Empowering People to Reimagine.
Jess Tillyer is the Chief Brand and Experience Officer at re—inc., an eco-conscious fashion and lifestyle brand. re—inc. was founded in 2019 by U.S. Women’s Soccer superstars Christen Press, Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe, and Meghan Klingenberg to empower people to reimagine the status quo and the world around them.
”Seeing 'Building While Flying' as a feature rather than a bug is a game changer.Jess TillyerChief Brand and Experience Offier, re-inc
Katie Hankinson (00:00):
Hi, I’m Katie Hankinson and I’m Mickey Cloud. Welcome to Building While Flying, a Sasha group podcast, where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever changing skies.
Katie Hankinson (00:20):
Well, welcome to Building While Flying my guest today is Jess Tillyer the Chief Brand and Experience Officer at re-inc a lifestyle brand that’s built to reimagine the status quo. Jess comes from a storied background in brand strategy and as part of the original team at rank, which was founded by sports powerhouses: Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press, Tobin Heath, and Megan Klingenberg all four of them champions of the US women’s national team. The brand is an eco-conscious fashion and lifestyle brand as well as a platform and a movement really designed to empower people to reimagine the world around them. Welcome to the show, Jess.
Jess Tillyer (01:03):
Thank you. It’s so wonderful to be here.
Katie Hankinson (01:05):
Oh, very excited to have you. And what, what perfect timing as well to be talking about this, given the fact that we are mid Olympics. So I had to make that one sidebar, which I think the U S national team just drew with Australia this morning, which puts them through to the knockout rounds. So
Jess Tillyer (01:23):
Yeah. So fingers crossed fingers crossed
Katie Hankinson (01:25):
To your founders and the full team for Go-Team USA, despite my accent, I’m still rooting for them. So we’ll talk a little bit about rank and the kind of founding story of, of those powerhouse women next, but before we go into the detail of the organization and its founding, can you tell us a little bit about your own background and what kind of brought you into the role that you’re in today?
Jess Tillyer (01:51):
Sure. So I guess going way back my background is actually in theater and filmmaking. So I studied the sort of intersection. I think I’ve always just been really interested in human behavior, which eventually definitely drew me to brands and some of the work that I do now,
Katie Hankinson (02:13):
Can you give us just a bit of a context just to ground us at the beginning of the brand itself and its origins and its amazing founders?
Jess Tillyer (02:23):
Yeah. I mean these are Renaissance people, you know, like they, they, the founders of this company are truly amazing. So when they were kids playing soccer the Mia Hamm’s of the world were just kind of starting to come on the scene. And so they didn’t have these true models of what it looks like yet for them to have a career in soccer. And so from the very beginning they were imagining and re-imagining, but they already saw out in the world to fit them and for them to be leading that future. So our brands, as you mentioned, is all about inspiring more people to reimagine the world around them. And that is really based on our founders experience. As they became professional players, our founders are also the ones that were at the heart of the lawsuit against the Federation, the Federation for equal pay. And, you know, if you’ve watched LFG highly recommend it’s not on HBO, you’ve seen sort of the inside of some of that battle and that they were at the heart of that, not just for them as soccer players at all, but knowing that this was something that transcended all different professions,
Katie Hankinson (03:44):
How does that manifest? What is the rank organization? How is it structured and what’s the business sort of pieces pillars beneath it?
Jess Tillyer (03:56):
Yeah. So the way it manifests is in two ways right now. So we have our products business and that’s apparel creative and home goods an ever expanding sort of lifestyle lifestyles of, of different products. And then we also have our membership and our membership is practice-based for social change. So it’s taking a lot of what we’ve spoken about around, like how do you actually reimagine the status quo? How do you reimagine yourself? Like how do you start to put into practice new ideas for yourself and then how do you find a community of other people and start to figure out how to do that out in the world? So it’s very much taking some of that journey that our founders have been through. And, and, you know, the leaders of our company have been through and applying that helping other people apply it
Katie Hankinson (04:56):
This idea of athletes as change-makers, and then rather than talking about change at this kind of almost macro boiling, the ocean way, approaching it exactly in that way, through the sort of incremental steps of, of practice. What else, how else does it, you know, does it sort of come to be having a leadership team that are athletes first versus career entrepreneurs, second or traditionally business minded? Are they super involved or, you know, how, how does it impact the day-to-day running and building of rethink?
Jess Tillyer (05:29):
They are incredibly involved. So I mean, they really are a Renaissance people in that. I mean, Kristin went to Stanford, she could have easily chosen. I mean, she could easily be a CEO of a super, I mean, she is a CEO of a super successful company. She just so happens to also be a professional footballer. But she could have chosen a corporate path RAF school if she wanted to. She also could have been a writer. She’s so talented in this multifaceted way as is Megan Klinenberg. She was one of the first people that said we need to Sue the Federation, not just for us, but for women across America, she’s an investor. She’s like a super smart savvy investor. I mean, Megan Rapinoe, I’m sure you’ve heard of
Katie Hankinson (06:22):
Just one or two little sound bites here and they, you know,
Jess Tillyer (06:25):
Yeah. I mean, she’s, she was the second person to take a knee after Kaepernick and she’s she’s just like I’m, I I’m, I would not be surprised if she runs for office someday. She’s so incredibly smart and so incredibly well-read it’s just ridiculous. And Tobin Heath is an artist. She designs every single one of the pieces and every single one of our collections, she also does a piece of art while she’s training for each one of our collections. So all that to say, they’re all incredibly involved and are driving this company forward and I have no idea how they’re doing it. It’s, it’s incredible.
Katie Hankinson (07:13):
It’s kind of awesome and refreshing. Cause so often you have, you know, the, kind of the figurehead name attached to a company who may be not, isn’t quite as invested in involved versus three, you know, strong female leaders who are essentially setting the course and impacting the day to day of the running of the business. It’s, I’m interested to know, you know, in the past years, and especially in the last 12 months during COVID the conversations around re-imagining the status quo, whether it be civics, race, capitalism, exploring intersection intersectionality from race to gender, there are so many conversations now in the mainstream and kind of activism and in many brand conversations, when you sort of nodded a little bit to this before, during your work at SYA partners around truly building purpose driven brands, how do you rise both sort of rise above the noise and avoid being caught the swirl with what is, you know, a deeper and kind of more committed message that is obviously coming from rethink.
Jess Tillyer (08:24):
Yeah, I mean, I was just thinking about that this morning, actually, because we really try to provide leadership rather than reactions. And I think in the last year there was a lot that we wanted to amplify and give more space and show support. But as a brand, we never wanted to be reactive or come out with a message because it was expected or because everybody else was really from the heart. And now that we’re in a different moment, but we still see the need to keep re-imagining, you know, now more than ever, we’re not going to give up on that messaging. We’re going to continue to provide that type of leadership. And I mean, that’s definitely something that I learned as my partners, that when purpose is a concept, that is a tactic, it’s not real purpose is a concept that starts in the DNA of the company.
Jess Tillyer (09:33):
And perhaps if you are a 100 year old company, you do need a return to purpose moment and you need to, you know, have create some space for transformation. And part of that is a brand transformation, but that has to start within the culture within the values, within the operations, within everything. That’s something with rethink I’m, it’s, it’s just incredible to be able to build this company that we literally had created a purpose statement before we even knew what it was that we’re going to be making, because that purpose statement was so deeply within the DNA of our founders, you know, it was part of their childhood story. So in that way, you know, we, we have this thing. And so now my job day to day is making sure that that purpose is true in all of the choices that we make. I feel a responsibility to uphold that purpose.
Katie Hankinson (10:37):
I love that line, that, that quote that you just made when purpose is a tactic, it’s not real. And when it’s a concept that starts with the DNA of a company, that’s when it makes a difference. I think that’s it. So often there were conversations around purpose and it’s almost treated as a rapper, like a kind of a disposable thing on the outside of a brand, instead of the thing that’s really kind of driving from right at the very foundational heart. So, and how fantastic to be able to kind of have something so consistent to come back to. Yeah. So talk about you know, how, how that’s manifesting. We, you know, you’re, you’re, your day-to-day remit is to bring this through from a brand and experience perspective. You were exploring all sorts of growing and hotly contested spaces, both in lifestyle and apparel. What are some of the ways in which your you’re kind of bringing this to life, both on the product side and then secondarily that’s talk about on the membership side.
Jess Tillyer (11:41):
Yes. Well, first thing I say it is not easy because we’ve set a high expectation for ourselves of, we will reimagine the status quo and we will also inspire people to reimagine the status quo. So, you know, starting within the company, it really does come down to like, who’s the team we’re hiring. So our team is majority BiPAP, majority women, majority, and that, you know, that in itself just sets us up in a different way also, you know thinking about how we’re making our products. And as I’ve learned, I mean, I, I was not an expert in fashion production before this company. I still have a ton to learn, but one big thing I’ve learned is that, you know, I think we all kind of want more environment, environmentally thoughtful options for structure really isn’t there yet, especially at scale. And so the big players you see that are offering those, they’re creating the infrastructure as they go so true.
Jess Tillyer (12:53):
I mean really, and truly props to Adidas and, you know, even fast fashion brands that are figuring this out because it’s not there. So for us, I mean, it’s been about working with factories that are super close to home. So in New York finding factories that are owned by women and people of color, and then sourcing recycled fabrics, sourcing organic fabrics and you know, just always trying to be increasingly environmental we’ve. We feel like where we are right now is the beginning is 100% compostable fabrics that, you know, don’t even really exist yet. And then from the membership side, I think like part of that’s actually kind of easier in a way because it’s about creating a space that is powered by our community. And from the very beginning, I’ve just been amazed by the community that was so happy that we created the membership and just felt this belonging that they had never felt before in their lives. And so, you know, that is definitely a big part of how to do that. And then just making sure that like that whole system and all of those parts just really feel cohesive that we’re listening, that we’re getting feedback and, and, you know, responding to that feedback as best we can. So it’s, yeah. It’s, I mean, it’s, it’s so much fun. I like every everyday I’m like this isn’t really
Katie Hankinson (14:32):
Katie Hankinson (14:37):
Awesome. I guess the other part of it is, you know, you are creating you’re, you’re you’re, you are a for profit organization, but you are creating something that has a distinct purpose in the realm of social change. And even the products. I think when we last spoke something really stayed in my mind in terms of, you know, the way what you’re building out is almost the Le wearing the logo is signaling something in and of itself. So, you know, that they’re not necessarily kind of two separate parts of the business. They kind of a nested within one another. And the, and the lifestyle elements are part of the uniform, the apparel of reinvention
Jess Tillyer (15:18):
That is perfectly put, and that’s exactly what we’ve heard our community say. You know, when, when I, when I was creating sort of our, some strategy decks for thinking about how we want to position our brand I remember writing, I want to see quotes in the world that say this, this gives me strength. This product gives me strength. That’s awesome. And, and, you know, when I wear this, I feel part of, I feel a sense of belonging and I feel like I can truly be myself. This is exactly what you’re saying. The uniform for me to reimagine status quo. Those are the exact quotes I now read on Instagram and Twitter and, you know, on Tik talk and everywhere of people saying that that’s what this allows them to do. People have gotten tattoos of our logo. Amazing.
Jess Tillyer (16:12):
I’ve worked with many brands that have like hoped for these types of things, but I think it’s because it really does come from something that’s so authentic and true to our purpose. And you’re right, we are a for-profit brand, like by and large, we want to, we want to be a large business, you know, like want to be at scale. And, and we want to, to really be proud of our economic engine. I think it’s just about what are you doing with that economic engine and who is behind it? That’s really about our brand and our customers know that, you know, and they, they really appreciate that.
Katie Hankinson (16:50):
And they’re buying into something that is empowering them. It’s, it’s sort of that mutual aspect talk about the NFT project. So I, I think what’s interesting to me about where the potential for NFT lies and we’re really just starting to scratch the surface there, but it is another opportunity for people to connect to, and kind of have another vitreal sort of token representation of a brand. How are you actually incorporating that into, into the world of rethink?
Jess Tillyer (17:27):
Yeah. So one of the super secret amazing things about our brand is we have folks on our team that like have just incredible computer science backgrounds and are just really on top of kind of what is happening, you know, in the very beginning of when athletes were starting to create NFTs, we’re seeing that was mostly male athletes, you know, good for them, but we felt like, you know, it was really important for us to be in there and be some of the first folks in there. And we’re also really interested in the idea of exploring not just the token or not just the digital experience, but could, could it NFT almost be a gateway to a physical experience or to like proximity with us and our brand. So we just decided to go for it. We had a NFT artist who was a friend Tobin, of course, designs, you know, all the NFTs and then work together with this artist to produce them.
Jess Tillyer (18:34):
We bogged open, see like nobody’s business and, you know, had them set up and verify our account very quickly. And they, they loved what we created and they really wanted to support us. And so they, you know, we were sort of like this banner on their site. And yeah, I think that aspect of, and it went really well in that moment I think something that we really did learn was that people did, were so interested in not necessarily owning the NFT, but the idea of that conversation and that proximity to the brand and the idea that like we were going to send them a personalized note and, you know, they could have a conversation with one of our founders.
Katie Hankinson (19:27):
I completely agree. I don’t know if you saw, I think it’s actually this week and I’m an ad age with Gary. Gary has been talking a lot about an of teases. We’ve launched it within the v-necks world, our offering, but that, I think the potential to the exactly, as you say, which is not just tokenize and aspect of the brand and attach monetary value to it, but, but create something that connects digital to real world experiences has the promise of a deeper engagement with the brand. And there was a great quote in that article around kind of you’re, you’re almost inviting someone to be kind of a member of planet rethink, you know, this is like, they’re kind of like the ticket into that whole experience. And there’s something quite magical about that. I think.
Jess Tillyer (20:14):
Yeah. I mean, there’s so many different experiences that are heading that way and I think brands have to exist within these different places. We’ve
Katie Hankinson (20:23):
Talk to a lot about the founding of this. You know, the concept that you’ve built it around, some incredible high profile leaders, some interesting and awesome product and these amazing collections that come out. It can’t all have been smooth sailing though. So like, what are some of the challenges that you’ve faced as, as you’ve built out the brand, whether in the COVID year, almost years or even prior,
Jess Tillyer (20:49):
Oh yeah. It’s certainly not been smooth sailing at all. I mean, I don’t know about you, but for me when something is smooth sailing, I’m like, all right, bye. I think you guys have gotten,
Katie Hankinson (21:00):
Going to be something good I’m in the toilet.
Jess Tillyer (21:04):
Exactly. We’re not trying hard enough if it’s smooth sailing from the very start we’ve 100% been building while flying. We are a small but mighty team. And I think we have this incredible advantage where everybody on our team are multifaceted people really driven. And so we’re able to do, you know, the work of several people, but we’ve, we’ve kept it small. We’ve been really cautious about investment and have really, you know, wanted to fund part of this ourselves. And, and so we’ve had some great partners, but we’ve in that way, we’ve kept things pretty small too and pretty tight. So, and then there’s, there’s definitely been moments where, especially if you’re making physical products, there’s tons of room for error and misunderstandings. And we’ve had to work through a lot of those moments to, Hmm.
Katie Hankinson (22:10):
And I think the other thing which you mentioned before is in a, in a, for a brand that it’s all about creating experience you know, we’ve been sort of prohibited from convening. So how have you worked around that and where do you now dream to take the brand now that we’re starting to be able to raise our heads up above the power pets again?
Jess Tillyer (22:36):
Yeah. So with our membership, I, we actually were not, we were thinking, yeah, we’ll make a, a digital space, but really we want to focus on these in-person gatherings. And that’s what we were really excited about you know, two years ago. And then that, you know, with the pandemic we realized, okay, that is not a possibility. So we really focused on creating this wonderful experience within our community. That wasn’t wonderful because it’s like the, you know, our, our tech is fine. It’s not necessarily the best tech. We have a lot of thoughts about how to improve that, but really it was about the content and just the community and what we could create virtually. So kind of I think we’re a brand that’s pretty good about like sensing the sort of zeitgeists. So we’re kind of sensing that people were approaching burnout and really needed some coaching around like meditation and mindfulness.
Jess Tillyer (23:45):
And so we did a couple of these like meditation moments early on in the pandemic and, you know, there’s thousands of people that joined for those. Now fast forward to now, you know, I think we are 100% not out of this pandemic. And so we’re trying to be really careful, but we are starting to gather in a way that feels responsible. And if I think about where we’re going, it’s 100%, you know, a road show that goes across the United States that maybe it goes around the world, gathering members of our community, gathering new folks together to have this physical practice will change. And within that, and it’s really centered around this idea of how do you reimagine, but then there’s, you know, product opportunities to like try out and like try our products and there’s opportunities to like meet members of our team and meet experts that are kind of like within our network. So we have, I mean, we’re just so excited about the idea of getting people together. Again, physically. They started to see it a little bit. We’ve even at the last the last soccer game that was in Hartford, we all went and we met a ton of people. I mean, it was so cool to see almost every other person I saw at the game was wearing some sort of like, rethink some
Katie Hankinson (25:21):
Jess Tillyer (25:23):
It’s very validating like, oh, this is, this is incredible to see. And just talking to them and like hearing what they wanted. And I think they were all really craving meeting other re-imagining their words. They were saying, you know, we want to get together with other reimagine owners and find a physical space. So I really want to make that happen.
Katie Hankinson (25:44):
What’s next what’s 2021 got in store. I feel like you will found as a, probably a little busy being Olympians at this precise moment in time, but yeah, what’s next for the brand. What are you excited about?
Jess Tillyer (26:02):
Yeah, so we actually just later today, we’re launching a new collection called field of flowers. There’s going to be several drops throughout the rest of the summer. We are continuing to build our membership and really build up what that is and what that can look like. And then, you know, some of these like physical experiences, we’re starting to plan some of those as we go into next year. You know, number one thing right now is also just cheering on our founders and excited to see kind of what happens next at the Olympic
Katie Hankinson (26:39):
Absolutely go team USA and very to see what the next round of invitations to future re-imagine as well. We’ll bring.
Jess Tillyer (26:49):
Yeah, well, you are definitely invited. I’ll be along
Katie Hankinson (26:52):
For that. Definitely be along for the ride. So, final question, we love our building while flying analogy, because it speaks to the nimbleness and flexibility and foresighted that entrepreneurs and small business startup leaders need when they operate in business. What is your Jess’s mantra approach or philosophy in life that helps you keep building while flying?
Jess Tillyer (27:20):
So this is a mantra that I’ve really only developed recently, but I realized that in every single professional experience in my life, I’ve almost always been building while flying. I’ve never been on a ship or an airplane that is finished. Like, you know, it’s, it’s, I’m always part of the
Katie Hankinson (27:44):
Partially built vessel of some kind
Jess Tillyer (27:50):
Some love. And I used to see that as a bug, but now I see it as a feature. And I really do think that regardless of the size of your organization, seeing building while flying as a feature rather than a bug is a game changer.
Katie Hankinson (28:13):
Well, thank you so much, Jess, for your time. It’s been such a pleasure chatting with you. I’m really excited to see, I should immediately go in and check out field of flowers, which drops today really thrilled to see what happens next with the rethink community. And of course go team USA. Well, now that we finished that thoroughly interesting interview, we’re getting ready to land, but before we do Mickey and I caught up on some of the themes and topics that stuck out,
Speaker 3 (28:41):
Yes, we liken this to the post game show where we break down the key lessons we all can benefit from, including us here at the Sasha group here is the Sasha sidebar, Katie, what a fascinating conversation with that with just [inaudible] and obviously to kind of and readings and the rocket ship that she’s on.
Katie Hankinson (29:03):
I know what a fantastic company and what a star studded leadership team they have. Yeah, I feel like it must be hard not to be a little bit starstruck every day.
Speaker 3 (29:15):
For me, what was most, most interesting about what they’re building is, is the membership side of it, of, of rethink, like they’ve obviously got their products and it’s fashion and home decor and things like that, but then it’s, and it’s got like the sustainability kind of aspect that they’re, that they’re building, but then, you know, what connects those for women is that they’re change-makers and that they are athletes and the way that they have become the greatest in the world athletes is through practice and training. And so they’re applying that to kind of this company and that you, when you get a membership to rethink, you’re getting practice and training and how to be a change maker and how to be a
Katie Hankinson (29:58):
Reimagined, which is a lovely word in and of itself. I know it’s so interesting to me to see how this new breed of brand is sort of evolving and exactly to your point about membership. I think it’s so fascinating to see brands that are built entirely around a community. You know, yes, there are products in lifestyle. Yes, [inaudible] gear, but actually even the products are in service of this community. That’s at the core that is driven by the membership. And I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how brands continue to push into that, right? Where like some more of a contract between your community and your consumer than it is about just selling them.
Speaker 3 (30:45):
Yeah. I mean, it’s, to your point, like it used to be that communities were formed around products because of a super level of fandom or around people are on sports teams because of a super level of fandom. And now it’s brands are kind of taking it as let’s build the community first around that it’s a passion around a purpose around what that might be. It could still be built around something silly and fun, but you start with a community and then you cultivate that and then the products and services and everything else kind of orbits to your word around around that. And that’s like the future of brand building. And it’s certainly, I mean, the extensions into the NFT space that, that reading has taken like certain they’re all built. You know, I think it’s what if you’re falling that space at all, it’s all about kind of community and this, and the role that discord plays and all these different technologies and absence and things like that. But it’s, it’s all about kind of cultivating that, that community.
Katie Hankinson (31:45):
Yeah. I, at the NFT thing going to be fascinating to see, because it’s another way in which a, a fan or in this case, a member can have a much deeper connection to the brand and to the individual. They’re not just buying a product, they’re buying a tokenized contract to access and to a long-term relationship with the brand. You’re kind of part of planet rink now, as opposed to just having bought a pair of jogging shorts
Speaker 3 (32:18):
Or having bought a share of equity or something like that. And I think the NFTs that have that kind of underlying contract are the ones that are the most fascinating online. They’ve certainly taken that, that approach. So
Katie Hankinson (32:32):
I think my question is probably around what other, what other community centered friends popping people like what are we seeing? That’s really starting to emerge as being an example of, of this new wave of brands in the future. Thanks for joining us for building while flying today. I hope you done as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.
Speaker 3 (33:01):
If you’d like to hear more about how business owners and brands are navigating these times, tune in to the next episode. And if you’re so kind, please rate and review us, plus we’d love feedback. So let us know what you think, what you’d like us to dig into next on building while flying, across brands, businesses, marketing, and more original
Katie Hankinson (33:16):
Music by Fulton street music group.
Welcome to Building While Flying!
This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.
In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild; building the plane while flying.
Our pilots, Katie Hankinson and Mickey Cloud, will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.
Jess Tillyer is the Chief Brand and Experience Officer at re—inc.,
an eco-conscious fashion and lifestyle brand. re—inc. was founded in 2019 by U.S. Women’s Soccer superstars Christen Press, Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe, and Meghan Klingenberg to empower people to reimagine the status quo and the world around them.
In this week’s episode of Building While Flying, Jess joins Katie to tell re—inc’s story and dive into why reimagining the status quo matters. She discusses the distinction between purpose as a tactic and purpose as a meaningful part of business. She also describes what it was like to launch an NFT project, and how she believes NFTs will change how companies and brands engage with their audiences. Lastly, she offers a mindset shift that is “an absolute game changer.” Tune in to hear all of this and more!
Other in-flight topics:
- How re—inc. was born (4:00 – 7:34)
- Building a brand with purpose (11:50 – 14:50)
- Launching an NFT project (20:40 – 24:02)
- Challenges while building the brand (24:05 – 29:28)
- …and more!