MILWAUKEE — While fashion designer, entrepreneur and philanthropist Kendra Scott has been living in Texas the past several decades, her hometown, Kenosha, has always been close to her heart.
Scott, whose namesake business was established in 2002, served as the keynote speaker of TEMPO Milwaukee’s 14th annual Leadership Event on Wednesday. TEMPO, a 370-member organization, holds a variety of events throughout the year and provides resources to businesswomen.
In an hourlong conversation moderated by WISN-TV anchor Toya Washington, Scott, 45, noted her Kenosha upbringing frequently and said seeds from her early years were planted to help establish Kendra Scott LLC, which is valued at more than $1 billion.
Scott, whose business focuses on jewelry and home accessories, shared with the hundreds of attendees at Milwaukee’s Italian Community Center the story of her mom’s entrepreneurial endeavors as a door-to-door Mary Kay saleswoman.
“I think it’s companies like Mary Kay that say, ‘You can have it all,’” Scott said as she recounted how her mom, Janet Ricks, used a portion of the family’s Kenosha home to store inventory and go door-to-door selling the company’s line of products.
Scott, who moved to Texas at age 16, resides in Austin with husband Matt Davis and her children.
A rocky start
At the TEMPO talk, Scott did not shy away from sharing some of her early challenges, including an ill-fated business, The Hat Box, which was designed to serve women undergoing chemotherapy treatment.
“I was hopeful this was going to be my thing,” Scott said.
She described its failure as “one of those dark moments,” but also said, in retrospect, she is thankful for the challenge because “it was one of the best lessons I ever could’ve had in retail.”
When she decided to re-enter the business world in 2002 with her namesake, boutique-style business, Scott said she did so in a more measured fashion, starting with $500 and working out of a spare bedroom within her Austin home.
As it turned out, Scott discovered a niche within her areas of specialty, filling a gulf between low-end and high-end products.
“I felt like there was some white space,” she said.
Scott also has made a name for herself as a robust champion for philanthropic endeavors — a philosophy, she said, that is rooted in her Midwestern-based values.
Through efforts such as the Kendra Cares Program, Scott has provided her resources to such venues as pediatric hospitals.
“We have a very short time on this Earth,” Scott said as she shared her desire to give back. “While you’re here, you have to do something good. We all ought to be kind and thoughtful to one another.”
During the question-and-answer session, Washington asked Scott when she realized her current business was a success.
Because she has been so deeply entrenched in the day-to-day operations within the business in the past 17 years, Scott said there never was one single moment of reckoning.
“There’s so much I still want to do,” she said.