From coffee mugs that make you think to temporary tattoos that encourage women to vote, Smart Women products work to prove that a business can be both socially aware and commercially successful.
Thursday evening Julie Hellwich, founder and president of Girl Babies, Inc.-which produces Smart Women products-gave a speech sponsored by the Hart Leadership Program, Baldwin Scholars, Women's Center and the Fuqua School of Business's Social Impact Club.
The event was held in a small lecture room in the Sanford Institute of Public Policy, creating an intimate atmosphere for discussion and audience-speaker interaction.
Smart Women products include pencils, bumper stickers, chapstick and many other gift items and feature encouraging statements such as "Smart Women Protect Free Speech" or "Smart Women Vote."
Hellwich was invited to speak because of her unconventional approach of combining business leadership and social activism, said Rachel Seidman, associate director of the Center for History, Public Policy and Social Change.
She added that Hellwich's success story is equally unconventional.
Smart Women products began in 1999, when Hellwich started producing them out of her home as a married stay-at-home mom with a young child and no income of her own. Initially she used them as small gifts for friends that included witty and inspiring slogans about women. A friend of Hellwich's then contacted a local store about the products and soon that store and many others were requesting more Smart Women products.
"I started making products that would reflect my social values," Hellwich said, adding that all of her products were recyclable, did not speak to the vanity of women, used simple straight-to-the-point labels and were made in the United States.
Today, Hellwich is a single mom who supports herself. Smart Women products are sold across the country and on the Internet and have gained renown for their unique message.
Hellwich, who never intended to go into business and once thought of the business world as "evil," said her goal is to bring the issues she feels are important to the attention of consumers.
Smart Women products and their slogans encourage women to take action toward progressive change and female equality, she said.
"I want [women] to know that the things they do daily matter," Hellwich said in response to a question about the main message of Smart Women products.
The all-woman audience discussed topics with the self-made entrepreneur ranging from future business ventures, such as creating Smart Girl lip gloss for young girls, to the pressures felt by women today and the idea of "effortless perfection."
Her hope, Hellwich said, is that women will stick to their core values in life no matter how strong the pressures are to break from them. She added that her business theory encompasses this idea and that she does not separate her personal values from her work.
"I have to act in how I believe," Hellwich said.
One of her most important beliefs is that every woman should exercise her right to vote, she said. In the 2003 presidential election, Hellwich made Smart Women products in conjunction with the League of Women Voters to encourage women to go out and vote.
She also worked with other activist organizations that she felt passionately about to create products in support of the organizations' issues, gaining recognition from women such as presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.
Female students at the event also recognized the importance of Hellwich's efforts for social change and awareness.
"[Her speech] makes me believe that I can do anything, that anything is possible," freshman Snayha Nath said,
Hellwich concluded the event by handing out complimentary Smart Women chapsticks to each audience member and emphasizing that every individual can create change in the world.
"I believe change occurs one relationship at a time," Hellwich said.
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