Earlier this year, we announced our Xero Beautiful Business contest, which gave U.S. small business owners the chance to win a $15,000 office refresh by celebrated stylist and interior designer, Estee Stanley. Entrants were asked to submit photos and/or videos of their office, along with a description of why their workspace deserved a makeover. We are excited to share that the office makeover is finally complete! But first, the backstory.
Soulteria: A sustainable, woman, and minority-owned business
It was incredibly difficult to pick a winner given the many deserving nominations we received; however if you’ve been following along, you know the winner Xero selected is Soulteria, founded and operated by Alissa Millett. Previously enlisted in the United States Navy, the powerhouse built her business from the ground up. We are proud to recognize the important work of a sustainable, woman, and minority-owned business.
As told through her compelling submission, Millett poured her life savings into launching Soulteria, but had minimal funds left to finish out her home office space. Through a combination of thrifting and upcycling, Millett pieced together a passable workspace, but it ultimately lacked style and function. “This gift from Xero and Estee Stanley could not have come at a better time,” says Millett. “We have been working hard to expand Soulteria, and this makeover validates all of that effort and more. And to partner with a global company whose values so closely align with ours, and whose sole focus is empowering small businesses of all kinds, makes it that much sweeter.”
As you can see in the photos and videos below that document the transformation, renowned interior designer Estee Stanley is one of a kind who pours her heart into each of her projects. “I was thrilled to partner with Xero on this project to transform a deserving small business owner’s office. As a small business owner myself, I understand the importance of creating a workspace that is beautiful, yet practical,” says Stanley. “It was a joy to work with Alissa throughout this process, and I hope the redesign provides inspiration to the Soulteria team, fellow entrepreneurs, and people everywhere for years to come.”
We catch up with Alissa, who shares what the makeover means to her and her business, and how the process has helped shine a light on the critical importance of sustainability, entrepreneurship, body positivity, diversity, and inclusion.
Can you provide a bit of background on Soulteria, and what products you provide?
Absolutely. Soulteria’s mission is to inspire, empower and influence women across the globe to not only feel beautiful in swimwear that compliments their natural assets, but to also become more conscious consumers and reduce their carbon footprint and waste production. By creating a sustainable brand that is committed to making positive environmental change, Soulteria ensures that from inception, to production and deliverables, all aspects of our swimwear are as eco friendly and sustainable as current technology allows. You can read more about the design, materials and production on our website.
How has the makeover process been for you and for Soulteria?
I started this business by myself so my main focus always centered on ensuring that the values we live by and the quality of our products aligned. Office design and functionality, up until this opportunity with Xero and Estee arose, was an afterthought. Throughout the process, the collective team’s goal remained the same: elevating our office space to match the identity of Soulteria as a brand.
As you can clearly see through the final result, Estee and her team knocked it out of the park. We are thrilled to inhabit and share a space with the world that so clearly articulates our founding, our journey, and who we are as a business. It offers us the opportunity to continue growing and reinforces our desire to offer a valuable, meaningful product to consumers from all walks of life. Each piece was intentionally, thoughtfully selected. We remained mindful of where each product was sourced from, the materials they were made up of, and ultimately that resulted in a light, airy, contemporary space that is a wonderful reflection of everything Soulteria stands for.
Before the transformation:
After the big reveal, Soulteria’s new space:
Photography by Cate Black
Photography by Cate Black
The makeover was truly a collaborative effort, and one we will never forget as we elevate our brand going forward.
What, if anything, did you decide to keep from the old space in your new space?
I have a huge stack of books, which is something I was not keen on getting rid of! I love to read and am constantly looking for the next learning opportunity. Ensuring there was space for my vast book collection and other important, sentimental items meant everything to me and my team.
It was important we maintained an open, collaborative space that allowed our employees to show up as their authentic selves and remember their roots. It means a lot that Xero and Estee fully supported our vision, and our values were very much in sync.
What have you learned through this process that you feel others in similar positions can apply to grow their own businesses?
One thing that has been of utmost importance to me throughout this process is not being afraid to ask questions. This is something that was naturally instilled in me through my time serving my country, and is something I’ve carried over to all aspects of my life – in particular, starting and successfully running my own business.
I emigrated to the United States on my own, and no one in my family has taken on something like this before (leaving home behind and venturing out into the small business world). I had absolutely no experience. There were countless times I felt truly all alone. I spent hours online and in the library researching and gathering as many answers as I could. While I grew so much through teaching myself, I now realize the journey didn’t have to be so isolating. So many people I’ve met through the process of starting and running Soulteria, as well as through the military, are among the best mentors I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. They have shared a wealth of knowledge and experience with me, as well as welcomed me and my questions with open arms and thoughtful advice.
“If there’s one thing I would tell fellow entrepreneurs on a similar trajectory, in particular women, it’s to try your hardest to break out of your comfort zone. Keep speaking up and always ask for what you deserve, want, and need to succeed.”
While you are ultimately the author of your story, seeking input that supports you and helps provide richness to your life and business is the key to making it in a competitive industry. You will almost certainly encounter people who are unable or unwilling to help, but eight out of ten times, if they can’t help you directly, they will most likely have other resources to share and/or people to connect you to. Your voice matters, and the right people will do everything in their power to help you grow. Ask and you shall receive!
What has the makeover process done for your business, so far?
My hope is that our office space will feel more effective – that’s not to say it wasn’t before, but as I alluded to earlier, the process just clarified our vision and mission, and gave us more energy to continue our important work and share our brand far and wide. Having this new space will only empower us to continue rising.
As I mentioned previously, leading up to and at the outset of this process, we were only focused on doing whatever it took to build the brand. We knew the physical space we occupied was important to be productive and effective in executing our mission, but time was limited and resources were scarce.
Our hopes to expand are reinvigorated with this new space. I can’t express how much it means to now have a dedicated space for packaging orders. Not only will it help us be more efficient, it will also reinforce the intentionality with which we approach all aspects of our business. Everything feels much more deliberate in terms of the space we are conducting day-to-day operations. With a designated ‘free’ space, we are now able to bring more elements of execution in-house, such as photography, videography, content creation, serving our customers, and ultimately feeling fully at ease so that we can continue to focus on bringing our vision to life. In addition, having two designated work spaces for myself and my family members, who are also working with me, will do everything for our continued professionalism, collective confidence, and effectiveness in marketing our products and company widely.
Finally, what do you see in the future for Soulteria?
This process has already given us so much more than we ever could have dreamed of. From the new content creation opportunities, to partnership inquiries, to an increased following and interest in our brand and products, we only see more positivity and growth in the future. We are so thankful to Xero, Estee and her team, our supporters, and ultimately ourselves for taking the risk of asking for this makeover. As I mentioned before, we are reaping the reward from putting ourselves out there and being clear about what we are worthy of.
My hope is that other entrepreneurs, especially those who identify as a minority and/or women, can learn from our process and be inspired by the simple act of curiosity. I am always here to serve as a mentor and advice-giver so it’s my honor and privilege to help others who find themselves in a similar place I was and am now. Stay connected by following our SustainaBlog and social media.