In partnership with The U.S. Embassy in Canada, Startup Canada is celebrating and spotlighting women’s entrepreneurship across the border – speaking to leading founders to learn more about their journeys, and the vital role of cross-border collaboration on their entrepreneurial successes. Startup Canada was pleased to sit down with Sheila Hawkins-Bucklew, American founder and CEO, to learn more about their journey.
Sheila is the Founder and CEO of Hawkins Bucklew Jewelry Designs, an Austin, Texas based venture creating “Women’s Ethos-Chic Statement Jewellery”. The wearable works of art were designed to help customers express their unique voice as well as to empower the collective voice of female creatives, artisans, and entrepreneurs. She is also the founder of Hawkins Bucklew Realty and Showroom 808.
SC: Tell us about you and your businesses! Who are you and why did you start your business?
I am Sheila Hawkins-Bucklew, the Founder and CEO of the Hawkins Bucklew brand. Under that umbrella, we currently have three separate businesses – the jewellery company Hawkins Bucklew Jewelry Design, Showroom 808, and Hawkins Bucklew Realty. It is important to know that all three companies evolved out of my passion to empower women entrepreneurs.
The “why” behind all of it is simple. I’m a woman. I’m a business woman. I have a degree in business from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My corporate career was in retail – I did retail store management, retail buying. During my experiences working for corporate companies, I faced a lot of challenges that primarily women face; I found entrepreneurship as the answer to solving those issues. And it was the answer to a lot of things. But specifically it gave me options. It gave me options to earn a living. The opportunity to earn a living without the wage gap that women face in corporate America. It also gave me control over my time as a business woman and being a wife and a mother. It gave me the opportunity to control my time so that I could have a career, but still be there when my family needed me to be there like for my daughter’s soccer games and my daughter’s golf matches. Entrepreneurship, for me, was the answer. It was the answer to providing me an enriched lifestyle without the need to settle or miss out on family time. It gave me the control a lot of women don’t have in corporate America. I determined how much money I wanted to earn and the career path I wanted to pursue. Because of this, I’m very passionate about being able to share my story and also the benefits that entrepreneurship gives women.
SC: What’s been your greatest success so far?
The greatest business success is the fact that I took a risk, and stepped out there on faith to create these companies. However, as a mom my greatest success is raising my daughter and watching her excel as a real estate agent. She’s developed her own passions which drive her life and career. Her growth as a young woman warms my heart and I know when the time comes she will lead the way for Hawkins Bucklew Realty Group. Through our efforts at Hawkins Bucklew Jewelry Designs we were able to travel to the African Continent, partner with Hauwa Lima, a Nigerian fashion designer, and host a women’s entrepreneurship bootcamp in Lagos, Nigeria. This experience was totally unexpected and came about because of my commitment to community engagement. Through the Mandela Washington Fellowship Program hosted by the University of Texas Austin, I volunteered as a peer collaborator. This volunteer role led me to the opportunity to participate in the Reciprocal Exchange Fellowship, which enabled me to go to Lagos, Nigeria. This was an amazing experience that came from just me being me and being committed to the mission that I am living out loud. I would probably say this was definitely a life-changing moment that I’m really thankful for.
Other small successes would be the fact we were able to relocate our physical space – Showroom 808 – and pivot during COVID. I actively looked for opportunities which led me to being able to secure a space as the first African American female business owner at Domain Northside. Domain Northside is a mixed use property that we have in Austin, Texas which is a very upscale shopping district. I was able to reopen Hawkins Bucklew Jewelry Designs and Showroom 808 there during the pandemic. So that’s another great accomplishment.
Looking at why I do what I do and how I’m trying to impact the lives of women, another thing I am very proud of is my intern that I met while I was speaking at the Art Institute of Austin. I was able to watch her move from being a student, becoming my intern, and then launching her gender neutral fashion brand at Showroom 808. So hats off to Gender Thieves – Kim is a wonderful fashion designer, and now an amazing business woman. That’s something I’m really happy to have had the opportunity to witness.
SC: What’s the best part of the startup ecosystem and community in the United States?
Community – that’s the key term. That’s actually how the concept for Showroom 808 came about – through our experience in Lagos, Nigeria. We were a community of women in the room from different continents who spoke different languages and were from different religions. But when we were in that room, we were a community of women supporting each other and sharing experiences. And from that beautiful experience came the concept for Showroom 808 – a collaborative community for creative woman entrepreneurs. We need that type of support.
Being an entrepreneur can be a very lonely existence. Through my experience with Startup Canada I’m now involved in a community with Canadian entrepreneurs and American entrepreneurs wanting to do business with each other and wanting to expand our brands internationally. Just having this type of platform makes a difference. I love listening to other people’s stories, learning about their businesses, what they do and what they’re passionate about. It’s a supportive environment that I welcome, and that I’m so pleased I was asked to participate in.
SC: In one sentence, what does being a woman entrepreneur mean to you?
Being a woman entrepreneur means having control over your own life and success. If you teach a woman to fish instead of providing the fish to her, it touches the lives of her family and, in turn, elevates her community.
SC: How has the pandemic impacted your business?
There are definitely pros and cons. We had to cancel one of our major events that we had planned, which was going to be a one day conference for women entrepreneurs. We were bringing in a top fashion industry speaker from New York, partnering with Nordstrom and a local hotel in Austin. We had to cancel it and shut it down. So that impacted us financially because we did incur expenses associated with planning that event that we did not get back.
And then right after that we actually had to shut the doors of our showroom. That was scary because I was still paying on a lease. But what I know to do through challenges is to look for opportunities. We were able to pivot and secure an upscale space to bring awareness to what we were doing in the community. And that’s a big thing, because if it was not for the pandemic we would not have been able to negotiate the deal that we did in order to secure this high end retail space. It was totally outside of what we were financially able to do. But through some strategic partnerships in the community, including the city of Austin, we were able to pull that together and secure that space. So I would say that that was probably the biggest pro that came out of a devastating situation.
SC: What has been your biggest struggle in navigating cross-border sales and operations?
It’s interesting trying to expand and have a global presence. Like I said, we were able to do that with the jewellery company with our strategic partnership with University of Texas and the Mandela Washington Fellowship Program. With the real estate company, I’m certified in international property and have obtained the prestigious CIPS Certification (Certified International Property Specialist). And through the knowledge, education and tools that the National Association of Realtors offer, I was able to do business with Canadians in America. As far as being in Canada, I actually went to London, Ontario as an instructor and presented a marketing course for several brokerages there. I really haven’t had a great amount of difficulty because one of the things I practice is a model called strategic partnership. I’m able to leverage other organizations or businesses who already have systems in place for global engagement and I defer to their expertise on how to do certain things. I would encourage others, especially small businesses, to do the same. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel and you don’t have to be out there on a limb all by yourself. Look towards companies who are already doing what it is that you want to do on a global platform and then ask for their guidance. People are really willing to help. I would say look for strategic partnerships, ask for help, and then implement your program based on that knowledge.
SC: On the other hand, what are the biggest benefits you see in cross-border sales and operations?
I mean it’s Economics 101, right? Economics 101 is to have multiple streams of revenue – having a global platform allows you to do that. If you have multiple markets that you’re invested in, hopefully it will offset challenges seen or felt in other markets. And so it makes sense in that way – it helps balance things out. It allows you to take advantage of upturns in one market while there may be a downturn in another.
However, the pandemic once again threw a wrench into all of that. What we then saw was how being invested in the global marketplace impacted the supply chains locally. If your business has suppliers on an international platform and now they’re shut down because of the pandemic it affects your business even though you may not have felt those challenges initially. Eventually you’re still impacted by what other international markets are dealing with. We’re still feeling the effects of that here – not being able to get certain products whether it’s auto parts or the housing market or just our food chain. It really has impacted our existence in this country as business owners. We still have to figure a lot of that out. Because of that, it’s always good to have a local marketplace where you have vendors that you can do business with.
Here in the United States people have been voicing their opinion about why we should stay local and not participate in the global marketplace. Personally, I still think there’s a place for it. Being global not only gives me the ability to make the products I make, or to do the type of business I do, but it also enables my love for learning about other cultures and what is important to them, how we’re different but yet similar, and how we’re connected.
SC: Has going global given you an advantage in bouncing back better and faster amid the pandemic?
What the global pandemic really showed me, or what it has given us I should say, is hope. We saw the impact that this pandemic had on other countries across the globe with businesses shutting down because of an uptick in the pandemic. The important part to me was that they came out of it, for the most part. When we started to see, for example, businesses in Paris reopen or businesses in Germany reopen it gave us hope. Because at that particular time we (the U.S.) lagged behind with the pandemic. So we may have been totally shut down, but being able to see these other countries come out of it – even for a brief moment – brought normalcy back into our lives. It gave me hope that soon we would be able to do the same thing.
The pandemic also gave founders the opportunity to really think strategically about their businesses. Outside of that, we were able to rethink our lives – a lot of us started prioritizing living our lives over money and profit. All in all, I think it was a good thing for humanity. We did unfortunately lose many lives, but at the same time it presented a mindset shift for the world.
SC: Many women founders have cited mentorship as the biggest support in growing successful businesses. Have you found value in mentorship, either as a mentor or as a mentee?
Oh, most definitely. Mentorship is something that you should write into your business plan and the plan for your personal life. You can have business mentors but you can also have personal mentors through coaching. It helped me especially in the real estate industry – I was able to benefit from the experience and the mistakes other real estate professionals shared with me that I could either capitalize on and duplicate, or I could avoid. Mentorship in my real estate career actually helped me leverage my business and gain traction a lot faster than I think I would have. Case in point, my first year in real estate I was Rookie of the Year in my office. I found those mentors through professional organizations whether it was the Texas Association of Realtors, the National Association of Realtors, or the Women’s Council of Realtors. There were people who were willing and able to help me.
As a seasoned business woman, I feel I am obligated to give back to the community. And so anytime I can volunteer, share information, or share experiences with another business owner, I’m happy to do that. I actually enjoy doing it as a leader in my community. So yes, definitely mentorship is the way to go. Join a professional organization and get involved. Mentorship is also a give and take, right? Even as a mentor, I am learning from my mentees as they are learning from me. You have to make sure there is balance in the relationship. It is such a fulfilling experience when you’re able to participate in a positive mentorship environment.
SC: What does being part of this partnership mean to you? What do you hope to achieve?
For me, it’s been a wonderful experience. Like I said before, anytime I can learn about new cultures, new ways of doing business, and some challenges other female entrepreneurs face, it’s a good day. I’m constantly seeking information, and I am committed to being a lifetime learner. I enjoy that type of interaction. On the other side of that, our individual experiences are uniquely presented just for us – we are all unique. So if I can share anything that I have experienced with someone else that will benefit them, I’m thrilled to do that. This platform really sets us up for that environment of sharing and collaboration.
Through the Zoom calls we’ve had, I’ve learned about people in Canada who make handmade products and how there’s discrimination in different ways from what we face in America. I was able to listen to that and share my experiences of what I experience as a triple minority. Being a woman is one thing, but being a woman of colour… that reality automatically increases my daily challenges. I think if I’m able to share insights about my experiences as a woman of colour, people will have a better understanding of what that really looks like and how I may have to do business in a different way just to survive being a businesswoman in the U.S.
These conversations are really helpful when we look at global platforms for our business. How does our type of business translate to the African continent? Or how would that translate to Canada? You know, what type of challenges would I face doing business there because I’m a woman of colour? I just think that it’s something we need more of. We need more women willing to support other women. Startup Canada is a fantastic program – I’m appreciative that I’m part of this platform. At the end of the day, I am here to not only learn, but to share my experiences in order to positively impact someone else’s life.
SC: How can we learn more about your journey and organization?
Our website is hawkinsbucklew.com and we’re on social media (Facebook and Instagram). What I’m really excited about is that we are going to increase visibility on our YouTube channel. That’s where I want to start talking about my experience through Hawkins Bucklew. That particular page is going to be called My Jeweled Life and it is where I’m going to share personal experiences about my journey through entrepreneurship that hopefully others will be able to learn from. So that’s how we’re pivoting – we’re going to take Showroom 808 on a digital platform. It won’t necessarily be a podcast, but we’ll have content on YouTube that you guys will be able to see with our mission at the forefront – to serve as a community for creative women entrepreneurs.
SC: What advice would you give to other women entrepreneurs who are looking to go global and take their first step in exporting?
Very good question. I think my advice to women entrepreneurs who are looking to launch on a global platform is, number one, seek out guidance. Practice our methodology of strategic partnership, especially if you’re a small business. Look for big players out there. You know, for our jewellery company we have partnered with Amazon for international buyers. We’ve also partnered with eBay. They already have the systems in place – all we had to do was tap into that. Definitely look for those types of partnerships which align with your company’s ethos, see what they are doing internationally, and then tap into that for your international platform.
SC: Do you have any recommendations on how women founders can expand and capitalize on their network to help them on their journey?
Oh, most definitely. Network is very important and you need to have a strategy for networking. You need to have a plan in place – not only a plan for events you’re going to attend, but what you wish to achieve at said events. In other words, not only know the event you’re going to attend, but figure out why you need to be there, how long you are going to stay, and who specifically you want to connect with.
The other thing that you must do once you make that connection at a networking event is follow up. You want to cultivate that new relationship. But the way to do that – and here’s my little trick – is by offering something. Don’t reach out to someone in your network that you’re just establishing a relationship with asking for something, offer something first. This can be as simple as “Oh, you know how we were talking and I mentioned John Thomas to you? Let me connect you with him.” Follow up by making that connection with John Thomas for that person. That’s a give and they will notice. It can be as simple as recommending a book that you like that addresses one of your new connections’ pain points. “Hey, I know you said you’re having trouble with time management – here’s the name of a book, the author, and a link to buy it on Amazon”. Just simple things, right? So I would say offer something before you ask something of them. Besides that, make sure that they ultimately align with the mission of your company or the goals that you have in place. To summarize – have a strategic plan in place for networking, follow up by offering something first, cultivate that new relationship by staying in contact, and then sit back and watch it blossom.
SC: Thanks so much for talking with us today, Sheila!
You’re most welcome, this was wonderful!
This piece is part of Startup Canada’s wider campaign in part with the U.S. Embassy in Canada to celebrate and honour incredible women entrepreneurs from both sides of the border. If you are a woman-identifying founder in Canada or the United States looking for free one-on-one advisory support from expert mentors, private sector partners, or startup support organizations, head over to startupcan.ca/explore/startup-women to learn more and get started today.