Packing for Brand Assembly's Nashville Offsite and Talking Shop with Gretchen Jones


If you land on Gretchen Jones's website, phrases like "humanize" and "elevate" jump out at you and play their part in a larger rallying cry around her mission of creating more interconnected and sustainable companies. For Gretchen, this practice of self-actualized and conscious brand-building has stemmed from her longtime journey in the fashion industry and wearing many hats along the way (most notably as a fashion designer). Ultimately, that particular shoe didn't fit, but Gretchen's experiences still steered her in a direction of educating creatives on how to build businesses that create space for altruism and community to flourish. She touched on this when she joined us last September for our Business of Branding Panel, but we were happy to join forces once again for our recent offsite in Nashville.

And like her unforgettable leadership style, which our team was lucky enough to experience firsthand, Gretchen's sartorial point of view is something worth mentioning too! Much like our mission at Brand Assembly, Gretchen is also an avid champion of emerging fashion designers — we always look forward to seeing that love translate into her style here in NYC and while traveling for work. So with that in mind, we asked Gretchen to share a few of her tried-and-true packing staples and to bring us up to speed on what's next for her business.

Read on to meet the modern business advisor who shared her tips for team-building (no matter how big your organization may be) and how she's learned to go with the flow.

Hi Gretchen! We had such an incredible time with you in Nashville. Before we dive into that, tell our community what's changed since our Business of Branding panel last September.

My name is Gretchen Jones. I am a Strategic Business Advisor and keynote speaker, whose work centers on transitioning our modes of operating professionally through the lens of altruism and holistic sustainability. Simply put — I help (creative) businesses practice more of what they preach, in both the products/services they create AND the way their businesses operate.

What's changed since September… hmmmmm. I suppose I am ALWAYS in the midst of change, but this phase is more about refining my practice and clientele while eliminating offerings or projects that aren't in service of the deeper work/research I am interested in. So, I am in a state of clearing and creating space so that I can work with more elevated businesses and their leaders. I'm currently saying no, to create more/the right kind of "yes" that feed and fuel me (let alone fulfill me).

Most recently, I had the honor to speak at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Leadership Summit and present again at SXSW — both of which were centered on my work around shifting the way we approach sustainability. These experiences confirmed for me that I have an opportunity to reach higher, but I need to dive into more meaningful research in order to quantify and validate my philosophy and methodologies, to really prove it's possible — at any scale. So, on top of refining my consulting work, I am setting my sights on entering into a Ph.D. candidacy in 2020... if I can get accepted!

From the launch of the Critical Conversations podcast to your recent Altruism by Design workshop tour, tell us more about how your practice has evolved as you've solidified your service offering.

The first year in business is more about experimentation and exploration than anything else, regardless of industry or specialty. Warning: full transparency a la Brené Brown coming at ya!

I experimented with the podcast because I was regularly being encouraged to release one, it wasn't in my plan; however, the message kept getting louder! Sooooo, I gave it a shot, but it didn't perform as well as I would have needed/wanted it to for me to continue to devote my time and attention towards it. Creating the podcast was a lovely experience but not financially viable. And so, I have decided not to move forward with it.

The workshops were an experiment in marketing and customer acquisition. They allowed me to create content to share organically, offered me room to market/share my services and philosophy regularly — which is so vital when launching a business — and gave me an opportunity to work with people in REAL life, who hopefully would transition into regular clientele in the future. The year-long effort was an education in many ways, but again, a struggle to grow into something meaningful enough to carry forward, both on a financial level AND client level. I hoped for a different outcome, but I'm confident moving on from the workshops is the "right" decision for me and my future potential.

Flow is important. When you try to force something into existence, you limit yourself from seeing the real opportunities that are before you. Let go of what doesn't flow and work, create space for what will. The biggest lesson I have learned in my first year of business is that my vision, expertise, and value have grown beyond what I expected or could have imaged for myself. I need(ed) to fully let go of the old version of myself and trust in this evolution, allowing myself to lean further into my new identity. My ideas and expertise are sophisticated and more complex now, that means I need to be working on sophisticated and complex problems. And lastly, I want to continue to grow and learn and challenge myself and business at large, but on a global scale. Which means my efforts and client base need to match that. I know this could be construed as arrogance, especially as a woman. But I see it as a deeper pursuit of self-acceptance and the pursuit of empowerment.

Tell us more about recently leading the Brand Assembly leadership team offsite. Why Nashville? What do you look forward to the most, and why do you think creative companies benefit from these kinds of experiences?

To me, investing in the direction you/your company wants to move into is rooted in making time to invest in your senior leadership AND self. A strong, focused, and inspired team needs tending to on the regular, but also in ways that shake shit up! Moving a team of leaders into a new environment, hence the term "offsite," helps to remove the distractions of the everyday grind, while also creating yummy and safe space to let it all hang out, reconnect, recalibrate and refine on a strategic level.

I've always wondered why independent, smaller scale businesses are so resistant to so many of the tools/exercises and modes of operating in larger (corporate/global) businesses. There are SO MANY GOOD THINGS to take and adapt/make work for you and the scale of your business. Offsites are very common in larger organizations because the stakeholders that are so vital to running a business rarely get the opportunity to SLOW DOWN and focus in on the bigger picture. How often are you slowing down and really evaluating how you operate, lead, and strategize? This sort of exercise demands that from all who attend, and it's magic!

Brand Assembly is in a unique position in the market, as well as being in a unique position as a company. Opportunity is knocking in every direction, but that can also be a distraction and sometimes even dangerous. I was SO EXCITED to engage with Hillary and the senior leadership in this context. This is absolutely the right time for the company to take a step back, evaluate their modes of operating as much as the potentials ahead of them. And I'm delighted to be of service in this manner!

And why Nashville? Why NOT Nashville!

As a team of one yourself, how do you think you bring a unique perspective to the table for offsites like what was done with our team? On the flip side of that, what is your advice for smaller teams or "solopreneurs" looking to spark critical conversations within their organizations or networks?

Ugh, a team of one!? It's such a blessing and a total curse at the same time! Working my "oneness" in the positive — My role and value is in being a mindful, high-level disruptor, my sweet spot is in helping leaders to challenge the way they think about problems at hand, encouraging them to ask different questions of themselves and their work and to reflect on their modes of operating that need recalibration… while also looking further down the road to strategize and plan for healthy and meaningful growth and expansion. And I'm not just talking profitability or categories.

In the context of an offsite like this, my aim it's to create space to have more vulnerable, intimate, and innovative conversations. To be the good and bad cop through inspiring and engaging all stakeholders to move out of their comfort zones, empowering them to see the bigger picture for the NOW and the future. I want my clients to walk away with clarity and conviction, so they feel empowered to move ahead with intention and purpose.


On the flip side, my top three tips for smaller organizations or "solopreneurs" are as follows:

Saying yes to everything that comes your way and being “SO busy” all the time is NOT a sign of success, though our culture sure likes to make us think that way — That level of overwhelm and chaotic business is a sign of reactivity, insecurity, and sometimes, greed. I always want us/my clients to channel a sense of humility in how we operate so that we can remove urgency and reactivity. Being strategic and thoughtful means taking the ego out and clearing out the noise.

Business plans are NOT the enemy; they also don't have to be so fucking complicated that you don't understand what's in them — Flip the script, think about business plans as a mind map YOU CREATE for yourself and your business. If you have to, make it visual — it's a tool to help guide you through your decision making. They are your North Star, the point of a business plan is to help you not veer off track or be tempted to move outside the lines YOU have drawn for yourself. Create this tool so you can be better at staying the course while you manifest the life and business you desire.

Time off and doing literally nothing is where the good ideas live — L.I.T.E.R.A.L.L.Y. stop what you are doing, including thinking about your business all the time. It'll help you be better and more present when you are working/in the office. It'll also help you innovate, create, and be better on all fronts.

Your work seems to involve a ton of travel! What are the top packing essentials that you go to while on the road?

Yes! Travel is definitely part of my professional world, and I built that into the vision I had for my work and life! My main thing about travel and wardrobe is creating a modular selection through a single color palette. If I adhere to that rule, most everything works together, so that on extended trips (or moody ones) what outfits I originally planned out can shift into other looks as I go. It's SUPER helpful and empowering.

What are some parting words you'd like to leave with the Brand Assembly community when it comes to elevating and humanizing their own brands?

Defining success through scale and profit is a failure of the imagination. Reflect on your brand and business through the lens of holistic sustainability to ensure your work and efforts are truly "successful." Perpetually calibrate your own definition of success and don't waver from it through being caught up in cultural dogmas. Understand and then invest in building a foundation for the long term. Take responsibility for your beliefs as much as or more than your actions. Build your business around THAT. Add in joy and pride for good measure.


Photos by Phoebe Cheong for Brand Assembly