This graphic designer and small business owner is changing the world by mastering the art of creating visual and emotional dialogue for her design clients and for her two daughters.

This article is part of a series, The Wisdom of Women: Bold Insights From World Change.

“I am constantly amazed at how courageous and radical speaking the truth is.”
— Melissa Etheridge

There’s a massive push in the investment and startup world to create a business that is scalable. Over and over we hear that you need an idea that can be easily replicated and is conducive to growth. And yet, the reality is that the world is being changed daily by businesses that will never scale, and don’t want to.

According to the US Small Business Administration, there are nearly 30 million small businesses in the US, employing almost 48 percent of US workers. Hyper-local businesses — those with less than 10 employees — make up over 70 percent of private sector companies with employees. They are also creating massive change in our world by the massive changes they are creating in our communities.

Study after study shows that when we buy from an independent, locally owned business, a significantly greater portion of their money stays in their community. Small and local business owners routinely buy from other small and local business owners, contribute to local charities, and give culture and identity to a town or community.

In my opinion, everyone who is running a profitable small business (especially in a small town) is creating world change. From stickers in windows to voices at town halls and conversations at check-out to posts on social media, small business owners are great at telling the world how they feel about everything. They have no qualms about telling you what is right and what needs to change. And they do all of this knowing that they are risking alienating someone or losing a customer.

So when I meet someone is who is also using their local business to promote equity, sustainability, and stability, it’s more inspirational than reading a thousand success stories of startup founders who had a successful exit.

A few months ago, one such small business owner, who owns a graphic design and branding studio in my small town in Northeast Florida posted the following on her social media:

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At Chick-Fil-A today I asked the girls to go look at a photo on the wall. It was a picture of the corporate leadership of the company.

Me: Do you see what’s missing? Tell me.

Daughter #1: The tables? The ropes? (It was shot in a Chick-Fil-A)

Me: Nope.

Daughter #2: One guy is wearing the wrong color pants?

Me: Nope. Good guesses.

Girls: Well what is it?! What’s missing?

Me: Women. Women are missing.”

This is me, just trying to undo what they learn implicitly about women in business. #occupyboardrooms #buildfemaleleaders #womeninbusiness #futurebossbabes 

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I had two thoughts instantly: 1.) Holy cow, that’s amazing. If she can be that bold as a small business owner here, then I can be that bold, too! 2.) I  need to know her and do great things with her.

That designer was Emily Charette, of We Are Charette. She is changing the world by mastering the art of creating visual and emotional dialogue for her design clients and for her two daughters.

Just as the days of cold-calling and pushy marketing have gone by the wayside, so too have the days of do-as-I-say-without-asking-questions parenting. At least, that is, if you are doing both things in a conscious way. In both cases, creating a conversation that engages the other side will result in lifetime loyalty and comfort knowing that you are contributing to creating the world you want to live in. And creating conversations that matter is Charette’s specialty.

Her daughters are young, and she has many more conversations to have with them. My daughter just turned 18. One night recently we sat on our porch discussing all the ways to solve the world’s problems — as we have been doing for as long as I can remember — and we started talking about something she called the gender confidence gap. She explained to me that boys are taught to be confident and expect approval, and girls are taught to be impressive and seek approval. She shared how she’s watched her girlfriends start to question themselves, speak up less, and blend in more while the boys she grew up with haven’t had the same shift.

When I asked my daughter why she thinks that she hasn’t had the same kind of confidence shift, she credited it to the fact that every woman I allowed to be in her life believed 100 percent that she (my daughter) could do and be anything she wanted to. And then she added, “Even if they never believed that they had the same freedom.”

I have no doubt that my daughter will go on to be a world-changing woman. In many ways, she already is one. She recently wrote an incredible piece out Lizzo and how important she is as a push-back on the oppression women feel from hip hop — which is itself a genre that pushes back on oppressors — and she ended a college essay with the following:

“I thrive in the world explained by Google and rally in the informed indignance of my peers. I practice self-preservation by knowing the man behind the curtain. I am tomorrow’s enzyme.”

If even 10 percent of the ability she has to grasp culture, exert confidence, and use language comes from the many conversations we have had on a porch, I’ll feel like a successful mother. Based on what I know about Charette, I’m pretty sure her daughters are headed for the same level of greatness. And it’s not just her daughters she’s affecting. She uses that same gift of creating conversation to connect brands with their consumers and start a conversation. In fact, the phrase she used was “design that opens a visual and emotional dialogue between our clients and their audiences”.

She’s also been known to say that she’s like a marriage counselor — creating a love language between the brands that are her clients and the customers they are trying to reach. She’s mostly doing this for sustainable, disruptive, and local product brands too, by designing their packaging. Every time someone chooses a particular food item because of the branding, and that item is better for them or the world than what they otherwise might have chosen, Charette has created a moment of impact that will have ripples we may never fully understand.

As if all of that wasn’t a full-time life of doing awesome things, she also:

  • frequently gives away services to worthy causes.
  • pays her staff well and treats them better.
  • stocks the supply closet with good liquor — just in case.
  • speaks to and mentors local college students on careers in design and how to follow their passions.
  • is developing a children’s book about yoga.
  • designed a pocketed baby sling that she sells on Etsy.

Oh, and she designed the album cover for Metallica’s Death Magnetic and won a Grammy for Best Recording Package.

There’s a saying that shows up in Instagram quotes a lot — something like, “If you want to change the world, start with yourself,” or my favorite version of that being Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror. Whatever the phrase, if that’s the way to world change, Charette is on track. She took over her studio full-time when she and her husband divorced. While everyone was telling her that she was never good at bookkeeping or she needed capital or mothers don’t have time to run a whole business or she as just plain too nice to be a boss, she just worked.

One day she looked around and realized that they (as well as the voice in her head that sort of believed them) were wrong. Not only was she capable of doing it, she already had. And, like myself and many other women I’ve met over the years, she also did the internal work to let go of the ideas she had about how money is evil or she doesn’t deserve to make as much as other people, and replaced them with the realization that she doesn’t need to apologize for making money and the commitment to value herself more.

It is hard to know very many things in our shifting world for certain. But here are a few things we know for sure:

  1. People want to spend their money with brands that share their values. We need designers and branding strategists like Charette who can help brands navigate this and compete with bigger companies.
  2. People want to work for employers that share their values and care about the world and their community. They also like to be able to work close to home. We need small business owners like Charette who hire and mentor the next generation of entrepreneurs and world-changers.
  3. The world will be left to our children. We need parents like Charette who have important conversations with their children — encouraging them to look at the story that a photo or advertisement is telling and ask what’s missing or why  it isn’t okay.

Before I submitted this article, I asked Charette what she hoped her legacy would be through the work she does. Here is what she said:

“If I can show others that a life in the creative field can be both financially and emotionally rewarding; if I can leave behind a body of work that endures or is still considered beautiful or useful after I am retired; if I can guide entrepreneurs in establishing brands for their dreams; if I can help those businesses grow to support their families and share their ideas with consumers, creating positive changes in the lives of everyday people; then I will consider that my legacy.”

I’m filing that away for her retirement party. I’m pretty sure we’ll be checking all of those boxes off!

Want help communicating your brand and values? Charette works with clients all over the world! To learn more or connect with her, send her a note.

See the rest of this series at The Wisdom of Women: Bold Insights From World Change.

LaKay Cornell

LaKay Cornell is a culture critic, writer, speaker, and feather-ruffler. She is on a mission to change the way we create change. Using her unique combination of exciting anecdotes and enticing data, she positions her clients’ work in the context of the social problem they are solving. LaKay also writes, speaks and moderates discussions on Intersectional Feminism, the Language of Empowerment, and Womxn’s Entrepreneurship. To learn more, visit lakaycornell.com.

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