Money is power. And in order to see the shifts—political, social, financial—that will accelerate our path towards equality, we need to get more money in the hands and businesses of women. We’re building a company that does that.
You are COO of The Helm, a lifestyle brand committed to elevating and investing in female entrepreneurs. You make it easy to invest in women. Can you tell us how you’re making that happen?
Yes! Our mission is to drive capital to women-owned businesses. We’re currently doing that through our venture fund and our ecommerce platform. Our fund invested in 11 exceptional female-founded companies that span industries like maternal health, D2C modest fashion, SaaS, and wearable tech. Our ecommerce platform is a curated marketplace of exclusively female-founded brands in wellness, home, fashion and beauty.
My role is different every day and depends on what the company needs at any given moment or juncture. Sometimes that involves higher-level strategizing with our CEO, Lindsey Taylor Wood, and our investors, and other times I’m in the weeds of budgeting, legal and other more operational activities. Others, I’m working alongside the team on deadlines or upcoming projects. Most days, it’s a combo of all of the above. I love that every day is different and that I’ve got a purview into all aspects of the business. That’s a really special thing about being part of a team and company in the early stages. There is so much collaboration and you get to be involved in so many different facets of the business.
Now tell us your story Julie. How did you get here? We’d love to hear it.
I’ve had a bit of a winding and non-linear road, but I think every turn landed me in the right place at the right time. I am from Canada and after university, I moved to New York for an internship with the UN. I spent the next several years working in development there and throughout my post-grad work at the London School of Economics. Gender and equality were always a top focus of mine. At the UN I worked primarily on advocating for maternal health and reproductive rights and at LSE I focused my studies on Gender, Peace and Security.
In 2012 I consulted for a non-profit, and that’s where I met Lindsey (CEO of The Helm). We hit it off immediately and quickly discovered that we had very complementary skill sets. We didn’t work together for long but stayed good friends.
Shortly after, I began to let my passion for yoga and wellness drive my work. I think I wanted to feel more connected to the work I was doing and the people I was impacting, and after spending a year living in New Zealand, I was also interested in exploring what a different lifestyle could look like. I built a private practice in NYC and led international wellness retreats. It may seem like a detour, but that’s actually when I caught the entrepreneurial bug. That’s when I learned how to hustle, how to be resourceful, how to keep going even when you’re scared, even when it seems like you might fail. I think there’s a core set of skills you learn from building a business, regardless of the industry.
Fast forward a few years after having moved to Seattle and taken a bit of time off to have my daughter, I was looking for an opportunity to come back to New York and was ready to dive back into gender equity work. That’s when Lindsey was launching The Helm. I came on board to help with the launch and the rest, well, is history! I was captivated by the mission and the work from day one and haven’t looked back.
The best kinds of partnerships are the ones where you trust each other implicitly, challenge each other, hold each other accountable, offer kindness, support and compassion, honor each other’s differences and regard them as an asset and an advantage.
Lindsey Taylor-Wood, the Founder and CEO at The Helm, often calls you her work-wife. Tell us how that works, and do you also wish you had one??
Yes, she’s my work wife too! It’s all about partnership. Having a partner in business is much like having a partner in life. Business (like life) is rocky and hard. The best kinds of partnerships are the ones where you trust each other implicitly, challenge each other, hold each other accountable, offer kindness, support and compassion, honor each other’s differences and regard them as an asset and an advantage. The ones where you can pick each other up off the floor when the going gets tough and keep moving forward together and in the same direction. That’s Lindsey and I in a nutshell. It’s not easy to find a partner like that, and we know how lucky we are.
In addition to its fund, The Helm has also launched an ecommerce platform that exclusively features products from female-founded brands. Do you see any major differences in how these companies approach their products or businesses?
I think one thing you realize once you start paying more attention to female-founded businesses, buying their products, and using their services, is how long we, as women, have been walking around in a world that wasn’t built for us. Women building businesses are often solving for problems that we uniquely face and account for the multifaceted-ness of our lives.
Our portfolio companies are great examples of this. The Riveter, for example, is a female-forward co-working space that is reimagining the relationship between women and work, Mahmee and Tia are modernizing women’s health care, and SmartGift is a tech solution that makes online gifting easier. The latter perhaps is not something that is overtly gender-specific until you consider that emotional labor (or mental load), which includes finding the perfect gift for friends and family of all kinds, disproportionately falls on women.
I learned how to hustle, how to be resourceful, how to keep going even when you’re scared, even when it seems like you might fail.
Why is it so important for platforms like The Helm to exist? What else is on your horizon in global domination?
Money is power. And in order to see the shifts—political, social, financial—that will accelerate our path towards equality, we need to get more money in the hands and businesses of women. We’re building a company that does that. We’re creating multiple access points so that regardless of capacity—from investing significant capital into a fund to being intentional about your purchasing power—everyone who wants to invest in women, can. As far as what’s on the horizon, this December we’re bringing our shop to life with a holiday pop-up in NYC. And, bigger picture, we have a few new really exciting offerings that we’ll be piloting and announcing over the next few months, so stay tuned!
On top of all of this effort and commitment, you are Mom to a young daughter. What does being a part of an organisation like The Helm mean to you and your family? From what we know your own Mom is a huge supporter of you.
I love my job, and the fact that the work we do at The Helm is in the service of creating systemic change that will result in a world that is more equal for the next generation of women, my daughter included, drives me even more.
My daughter is three and the work/life struggle is very real. Like every parent, I think I'm constantly striving to show up as my full self at both home and at work. But it's really important to me that she grows up watching me work hard, committed to issues I care about.
My mom had a long and successful career and I’m certain that having her as a role model impacted how I viewed my own relationship with work, what I wanted and what I thought was possible. And now, yes, she’s incredibly supportive of me and it’s her commitment to mothering (both myself and my daughter) that makes it easier for me to be as committed to my work as I am. She lives in Canada but spends a lot of time here in New York taking care of my daughter. I couldn’t do it without her or my dad, who is equally supportive.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received? And or the advice you always give?
My favorite piece of advice is also the one I give most often, and it’s a quote by Marilyn Ferguson that I had pinned up to my fridge for years. It says, “Ultimately, we know deeply that on the other side of fear is freedom.” It’s a reminder that the things that seem like barriers—that make you uncomfortable or scared—are really just invitations and opportunities for growth. If you’re willing to sit in the discomfort, the thing you were most scared of becomes the thing that sets you free.
So many times, I’ve looked at that scary thing straight on and decided to do it anyway. Every single time it has led to something better.
You live and work in NY. What’s the very best thing about that?
I wanted to live in New York for as long as I can remember, even before I had ever visited here. I’ve lived here on and off since 2005. I’ve left a few times thinking that maybe I won’t return, but I always seem to find my way back. For me, the very best thing about this city is the energy of its people. I think that New Yorkers believe—maybe more than anyone else in the world—that anything is possible. I find it endlessly inspiring to be amongst that kind of passion and drive, and to see people living out their truth in such diverse, interesting and authentic ways.
We are very excited about our upcoming collaboration with The Helm as HK will be a part of your e-commerce platform! What is your favourite HK piece and why?
So are we! I was fortunate enough to see a preview of your line when we visited Calgary in the spring. I was immediately drawn to the Florence dress. I love its simple, flowy silhouette and I can see it being one of those pieces that I wear over and over and over again. Also, my daughter’s name is Florence, so it feels like an extra perfect fit!
At HK we believe we are part of a bigger movement, designing the world we want to be in. Based on your journey, what is your advice to us at HK? And others like us?
I’ll go back to your earlier question about advice and say, feel the fear and do it anyway. Doing something new is hard. Doing something different is hard. Creating change is hard. Starting a business and everything that comes with it is hard. And all of it is scary. So many times, I’ve looked at that scary thing straight on and decided to do it anyway. Every single time it has led to something better.