Meet Sica Schmitz, Founder of Bead & Reel
Not every business owner has sold their home to finance their company or traveled half way around the world to visit the baby elephant that they foster. Sica Schmitz has. She is deeply committed to living a low-impact, ethical lifestyle and founded Bead & Reel to make conscious consumerism more accessible to the modern woman. We were lucky enough to sit down with Sica to learn more about her transition from costume designer to social entrepreneur, and of course had to ask about how she ended up adopting an elephant.
Vegan, humanitarian, and costume designer - Bead & Reel appears to be the manifestation of all of your personal values. What was your inspiration behind the brand? And what’s the story behind the name?
Bead & Reel is very much my dream shop! I remember the inspiration very clearly - in 2013 I was looking around online trying to find a pair of vegan boots that weren’t made in China and it seemed impossible. I spent hours and hours searching and I wondered why there wasn’t a shop where you could find ethical fashion that met more than just one ethic. Vegan fashion is great, but I really wanted to find things that were vegan & fair trade, or vegan & organic. At the time I was working on a popular TV show with huge access to a wide variety of shopping options, and I felt that if in my position of fashion privilege I couldn’t find these things, how could anyone else? If we want people to make better choices, they have to be able to find better options, so, I decided to create the store I wanted to shop at, and Bead & Reel was born.
As a consumer, it’s so easy to grow frustrated with the number of qualities you’re looking for in any given brand - organic, fair trade, ethically made, female owned. How is Bead & Reel changing the consumer experience?
I really believe that people want to make choices that align with their values, but they just can’t always find the right products or don’t always have endless hours free to research every brand or textile or process. So Bead & Reel is really about trying to make ethical shopping easy by vetting our brands and styles so our customers don’t have to.
Our customers trust us, and we don’t take that lightly. We really think through every aspect of a brand and style, and also make it as transparent as possible. While I want ethical shopping to be effortless, I also never want our customers to just take my word for something - I want them to know why I consider something sustainable or ethical with clear labeling and as much information as possible. We bring together the best options so that our customers have a worry-free shopping experience.
We believe - like you - that when we shop we are voting for the kind of world we want. What do you look for in the brands that you buy from? What are a few of your favorites?
I’m very particular about the brands that are a part of Bead & Reel. Along with offering products that are vegan, and having verifiable manufacturing oversight (whether that’s domestic or abroad), I also look for brands that are going even a step further. Are they female founded, or do they give back, or offer something organic or recycled? And even beyond that, it’s very important for me that all of our brands are led with ethics. I’ve stopped carrying many brands because while they may check all the initial boxes, maybe they aren’t paying their employees fairly, or maybe they don’t respect their customers. Those aren’t the kind of businesses I want at Bead & Reel, no matter how vegan or organic their products are. So when people shop with us, they know that not only are they getting the best possible products, but they are coming from the best possible companies.
A few of my absolute favorite Bead & Reel brands are Bhava Shoes, Hipsters for Sisters, Maggie’s Organics, Orgotton, Rujuta Sheth, and Passion Lilie - all of which are led by some of the kindest, most inspiring women.
You were a costume designer before you were a social entrepreneur. How did you make the transition? Any advice for other innovators looking to take a career leap to really live their values?
The transition was definitely slow, and challenging! I spent over a year and a half researching and planning before I eventually left my job in costumes to launch Bead & Reel. During that time I brought on and then fired a business partner, I sold my house to use the equity to finance my company, and I spent every evening and weekend and lunch break trying to learn as much as I could. Social entrepreneurship is definitely not an easy path, nor the right path for everyone, but for those of us crazy enough to want to take those risks and dedicate that time, it really can be one of the most rewarding journeys.
I think any aspiring entrepreneur should remember to be patient (as hard as that is) - most good things don’t come together overnight, but instead through years of thought and planning and mistakes and setbacks and hard work. There’s no such thing as an overnight success! And in the meantime, connect with and support social entrepreneurs who you admire and respect - you never know what opportunities that will open up!
There is no easy track to social entrepreneurship. You balance a lot of professional outlets that clearly combine your passion for creativity and commitment to fashion and responsible consumerism. What does a day in the life look like behind the scenes?
The one thing I can promise about entrepreneurship is that it’s never boring! Each day can be completely different from the next. And it’s not always very exciting or glamorous - I spend a lot of time returning emails, or in meetings, or doing things like inventory or photo editing or working with my bookkeeper.
I’m not sure that I am the best example on how to find that balance, but I really do love getting to be a part of so many different things. I can be doing anything from working with private shopping clients to fundraising meetings for the non-profits I am involved with (including Fair Trade LA and Downtown Women’s Center) to working on Bead & Reel’s upcoming Fair Trade Fashion Show to having a photoshoot. There’s always a lot of customer service and managing orders and doing social media and of course endless emails, and I’m always working on writing projects for Bead & Reel’s blog or Vilda Magazine (where I am the fashion editor). And maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll fit a yoga class in there somewhere.
Ok, and we have to ask. You adopted an elephant! What’s that story?
I’m so happy you asked! I always want to talk about my elephant!
I discovered the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust on Instagram about 2 years ago. It’s a sanctuary for orphaned elephants in Kenya and the photos are so cute it’s not even fair. My absolute favorite photo (amidst tough competition) was this one baby elephant all lathered up in a coconut oil skin treatment - maybe it was our shared love of spas, but I just felt drawn to him. Fortunately my long term romantic partner noticed and when my birthday rolled around a few months later he surprised me by fostering that elephant, who turned out to be named Ndotto. I followed along with Ndotto’s monthly updates and got to know his quirky personality and hilarious antics and then finally made the trip to Kenya to meet him last January. It was absolutely magical - as soon as I got to the sanctuary - surrounded by dozens of baby elephants and 100s of people - he walked right over to me! It was like he knew me, and on my last day there, right as I was leaving, he came over and gave me a kiss on the cheek with his trunk.