Wendy Yates, founder of Abigail-Elise

Interior designer Wendy Yates wants to create spaces people love. But she doesn’t stop at rooms. Her company has grown fast by following the founder’s passions to construct a brand around sustainability, including in the materials she uses and the company’s commitment to donate a portion of revenue.

As COVID-19 created a thriving virtual scene, her online space has expanded. Now, Breckenridge, Colorado-based company Abigail Elise Brands has designed rooms in Florida, Chicago and most recently in the Dominican Republic, which she expanded into after visiting the country to plan a retreat and met a designer who fits well into the company. Her growing team of 11 works with around 20-30 clients a week.

“There is fear every day, but it is not caused by the pandemic,” she said. “There will always be obstacles big and small, but what will matter is how and who you show up as and what you create within yourself and for others that will determine how you come out on the other side.” 

A Like-Minded Mentor

Virtual clients pick from one of three packages: one room design with communication over email, which starts at $599, two room design with communication over email, the phone, or video conferencing, which starts at $999, or multiple parts of a home, which starts at $1,499.

Yates had always been pulled toward design– before Abigail-Elise, she started several other design companies, but never pursued them heavily. She launched Abigail-Elise Design Studios in 2009 when she moved to Colorado with a brokerage license, which seemed useless against the background of the Great Recession.

“I was living in a new community where I didn’t know anybody,” she said. “Starting a company just seemed like the best way to jump right in.” 

What made her company different from the designers in the area is her focus on using many sustainably-made items in her designs, with a focus on creating spaces that are timeless, she said. She is intentional to purchase materials from companies that give back to society and use natural products, such as subbing leather for Pinatex, which is made by the leafy fibers of a pineapple. She calls it “the new luxury of sustainability.”

“Design can evolve without completely destroying what was already created if it was created with an attention to detail and also having a forward thinking plan of what will be relevant and kind of steering away from trends,” she said.

Her design company landed number 942 on the 2020 Inc.com 5000 list, which ranks U.S. companies with the fastest growing revenue streams. Its revenue grew 495% in three years, according to the list.

Yates’ advice to founders wanting to grow their company quickly: surround yourself with people that champion you and your goals. “Never be the smartest person in the room,” she said “Go and find those doing what you want and try to add value to what they are doing.”

For her, that was her mentor, Britnie Turner, a former Miss North Carolina who launched a real estate development company, Aerial, in 2009 at the age of 21. Nashville-based Aerial has evolved into a brand that includes a nonprofit, a real estate agency and a development group. Yates is part of Turner’s G-FORCE Mastermind, a group of entrepreneurs that have aligned the profitability of their businesses with doing good for the world. 

A Revenue-Based Approach To Philanthropy

Taking a page from Turner’s book, Yates’ interior design studio has flourished into what she calls a lifestyle brand. Under the name Abigail-Elise brands, she offers health, wellness and travel experiences, too. This side of the company, called Well Fit Human is offering trips for later in 2021, or whenever travel restrictions are lifted, to places such as Belize, Dominican Republic and Croatia with itineraries focused on health and fitness, according to its website.

Her company donates 7% of all profits to local and global nonprofits and charities.

The funds tend to go to small, grassroots organizations, Yates said. The company also donates to organizations in the communities where they are designing. She said she’s donated to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, which builds homes in communities across the world, Building Hope, which provides sucicide prevention education and Smart Bellies, a smaller nonprofit fighting child hunger.

Yates also launched AE Cares Foundation, a nonprofit side of her brand that, according to the company, supports Turner’s Aerial Global Community,  109 World, and Project Soar

“It’s always been at the heart of our company culture,” she said. “As we grew, we wanted a way to really be bolder with our giving.”

Yates discusses these ideas weekly on a podcast called Design Driven Life, which she launched in October. She talks to like minded entrepreneurs, social impact investors and wellness gurus about finding opportunities and dealing with stressors like anxiety and money with 

Since the start, her company has done a bit of virtual designing here and there  — Breckenridge, a resort town, is filled with vacation homes and renters, so her only option for designing permanent living spaces or corporate offices was to consult over the phone. 

Over the next few months, Yates and her team plan to launch their services in Italy with hopes of expanding elsewhere. 

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This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.