Why I Left Corporate America To Become a Social Entrepreneur
I have a photo on my desk of a bright-eyed, eight-year-old me. That little girl was so full of hope and determination to make a difference. She wanted to change the world. Somewhere along the way, someone made her believe she was too small and insignificant to make a difference, so she set that dream aside.
My first love in life was fashion. The glitz and glamour I saw in fashion magazines were very different from my hand-me-down, small-town, Missouri life. I always wondered what it would be like to walk into a store, buy whatever I wanted, and never worry about how much it cost. That very idea seemed outside the realm of any possibility I knew. I was taught very young that you have to work for everything you want in life. I got a job in retail at age 15 and never looked back. I managed to turn my love of shopping into a full-time career. I had the pleasure of helping others find love and joy through the clothes they wear every day as a corporate retail fashion buyer for companies like Zappos.com, Dillard’s, and The Home Shopping Network.
(Left- Mandy Cordia with Miss J. Alexander, Right- Mandy Cordia with Rachel Zoe)
My career as a corporate retail buyer allowed me to live out my childhood dreams of attending fashion shows, traveling the world, and working with brands that had previously only been within my reach in the pages of fashion magazines. I was living out my dreams, but those dreams came crashing down quickly with the onset of the pandemic.
(Left- Mandy at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Right- Rebecca Taylor Fashion Show)
The pandemic was my wake-up call. I realized I wasn’t that same little girl anymore. Over the course of my career, I got married and had two beautiful children. My job required me to travel frequently, which meant I missed out on first birthdays, picture days, and far too many other important events to count. If you were to ask my children, “Where does mommy work?” They would almost always reply, “New York,” even though we live in Las Vegas, Nevada. Prior to the pandemic, I did my best to separate home and work. I made it a point to be present with my family, and my kids rarely saw me working. The pandemic changed that; they saw mommy working all day, pulling all-nighters, and working on the weekends to keep from drowning in the workload. I was one of the “lucky” ones who got to keep my job in retail when many were laid off or furloughed. My job was already demanding, but now I was taking on the work of 3 other people. Whenever I received a phone call from an Account Executive to tell me they had been laid off, I secretly wished I could trade them places. The workload was becoming more than I could handle, and it wasn’t long before I crash-landed in burnout.
My breaking point was a day I will never forget. I was at home frantically working to meet a last-minute deadline. I heard my 3-year-old son playing in his room, and something he said caught my attention. I got up and peeked around the corner to watch. My son had set up his stuffed animals around his table. He made a computer out of paper and pretended to work just as he saw me do every day. After a few moments, he turned to his stuffed animals and yelled at them to be quiet. He said, “I’m on an important call and need to finish my work.” I cried. My heart was broken. This was not the example I wanted to set for my children, and I knew something had to change.
I didn’t know what that change looked like, so I started with therapy. Little did I know then that those therapy secessions would change everything. One of the most significant discoveries was that I had been neglecting my passion for giving back. Before having children, I volunteered my time to several charitable organizations. Life had become so busy that I no longer had time to volunteer. We were still in the middle of the pandemic, so volunteering in person wasn’t an option. Plus, I couldn’t bring myself to take a lunch break away from my computer, let alone enjoy helping others, all while knowing the work is piling up (don’t worry, this was also addressed in therapy).
(The first shirt I created to raise money for homeless youth)
As a mom, I felt like every time I turned around, I needed to buy another gift for a birthday, housewarming, or wedding. I started to buy gifts for my friends and family that supported charitable organizations as my way of giving back. The gifts became conversation starters about important issues and a way to learn about different nonprofits. However, it often took a lot of work to uncover and learn about the nonprofit benefiting from my purchase, and the giveback was often vague. As a product person, I didn’t always love the selection offered. There had to be a better way. I decided that my many years of retail experience, coupled with my love of helping others, put me in a unique position to tackle the problem head-on.
I launched my business, The Kindness Cause, in March of 2022 with three main goals: (1) make giving back easy when life is busy by incorporating giving into the things we do every day, like buying gifts for our friends and family; (2) provide transparency around funds donated with purchase and transparency around the charitable organization benefiting from the sale; and (3) create a platform to educate, bring awareness, and raise funds to support the incredible work of smaller, regional nonprofit organizations. Getting to merge my love of fashion, advocacy, and philanthropy is an added bonus.
The causes and issues that I am passionate about is an extensive list. However, my initial nonprofit partnerships for The Kindness Cause focus on human rights, women empowerment, the LGBTQIA+ community, children, cancer, and environmental issues. It was vital for me to launch with the right partners. I utilize Charity Navigator, GuideStar, and tax returns to vet and hand-select the organizations for partnership.
Once I partner with a nonprofit organization, I create and curate merchandise around their mission for a “Cause Collection.” These collections are specific to one nonprofit organization, and the merchandise is only available for purchase for a period of 60-days. In every product description on the website, I state how much we donate to charity with purchase, along with the nonprofit organization benefiting from the purchase.
The Kindness Cause also features a great assortment of merchandise themed around kindness and positive affirmations that are sold throughout the year in our “Kindness Collection.” Like the Cause Collections, every purchase donates to a charitable nonprofit organization, and we transparently share how much we donate and the organization benefiting from the sale.
So far, I’ve had the distinct honor to partner with, bring awareness, and raise funds for some incredible charitable nonprofit organizations, including but not limited to:
- Birmingham, Alabama, nonprofit GASP, whose mission is to advance healthy air & environmental justice in the greater-Birmingham area through education, advocacy, and collaboration.
- Louis, Missouri nonprofit, Zugunruhe Experience believes that to understand the world, you must see the world and that education through travel has the power to be the most influential factor in inspiring a life filled with meaning. They provide opportunities to travel for underserved youth to discover their limitless potential.
- Las Vegas, Nevada nonprofit, The Remissonaries, positively impacts women fighting breast cancer by providing comfort during and after chemotherapy treatment with their comfort crates.
- Westlake Village, California nonprofit, My Stuff Bags Foundation provides new belongings, comfort, and hope to thousands of children each year rescued from abuse, neglect, abandonment, and homelessness across the United States. The new belongings address the immediate physical and emotional needs of rescued children and help support the agencies caring for them.
I’ve discovered that life only gets busier. When we have the financial means to give, we often do not have the time. When we have time to give, we often do not have the financial means to give. How we give back evolves over time. It doesn’t matter how we give; it just matters that we do. One of my favorite quotes is by Mother Teresa. She said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
Every day when I sit down at my desk to start my day, I see that photo of 8-year-old me and smile. I no longer feel small and insignificant. That photo is my daily reminder of the beautifully broken journey I’ve taken to find my voice, my worth, and to be here doing what I love today. The work I do makes a meaningful difference daily, and the best part is I’m just getting started. I know that 8-year-old me would be so proud.
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