Episode 127: Jamie Kirby on Making Your Vision a Reality


This week we're joined by Jamie Kirby - formerly the Creative Director and then Director of Marketing for Chaco Footwear, currently the VP of Marketing for Fernhaus Studio. Jamie shares about being a female creative director, breaking free from corporate life, staying engaged with side creative projects, and being the kind of boss that rolls up their sleeves and gets stuff done.


Follow Jamie:

Personal: @heydaylab

Work: @fernhaus.studio

People/Coaches Jamie referenced:

Executive Coach - Sari De

Life Coach - Jillian J

Journaling & Meditation - AM Yoga

Experiential Agency that built the Fit for Adventure Tour Bus - The Field Scout


Follow us: @wheeliecreative


Don't forget to subscribe wherever you listen so you don't miss our new episodes every Thursday (and the occasional minisode). Please leave us an iTunes review to let us know what you think about the show!





episode transcript



Iris: Hello and welcome to another episode of Outside By Design! My name is Iris and I am so excited for you to hear this week’s episode. This one has been in the works for a while, and it is certainly worth the wait.


Our guest is Jamie Kirby - formerly the Creative Director and then Director of Marketing for Chaco Footwear. She has recently transitioned to a new position as the VP of Marketing for Fernhaus Studio. And honestly, I think I could listen to Jamie and Lisa talk about creativity all day.


Jamie discusses her transition away from corporate america, being a female creative director, and some of her favorite work at Chaco. She also talks about the importance of side projects for a creative mind and being a boss of a creative team. This is a fascinating episode, so I won’t make you wait any longer - here’s Jamie Kirby.




Lisa: Jamie. Thank you so much for being on our podcast today.


Jamie: Thank you for having me.


Lisa: So the first question we ask everyone is to describe where they are in the world and what they're looking at.


Jamie: I'm in Glen Arbor, Michigan, and I'm looking out the window at the Crystal River and sun-setting at 5:06 PM. Sad.


Lisa: Yeah. Wow. Well, you're a very interesting human and I'm excited to have you on the podcast. You lead the creative team at Chaco, which is amazing. So we can talk about that. We can talk about your new venture and kind of your creative process for yourself, as well as this concept of liminal space and tools that you have to explore that. So it's a lot of stuff to dig into, but...


Jamie: Let's dig in.


Lisa: Yeah. I think I want to start with a super vague, huge question. What's your story?


Jamie: Well, I recently left a city that I had lived in for almost two decades. I recently left corporate America, which I had worked in for almost two decades to follow my dreams to move to Northern Michigan - which is a little bit rural and whole lot of beautiful - and join a startup in the hospitality realm. So leaving the outdoor industry and moving into hospitality.


Lisa: Okay. This is cool. So... well, I'm excited because I don't often get to speak with women who have had creative director roles. It doesn't seem like there are that many, and I know that there are organizations like the 3% movement because only 3% of creative directors are women. And so I'm interested in, kind of, your approach on leading a team from a place of creativity and what that transition looked like for you and kind of like your approach there.


Jamie: Yeah. Well, Chaco is a brand that has... over 60% of its consumers are women, female-identifying, buying female shoes. And there had mostly been men in leadership positions at the brand prior to me joining the team. And my approach was to talk to our consumers and understand what they needed and wanted the brand to be, and build strategies from there. And one of the most exciting things that we accomplished during my time leading both creative and the marketing teams for Chaco was taking the tagline that had been a part of the brand since its beginning, Fit For Adventure, and removing the word “adventure”. And introducing Fit For _____. Because after doing a bunch of research, we realized that the word adventure was something that was kind of limiting and made people shy away from the brand. So when we replaced that with fill in the blank, Fit For…. snoozing on your couch during COVID or taking a walk, it invited a lot more folks into the brand.


And I think also having a woman in the creative director role gave a different lens to the, you know, visual creative - not just the language, but the way that we were creating photography. In the way that supported the change from adventure, which was previously, you know, pack rafting in Alaska or jumping off a cliff to things that were a little bit softer and more approachable. And that really set the stage for the next phase of growth for the Chaco brand.


Lisa: Mmm. I love that. How did you… well, I had the advantage of doing a little homework on you before we started recording this. So I would love for you to kind of speak to your values-based approach, which I thought was really beautiful and kind of like bringing your whole self to the workplace and transitioning into the way that you wanted to kind of show up with everyone.


Jamie: Yeah. So when I took over leadership of the marketing team, the team had all been through a lot. We'd lost two bosses in the span of 11 months, we were in the heat of dealing with the pandemic, we had teammates on furlough. And I'd gone from being a peer on the marketing team to being a boss of the marketing team.


And I really wanted the team to feel supported and give them - and also me - something to get really excited about. And a way for us to kind of approach things feeling grounded and aligned and empowered. And one of my personal strengths is building a vision for folks to rally behind - kind of cutting through the clutter and painting a picture of something bigger than the day-to-day grind to look forward to.


So, as I stepped into the leadership of the marketing team, I used this strength as a tool to facilitate the team working together to develop a set of team values that could kind of serve as our north star or our guiding light as we set off on this new journey together. And I did that by asking everyone to think about their values and the way they wanted to work together moving forward, and the ways that they wanted to treat each other, and called in a few experts - Chelsea from Heist Design and Albert Foster and Lydia Writes Good to turn that brainstorm into a really beautiful and fun and funny manifesto and sort of a tangible asset package that could help represent this empowerment and change to the team. So it... what it ended up looking like was a booklet of our team values, a bandana, a sticker for the team to put on their water bottle or their laptop to kind of be reminded daily of this new way of working and thinking and this empowerment, a poster, and then a little tote bag to put everything in. And they, while we were working on the project, they didn't necessarily know. They just knew I was asking them to come to the table with values. They didn't know it was going to be turned into this package. And then I delivered it at our first strategy meeting where we were talking about 2021 and how we were going to be digging in. And I had it delivered to their... we had to do it remotely because of COVID. So I had it delivered to their houses right before the meeting. So everyone would receive it at the same time and open it together. And it just kind of elevated our Zoom call and set everybody out on the right foot with excitement about where we were headed next.


Lisa: What a beautiful example of intentionality. I just love that. So how did it go when you asked everyone to bring their values to the table, were people weirded out at first or were they open? Kind of, you know, for our other listeners who run departments, like how did that go?


Jamie: Well, I think it was definitely a little more woo-woo and feels-y than what they'd been used to working at a, you know, publicly traded corporate company, but they were definitely down for it. And it took a little bit of coaxing in some cases to get people like in the mindset of, you know, it doesn't have to be the way it always was. Like, what do you, what's your ideal? What do you strive for? And of course, we didn’t get all the way to where we would hope we would have, um, with the promises we made in the book, but it at least set us off on the right path together. And I think everyone was pretty open once they got, you know, the wheels greased a little bit about what we were trying to accomplish.


Lisa: That's cool. I think that's such important work to, I dunno, like, shift corporate culture and really embrace... I don't know, kind of what people bring to the table as individuals. So I think that's beautiful, super beautiful. And so I'm curious, I could talk to you about Chaco all day because who doesn't love Chaco, but I'm really curious for you as a human person, what felt right for you to make this big transition from a product-based company into an experience-based company, that's not necessarily in the outdoor industry, but rather supports experiences for outdoor lovers.


Jamie: Well, this opportunity came to me in a bit of a... interesting time when I was just settling into my role, sort of just barely finding my groove as a new leader as the first female leader at Chaco. And my instinct was absolutely not, I cannot consider this. Like, I just am finally almost feeling good about things. But I really wanted to stay open to hearing it because it sounded really cool. So I used some tools in my toolbox to try to help myself feel comfortable here. And the first thing that I was battling was - if you know anything about the Enneagram - I'm an Enneagram six. So I love safety and security. And even though I've always had a few passion projects on the side, I've always clung to corporate security and benefits and stability. And so the idea to change and to uproot my life in a place where I'd been, in Grand Rapids for 17 years and I had a massive network of folks, a great group of friends, and a very good job, was a tough thing to consider. But I talked to folks who had done something similar and, you know, asked them what worked for them. What hurt? How did making a big change impact your life for good, for better? And I used my yoga skills and meditated to help clear my mind and move past all of those ringers and dingers that my Enneagram six-ness were setting off, and I journaled. Which has been a really amazing tool for me to be able to get to the core of the things that I really want and move beyond my fears or, you know, the alarm bells.


And the thing that really tipped me over the edge was some work I had done with a coach. Right when I started leading the marketing team, I had hired a coach named Sari De to be my executive coach, right when I started leading the team, because I needed a little bit of help with executive presence and being a female leader in a male dominated world.


And the first thing that she had me do was write down my ideal, perfect vision for my future five years from now. And I wrote about living in Northern Michigan, in a place that feels as much like vacation as it does home, and about arranging my days around my energy flow and not around an eight-to-five corporate schedule. And I wrote about work-life balance and periods of really intense focus followed by extended seasonal breaks. And at the time when I wrote it, I was like, “hmm, my life doesn't look like that, but I'm going to be a good student and follow the assignment.” And when I revisited that, I couldn't believe it. It was basically... this opportunity in front of me was almost exactly what I wrote. It was like I manifested it. So I couldn't deny that, like, how clear it was on paper when I revisited that. That this was the right thing for me.


Lisa: That's amazing.


Jamie: It feels fake. [laughs]


Lisa: Yeah! So how long was it when you wrote that originally, and then you continued with your corporate job? Like how long were you sort of sitting and holding this vision and like, you know, carrying it with you before it started…


Jamie: From when I wrote it to when I put in my notice was exactly one year, almost to the day.


Lisa: Oof!


Jamie: Yeah.


Lisa: How cool is that?


Jamie: Yeah.


Lisa: Wow.


Jamie: So write down what you want folks, get it out there.


Lisa: Yes. There is power in journaling. And physically writing with a pen and, yeah. So what… I guess, how did you find journaling as a practice?


Jamie: I found journaling as a practice through the yoga studio I attended, AM Yoga in Grand Rapids. I had done some workshops with them. And then I was doing some work with a life coach called Jillian J. And she was very deliberate with journaling and was constantly assigning it to me even when I was not meeting the assignment. And when…. the way that she broke it down for me into something that was quite simple and very approachable, it was when it really stuck.


So the journaling that I do is very simple. In the morning, right when I wake up, I make myself journal before I'm allowed to look at my phone. It doesn't always work, but it's a good incentive. And I just write down three things that I'm grateful for, three accomplishments from the previous day, And one thing that I want. So it can be as quick as three to five minutes or I can sit with a cup of tea and a candle and make it a whole vibe and really spend some time with it. But I definitely can tell when I don't do it, that I feel just a little more chaotic and a little bit more jumbled. And like I'm not at my center.


Lisa: I am a voracious journaler. So I feel you on that and just being, I don't know, like processing it and not really paying attention. And then you go back and reread it and you're like, “wow,” like I've been repeating the same things or I've been really going after the same things or, you know, you start to notice things when you go back and reflect on it.


Jamie: What does your journaling practice look like?


Lisa: It's similar to yours. The first thing I do when I wake up, um, I make a cup of coffee in the dark and then turn on the smallest light possible. And then I just start journaling. But I just kind of go for about... it usually ends up being between 10 and 20 minutes and I don't really have an agenda or schedule around… or a general structure around it, but, usually yeah, it's just whatever needs dumped out of my brain.


Jamie: I love it.


Lisa: Yeah. And then I feel like a human, like when I go about the rest of my day, I'm a little bit more of a human person. Yeah. Okay. So journaling, meditating, what else did you, did you say? I guess my question is more like, what for you was like, and you really did a great job placing yourself as liking safety and security. So like, what for you was that final tipping point where you were like, okay, I'm doing it?


Jamie: I really think that... just thinking about kind of pros and cons and writing that out, similar to journaling. I couldn't find enough cons to keep my brain thinking that it wasn't safe.


Lisa: Mmm.


Jamie: So I tricked myself. [laughs]


Lisa: And, like the outdoor community is so wonderful in many, many ways, very passionate people. Do you still relate very well to the outdoor industry, working more in an experiential marketing - or an experiential place - like, how's that going? Kind of what's that relationship shifting or changing or growing or expanding... kind of what's happening for you?


Jamie: Yeah. Well, I'm only on day 11 of my new endeavor, so I can't say deeply, but what I do see in this new place where I'm living is... it's very exciting because now that the world is able to be remote and people are, you know, working remote from wherever and kind of looking at, if you look ahead to predictions about climate change and where things are, you know, 20 years down the road, Michigan is a beautiful place that appears to remain quite protected. So right now it's, it's a place where a lot- Northern Michigan - is a place where a lot of folks are migrating towards. And there's a ton of people working remote from very cool organizations that weren't here a year or more ago. And so what I see is that the outdoor industry here is more vibrant than ever. And I'm very excited to plug into that and feel, you know, feel right at home with the folks around me. And maybe that they're even more outdoorsy than I was able to be as a person living in a city previously.


And you know, I've got - Lake Michigan is a seven minute walk away. And I hadn't been there in a few days, three days and I was like, “I need to get to the beach,” which before I would maybe get to the beach five times a year. So I think that I feel as connected to the outdoor industry and maybe more than when I was actually working in the outdoor industry proper.


Lisa: Yeah, I dated a Yooper for many years. And, uh, I don't know if I've ever met a person as burly as him, like very rugged. So yeah, I mean, I think, I think those Northern Michiganders are, an underrated bunch.


Jamie: I agree. I have a side project actually called Michigan House and it's kind of a cool regional clubhouse that we take to South By Southwest every year. I co-founded it with a few partners and it sort of started as... after going to South By Southwest for my first time and being incredibly inspired, but seeing the way Michigan was represented as some sand on the convention center floor and some beach balls. And knowing all the things that Michigan has to offer… I was flying back and I, well, I was supposed to stay for three days and I ended up staying for 12. And every day I'd call my boss and say, just one more day, I'm just going to extend one more day. I was so excited. And so I was just blabbing to a stranger on the plane next to me, which I never do so I must've been very excited. And it turned out he worked for a nonprofit that supports creative entrepreneurs. And we got some conversations going back home and built this thing that's now been going on for seven years called the Michigan house that turned from - at first it was an illegal backyard party on the outskirts of South By Southwest. And now is part of… it’s a downtown venue, an official South By Southwest venue that hosts panels and musicians, et cetera. So I've always been very excited about Michigan, and now excited to explore a new portion of it and get connected to folks in a different part of the state.


Lisa: This also speaks to a belief I hold very dearly, that side projects are critical to a creative mindset. And, I guess for you, does that like fuel your creativity or like it's a, it's a lot of energy, it sounds like to, you know, to go somewhere and put on an event and like speak about things and have partners in it. And so like, what does that do for you?


Jamie: I do think that having side projects has always fueled my creativity. And one of the things that I have done throughout my side project life is use it as an opportunity to test out crazy ideas or ideas that corporate would never buy into without some evidence. So I've always taken smaller ideas about - and this is dating, aging me, but like back in the day before influencers were a thing that brands actually invested in - testing out influencer press trip projects in a way that was super successful and brought it back to corporate and showed them the evidence so that we could start an influencer program or start a press trip program.


I also used it to get opportunities. I had no marketing experience - and I've done also a corporate event job, I had no corporate event experience. But I started a wedding planning business to teach myself how to do events. And then I got asked to do event planning for the local TEDx chapter. And then that led me into Wolverine Worldwide, where I got my foot in the door through corporate event planning.


And then in my downtimes, I would do side projects for the CMO of CAT Footwear doing photo-shoot production, which I also taught myself how to do. And that led to them asking me to plan a pop-up shop for them, which I had tested out through Michigan House. So it's always been a way for me to kind of weave things together and like get experience that somebody might've not otherwise wanted to give me yet and show that I could do it.


Lisa: Mmm. It's interesting because I am definitely seeing, like, the safe and secure side, where you're like, “okay, this is a low risk, like, way to test this,” but then it also seems very flowy and like you're following your intuition and it just seems like you have a really natural balance for that creative process and how to get buy-in and how to, like, I guess, fail safely, maybe? And succeed safely too. So I don't know if that's accurate for you, but that's kinda what comes up for me when I hear you talk about that.


Jamie: I like the way you said that, I'm gonna write that down because I've never been able to articulate that like that, but I definitely agree. While I'm not a risk taker, I am an innovator. And so I have invented ways for myself to fail safely and succeed safely. That's absolutely right.


Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. That's cool. I'm an eight, so I am all about, like, autonomy, and power and control of my own schedule is the main thing that gets to me, and creative freedom. So I fail creatively pretty much constantly. And then we, we succeed a lot, but I'm just very grateful for a team that is, I don't know, like a little more structured than me.


Jamie: I love to be paired with an eight. I feel like an eight is a wild stallion that gives me so much energy and inspiration and terrifies me like all within moments of each other. And my closest colleague and the person who got me through life at Chaco was an eight. Lyndi Bell is an eight, shout out to Lyndi Bell for being an incredible partner to me. And I think neither one of us at the outset would have thought that a six or an eight would be our perfect companion. And we really gelled so well and made such magic.


Lisa: So cool. What, like, what do you think - in a leadership position, what do you think makes a good boss? From a creative standpoint, like, to a creative team? Because like, I think there is something really special about being a boss to a creative team.


Jamie: I think that for me, the ways that I was successful as a leader was through being incredibly empathetic and trying to really understand all sides of the situation before deciding how we should move forward. I think that that made people have a lot of confidence and trust in me.


And I also am the type of manager or boss that will jump right in and roll my sleeves up and help get it done and take on projects. And really - in most cases, because I've had so many different jobs - I have done everything. And so I have a pretty decent working understanding of how to get it done so I can help to troubleshoot as well. And so I hope my team would say that they felt incredibly supported in that way, that if they had too much on their plates I could help to lighten their load, or if they couldn't figure out the solution, I could jump in and offer assistance. I think that those are really important for creatives to feel supported. I feel like I'm saying what do Enneagram sixes want? [laughs] But... and I also think that being able to - and I talked about this earlier, but - be able to kind of paint a vision of where we want to head that's high level and kind of sweeping, but doesn't have all the parts and pieces figured out, allows people to see the north star and see where we're going, but feel like they can really make their mark on how we get there.


Lisa: You make that sound so easy. [laughs]


Jamie: [laughs] It’s not.


Lisa: Wow. Wow. I bet... I bet your team really enjoyed you.


Jamie: I think so. I mean, I hope so. I don't know. Maybe they can comment in on the podcast and let us know if they, if they liked me or not. [laughs]


Lisa: That's awesome. What have I not asked you that you'd like to share with our community of outdoor creatives?


Jamie: I am just so pleased at where this conversation went and all the different ways that we, all the things we covered. You're such a great interviewer. The only thing that was kind of on my tickler list that we haven't talked about was we, Chaco, did a experiential activation this past year called the Fit For Adventure tour. And it was planned for 2020. And then it was put in park literally, literally the day that we were driving it from Portland to Austin for South By Southwest. And we worked with The Field Scout out of Portland to retrofit a vintage school bus and turn it into a sandal factory. So, for 2020, the team quickly pivoted operations on the bus and at our actual factory in Rockford to making masks instead of making sandals and donating them to local healthcare workers.


But for 2021, we finally got her on the road. So the thing that I think is - it was a super interesting activation, but one of the things that was really smart, and back to my wonderful eight colleague Lyndi who managed the program, we were met with a lot of trepidation about bringing experiential back in this time where we're in a liminal moment, right? Where we're in the in-between. We don't know if COVID is going to surge or, you know, things are going to shut down any minute. And the approach we took to bringing it to market was having bite-size milestones that leadership could speak into about before we were spending our next chunk of money. So that it wasn't like we were spending the whole budget upfront and they had to commit to the whole thing. We were, we made an approach so that they could take tiny bites off of the project and feel safe about the next step before we got there.


And despite COVID continuing on, we were able to bring the bus to market. And the reason I wanted to stress that part about the process is I think we're still living in that moment where, you know, looking at next year's plans and what's COVID going to be like, what’s supply chain going to be like, and thinking right now is the time for 2022 planning and budgets and giving people hope or maybe a new way to think about trying to bring those big ideas to life in a time where everyone is being very conservative after a couple of years of maybe planning programs and then having to shut them down.


But the way that we approached and modified the plans for this Fit For Adventure Tour, it had meant to go to festivals. So it was going to be traveling around the country in 2020 going to different festivals. But because we thought festivals weren't going to be - we just didn't know what was going to happen with festivals in 2021 - we planned market residencies instead. So the bus would travel to a market and park for two weeks and we would open up our sandal factory. And it had two different components. You could bring your old worn out Z sandals to get them repaired for free on site. Or you could come and design, do a custom design experience and have all the parts and pieces in front of you and pick and choose and design a custom Z sandal or Chillos, and have it designed while you wait.


And we were flying to our first residency thinking, what if the people don't show up? Like what if this was a terrible idea? And by the time we arrived, every single appointment for the whole summer's worth of residencies was booked. And we got to meet so many folks and help so many folks who had had Z sandals for 10 or 15 years and capture their stories and create content that is better than any marketing you could ever come up with yourself, a real consumer testimonial talking about how they've been to 16 countries in their Z sandals is incredible content to have.


So I think that that project was in the works for the whole four years I was with the Chaco brand and so proud of the Field Scout team and Lyndi and the field crew who staffed it and traveled around with it all summer. And how the team had a vision for it back in the day when they started planning it and throughout the years to be able to continue moving it forward and bringing it to life, they pivoted several times of like, what will this thing end up looking like when it finally gets to market?


Lisa: How did you communicate that? Like what... via email or did you do something more visual? Did you make a deck? Like, as you were communicating these, like bite-sized steps to modify the plan, like, literally, how did you communicate that?


Jamie: There were a lot of decks involved. And meetings to really talk it through. But it was certainly an ever-changing beast. And I think that really the way that the leadership team felt confidence was because the folks who were planning it were so detailed in their communication about it. And so quick to have a plan for a pivot and to have our plan B, plan C, rain plan, you know, all the, all of the potential things that could happen were so buttoned up that there was just really no way to say no to it.


Lisa: I find this fascinating because as a creative agency owner, I'm kind of on the outside of the brand. And so, I’m usually like, “what corporate hoops?” Like, “let's just blow it all up.” And so it's super interesting to hear this creative process on the inside, where there are a lot of different stakeholders and then there's like an ever-changing life situation and like so much adaptability required. And so I think that skillset of like very detailed, but also human, like, communication through a corporation is like, I don't, I'm just fascinated. It's so different than the way that we do creative work. So I'm just really feeling a great deal of like privilege to be on the side of the lens. [laughs]


Jamie: Don’t look behind the curtain!


Lisa: Yeah!


Jamie: I do think that not everybody or every leadership team or, you know, corporate leadership, you know, cause there's the brand- within Wolverine Worldwide, there's the brand. And th