Just like Rent the Runway’s co-founders, there are a ton of women who have leapt into the uncharted, often-insane world of entrepreneurship. We’re inviting these risk-takers to be part of a community we’re calling The Real Runway: a collection of voices to motivate and inspire your own runway, whatever that may be.
It all started with... waste.
While working as a designer for a major retailer, Crystal Hodges was disheartened by the amount of materials she saw the company wasting. Anytime she questioned their process, she heard, “That’s just how it is.” Dissatisfied with that answer, Crystal joined forces with her like-minded artist friend Linsey Rosen to launch INDO. Together, they rescued materials from dumpsters — paper, plastic, fabric — and transformed them into innovative art that decorated store windows across Chicago (including Rent the Runway’s Gold Coast store). After seven years the two parted ways, and Crystal — a new mom — now owns and operates Luft, a design studio. Find out how questioning tradition led this artist to go after her entrepreneurial spirit.
What was your "Aha!" moment?
Working at my retail design job was a confusing experience. I loved the work and the people, but I knew what was happening was not in line with my ideals. All that waste just broke my heart. So Linsey and I started Indo in response to how we felt: we wanted to educate the world, showing people that waste can be saved and you can make beautiful things out of it. We soon figured out why companies toss everything — saving things takes time and money. But Linsey and I truly believed what we were doing was the right thing to do. We kept at it until very recently when we decided to work independently. Now I run my own design studio, Luft.
I’ve always had this curiosity about why things are the way they are. I realized that I could try my own thing and explore the world on my own terms.
What is life like now that you’re officially on your own?
When you’re an independent business owner, you’re responsible for getting new clients and keeping things rolling. As soon as you get a moment to breathe, you think, “Wait a minute. This shouldn’t be happening. I should be busy all of the time.” It can be scary, but it doesn’t last for very long. People who have their own businesses aren’t very good at accepting downtime.
Jacket, Rebecca Minkoff; Dress, Parker
How do you not take “No” for an answer?
When you’re starting anything, you learn a lot by addressing people’s concerns. There have been quite a few projects where people would say to me, “Can’t you just do it this way? It would be so much simpler.” And I would say, “Well, that decision is not best for these reasons based on my experience.” If that doesn’t work, sometimes you have to let people try things their way. Then they learn a lesson, too. I’m all about educating.
When you’re having a bad day, what saves you?
I think of the big picture. If I’m having a down moment, I view it as a tiny blip in my entire life. I think, “Okay, this project is going to last for maybe another month. This feeling is going to last for a couple of days.” Overall, it’s nothing. I try not to sweat the small stuff because I have a lot to be really thankful for.
When you’re discouraged, the achievements feel even better.
What’s it like being a female business owner?
I love being a female business owner, but I do have to accept the fact that people look at me a bit differently. It was especially clear when Linsey and I were young and running Indo. People approached us as “young ladies” and expected to have to teach us the ropes. They had low expectations, which just made us want to prove them wrong. That experience makes me feel more powerful today.
Bag, Alice D; Bracelet, Eddie Borgo
How does style factor into your life as an artist?
For me, being put together lets me show other people that I’m a put-together person. And that makes me feel confident. I tried really hard for a long time to pay attention to my nails, but because I work with my hands a lot, they’d chip. Nowadays I try to accept that I will never have a manicure, but I never want to look rough!
What’s the payoff for you?
My mom has always been an inspiration to me. Since I was little, she taught me that if I'm upset about something, I can do something about it. She empowered me. It would totally be easier to go to work, get a check and have a very regular schedule. But I’m in charge of my life. At the end of the day, I don’t spend a lot of money. I don’t have a lot of things that I have to pay for. I’m happy living simply and I keep the business small to live a life that I love. That’s important to me.
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