This week, our interview series features Katie Lorenz, a management consultant, world traveler, and international entrepreneur based in Chicago, IL. What struck me about Katie when I first met her was that she is incredibly sincere, a true listener who looks you in the eye when she speaks to you. She has an unbelievably genuine and vivacious energy about her. Today, she shares her story, talking openly about some of the most serious challenges she has faced and how she juggles her day job with a passion for fair trade and retail entrepreneurship.
* * *
JF: What is your 3-minute autobiography?
KL: My name is Katie Elizabeth Lorenz. I grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago in a place called Roselle, Illinois. It’s a nice, lovely suburb where not a lot happens. I grew up in an awesome, tight knit family that I love (they’re amazing). Growing up, I characterized myself as a nerd/athlete/overachiever – I want to do everything all the time; it’s a problem! [Laughs] I was a band nerd, a soccer player, a Youth in Government representative …and that has always carried on. I love doing a ton of stuff, and I work best/most productively when i have a ton to things going on.
[For college,] I went to the University of Wisconsin. I think it’s the best place in the entire world, and I’m totally one of those obnoxious alumni that will tell you all about my university whether you want to know about it or not. My favorite experience during university was studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain. While I was there, I traveled all over Spain and Western Europe, and ever since then, I’ve wanted to explore and travel and experience things. I found how I like to travel, which is behaving like a local. Generally, I don’t like super touristy stuff.
I picked a career that totally worked with my love of travel. For the last 5-6 years, I’ve been a management consultant. It taught me how to be a business person in the Retail/Consumer Products industry. There’s amazing potential in this industry, so I’m starting a company that will hopefully be a model for this industry in the future. [While working in consulting,] I lived for 2 years in Santiago, Chile, and I got to travel all of South America during that time. I just moved back to Chicago about a year ago.
Since moving back, I’ve done about 4 trips down to Peru, where I’m working on my company, CAMPO Alpaca. It’s a social impact company that works with awesome women and men down in Peru that can make clothing. It’s a fair trade company, which means we are paying them fair wages – it’s kind of funny that we even need a word for that. We’re making really awesome products out of alpaca fiber, and we’re testing the products out in niche markets in the US to figure out where we can get the optimal amount of orders. Naturally, we’re piloting this at the University of Wisconsin. We’re basically making high-quality Badger alpaca gear. #OnWisconsin
JF: What has been one of the most difficult obstacles you’ve had to overcome in your life?
**(Kay speaking) Katie was brave enough to share a very personal story with us below, but it does involve some sensitive topics. Out of respect for all readers, I’m presenting a trigger warning for sensitivities involving sexual assault/violence.
KL: I’ll start off by saying I’ve had an incredibly blessed life. There’s been a few things that I can think of and say, “wow, that was really hard.” But all things considered, I feel like I haven’t had any giant obstacles.
The biggest one was that I was attacked in college in my sleep by a drunk guy. I was raped/sexually assaulted in my sleep. It was absolute shit. I wasn’t sure if I was going to talk about it, but I feel like people need to talk about this kind of stuff more, so that they know it happens and the frequency in which it happens.
Honestly, the entire experience was really bad, but the worst part was the process of attempting to report it. I see why people don’t do it – it is horrible. The police were beyond awful. I was questioned like I was a person that did something wrong… I was questioned on multiple days by different people, who asked the same questions over, and over, and over again. Then, I heard absolutely nothing until they showed up at my place of work to ask me more questions. It was unacceptable – they shouldn’t just show up at my office dressed up in full police gear. It raised a lot of questions among the other people in my office.
They told me that the guy was completely “in the wind” and they couldn’t find him, but when I went to the gym, he was there, working out. I said to myself, Wow, you all [the investigators] really blow at this. Epically.
I tried to go through the university and they were better, but apparently he’d withdrawn as a student a couple months prior so there was nothing they could do. Then everyone just dropped it. It took me a really long time to process the entire thing, because I did what a lot of people do – I suppressed it. But I was dealing with that for a really long time.
JF: When you were in those moments, how did you find support?
KL: It was mostly my roommates, who were also my best friends, but I also didn’t really let people provide me with support, my family included. It was my senior, a few months from graduation, I was senior class officer, a work-a-holic, and so I kind of just threw myself into work, and didn’t let myself use any support. I did go to see a psychologist, but we just didn’t click. The university did help; they did everything they could. The woman who was in charge was awesome, and was [on my side.] Many of my professors were very understanding, too. But it was really my friends that helped me [get through it.]
My family was a little afraid to talk about it back then because I wasn’t talking about it. We didn’t really talk much about it until years later, which was on me. Now, we talk about it openly.
JF: If you were to give someone else in a similar situation some advice, what advice would you give?
KL: What is that saying…hindsight is 20/20? First of all, I waited too long to go to the police – about 3 days. That made it harder. When I went to the hospital, it was too late for [the DNA swabbing procedure] to be effective. Just taking a breath and having logic [to go to the hospital and the police right away] would have led me to that point sooner rather than later.
My other piece of advice is to find a therapist. Talk to people about it. I suppressed it for years, and I didn’t really realize the effect that had on me. I had night terrors and nightmares for a long time about repeating that experience.
I feel like with the whole #MeToo and #TimesUp movement, so many people have put themselves out there and shared their experiences. The more we keep sharing, the better it will hopefully get.
JF: Describe one of your favorite places in the world.
KL: The first one that comes to mind is [an elephant sanctuary] outside of Chiang Mai in Thailand. I love all animals, but I’m obsessed with elephants. The place was in a gorgeous valley that was green and lush. I went with a tour group that lets you meet elephants. To get to them, you have to hike through a gorgeous valley, because they just let them roam around freely. In this valley, there’s a huge river, and we got to bathe the elephants.
The elephants are so calm and good-natured. I just couldn’t help but feel happy around them. My elephant and I were really close; we just laid down in the river together and he was acting like he was at a spa. It was so cute! That was probably my favorite place – hanging out with the elephants in Thailand.
JF: What does it feel like to be in the presence of an elephant?
KL: They’re just gentle giants. Elephants are huge animals that could take anyone out, but they act as guardians [of the beings around them.] They have such a good energy about them – they’ll wrap their trunk around you or lean their head on you. Obviously, be careful, but I felt very safe with the elephants.
JF: How do you think traveling has transformed the way you think and live?
KL: It makes the world feel a lot smaller. Not geographically, obviously, but you feel a lot more connected through all of the people you meet. Most of my favorite places are 80% characterized by the people I met along the way, and 20% about the actual spot. Obviously, there are some really amazing and beautiful places. But especially when I go to cities, it’s all about the people. It really makes you feel a part of something.
It also just changes your perspective. It made me realize how fortunate I am to have grown up in a place where I had a lot of opportunities. It’s really humbling. It has entirely transformed the way that I think. I have a lot of friends who have never been outside of the country and they have a really hard time relating to anything out side of their way of life. It makes understanding political issues or problems going on in the world a lot less accessible to them.
JF: What’s something (a fear, or a worry) you think many people have on their minds but are afraid to say?
KL: I think people don’t talk about what it is that they really want, especially if it doesn’t fit a stereotype that our parents had. The family structures are changing, people are getting married later, sometimes people don’t get married at all, a lot of people aren’t having kids… so figuring out what it is that you want out of life, and being okay with it. A lot of people get worried about what others will think about them, and think things like, “I should be doing THIS by THIS POINT in time.”
When I was considering quitting my job to save the elephants, I made a pros and cons list of taking a few years off work. Truly, there weren’t really many cons aside from money. I had enough money, but I wouldn’t be growing my 401K, or saving… As far as career stuff goes, people are afraid they won’t reach a certain title by a certain age. I heard this phrase from one of the partners at my firm, “If you get out of consulting, you’re going to be behind.”
What does that even mean – behind? Behind what?! It’s like there’s this race that no one told you about and you have to decide if you care about it. Personally, I don’t really want to be a partner. I’m making other decisions, not taking the most direct route. I am focused on attaining the skills most useful to growing as a person. I truly believe that chasing my passions and trusting myself will lead me to my purpose, and money will come with that.
JF: You’re taking Katie’s route!
KL: Yeah! I’m seeking out learning opportunities and areas where I can develop. I’ve stayed in roles longer even if it’s bad for my review because I hadn’t learned as much as I could yet. Similarly, Campo has been a huge learning opportunity. Having started a retail company, I already feel qualified to consult on retail companies now that I’m actually doing it. It’s just one big education – I’m kind of treating this like my MBA.
JF: What’s the best advice you ever received? From whom?
KL: The one that I have to go with is, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” But then I affectionately add to it, with my dark humor, “No one is going to die.” People get so freaking stressed over things that are not a big deal. Because of this mentality, it takes a lot for me to consider something a crisis. In moments of high stress, I can help keep people calm. It’s good for me and my team. I’ve seen so many leaders that create so much unnecessary stress, and it doesn’t lead to good work.
This applies to Campo a lot, too. It’s so easy to get caught up in the many decisions we have to make. But understanding that no decision is irreversible, and treating everything like a learning experience, is really valuable.
JF: What legacy do you hope to leave behind one day?
KL: My main purpose is impact – I wear it on a bracelet on my wrist every day. I want to have a positive impact on the people around me, both on a small and large scale. 100 years from now, what I’d hope they would say is that I lived a life in service of others, making positive impacts.
JF: What kind of impact would you most like to make?
KL: I imagine this will change as I live my life, but right now, with CAMPO Alpaca, I know that I can help people through business. The whole idea of CAMPO is creating a style of business that is in service of others. In service to our suppliers, in service to our employees, and basically providing a positive impact throughout the supply chain. Too often, business has a tendency to take, but there’s just so much opportunity for people to benefit throughout the process while still remaining profitable.
On top of that, I want to develop and empower people. Our suppliers are all small businesses and individuals. Either we put them together to make a network of suppliers, or we help them build their small businesses. Currently, many don’t have good business practices, so I help consult them. With fair trade, many people think it’s just for charity, but you can take the time to make a good product, too. I don’t believe in screwing someone over for the purpose of making a buck. I want to come up with a workforce that allows our suppliers to do this work full time, while simultaneously creating a really awesome product.
* * *
Thanks so much to Katie for joining us today! If you’re interested in learning more about Katie or CAMPO Alpaca, check out the company’s Instagram and Facebook, or ask her a question on our Facebook post.
If you’d like to read the other interviews in the Jetfarers at Large series, you can check them out here.