Portland State Alumna Tracy Puhl ‘09 is only a few years older than the company she owns. GladRags, an eco-friendly menstrual product company, celebrated its 20th birthday on Tuesday, July 30 at Holocene. GladRags was founded by Brenda Mallory (pictured at left with Puhl at the GladRags birthday bash) and has grown from a home-based business to its own space in inner SE Portland that distributes cloth pads to women all over the world. Last year, GladRags became a Certified Benefit Corporation, which means that they meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. As a values-driven business, it was important to Puhl that her business become certified by the nonprofit B Lab to show support for this new global movement in business beyond the bottom line.
Recently named Portland’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the Small Business Association, Tracy also serves on the board of Women Entrepreneurs of Oregon and volunteers at the local chapter of Dress for Success. Winning the award was really exciting to Tracy, because, she says, “I had taken ownership of the company after being there only a few years, and had no business training whatsoever. It was great validation that with hard work (and a love of being constantly challenged!), anyone can own a business.”
Originally Tracy had planned to become a social worker, and earned her BA in Social Science from Portland State in 2009. However, she says that while it does not seem like it would be particularly useful in business, “understanding how people think and what motivates them can be pretty powerful!” Having also focused on Women Studies and Gender Studies in her studies also played a big role in her success with GladRags. “Overall,” she says, “I think PSU helped me develop critical thinking and analysis skills that have served me well.”
Born and raised in Portland, PSU was a great fit for Puhl who did not want to leave the city when she began college. She had taken a year off after high school and was used to working. “I liked that I was able to work throughout school because there were so many night/weekend courses.”
Going from a customer service representative to owner of the business in only a few years is quite an achievement. Tracy’s advice for success in a small company? “Always look for extra ways to help. If you have a coworker struggling with a project, or your boss is stressing about something, ask how you can help them out. You'll learn way more about other parts of the company this way. Also - be proactive. Actively look for ways to improve the processes in your workplace (look for redundancies, wasted time or energy, etc). Don't just point out that something isn't working; have a potential solution (or two!).”
What about those interested in one day owning their own business? “Ask for help! There are people and organizations out there who want to help you, and who have the knowledge (and sometimes funding!) to be powerful assets to your growing business. Find them, ask questions, and never stop learning."