The 3 Most Inspiring and Powerful Things We Learned at Create & Cultivate

By Lili Göksenin

Last weekend, the Express team traveled to sunny Los Angeles, California, for the Create & Cultivate conference, a yearly gathering of like-minded, super-smart, digital-savvy, and crazy-fashionable ladies. With 13 fascinating panels (including our own in partnership with Levo and moderated by the fantastic Maxie McCoy) and three incredible keynote speakers, the day was jam-packed with learning moments, excellent career advice, and enough style inspiration to tide us over until next year’s event and feed our souls for a lifetime.

Left: Mama Cax, Right: Denise Bidot

One particular highlight was when Denise Bidot, model and founder of the No Wrong Way movement, and Mama Cax, a model, blogger, activist, and motivational speaker stopped by the Express pop-up shop to talk style, representation, and all things body-positivity. Each of these women inspire others to love their bodies, and although their experiences are slightly different, their message is unified: Real beauty is everywhere and comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

If you haven’t attended this conference, let our three main takeaways serve as inspiration for you to sign up for the next one! We left feeling totally refreshed and ready to face 365 days of wins, losses, challenges, takin’ names, and kickin’ butt.

Express Squad member Francheska Medina (aka Hey Fran Hey)

1. Keep Strong, Carry On

We noticed over and over again that all these successful boss ladies had been through a lot to get where they were. Success is never easy, but it turns out that starting a business or a brand as a woman can be even harder than you might think. After all, women are facing some of the toughest critics out there.

“I remember my first 3-star review on iTunes,” said Francheska Medina—a.k.a. @heyfranhey—during the Podcasting 101 panel. Medina hosts multiple podcasts in addition to running her website and Youtube channels. “That first mean comment breaks you in. You can be brilliant, but not everyone’s going to like you. But once you get that in your head, it’s freeing.”

Later in the day, Refinery29 founder Piera Gelardi, described how in the early years she and her colleagues struggled to convince funders to take their baby brand seriously (hard to imagine nowadays). “Most people told us we weren’t going to be successful, that we were setting ourselves up for failure. There’s so much self-doubt. It takes so much resiliency to take the ‘no’ and not let it drag you down,” she said.

Resiliency, i.e. the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions, is a trait women quickly learn to develop. (Am I right, ladies?) If there is a skill all these badass gals had, this was it.

So if you’re thinking of starting a business, if you have a great idea of a product, if you’re simply hoping to change careers, remember this: you’re going to hear some “no’s,” you’re going to encounter the naysayers. Take comfort in this: we’ve all been through it—take it on the chin and let that negativity make you stronger!

From left: Chrissy Teigen and Jen Atkin

2. Know Thyself

“It’s important to build your voice and advocate for sticking with it.”  So preached Queen of Voice, Chrissy Teigen. And of course, no one knows this better than the inimitable and enviably funny Teigen, who (along with her bud and hairstylist, Jen Atkin) was the penultimate keynote speaker of the night. However, Teigen, who’s become well known for being boldly outspoken and staunch in her convictions, acknowledged that it takes time to get your truth to where it needs to be. It might even take time for you to realize who you truly are and what you stand for.

Earlier in the day, during an ultra-inspiring panel on body positivity, Jessamyn Stanley, a yogi, podcaster and body positivity activist emphasized the need for loud and visible authenticity. She has found that her simple presence on social media is creating change for other women. “We need to get beyond a place where we’re looking at TV, films, etc. for our goals in life. Visibility is critical. Living my truth and just existing has an impact [on others].”

Tess Holliday, the fabulous be-tatted model and activist, found her voice through the criticism of others. “I have been called fat my entire life . . . and it ruined my life,”  she said of her path to being right with herself. “One day I woke up and I was like ‘I’m fat, why am I trying to fight it?’” The audience erupted in full support.

It can be hard to imagine that someone like Holliday, who has spent her entire career breaking boundaries and establishing herself as a gorgeous force of fashion, ever experienced self-doubt. But—sorry to be corny!—life is a journey. It’s humbling and reassuring to know our mentors and idols traveled the hard road, as well, and came out the other side stronger than ever.

From left: Alissa Leonard, Maxie McCoy, and Patrice Croci (VP of Brand Marketing at Express) 

3. Focus Up

When you’re building a brand, starting a business, or simply honing your voice, it’s easy to get distracted. There are so many paths out there for you to choose, and finding the right one can be seriously daunting and it can be tempting to go astray. That’s why one of the best pieces of advice we got at Create & Cultivate was to stand your ground, believe in yourself, your idea, your intelligence, and run full steam at your goals.

Interior design guru Kelly Wearstler, a panelist for B-School, which was all about growing your business, reinforced the need to understand your current and future worth. “You have to have a vision,” she said. “You can’t waver.”

Alisa Leonard, President of Levo, a mentoring and career development organization for millennials (and Express partner), brought it home during our panel on women in the workplace.  “Women are the driving force for change,” said Leonard. “We already have economic power, we have to stand in the power we have.”