster resilience in the pursuit of your purpose-driven mission.

5 . Do not give up. Building a business of any kind takes time, energy, emotions, money, and resilience. Do not give up, even in those moments when you face obstacles and setbacks. Take a breather if you need to, but persevere. I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to quit, and yet here I am!

At last, I would add, be kind, respectful, and authentic. Treat everyone you encounter in your business journey with kindness and respect, and always stay true to yourself.

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?

I believe that a fundamental part of what has made The Hip Hat a successful mission-driven business is precisely the fact that we nurture a culture of personal connections. We make sure that every team member is recognized for their contribution to our work, and we all understand and believe in our purpose-driven mission. For instance, if you look at our website, we have a dedicated space for our hat-making team members so that our customers can get to know them and understand their input in making one single hat. Also, thanks to the amazing tech and communication tools available, we communicate daily, allowing us to work closely, constantly revise our work, and make modifications when needed, all in real time. The result is quicker and more opportune service for our customers. Lastly, but equally important, I replicate this communication approach with our wholesale customer base. I serve them personally. By listening to their needs and taking their orders directly, I can provide a personalized service and hopefully make them feel more connected to us here at The Hip Hat.

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?

I love this question because it puts me in a focused and growth mindset! I have a very specific set of goals for The Hip Hat that I would love to share with you and your readers. Within that time frame, I envision an 8x growth in sales, a 4x increase in our customer base, and a 2x expansion of our employee team in the US. Additionally, I visualize The Hip Hat having established a brick-and-mortar presence in the US, providing a physical touchpoint for our customers where they can see and feel the quality of our hats and other fashion accessories. Like with any e-commerce selling point, we realize that online presence only can be limiting when it comes to the ability of our customers to see themselves wearing our products, touching them, seeing them, and grasping the craft in each product. With our team in Ecuador, we are actively exploring growth opportunities, which I’ll be excited to share once those projects have advanced further. All these accomplishments would not only signify our progress but also our commitment to expanding our purpose-driven impact both locally and internationally. Let’s chat in 24 months and look back at this answer!

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. :-)

Small initiatives to promote sustainable and ethical consumption immediately come to my mind. I firmly believe that sustainable fashion should be widely accessible, fun, and approachable. Usually, the sustainable fashion movement tends to be luxurious and very expensive, limiting its access to the general public. That is why the accessories designed and offered by The Hip Hat are handmade using only natural, renewable, and/or sustainably sourced materials, which make them truthfully sustainable and one-of-a-kind, but also affordable without compromising quality and impressiveness. By joining a similar initiative to ours, fashion businesses and brands would encourage individuals to make conscious choices that prioritize the well-being of people and the planet. By embracing sustainability, fair trade, and ethical practices in all aspects of our lives, we can collectively create a more equitable and environmentally responsible world, leaving a positive legacy for generations to come.

How can our readers further follow your work

or your company online?

Absolutely! You can find The Hip Hat at www.thehiphat.com. We are also on Instagram and TikTok and we would love for your readers to come and check us out.

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

Thank you for giving me and The Hip Hat team this opportunity!