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My Company True Religion Sold for More Than $800 Million. Here's What I'd Never Tolerate Again — and How I Lead Today. Serial entrepreneur and True Religion co-founder Kym Gold is doing things differently this time around.

By Kym Gold

Key Takeaways

  • Kym Gold co-founded True Religion, which ultimately sold for over $800 million, in 2002
  • As the only woman on True Religion's board, she had to fight for her ideas, despite being the largest shareholder
  • She's taking all of the lessons she learned into her next venture, Style Union Home

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Courtesy of Style Union Home

I've been a serial entrepreneur driven by my passions my entire life. I love the challenge of creating something from scratch and am always eager to learn new things. One of my most notable accomplishments was co-founding the first-ever fashion denim brand: True Religion, which sold for more than $800 million in 2013.

When I co-founded the company, denim had no stretch; you either wore stiff jeans or jeggings. Worst of all, there were no suitable jeans options for curvier bodies out there. They were clearly being underserved. The designs of our jeans were very technical and intentional in order to achieve a sexy jean that would fit every body type.

In 2008, I sold my shares of True Religion and set out for my next phase in entrepreneurial endeavors. After I left the company, I started building homes, and as I was staging them, it was impossible to find cohesive styles that fit with the designs and aesthetics. It was arduous to decorate the rooms in these homes and make them look seamless, so I decided to do something about it.

I founded Style Union Home, a luxury home ceramics brand with handmade pieces crafted in LA, two years ago to fill that gap. Since then, the line has been carried in 200 stores across the U.S., and it's still growing.

My passion for being the first to develop something motivated me to start all of my businesses. I have used my 30-plus years of experience founding and selling them to help shape my new home-fashions line — and I'm doing things differently this time.

Related: What Part Does Passion Play in Your Success as an Entrepreneur?

These are lessons that I've learned along the way and have incorporated into Style Union Home.

I'd never deal with an all-male board again.

At True Religion, I was the largest shareholder, but I was also the only woman on the board. During my time at the company, it was hard to find any support from the all-male board of directors.

We were disrupting the denim industry, and often times they didn't recognize how to do that because they couldn't see or relate to the woman's perspective. We were developing a brand for women, and they couldn't figure out how to do that. I fought for many of my ideas that ended up being successful for the brand because I knew what our customers wanted.

Being the biggest shareholder and not being heard was the biggest thorn in my side. The men I worked with could be exclusive; they didn't care to listen and figure out what it was women really wanted.

As a result, I never received the support I needed.

For example, while we were still building True Religion, Neiman Marcus reached out and wanted us to create a dress. The board immediately shut down the idea — they said it had nothing to do with denim. They didn't see dollars in the project, but I knew they were wrong.

I created the dress for Neiman Marcus anyway. That denim dress was on the cover of the Neiman Marcus catalog and garnered a lot of positive attention. None of that would have happened if I had listened to the board and not gone with my gut.

Related: 3 Super Simple Ways to Understand What Your Customer Wants

I'm committed to hiring and working with incredible women.

As a result of my experience with the all-male board, I knew I wanted to work with women. As entrepreneurs, we need to build our teams, and by hiring women, we have the power to ensure that they receive equal pay and become part of an inclusive environment. The only way to tackle issues like this is to make the change yourself, and everything else will follow.

Today, I'm focused on working with women and supporting them every step of the way.

When it comes to my hiring process, it's really about passion for me. I look for people who are ambitious and love what they do. Of course, you want to work with people who have experience and know what they're doing, but they should also be passionate about the work they're putting out there.

Today, I'm focused on working with women and supporting them every step of the way. We're developing a brand primarily for women, and women know women. They can see the vision ahead because they understand and appreciate our customers' perspectives and what they need.

Related: 7 Practical Ways to Celebrate and Support Women Entrepreneurs

Understand the difference between listening and hearing.

Every entrepreneur should work on their listening and hearing skills — and they're not the same. Anyone can passively pay attention to what they're being told and repeat it back, but are you listening and absorbing what's being asked of you?

As a leader, you need to listen to your teams and understand their needs. They need to know that you are mindfully present. You can't run a business with a team that doesn't feel supported. That's when things start to fall apart.

An entrepreneur is only as good as their team.

Every brand has a vision, and the only way to execute it successfully is by surrounding yourself with people who can also see the big picture. Entrepreneurs need to be able to depend on their teams, and you can only do that if you're working toward the same goal with a solid group of people. The vigor of the people around you is fundamental to your success.

Despite being the largest shareholder at True Religion, I never felt supported because the team failed to see what I did. It's essential that you align yourself with a team on the same page about your vision and let them know they're valuable.

Stay true to your leadership style.

Women in business obviously face a double standard in the workplace. We've been taught to do what we can to fit into the "boys' club" or to tone down our feminine energy.

But the things that they tell you to downplay (for example, leading with emotional intelligence) are what could make you a great leader in your field. We're asked to alter our identities when we don't need to; we just need to learn how to harness those qualities.

Your passion is valuable. It will speak for you, and people will be receptive.

You don't need to be aggressive to get your point across. You can be heard by staying true to yourself and your leadership style. Your passion is valuable. It will speak for you, and people will be receptive.

Related: The Importance of Staying True to Your Roots as an Entrepreneur

Leadership by example is the hallmark of a good leader.

A strong leader makes a strong team. Your actions, however small you might think them to be, have influence over your team. Respect your employees, and they will respect you in return. They have to trust you, and the only way to earn their trust is by showing them that you put your words into action.

I would never ask someone on my team to do something I wouldn't do myself. Being a leader does not make you superior to others. You're all critical pieces of one big unit that only functions when you're in sync.

If you're not ready for something, there's nothing wrong with saying "no."

Business owners think that they have to say yes to every single opportunity that comes their way. But they're operating on a scarcity mindset. They believe that if they say no, the prospect is lost forever. But I haven't found that to be true at all.

When making decisions, it's essential for founders to learn when to say no because it can make or break their business. It's tempting to say yes when you're presented with a potentially lucrative offer, but you have to think strategically about the long-term impact. Before making any commitments, you should wait until you have all your ducks in a row.

If a business owner knows they aren't prepared for something, the worst thing they can do is say yes to it and possibly sacrifice that connection. If you're not ready, that's okay. Don't do it. They'll come back.

I will never repeat the mistakes I made at True Religion, but I'm grateful for the lessons that I've been able to learn along the way.

I'm taking all of my experience into Style Union Home's growth plan for 2023. Aside from these lessons, we're also utilizing invaluable information from our retailers and customers to guide us in the right direction.

I will never repeat the mistakes I made at True Religion, but I'm grateful for the lessons that I've been able to learn along the way because now I know exactly how I want to run my business and how that contributes to success in the long run.

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