Interview with Laura Grier, Andeana Hats Co-Founder

Laura Grier has been called the Indiana Jones of Adventure Travel Photography and is a recent addition to the Discovery Channel UK’s 20 Richest People in the World List, people who are rich in life experiences that is.  

Living abroad from a young age, it is no surprise that Laura turned her life of travel, adventure, and exploration into a profession.  As a photojournalist for the past 20 years, Laura has photographed on all 7 continents and has made a life out of exploring the world, capturing, and writing about her experiences. 

The most satisfying work that Laura has done in her career has been through her work with National Geographic‘s global artisan catalog that represents artisans from around the world who are practicing “Vanishing Arts”. Through her work with Novica over the past 12 years, Laura has traveled numerous times to Peru and has quickly fallen in love with the culture and people. Passionate about mentoring, women’s education, photography and travel, Laura leads travel workshops, expeditions, and is an ambassador for sustainable travel brands like Lokal and Impact Travel Alliance. 

Currently, Laura has joined forces with Pats Krysiak to create Andeana Hats, a sustainable fashion company that sources hand-made alpaca wool hats made by Quechua women in the Sacred Valley of Peru. Andeana Hats invests in women’s skills, connects them to global marketplaces and supports their leadership so they can increase their income and transform their communities.  The mission behind the creation of Andeana Hats is to empower women and help support global artisans to continue their vanishing crafts and enabling them to support themselves and lead their communities out of poverty. 

Name: Laura Grier
Business: Andeana Hats and Laura Grier Travel
Role: Adventure Travel Photojournalist, Co-Founder of Andeana Hats
Education: Graduated from Syracuse University for Commercial Photojournalism
Age: 41
Location: Los Angeles, California

(Fempreneur) Describe your most recent business success and tell us about your next big goal. What’s up next?

(Andeana Hats) The mission behind the creation of Andeana Hats in 2019 is to empower women, help support global artisans to continue their vanishing crafts, and enable them to support themselves and lead their communities out of poverty.

People who buy our gorgeous, sustainable alpaca wool hats and woven intention bands can look good, feel good and do good at the same time.

The Quechua language is an oral or woven language; not written, so by keeping these weaving designs alive we are essentially keeping their language and history alive. Each woven “Intention band” has a different Quechua meaning and can be changed on any hat allowing the wearer to choose the intention they want to wear.   We designed conscious clothing that is thoughtfully worn, fashionable, and helping to continue a vanishing art from the Quechua communities in the Andes Mountains

Our future 2021 goals are to relaunch Andeana Travel hosting tourism-related weaving workshops and visit and to help build a climate-controlled taller (or workshop) in the Andes Mountains in a safer, more easily accessible area where we could train more Quechua women to create our hats and employ more women in their communities.  It could also create another form of sustainable income for the Quechua people.

Related: Book your strategy session to build your business as a female entrepreneur.

(Fempreneur) How would you define success?  

(Andeana Hats) I believe for all of us, not just me, that our fear and lack of confidence is usually the only thing that holds us back from the dreams we aspire to achieve in life. 

Watch this video discussion to learn how to show more confidence in your career.

I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that I had more control over the types of jobs I wanted and to go brand myself as an adventure travel photographer from the beginning.  Also, I would have explained that “success” is not based on getting the most money, status, or celebrity jobs, but based on if you are doing what you love every day and creating an impact in the world.  I would have said to be less hard on myself, to not compare yourself to others, and be ok with being unique and turn those feelings of envy and comparison into inspiration and motivation instead.

(Fempreneur) What does a day in your business life look like? 

(Andeana Hats) In my job, I can blend all of my passions into one and get paid for it! The glamorous parts of my life are when I get to travel, create and go on adventures, shoot beautiful images of beautiful exotic places, and real-life emotional celebrations of love and life. 

It is truly special what I do, but the best part of all as if that wasn’t enough, is that I get chosen to be an artist, to shoot in my style and with my eye and creativity and I can set my hours, standards, and have full creative control with my business. 

There are not many jobs where you not only have the freedom to make your own schedule, but you have creative freedom as well.  That is why I feel very blessed every day to be doing what I love for a living.

There are many unglamorous parts to my day like sitting with no makeup in my pajamas editing on the computer for hours, dealing with contracts, logistical phone calls and booking travel, sitting on the floors of airports and on trains and planes schlepping my heavy gear and trying to edit my work and catch a few hours of sleep. 

A lot of what I do is on the road and living out of suitcases too, so there are many times that I find myself in these situations where I think “ I wonder what my high-end client would think about me now if they could see me”.

However, this is also what I love about my career, that my businesses are constantly evolving and I get to grow as a person and an artist through my craft and I get to challenge myself and introduce new technology and experience new things on a regular basis.

(Fempreneur) If you were not doing this job, what is your plan B? Are you still chasing your dream job?

(Andeana Hats) I don’t have a plan B.  I am still living my dream and I just launched Andeana Hats 2 years ago, which is my second passion business and I am having a ton of fun learning and building this business.

(Fempreneur) Do you think it’s important to love what you do, or make good money? 

(Andeana Hats) Absolutely to love what you do. I am always inspired to create and to travel and to find ways to make money doing what I love to do.  I think traveling “resets me” from getting wrapped up in my own personal bubble and it keeps me humble. I have learned that we make our own lives as complicated as they are and when I meet those who have far less than me, it doesn’t mean that they are not “rich”. The pursuit of wealth and status will only take you so far in life. The path to a happier, healthier and more balanced life is one that takes in a depth of life experiences and not just the accumulation of material wealth.

I was recently honored by the Discovery Channel UK to be named as one of the “richest people on Earth” (rich in life experiences that is) amongst 19 other amazing global entrepreneurs who have made a difference to their local communities, artists who have made their work their life, and offbeat outliers who have defied convention.  This may be the best and most important accolade I have ever received in my career as a photojournalist because I totally believe being “rich” in life is not about money.

(Fempreneur) What inspired you to start your own business?

(Andeana Hats) The entire reason I became a photographer was because I was obsessed with watching Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic channel at a young age.  I actually thought I wanted to be a Zoologist or an Archaeologist my whole childhood because to me that meant being Indiana Jones who I was obsessed with.

My three sisters and I had a very unusual upbringing.  Growing up, both of my parents worked for the CIA and we were stationed all over the world. All 4 of us would eventually work at headquarters in Langley as our first jobs during college. At a young age, I was living in Jakarta, Indonesia and I lived in London and Italy and I was constantly around new languages and cultures. 

Because of my upbringing, I realized there is a huge world outside of my bubble and it has created this wanderlust/travel bug within me that will always influence my work. My life has been full of travel and the unexpected and from a young age, I realized that I could combine the adventures of archaeologists, geologists, and explorers with my obsession for National Geographic imagery and become a Travel Photographer and nothing has gotten in my way since. 

My photography career has been a natural progression in my life as I grow as an individual, seek purpose in my own life, and have learned to be a more intentional person with how and with whom I choose to spend my time. 

As a photojournalist straight out of college, I knew that I was greatly affected by the subjects that I photographed. So it made sense that I gravitated towards photographing love, celebrations, and weddings instead of war and famine.  I LOVE love and living life to the fullest and constantly seek beauty in the world.  My wedding business led me to destination weddings and traveling more and ultimately shooting for hotels, travel brands, and National Geographic Catalog around the world. 

By working with the National Geographic catalog and their indigenous artisans across the world for the past 9 years, my work has evolved to take on more meaning in my life. Through them, I have traveled many times to Peru and have had the chance to explore the Sacred Valley and meet these incredible Quechua women who are ancient Incan weavers and have an amazing hat culture.

I love the energy of the Sacred Valley and wanted to find a way to work with these women to start a business. Thus the idea was born to create Andeana Hats using their personal hat styles with their traditional weavings to create apparel that captures the energy and culture of the people of the Andes Mountains and infusing it into the everyday lives of those who wear them. Andeana has been a combination of every passion that I have in my life into one business: photography, travel, my love for Peru, writing, art, teaching, mentoring, exploring new cultures, color, empowering women, fashion and of course my obsession with hats and Indiana Jones, sparking the name of our company Andeana Hats.

(Fempreneur) Where did you get your education? Tell us about this experience. 

(Andeana Hats) I graduated from Syracuse University and got a dual degree in Commercial Photography and Fine Art Photography. Since then, over 18 years ago, my photography has taken me to all 7 continents and 80 countries. I am presently a Los Angeles based Photojournalist and I believe that having a story, having a “purpose” behind anything you do not only adds value but engages your audience and builds more of a connection to the people and places around you.  Photojournalism is always about trying to find that story, that “thing” that connects people to your work whether it is a written story or an image. 

It makes the work bigger than yourself and not about you as an individual.  My camera acts like a forcefield and a passport for me to enter into uncomfortable or even dangerous situations.  People want their stories to be told and I crave to tell them and crave to find ways to connect to this Earth.  So I would say that photojournalism gives me a unique view into otherwise unknown parts of the world, but with that privilege comes consequences.  I am gone from home a lot. I can be in harsh conditions or dangerous situations. I can be alone a lot and on the move a lot and it makes it hard to find others that can understand my lifestyle and relate to my wanderlust.

(Fempreneur) What was your first job after college/ university? 

(Andeana Hats) Working for the CIA in Langley all during college was my first photo job and I had to achieve Top Secret clearance to work there. But once I graduated I decided that working for another photographer and photo studio was an invaluable experience for me. Back in 2000, I was 21 years old and I walked into a local photography studio and refused to leave until they gave me a job. I didn’t care what they hired me to do, I just wanted to work in a photography studio. 

I started working for them and I was having the time of my life. At the time I was getting paid $8 an hour to shoot weddings and run the studio. What I didn’t realize was that I was getting a priceless education on how to start and run a business without having to make expensive mistakes on my own. I was able to see where and how they were getting their leads and how they were wasting their money on advertising.  I got to see the mistakes they made with clients and learned from their trials and errors. I ended up working there for 4 years managing their headshot photography studio. 

We started getting wedding referrals and it got so busy that I helped them launch their wedding photography business at the time. I learned how to handle inquiries, how to handle client consultations, shoot weddings, put orders in the lab, create contracts, put together albums…I did everything but write the checks. It was an invaluable education on how to run a small business without having to put my own money into it or make expensive mistakes. This experience not only taught me how to set up and structure my own company in a successful way, but it gave me the courage and confidence to start my own company and feel prepared to run it. Those were the only two times in my life that I had a “boss”. I have worked for myself ever since.

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(Fempreneur) What are your tips for setting yourself apart in the workplace?

(Andeana Hats) When I went out on my own and founded Beautiful Day Photography, I had to ask myself “What kind of business do I want to have?”.  If I truly wanted to be Indiana Jones and to have this life of adventure, I would have to focus on destination weddings. But how would I book destination weddings? How would I convince a client to spend more to have a photographer fly out with them? I had to ask myself what made me different and unique, and the answer was that I am giving them a vibrant experience.

Not only through my imagery, but with the service I provided as well. I love to travel and have adventures and I will do whatever it takes to get the shot.  I love to tell a story that takes them on a surreal journey of their wedding that looks as beautiful and glamorous as they have envisioned it themselves.  For my couples they are experiencing their weddings with heightened emotions like they are on a high, so I feel like I just enhance my own images to match their vision.  I am there every step of the way and filtering their own wedding through my eyes and that is my selling point.  When my client hires me, they are hiring me, not just my photography, to capture the fun, beauty and adventure of the entire experience of the trip, not just the wedding itself.

I am branding myself as an experience, not just a vendor.

(Fempreneur) How do you achieve work/ life balance?

(Andeana Hats) I am not sure if “balance” actually exists.  It is a constant quest for me. My biggest challenge is… Saying NO.  I need to value my time at work and out of work.  I try to do it all and I spread myself too thin sometimes.  Hiring assistants or interns to help, making sure you have days off and that your clients’ value and respect those days off is super important to finding balance. I always outsource… editing, retouching, album design, blogging, anything that is not shooting to free up more creative or personal time and space for me. Your clients will appreciate having your full attention when they do have it and so will your friends and family. 

I find that I am more productive when I spend time doing things that feed my soul and find more time to relax and it helps me in all areas of my life to balance that side of me.

(Fempreneur) Can you offer any advice for new graduates looking for a job or new entrepreneurs? 

(Andeana Hats) My photography career has been a natural progression in my life as I grow as an individual, seek purpose in my own life, and have learned to be a more intentional person with how and with whom I choose to spend my time.  As a photojournalist straight out of college, I knew that I was greatly affected by the subjects that I photographed. So it made sense that I gravitated towards photographing love, celebrations, and weddings instead of war and famine. 

I love and living life to the fullest and constantly seek beauty in the world.  My wedding business led me to destination weddings and traveling more and ultimately shooting for hotels, travel brands, and National Geographic Catalog around the world. 

By working with the National Geographic catalog and their indigenous artisans across the world for the past 9 years, my work has evolved to take on more meaning in my life. Through them, I have traveled many times to Peru and have had the chance to explore the Sacred Valley and meet these incredible Quechua women who are ancient Incan weavers and have an amazing hat culture.

I love the energy of the Sacred Valley and wanted to find a way to work with these women to start a business. Thus the idea was born to create Andeana Hats using their personal hat styles with their traditional weavings to create apparel that captures the energy and culture of the people of the Andes Mountains and infusing it into the everyday lives of those who wear them. 

Andeana has been a combination of every passion that I have in my life into one business: photography, travel, my love for Peru, writing, art, teaching, mentoring, exploring new cultures, color, empowering women, fashion and of course my obsession with hats and Indiana Jones, sparking the name of our company Andeana Hats.

My best advice, in one sentence, for launching a venture is… You have to LOVE it and you have to be prepared to focus a lot of energy on it.  If you go into it thinking it is a “side project” it will never grow larger or be more successful than that vision.

My tips for using social media are…

Don’t think of it as a chore, but as a free tool to get yourself out there and your brand.  So why not use it?  You can always hire someone to help you with it or consolidate your social media so you can do it all at once in a day and it is not taking up too much of your time

My Best piece of hiring and/or firing advice is…

Hire people that can do something better than you.  You are NOT a superhero. You can’t do everything yourself.  As much as we all like to believe that we are the ONLY ones who can do things right and the way we want them, it is almost impossible to grow a business on your own.  You need to be able to concede a bit and allow others to help you with tasks.  Get free interns, hire an assistant, the money you spend on help will come back to your triple-fold.

No successful person built an empire alone. There is always someone that can do something better than you, so delegate your tasks or things that are creatively bogging you down. 

Join the Public Relations Academy to take your creative ideas and put them into a systematic plan to help you deliver the content you need to succeed.

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