Meet Kristina Baranowski, founder of Orchid and Ash who has been a small business owner since the age of 24, when she left corporate America to open a small bakery just outside of Washington DC. She ran, operated, grew, and eventually sold the bakery to move on to other ventures. Since selling her first successful business, she has been continuing to feed + explore the things that light her up while simultaneously working toward a greater purpose.
Orchid + Ash’s Signature Collection of 100% all-natural candles, which simply started as an at-home passion project, has transformed into something much bigger, quite literally taking on a new life form.
Orchid and Ash believes the power of small business is far underrated, and the women+ who run them are forces to be reckoned with. Kristina’s candle line supported her through the pandemic, and it was in a moment of appreciation she realized that she wanted to be a part of something bigger, something that helped put real money in the pockets of real women+, who were also finding a living inside their passions.
It was there and then, as she does, that Orchid + Ash was born. Orchids being the ultimate flower of femininity, and Ash a nod to the White Ash tree, one of the most sustainable woods in the country.
It is here that Kristina hand-curates sustainable, clean and eco-responsible home + lifestyle goods, made exclusively by small women+ owned businesses. While Orchid + Ash’s Signature Line of goods are all made in-house.
‘’We are here to support and lift each other up, and to truly showcase the beauty of what happens when like-minded individuals come together, as opposed to finding competition in one another. Our greatest hope is you too, find inspiration to fill your every day life from what we have created here at Orchid + Ash. Orchid + Ash truly is a special little corner of the internet, and we hope that you think so, too.’’
In your own words, what do you do?
I am working daily to create a network of insanely talented eco-conscious women+, that find power in collaboration over competition. I want to put as much money in the pockets of other women+ owned small businesses as I can, while also making and sourcing goods that I believe will bring inspiration to our customers’ every day lives. We deserve to be empowered AND inspired!
To do this, I founded Orchid + Ash, an online sustainable home + lifestyle goods boutique that sources everything directly from other women-led small businesses.
What inspired you to start Orchid + Ash?
It has really been years and years of build-up and a mixed bag of things gone right and things gone wrong. I sold my first business after five years of success in March of 2018, and I have been chasing joy and my next venture ever since, though, kind of always missing the mark for one reason or another.
The sale, which was agreed upon with a loan ended up in default, meaning the buyers stopped paying me, so for a few years I was forced to hold small jobs that really diminished my worth in order to pay lawyer fees and stay afloat while I was simultaneously fighting for what was mine. This kind of threw me into a rock bottom, and I knew in order to get out, I not only needed to work in a healthy environment, but one that I created for myself and for other people. My happiness really shines through when I am running my own business.
With the time that lockdown and the pandemic provided me, I was able to slow down for the first time in three years and really reflect on what the things were that truly lit me up. It came down to two things: I love creating, and I love working with other women. The work of others has always inspired me so, so much.
The actual concept of Orchid + Ash was a ping I had one day over coffee, I imagined growing a community of women+ by curating a space online to sell their incredible work, while also feeding my passion of making products by offering what I now called the “Signature Collection.”
It evolved as I began working through the details, and where it has landed fills my soul SO much, and I am so grateful this is the direction all of the hard stuff was pushing me in the entire time.
How do you choose what to put in your collection?
I honestly don’t add anything to the collection until I come across a product that I see and feel that “Oh my gosh, I need this!” feeling. It sounds so cliche, but that is really how I source! A lot of times I will come across a maker on Instagram with the most beautiful products, so I reach out to them directly and make a real connection. That is honestly half the fun of this business, getting to know the women+ behind the businesses that make up Orchid + Ash.
If it doesn’t inspire me, I simply won’t add it to the collection.
How did you sell your bakery business?
The idea first came to me as my lease was coming up for renewal, and I was in the thick of some serious burnout. I thought about just closing up shop, walking away, and cutting my losses. I was three years in to working seven days a week, some days being 16 hour days. As much as I loved my job, I knew I was at a crossroads and there was a lot more for me to experience in life that I could not do inside the walls of a bakery.
I started crunching some numbers, what kind of financial funds would I need to just close and walk away? I really began to evaluate the fact that my revenue had continued to grow at a rate of 35-45% a year, and this let me see that selling this business and making some real money off of it was a valid option.
I figured it would have been foolish of me to not even try.
So I renewed my lease, and continued to work and grow the business for two more years to see where I could get my revenue.
I was so lucky, when I was ready to sell, I hired a broker and almost immediately had three buyers lined up. I chose what seemed to be the best option at the time, which unfortunately turned to be the worst option, but the whole process was so necessary in my entrepreneurial journey, I am not sure I would actually change anything about the way it ended up playing out.
Please tell us how you are helping women?
Although we are just in our beginning stages, having launched in November of 2020, Orchid + Ash is my vision in action to help as many women as I can. Right now, we highlight over three dozen women-led small businesses, and being a small business ourselves, we know what a big deal every dollar is.
So there is the monetary aspect of helping these women, but then there is the connection, the community and the collaboration aspect, which I believe is priceless. So much confidence and empowerment is found within a community of cheerleaders, which is exactly what we are working on creating.
Down the road, I am also hoping to add a philanthropic aspect to the business, whether it is donating a portion of sales to women makers and artisans, or creating a grant program to help another female entrepreneur get off her feet. Starting out can be so scary and hard, and I would just love to be a part of someone being confident enough in themselves to chase their own dream.
What are your current areas of focus?
Right now I am still so focused on finding women with beautiful products that really inspire me. I really want Orchid + Ash to be a robust collection of all these pieces that not only inspire me, but everyone who shops with us.
Simultaneously, I am working every day on the Orchid + Ash Signature Collection, which is everything we make or design in-house. Candles, apparel, totes, and exploring some other options that will be a good fit for the line.
Keeping the inner workings of the business as strong as possible is top priority, the right customers will continue to find us and we will be able to keep growing. Growth is always a focus, but that has to come directly from the quality of what we offer.
To what do you attribute your success?
When I want something bad enough, I have an incredible work ethic. I will dive into learning as much as I can about whatever it is I want to do, and keep working at it until I get it right. I spend my free time researching, practicing and executing what I can.
I never went to culinary school, I went to NYU for Economics thinking I would end up on Wall St. But when I decided a bakery is what I wanted to do, I perfected new recipes, learned what makes or breaks a baked good (it sounds so silly, but it is so real!) How to find and lease a space, renovate it, write a business plan and eventually land a loan at 24. I didn’t know how to do any of that, but I figured it out, the process is so fun for me.
The same goes for Orchid + Ash, I never worked in a home decor or retail store, but I had this idea, so I worked and worked and worked to figure out the things I needed to. I am lucky enough that I have been running my own business in some capacity for the last ten years, so I have a lot of experience under my belt.
I start things and know I am going to stumble, but the real magic happens when you get back up, even though you know you will probably stumble again … and again.
I am still evolving, the business is still evolving, but when you have the desire and the work ethic, and you pair that with the willingness to learn, I think you can be unstoppable.
So for me that is really what my success comes down to, relentless grit.
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
If you are passionate about it, don’t overthink it. You have to start somewhere, and it is okay to change and evolve as you go, that is the fun part. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t and allowing your business to be fluid, but always stay true to why you started in the first place. That will get you further than anything else.
My favorite quote, and something I honestly live by is “if you aren’t embarrassed by the first version of your product, you shipped too late.” – Reid Hoffman.
Just start. It is okay to change, and inevitably improve on the way.
How do you think modern women can be more fulfilled in their lives?
I really believe there is so much to be said for not allowing the idea of social constructs or others’ expectations dictate your decision making. If your dream in this life is to get married and have kids and be a mom, that is amazing, do that because it fills up your soul, enjoy the hell out of it. If your dream is to travel solo, never get married and never have kids, do that. Enjoy the hell out of it.
We put so much weight on the things that we are ‘supposed’ to do, that we actually forget what we really want. So at the end of the day finding your fulfillment will come from sitting with yourself and being honest about what it is you want, not what the people around you think you should be doing.
Fulfillment is not found in one thing, and it isn’t the same thing we will all be chasing. That is what is so beautiful about it all. We all get filled up by such different things, and the world needs each of us doing those things in our own special ways.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
You know, I actually don’t believe in the concept of failure. I know that sounds a little strange, because we all know things crash and burn, but I more so have started to just look at these things as little stops and pivots along the greater journey.
That’s what things that don’t ‘work out’ are, things to learn from, lessons. It would be so easy to chalk what happened with the sale of my business up to a failure, but I can’t dwell on that, what’s done is done, and what can I change moving forward to avoid this from ever happening again?
Things don’t always work out, sure, but how detrimental would it be to look at everything that didn’t work as a failure? It didn’t work out, great, how can I make it better next time so it does work out?
But above all I have learned; stay true to yourself, protect yourself, don’t let people take advantage of you, know your worth and what you are capable of. Forever work in that energy and you will embark on some pretty incredible things.