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Power of Trailblazing with Gwen Manto


Gwen Manto is the owner of mixallogy, a collection of certified organic, low calorie cocktail mixers. Gwen's business history can best be encapsulated by her favorite drink and one of mixallogy’s premier offerings: the Cosmopolitan. A working woman's cocktail of liberation and independence, always an advocate of great ideas and a great team. Gwen's keen consumer insight and business acumen led her from VP of Macy's department stores to stints as Chief Merchandising Officer for several national chains. In 2017, she launched her passion project, mixallogy. Born of the desire to create all-time favorite cocktails with organic ingredients that taste amazing, are affordable, and easy to prepare, mixallogy proved to be the perfect combination of Gwen's interests and insights.


Listen to our full interview with Gewn here.


IN THIS EPISODE:

[01:26] Gwen Manto on what she’s most passionate about

[03:19] Gwen Manto on how she began mixallogy

[06:46] Gwen Manto on how to prepare a mixallogy cocktail

[11:14] Gwen Manto on her recent work at a bat mitzvah

[13:22] Gwen Manto on advice for young people looking to start a business

[15:42] Gwen Manto on experiences that have helped her as an entrepreneur

[19:38] Gwen Manto on working with her husband

[24:09] Gwen Manto on where mixallogy products are sold

[24:44] Gwen Manto on how to make “The Grinch” cocktail

[33:07] Gwen Manto on starting a business later in life

[40:57] Gwen Manto on learning to be her authentic self

[44:48] Gwen Manto on going into labor during a work meeting

[52:57] Gwen Manto on how mixallogy has changed her as a person


LINKS:


FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Passionistas: Hi, we're sisters Amy and Nancy Harrington, the founders of The Passionistas Project Podcast, where we give women a platform to tell their own unfiltered stories. On every episode, we discuss the unique ways in which each woman is following her passions, talk about how she defines success, and explore her path to breaking down the barriers that women too often face.


Today we're talking with Gwen Manto about the power of trailblazing. Gwen is the owner of Mixallogy, a collection of certified organic, low calorie cocktail mixers. Gwen's business history can best be encapsulated by her favorite drink and one of Mixallogy’s premier offerings: the Cosmopolitan. A working woman's cocktail of liberation and independence, always an advocate of great ideas and a great team. Gwen's keen consumer insight and business acumen led her from VP of Macy's department stores to stints as Chief Merchandising Officer for several national chains. In 2017, she launched her passion project, Mixallogy. Born of the desire to create all-time favorite cocktails with organic ingredients that taste amazing, are affordable, and easy to prepare, Mixallogy proved to be the perfect combination of Gwen's interests and insights.


So please welcome Gwen Manto.


What are you most passionate about?


Gwen: I think I'm most passionate, honestly, about family and friends and connections and people. Today, I think millennials and other folk call it community. You know, in our time it was, it was really our inner circle. And I think that's really what makes the world go round. And whether you're starting a business and you have colleagues that you call upon to help you, or friends that support you, or family that you love and make you feel, you know, comfortable and ready to go and take to be able to take a risk and all of that, I think that's what I'm most passionate about. And you know, within that, a lot of that has to do with taking care of people and keeping them healthy. And that's one of the reasons that we actually created our drink mixes. Because we felt like, you know, you could go to a restaurant, and you could eat organic, or you could eat gluten free, or you could do all of those things, but, you know, you would get a cocktail, and it had 40 grams of sugar in it. And that people really didn't hold their cocktails to the same level of respect that they did the food that they ate. So, really, our cocktails were really born of that, of that idea. But again, to serve people and to be part of a community, Our brand is interactive. Any of you that have gotten it and, you know that you make it yourself, and you can create within our brand or just have it, you know, straight up, what we're doing. And you know, it makes for a great event or a fun time together or time to share Thanksgiving or any other family times.


Passionistas: Yeah, no, that was great. And how did you come up with the initial idea, and what was the process of taking that from an idea to an actual product?


Gwen: Yeah. Well, as you mentioned, I was a retailer for many years in the C-Suite, and after that time, I actually became a consultant to the health and wellness industry. And as part of that, I had a group of clients, and we created--my last sort of stint of business was in sporting goods. So I was a national expert--and still am, actually, in athletic shoes, athletic apparel, and all of those categories. But someone asked me, you know, could I help them make organic protein powder? And because I eat organic myself, and I'm passionate about cooking and the things that I eat, I said, “Sure,” you know, “I can make golf clubs. I can make athletic shoes. I'm sure I can make protein powder.” So I actually set forth to find the healthiest protein sources that I could find, and in that mission, I came across a factory that actually dried fruits and vegetables, organic fruits and vegetables with lights, and it kept 100% of the nutrient value and all of the color and all of the flavor. It was a unique factory, and they had a wonderful woman who did product development with me. We actually created protein powders and green juice powders and everything for this company, who's gone on to be quite successful. But as part of it in the evening after we did product development all day, we would take the ingredients and make ourselves cocktails. And we said, “Okay, this is healthy, because even though it's a cocktail, we're using great ingredients and, you know, organic vodka or whatever.” And they were delicious. And we said, “This could be a business.” And she actually was one of the initial partners in our business. And so we made some samples, we came back to New York City, we gathered together a big group of bartenders, and they really helped us dial in the flavors to really make these classic cocktails authentic in this very unique format, which was this dried powder. It allowed us to keep that delicious fruit flavor and only have to add a little bit of organic cane sugar. And you know, that's how the product was born. It has less than 10 grams of sugar. It's-- we actually dry the fruit powders with lights. We use wind power to power our factory. All of our ingredients are organic. All of our packaging is sustainable with the exception of our little pod. Unfortunately, because we don't have any preservatives or anything like that in our product, it's quite susceptible to moisture. So the only moisture barrier so far that we found that protects the product is plastic, so. Actually, you can recycle it, but it won't break down in quite the same way. We're always looking for an option to solve that problem, but everything else--


Passionistas: Someone will come up with one at some point.


Gwen: We have, we have, but all of our packaging is recycled and is sustainable, so.


Passionistas: I do love that there's functionality beyond it just being a container too, for the part of that it's actually a shot.


Gwen: It is, it's we call it the “shot pod,” and it becomes the measuring device for the cocktail, which is really fun and maybe we should make one.


Passionistas: Yeah, let's make one. Let’s make one while we talk.


Gwen: We’re gonna have, like--I'm going to make a couple holiday cocktails today. As you said earlier, I love a good Cosmo, but actually, we're going to trick up this Cosmo. We call it “The Naughty or the Nice,” and part of that is dependent on how many you drink, and I always suggests that you drink responsibly. But if you're at home, maybe you can have a second one, and then you might be naughty. But you start with your shaker, and I just put ice in it and then our little shot pod. This is a Cosmo. And you tear off the top of the shot pod, we call it the “shot pod,” and you can see there's powder inside. It has a strong flavor of cranberry, and this—actually, the ingredients in this are lime and cranberry and organic cane sugar, and then cranberry and lime oil. And the cranberry and lime, all of the ingredients are sourced in the United States except for the oils, and they're actually sourced in Italy where they have really special citrus products. So you actually pour the powder in your shaker, and then you measure one pod, your shaker pod of water. You pour that in your shaker. And tonight, we're having--this drink actually has vodka, much like a martini. “The Naughty and Nice” is a martini. One shot pod of vodka, and then what makes this really naughty is we do a quick shot or splash of limoncello. So we're going to put this down, and we're going to shake a little bit. What's really unique about cocktails is, you know when there's foam on the top of the cocktail?


Passionistas: Yeah.


Gwen: That's like a special viscosity. And that's really created when you mix alcohol with a little bit of sugar. So originally, we used sugar-free options, but it didn't taste like a real cocktail. It didn't enhance the fruit. And we finally decided we’d use less sugar, but we'd use real sugar. We'd use organic cane sugar. And then we were able to get the flavor and the viscosity that we really wanted, so.


Passionistas: Ohh, that was beautiful.


Gwen: Here’s “The Naughty and Nice.” Cheers.


Passionistas: Beautiful. The color is gorgeous. We did our own demo of your wonderful product on another platform, and we did make them ourselves, and I couldn't resist, I had too much.


Delicious. And I don't drink, so I made virgin versions, and they were delicious.


Gwen: Yeah, they're really good with virgin, actually.


Passionistas: I love it. They're not too sweet. Just right and they don't--the other thing I love to point out is they don't taste powdery. You know, so many drink mixers taste powdery, but this--it doesn't taste powdery at all. It's so yummy.


Gwen: It dissolves. You know, it dissolves really well. You have to shake it well, because you are reconstituting fruit. And there are fruit specks in it. And you know, sometimes you'll see a little bit of sentiment, but that's really just the fruit. And just know that it was fresh fruit, and you know, we are kind of proud because we can use ugly fruit if it's not pretty, because we actually grind it and then dry it. It doesn't matter. So we we're pretty eco-conscious in terms of, you know, the product that we use. It's got a long shelf life--about a year. So you know, oftentimes, like, you'll make yourself a cocktail, and you'll buy a liquid cocktail mix, and you'll put it in your refrigerator, make a drink, put it in your refrigerator, and then three months later, you throw it away. With ours, it's on the shelf. You know, the pods are there. Makes a great gift. We do have recipe cards, and we have recipes on our site as well. And what we love is, a lot of our customers actually send us recipes of things that they like. And the next drink I'm going to make, actually, someone sent this to us two years ago, and then we actually served it in the Delta Sky Clubs last Christmas. We were one of their featured drinks, and we actually served this drink. We actually served this drink there, so we'll make that in a minute, but you might have another question for me.


Passionistas: Were you going to say that you recently did a bar mitzvah?


Gwen: We recently did a bat mitzvah, and we actually used our Cosmo mix. This lady wanted to make a--we had one of our bartenders work on a cocktail that had no alcohol. You know, a mocktail. And she actually made it with our Cosmo mix with Sprite. And she took it up with Sprite, and she said it was absolutely delicious. And they ended up actually putting it in a fountain and ran the fountain. And it was quite yummy. So it makes great mocktails, and it's fun to do with kids as well. Yeah, because there's no alcohol at all in the product. They can open the pods themselves. You can actually also rim with it, it's--so you can get the rim of your cocktail glass wet, and then dip it down in our powder, and then you have a rimmer also for your cocktail, if you wanna have something special for the holiday, for the holiday time period.


Passionistas: Oh, that's so smart. So it’s a versatile product. You thought of everything.


Gwen: You know, it's interesting, because our customers do. They think of things, and they, you know, tell us and show us how they use the product. And they post, you know, where they use it. We've gotten posts on airplanes, on the subway, in New York City, on a hike, you know, using stream water. And we welcome all of that, you know, because it really is about the fact that it is interactive. It's healthy, it's interactive, it's fun and makes for a great party. Especially a great girl party, you know? And when we do, you know, when we do demonstrations, we oftentimes just put, you know, bottles of spirits down the center of the table and then big cocktail glasses of our pods, and then invite people to create. And I think that's half the fun, knowing that you're starting with a healthy base, and then you can actually create something special that's yours. You know, personalized to you.


Passionistas: We have, this is a question from our, one of our interns wanted to know, do you have advice for someone who is younger and looking to start their own business?


Gwen: Yeah. I mean, I think oftentimes, the best businesses that I know that people have started is where they found a problem and solved that problem. Or something that's happened in their real life experience, and they say, “I really need a solution for this, whatever has happened to me,” and then they actually took advantage of the situation, just like we did. You know, we were having a cocktail, and we said, “These are really good. They're a lot healthier. And guess what? The stuff we usually drink is junk. So hey, it's worth a try. Let's go show some people and see what they think.” And I think that in the beginning, finding something that you're passionate about--I was always passionate about health--and then combining it with an opportunity that you see in the marketplace really helps you create a business. I find that people are the most passionate about products that, you know, they've created to solve one of a problem of their own. And I think that's always good advice. And then I think it's super important, and you know, we did this originally, we wanted a sugar-free product, and we felt like women didn't want any calories. And you know, we started with that, but then we took great advice from our bartenders that said, "This doesn't have the right viscosity. It doesn't have the right flavor. It has an aftertaste.” You know, artificial sweeteners don't combine well with the spirits. And so I think it's seeking out advice of experts and then listening to that advice. You know, because you're passionate about something, you can go headstrong so fast into it and not be willing to listen. But this is really about asking the question, not to confirm what you think you know, but to really listen and learn. And that's what we did, because we really pivoted from where we originally were. So that's my advice.


Passionistas: That's great. What experience, experiences did you have in from your earlier career that kind of have helped you the most in being an entrepreneur and starting a new product from scratch?


Gwen: I think there's two. The first is, is that I always was a merchant. And in merchandising, we always try to figure out what's next, not what is. It's kind of what is, what is is now, but what will be is, you know, really frames up your success. So whether it is, you know, during COVID when everyone wore sneakers and sweatpants, and how do they transition to the next clothing? What's it going to be? Or how they exercise during COVID, is a good one. You know, I went to the gym before, but now I'm going to exercise at home. What does that involve? And all of that. So as a merchant, I always really lived in the “what if” and “what should be” and trying to interpret the trends and into what's going to happen next. That was really good for me because as I, you know, started this business and got going, I thought, “Okay, I can solve all of these different problems, but, you know, will consumers want it? and then if they want it, what do they want? And you know, what delivery system do they want to have?” And one of the original things that happened was, is that we found that millennials didn't have cocktail shakers. They had bottle shakers, but they didn't have a cocktail shaker. So in some of our packaging, we include a small plastic shaker that they can use to make their cocktails, which converts and has a cocktail glass on the end of it, so they could drink it on the go. So, you know, learning and solving problems.


The second is one that I mentioned earlier, and that is really partnering with friends and people and experts too. And I did that through my career. You know, oftentimes, I didn't understand or know about a product, but I would seek out the knowledge to figure out if that was going to be right for the store. I was merchandising. And I think, you know, that knowledge of being able to partner with people, to ask for help, to lead people that around you, once you have the vision and the mission, I think is really critical. So those interpersonal relationships would be the second part that really helped me. Of not being afraid to call whoever it was when I had an issue or a problem. And you know, it really came up, and, you know, we got our first customer, we needed financing, it was major, and we needed to scale our product, and we'd barely captured, you know, 1,000 pounds of it, and then all of a sudden we had to manufacture a ton of it. You know, learning how to do that and asking questions and going to the next person, and because we have an organic supply chain, it's really complicated, because every step of our product has to be manufactured in an organic way. So how it's stored and how it's manufactured, how it's packaged, and all of that. So that made it more complex, because if you take 100 factories, there's probably 3 that are organic. And you know, there's a, obviously, a premium to make a product in in that type of format. So listening to learn and partnering with people and, you know, being able to reach out and talk to different levels of people. I was, it was a benefit, because I'd managed big teams of people on the past, and I'd worked with other, you know, with major companies and all of that. So I really didn't have a fear. I was really lucky to be able to call the bank and say, “I need this to happen,” and not know that I was asking for something that was maybe not done or not reasonable, but I just assumed it could be done because I did it in big business before. So I learned a lot along the way, but I didn't have any fear to go do it, you know, because of my background experience. So I was lucky.


Passionistas: Yeah. And now, speaking of partnership, you told us that you work with your husband. So tell us a little bit about working with your husband.


Gwen: Yeah. I mean, we just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary, and he's a great guy. He was in sales for many years for major apparel companies and actually still does do some of that. But when we started the business, he--it was the first time we'd ever worked together. He was--when I was a buyer at Macy's many, many years ago, he was my Levi’s salesman. He sold me jeans. And then eventually he, you know, he stole my heart. And you know, the rest of his history. We have three children. And we had never worked together. And when I became a consultant after I left retail, you know, we had to spend more time together, because he always worked as, really, an independent representative for companies, so I'd never worked from home. I'd never, I'd always been in a corporate setting, all of that. And I think he really eased that change for me. I was used to having a big support system and you know, executive assistants, and all kinds of people helping, and all of a sudden, I had to learn how to do things on my own. And you know, it's embarrassing to admit it, but when I, when I left business, I didn't even send my own emails. I was on the treadmill, and I dictated what I wanted my e-mail to say. So all of a sudden, I had to go--I went to Apple School. I went to the Apple Store and signed up to figure out how—and, you know, it sounds crazy, because it really wasn't that terribly long ago, you know, 2012 or, you know, that time period. But you know, based on where you are in your career, you know, the needs are, you know, I could actually text on my BlackBerry like mad. You know, we had a BlackBerry and then that turned into a, you know, a smartphone and all of that. But I'm dating myself a little bit, you know? So there was a learning curve for me, and he was really wonderful, because he'd been independent, so he helped ease that. He was my IT department in the beginning. And then I got smart enough. And now he asks me questions on how to get stuff done. But I think it's easy, and it's hard. So it's easy because you really know the person. It's hard because you've never actually worked with that person. You know, you've been the support system for that person, as opposed to the partner of that person in business. We found that we had different business styles. There was a period of time, we shared an office. I'm extremely neat in my office, and he's not. And you know, every day I would say, “Are you going to clean up your desk?” He’d say, “No? I've lived this long, and I don't, I don't, like, put everything in nice and neat like you do when I leave at night.” So, I mean, I began to respect his system, and he respects mine, and it's been fun. It sometimes is hard to turn off the business. You know, like, you want to say at 6:00 or 7:00 o'clock, you know, “Okay, let's, don't talk about it anymore, because we really need some downtime.” And we do find that time. You know, he's an avid golfer, and we both cycle, and we do other things. And we find that time of parts as important as the time together, to really rejuvenate, you know, ourselves, our relationship, and so that we have other things to talk about, especially when things are--you know, during COVID, things were really tough. And so if we dwelled on that all day long, we would say, “Okay, we're going to set the alarm. And even though we're at home and you know, we're running this from home, we're going to set the alarm, and we're not going to talk about it unless the customer calls us, and we have to do something.” So you really do have to define the boundaries of it, but it's been absolutely wonderful, because I've learned things about him I never knew, and I think it's the same for me, so. I'm the CEO, and he's the president, which, you know, I think is very thoughtful on his part. It was, it was my idea. But he's incredibly supportive, and he, you know, he'll say to people, you know, “My wife, she's the one that created it. You've got to talk to her.” And so he's really terrific.


Passionistas: We have a question. People are commenting, and some people have tasted, you know, got the drink in their subscription box, got the product in their subscription box, and they love it. They agree that it doesn't taste powdery. And so we have a couple of questions. One is, is it online purchasing only, or are you sold in stores as well?


Gwen: We actually are sold in stores, mostly boutique and small chains. We're not in big chains. We were in a big chain, but during COVID, we were deemed not critical, and we actually lost our shelf position there. But we have a very vibrant Amazon business. You can buy it on Mixallogy.com. We sell through Faire and Abound, and we do really well, and we have small chains and individual retailers, and so those are the best places to buy it. Now I'd, I would love to show you another drink.


Passionistas: Yeah, we would love that.


Gwen: Yeah, okay. This is the drink that we served in the Delta Sky Club, and it was actually created by one of our customers, and we call it “The Grinch.” Green.


Passionistas: I'd be disappointed if it's not green.


Gwen: Yeah. Again, you start with the, with our shaker with ice. This is our Cosmo mix. This is our number one skew in the company, because it really is versatile. You can make all kinds of things with it. You know, typically, we combine it, it's a Margarita with tequila. But again, we're making a vodka drink. We find that when we do a signature drink for a big party or for, you know, something like the Delta Sky Club, that vodka is really better. It is sort of the universal clear liquor, and a lot of people have issues with tequila, headaches and whatnot. So we find vodka is not that. So again, you pour your powder in, Again, you've got your shot pod, which you know, is an amazing little thing. Now our Margarita, we don't put any food coloring in it. And when you actually dry and you look at lime juice, it's not, like, bright green. It's kind of yellowish. So you know, sometimes we'll get a comment, and someone will say, “Well, it's not bright green.” Well, lime juice is really not bright green. So if you have a Key Lime Pie, it's yellow. If you, you see. So again, we're going to go with a shot pod of vodka, and again, we are going to do a splash of our limoncello again. And it's really a yummy, a yummy drink. This one is a great one to do in a punch bowl. You can pour it in and then put some club soda in it, and it makes it kind of sparkly. You can also put it over lemon or lime sherbert. It makes a really good girl party punch, very sour.


Passionistas: Uh huh.


Gwen: So this is “The Grinch.” And the lady who created this one, her name is Marcella. And so if she's out there and she sees this, thanks, Marcella, because we've made thousands of them.


Passionistas: This is a question from someone in the chat. Do you have a favorite of the pods, and do you have a favorite drink to make out of your product?


Gwen: Our lemon sour, I love. And it's, basically, you can make a lemon drop martini, but what I love to make--and it's great for this time of night on the East Coast--when you want an after dinner drink, it makes an amazing amaretto sour. It's really delicious. And it's a great after dinner party kind of drink as well. It's pretty and--because Amaretto makes it pretty--and it's, so that's my favorite. Also the lemon sour. You can actually shake it up with one pod of water and then top it off with champagne. And it makes a spritz, a lemon spritz. And it's delicious as well. If you want to make our cocktails in a bigger sort of format, what you can do is you can put it in a covered container like a juice sort of a container, and then you can put multiple pods, and then go ahead and put the water in and the alcohol if you want, and you can shake it up, and then you can serve more cocktails at a time. And then all you do is pour that mixture over ice, and it's easier to serve at a party or something like that. So there's a way to, you know, scale them up. So we do that, but what we find is people like to create, more than anything. So a lot of times we just let them create, we put the pods out and put the liquor out, and then they came, they come up with stuff. And yeah, so, so it's a lot of fun.


Passionistas: Where Amy and Nancy Harrington, and you're listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Gwen Manto. To shake up Happy Hour with her organically powered, bartender approved cocktails, visit Mixallogy.com. Now, here's more of our interview with Gwen.


This is a sampling of each of the flavors.


Gwen: Yeah, all three. And this is one of our most popular skews. We actually created this based on, you know, a request from people on Amazon that said, “We want to taste them. We want to taste them all before we decide what we want to buy.” We ship a 3-pack, one of each. But honestly, you know, consumers would like to try and then have the one that they like the most. This is also a great gift, if you don't know what the person drinks. And oftentimes, you can go online. If we ship from Mixallogy.com, we'll send you recipe cards with it, so you have some ideas with it. On Amazon, we can't do that, but we do that on ours. We try to send special things when you order on our site, we find. And oftentimes, you'll get a note or a coupon or something fun. We--it's still a personal business for us. It does have a human touch to it. It is a passion project. You know, we love our product, and we love our customers, and we love our community. So we're happy to have all of you in our community.


Passionistas: Oh, you definitely have fans. Aaron's Coffee Corner wants to know, how many different flavors are there? And I would like to know, are you gonna add more flavors as you go along?


Gwen: Really good question. We actually, were gonna actually come out last year with two--we have two new flavors: we have a Moscow Mule, and we have a Paloma, which is pink grapefruit. It's really good. With COVID, things were difficult, so we didn't scale up. We really concentrated on trying to stay in stock in our most important skews. Our packaging is made in China. All of a sudden, it was almost 9 months to get our packaging and became very complicated. So we tabled those, we're going to have those. Right now, we have the 3 flavors: we have the Cosmo, the Margarita, and the Lemon Sour. And then we'll have the two flavors in 2023, we hope. Hopefully by, you know, fall of 2023, in time for the holidays, is our plan of attack. Because all of our fruit is U.S. fruit. We--there's usually, typically a single harvest or only two harvests. So again, we are, we have to really plan carefully in advance, because you know, cranberries are only harvested one time a year. They're dried, but then we have to make sure that we can keep our supply chain secure, especially because they're organic, and that there's a limited supply. So citrus foods are a little bit easier, but we found, you know, certainly, the ginger in our Moscow mule is--the only place that there is organic ginger in the United States is in Hawai’i, and there's one harvest a year. So that's been a somewhat complicated, you know, to get the supply chain going. But our 3 make probably 100 different cocktails. You can make lots of things with them. But we're really excited about the other two that are in front of us.


Passionistas: Excellent. That's incredible. I have another question. Nan, do you mind if I--? Go for it.


You know, a lot of the women in our community are either kind of starting a second phase in their lives, they've been mothers or they've had a career, and they're finally following their passion projects. So they're older. And they’re, you know, on the precipice of maybe starting a business at a point in their lives where they’re over 50 or over 60. We know that you started this later than life after having this long career. So do you have any advice for women who may be afraid to start something because they feel like it's too late?


Gwen: It's never too late. I, you know, when we started this--I'm 68. We started the business in 2017, 5 years ago, so I was over 60 at the time when we started it. But there's obviously more financial risk, because you have less time to work and replenish. Because in the beginning, you know, it really is your money. You know you it's, you can't really get investors until your business is established. So probably the biggest risk is the financial risk. You know, based on your age, but if you're willing to take the risk, you know, certainly, you bring to it a level of maturity. You bring to it a level of experience. I don't want to say that we're shopworn, but we're certainly, we’re tested, you know, at that point. And we have had trials and tribulations in our lives that we've gotten past. We tend to be less reactionary and really calmer, and those of us that are moms and, you know, have long term relationships and everything, we can manage people. We understand people. So you know, there's some risks involved, and then, you know, there's the energy thing. You know, when you have a 12 hour day or a 14 hour day. I mean, I've known younger people that couldn't handle that, and, you know, certainly, when we're, when we have a 6 day or 7 day or we're on a trade show floor for 5 days in a row, I'm tired. You know, I have to admit it. And I'm pretty fit. And so I think anybody would be, but definitely, that is that's an issue. But if you have the passion and you have the experience, I think it's great.


And one thing about our company, our--2 of our original partners were younger, they're in their 30s. And it was a really great mix of people. We were really multi-generational, and some of the things that we brought--my husband and I--to the party were very different from what they brought to the party. You know, they had a different way of thinking about things. You know, they’re educated differently than we were. And you know, that's always beneficial too, as you sort of widen the net, and your company grows. To get people, not just like you, but to get people that are diverse and that can bring something else to the equation. So you know the risk. You have a lot more experience. Got a lot more experience in business with people, with things that you care about. You know, the quality of your business is really, partially the quality of your experience, I think, for sure. But if you find a space--and this to me is the most important thing--if you find a space in something that you think is missing or something that you think is exciting, or you tell your friend, and they say, “Well, I need that,” or, “I wish I had that,” and whatever, and you know, listen to those instincts. And that's one thing that's that has served me well and, both on the positive and negative side. You know, when I listen to things, I would listen to learn. And sometimes they were negative things. You know, somebody would say something. I'd say, “I don't, you know, that's not really what I think. I'm not going to listen to that.” And, you know, sometimes I should have, you know. So I think you know part of it is keeping your eyes and your ears and your mind open to continuing to learn.


You know, they say that as we age, then all of a sudden our, you know, if you don't engage your brain, then it stops working and all of that. But I will tell you, my brain's working on overtime, all the time. So if it helps for that, then I think that's a good thing too. I think that you're as young as you feel. And, you know, we sell to young people, we sell to older people, you know, we tend to capture the imagination of a lot of different people, because it's creative. And I think this new generation is even healthier than our generation. And I think it's wonderful, and they hold, you know, their food sources to much higher standards. They want to know where it came from, how it was farmed, how it got to you, how it was treated, and all of that. And I think that's a great learning for those that that are older, where we were accepting of whatever, you know, Campbell's or Kellogg or whatever put in front of us. And you know, today people read labels, and you know, all of a sudden, the labels on the back of the label--now it has to be bigger so that people like me can read it without their glasses. And I think it's important. I think people really hold their food to a different standard, and their whole lives, you know, the investment in their lives.


So I have lived a great career and great life. You know, I feel very fortunate. Just like everybody else, we've had our crisises and tragedies and disappointments, but you know, we--it's probably my greatest advice in business, and I counsel and mentor a lot of women. And I just tell them, “Always face forward.” You know, you can't really look backwards. You’ve got to face forward and figure out how to make tomorrow the best that it can be. And you know, that's what we have to do in this life. We learn from our mistakes, and we learn from the things that we did well, and you know, we incorporate that into tomorrow.


And I have two daughters. And I had one that went to, was very, very smart, and she went to college on a scholarship and got into law school and failed out of law school in one semester. She just didn't think like the law. And she was super smart, and she came home and she said, “I don't know what I'm going to do.” And I said, “Well, let's make a life plan.” And I said, “You know, in one column, you just put all the things that you love. The other plot column, all the companies that you admire. And the other column, you know, all of the places you would like to live, and whatever.” And I said, “Then see where the intersections are.” I was making it up as I went, because it's my daughter, and my heart was breaking. You know, she was like the super smart one. And you know, she'd failed. And so the other day she was, she's just actually graduating with her second Masters, and she's a really smart lady. And she has clients. She's in addiction counseling, so I'm really proud of her. And she said, “Yeah, I had this client in the other day,” and she said, “I told him, ‘We're going to make a life plan.’”


Passionistas: Aww.


Gwen: And she said, “’You need on one column to do this, in one column...’” And she said, “Mom, I used your example, because it helped me on that day. On that day, I pushed back, and I said, ‘All I want you to do is kiss my boo boos. I don't want a life plan. I want you to, you know, tell me everything's going to be okay.’” But I think it's funny. The stuff sinks in. You know? And so I, you know, I tell people sometimes, your passion comes in the intersections too, you know. You have to continuously keep moving and go forward. And you know, that's the best we can do as women, as, you know, entrepreneurs, you know, as moms, you know, whatever. Wives. The whole thing, so.


Passionistas: Wow, that's beautiful, that is beautiful.


Gwen: So if you need a life plan...


Passionistas: I know. I love that. That's really great advice. Huh, what I’d put in those columns...I know, exactly. That's great.

You had a piece of advice that I thought was really great, that kind of ties into what you were just talking about. We read an interview with you where you were talking about the fact that you were--in the corporate world, you were often the only woman, as we hear a lot. And you were trying to fit in, but someone gave you advice about being your authentic self.


Gwen: Yeah, I mean, I was a Chief Merchandising Officer in a big sporting goods company. And in 4 levels of management, I was, I was an executive Vice President, so I was right up there with the top 5 people in the company. The people that reported to me were all male, and all the people that reported to them were all male. And you know, it was sporting goods. And I was not really passionate about sports. You know, I had been the President of a Footlocker division, so I understood sports, but really, mine was about women's sports and kids sports and, so all of a sudden ,I was thrown into, really, this realm of all men's sports, and one of the biggest in the United States. And so every, you know, Sunday, I would like study up on all those sports scores for the weekend. And I was like, "Okay, I have to know everything that everybody around this table,” because we had an executive meeting every Monday morning to discuss the business. And the first, like, 10-15 minutes, they'd say. “Oh, how about those Steelers? Ohh, how about those--?” Whatever. Yeah. And I was like, “Hmm. Okay, well, you know, this is my business, and I learned how to merchandise it.” So I learned about fishing equipment, and I learned about firearms, and I learned about, you know, boating and golf and all those things. And technically, I could create all that product, and I knew how much we needed. But I didn't really do the sport. And so I would weigh in. So I'd study up, just like we women do. You know, we kill it with effort and, you know, because we want to belong and fit in and all of that. And so I would make a comment. You know, they'd say, “Well, the Steelers,” and I'd say, “Well, that last touchdown,” you know, whatever. And after one of the meetings, the CEO pulled me to the side, and he said, “You really shouldn't do that.” And I said, “I'm trying really hard to fit in here. You know, I don't really have a lot in common with these guys, you know?” And he said, “But it's not authentic. It's not authentic for you.” And at that time, that was just like a complete and total release for me, because I knew that I really didn't have to do that. They didn't expect me to do it. And guess what? They didn't really want me to do it either. They didn't really know how to deal with that. You know? So if I was just very quiet and did my job and did it really well, that was going to be a heck of a lot better than trying to live in their world. And it kind of releases you to try and be one of them. I just tried to be me. And what I brought to the equation was unique, because I had a particular skill in merchandising and had been incredibly successful, and I'd gotten to this sporting goods company because Nike had recommended me for my time, and to this big company that had no women. And they took a chance on me. And I was really fortunate and had a great career there and all of that. But he was very wise in saying that to me. And it made all the sense in the world. That if you truly live your authentic self and don't try to be somebody that you're not, that's going to be a lot better. and God knows if you know more of the scores than the guys do, then it scares the hell out of them, so.


Passionistas: I was gonna say, you don’t want to threaten them at the same time?


Gwen: Exactly. Exactly, so. It's a true story. I think--I forget when I was interviewed for something for that, and somebody asked me that question.


Passionistas: It's a really interesting story. Yeah, it's really great.


And on the flip side of that, you also went into labor in a meeting and did not leave the meeting right away. Right? Can you tell us about that?


Gwen: Again, I mean, I was--then I worked for a department store, and I was an executive, and there were women there. But there were no women that got pregnant. You know? And I--my last baby, I got pregnant at 40. So I was 40 years old and gonna have this baby. And I was, for whatever reason, it was not a pretty pregnancy. I kind of looked like a Teletubby. And in those days, we had to wear business suits. This was before you could even wear pants to work. So I wore pantyhose and a skirt suit everyday and heels and everything. And I was in, it was the board meeting. And you know, we had to make big presentations and everything, and. I--the CEO of the corporation was there. We were presenting to him. And he--and my boss, who was CEO of the company--said, you know, “Gwen is expecting a baby,” and he said. “Obviously.” So. And these were the days where they just said whatever, you know?


Passionistas: Yeah, yeah.


Gwen: So I thought, “Okay, I couldn't take exception to that,” or whatever. But I was sitting there, and all of a sudden, I don't know if--those of you that have had a baby--it's like, the first part of it is kind of like, like, “What is that? Is that, like...” You know? And I thought maybe I was in labor before, and I called the doctor, and he said, “Oh, yeah, no.” He said, “Call me when you, if you feel like you've slammed your hand in the car door, and you can't get it out.” I was like, “Oh my God.” You know? As I sat there. I got this weird feeling, and all of a sudden, you know, my water didn't break, but, you know, you get the contractions in your stomach. You know, it basically is contracting. It's hard, and then it's--and then the pain comes and everything. And I'm, like, trying to breathe, and I literally made it through the meeting. Because there was not a great appreciation for the fact that I was on this executive team and I was pregnant. It just wasn't done. And there was no such thing as a lactation room, and you know, I would pump in the last stall in the bathroom, and you know, there just wasn't any privacy. And women today, really, I would say that, you know, we've made progress, and trying to be kinder and understanding and all of that. So yeah, so I was in labor. And then I called my husband and said, “You have to come pick me up.” So we went to the hospital, and we had a baby at 9 o'clock that night. It was like 2 in the afternoon, so I'd been in labor for a little while. But in the beginning, you know, you can--you're okay for a little bit of the time.


Passionistas: You’re amazing. A true rock star. You really are.


Gwen: That was kind of what it was expected. I mean, when I got to Footlocker, they literally didn't have a ladies’ room on my floor, because they converted them all to men's room. And the poor executive assistants were the only other women in in the ranks at that level. They had to go down a level to go to the bathroom, and I finally said, “Okay, we need a bathroom on our level.” You know, and they thought I was a rock star, because we got the ladies room on that floor and whatever. And I worked with wonderful, wonderful people in in those places. I've worked with absolutely wonderful men and women in my career.


Passionistas: Oh yeah. It really was just a different, different time and a different mindset, and you know.


Gwen: Yeah. I often tell women, you know, now I'll talk to male executives, and they will say sometimes, “I don't want to be in a room by myself with a woman, because I don't know what they'll say, you know, after we leave the room or whatever.” And I think that, you know, I tell my daughters, who are the only people that I'm really allowed to tell things to, you know. And I just say if a guy says to you, “Nice shoes,” that's not a sexual comment. He likes your shoes. Come on.


Passionistas: Right.


Gwen: You know, we have to, we have to temper and really make sure that we're appropriate in business and that we don't take offense to everything, because we don't want to be set back by the fact that now we can no longer have a conversation that's casual.


Passionistas: Yeah.


Gwen: And I understand that that's not the case for a lot of people who get pushed into a corner and, you know, feel victimized and all of that. And but, you know, certainly some of the things, I think, are innocent. Just dumb man stuff. You know, they sometimes don't know quite what to say or do or whatever. But it was a different time. And I was on the board of a company, and somebody--I was presenting to the board in the board meeting, and the man said to me, he said, “You're such a pretty little thing. You shouldn't have to worry about those things.” And I was like, “Well, I'm in charge of this function of the business.” My husband said, “Well, did you take his head off and?” I said, “No. I said, ‘Thank you.’” ‘Cause it wouldn’t serve any purpose, you know?


Passionistas: Yeah.


Gwen: So you know, it's, it is, you know, part of understanding who your audience is, I think sometimes.


Passionistas: And I think the ultimate intent. That was my, always my thing when I worked in more of a man, male dominated setting, was like, this guy doesn't mean it that way. He really thinks he's saying--


Gwen: A compliment.


Passionistas: Yeah. You know, and so I can, I can take that. If it's, if it’s meant to make me feel small or--


Gwen: Yeah, that's something different.


Passionistas: --Or less than, then we have a problem, and then we're gonna have to have a conversation. But if it's someone truly just, it's their instinct to hold the door open as we walk into a restroom...


Gwen: Yeah. “Thank you very much.”


Passionistas: “Thank you very much.”


Gwen: Yeah, I'm all for that.


Passionistas: “I'll get it for you next time.” You know? So, yeah, I think there's a certain amount of it that--


Gwen: It's a new world. And I think that this, I mean, COVID has really changed things. You know, working from home and then all of a sudden going back to offices. I was in New York a couple weeks ago and was in some business meetings, and I just find that business etiquette, because people haven't been doing it, all of a sudden, the etiquette of it is missing. You know, people are trying to find their way back into this working world and office setting, and--what do I wear? What do I do? What's the appropriate behavior with COVID and all the other things? And, you know, it's weird. It's kind of weird. So navigating and trying to figure it out, I think it's complicated. It's a different time, you know, that we're living in. I have a friend in New York that I visited with when I was there, and she said, “Just don't be shocked with service.” And I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “It's just impossible to get people in New York, so service is very slow or less professional. And you got to be patient, and you know, you're used to eating in these finest restaurants with the finest servers and all of that. And they don't have enough people.” You know, the first course comes before the drinks, or the whatever, because they only have one bartender or-- I mean, I think patience in this new world is a is a real virtue, because I think that, you know, labor, whether you're in a store or you're in a, you know, a buying office when we visit, you know, people or--they just don't have enough people. And the world is not operating at the same efficiency level. And I think tolerance becomes a huge, a huge thing.


Passionistas: Tolerance and gratitude. Just being grateful that we're back, and we're out doing those things again. If we have to wait a little longer for them, at least we can do them.


Gwen: Exactly. Exactly.


Passionistas: One last question from our amazing intern Sade, who helped us write some questions tonight, ‘cause she's a journalist intern, journalism intern. And so we asked her to write questions. And I love this question. So her question is, how has Mixallogy shifted you as a person? What changes do you see in yourself, having started this company?


Gwen: Yeah, I mean. I spent my time, I started as a salesperson at Macy's and left the retail business as a, you know, executive VP of a business at one point in time. I was the President and CEO of another company. I worked my way up. And you know, along the way, you get to a certain level, and then, you know, you have a lot of support system to do things. And you know, as the business world changes and evolves, and I mean, when we first, when I was first in in Macy's, we had a mainframe computer that took up the entire 2nd floor of the office building. It was huge. You know, now there's more power in my smartphone than there was in that entire room. But you know, when you're living it, you don't really see the speed of it, and you have the support system around you, so you don't really have to learn to do it all, because you have people that help you. And probably the thing that I learned in Mixallogy was in the beginning, I sent the invoices. In the beginning, I helped ship the product. I shipped all of our e-commerce. I, you know, I did all the outreach to our accounts. I was on the trade show floor. I made 1,000 cocktails a day. I learned how to do all those things. So whether it was to pack a box, whether it was to be in the factory for the first production to make sure that the product went well, whether it was testing and--you know, in the beginning, I mean, you get brutal kind of feedback. So you're, not only are you doing all those things, but you're very humbled by it. So probably what Mixallogy taught me was to take me back to my roots, the days of being on the sales floor. And you know, my first buying job was Playtex Bras. And, you know, they came in boxes, and they were some huge sizes and little sizes and everything. And you know, I was willing to do anything to get to the next level. And that was the 70s. You know, women were just entering the workforce and all of that. I feel like I kind of went back to my roots. You know, I could create the product, I could talk to a journalist, I could go in the factory, I could help pack it when we had a big order, I shipped the e-commerce, I took customer comments, I wrote the invoices, I negotiated with the banks, I tried to figure out how to pay all the bills. On some days, that wasn't that easy. And I think it's a humbling experience. So it gets you back to your roots, and you figure out that you can do a lot of things that you didn't really know you could do. And, you know, people say that, you know, we have stores, we women have stores in ourselves that, you know, we can tap into when we need to. But honestly, that was, it was a big reach, you know, for me, because I'd had these huge support systems in the past. And, you know, and also too, a soft landing if something happened. In business, when you're with a big company, there's a soft landing, but when it's your business, there's not a soft landing. It's, you're right down there and smack dab in the middle of it and trying to make it work out. And it is quite humbling. But it also is, it was a good way for me to transition to this part of my life, because I figured I could do anything. Like, I now know I can do anything, you know? Because I feel like I have.You know? And lots of things that I never knew how to do. And I have an even greater appreciation for all the people that did them, because they're not that easy, you know, and I always thought I had a hard job running things. But it's a lot harder doing things than running things, for sure.


Passionistas: That's amazing. Thank you so much. We have kept you much, much, much longer than we told you we would, and we appreciate it. We're honored that you took the time with us.


Gwen: Lots of fun for me. Thank you so much.


Passionistas: Thanks for listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Gwen Manto. To shake up happy hour with her organically powered, bartender approved cocktails, visit Mixallogy.com.


And be sure to visit ThePassionistasProject.com to sign up for our mailing list, find all the ways you can follow us on social media, and join our worldwide community of women working together to level the playing field for us all.


We'll be back next week with another Passionista who is defining success on her own terms and breaking down the barriers for herself and women everywhere.


Until then, stay well and stay passionate.

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