Palms-Up: A Conversation with Kirsten Dickerson,
Founder, Creative Director and CEO of Raven + Lily

An excerpt from Rank & File Magazine.

Minimalist, creative, adventurer, traveler, risk-taker, entrepreneur, experimenter, visionary, connector, cheerleader, CEO, “glamping” host, mom, wife, woman, valued.

These are just some of the words that describe Kirsten Dickerson, the founder of Raven + Lily, an Austin-based fair trade lifestyle brand. Kirsten’s slow-living mentality and design sense, paired with her passion for growing and leading a meaningful company, is a “funny blend” that took her from globe-trotting nonprofit volunteer to art director, set designer and stylist, to finally the CEO of Raven + Lily, a company which is impacting thousands of women worldwide.

Kirsten sits down with Rank & File to talk about the crazy journey, the lessons learned and the powerful mindsets that have led to Raven + Lily’s social impact today.


“My brand is a reflection of who I am as a person,” Kirsten says. Before founding Raven + Lily, her time volunteering with nonprofits gave her a passion for women’s advocacy. She had seen “good and bad charities,” and knew that polarizing charity models with a one-sided “how can I help you” attitude had to be replaced with a mutual, get-give relationship that showcases value and dignity on both sides of the spectrum.

“Giving should always be without strings attached, but also something that’s genuinely going to promote dignity to the recipient on the other end. We often give from our heart and we haven’t incorporated our brain,” says Kirsten. “We have to think about smart giving.”

With her heart and brain combined, Kirsten took eight of her designer friends from L.A. to India to visit a few nonprofits that Kirsten highly respects. They saw the work that the NGOs were doing to teach sewing and jewelry-making skills to women and loved the microenterprise mission of empowerment. Truthfully, they didn’t care for anything the women were making, yet they bought up everything they could.

When Kirsten return to L.A., she begged her designer friends to help these women in India, but no one felt like they had they power to do so. It became clear that Kirsten was the connector of both the nonprofit and the design worlds, and that she should be the one to come alongside the NGOs on the ground, to apply design to what the artisans were making and open up a market for their goods.

“We believe that all women are incredibly valuable. But many women don’t know their value because maybe they are comparing themselves to others, they’ve been neglected or abused, or many other reasons…. If Raven + Lily can help women to recognize that they are valuable and receive encouragement from other women from all sides of the spectrum, wouldn’t that be amazing.”


Raven + Lily began with this dream in 2008. It was highly experimental from the beginning and full of “R & D,” Kirsten laughs as she recalls finding old bins of terrible designs from the first years. “Early on it was really funny, but we were so passionate about it. I think we had success because we believed so much in these women and what they were doing that eventually the designs and the women’s skills improved, and we were able to move it into the model that it is today.”

Kirsten and her team of volunteers back then were seriously looking at, “What do we have to offer to NGOs globally that are wanting to empower women?” Experimenting, asking questions and figuring it out took them from six original nonprofit partners down to just two when they launched back then as a nonprofit. “So, when I say R & D, I really mean it,” Kristen says.

She refers to this formative time as an “interesting dance” that taught her the importance of partners with a strong point person who was educated, a good communicator, understood the quality needs and production timeline to be a successful business, but who was also an advocate for the artisan women and who could connect them with health care, education for their kids and a caring environment.

These early lessons paid off and Kirsten continues to experiment to allow Raven + Lily’s impact to grow and shift over time.

Key Application: Do major research and development on the ground, and build trusting relationships with partners that will commit to experimenting with you. Don’t rush it; ask questions to really figure out what you can offer and how you can best make an impact.

Practice Palms-Up

Kirsten married her best friend from college, a film director who has always encouraged her creative side and challenged her to go for things. In addition to supporting each other’s passions and careers, over the last 20 years of marriage, they have raised two teenagers, moved 12 times, and a few years ago, sold 80% of their belongings to buy a bunch of land and a 400-square-foot vintage trailer outside of the city to “unplug” and enjoy nature. They also bought donkeys and yurts and turned it into a “glamping retreat,” because obviously, you want some of your friends to be able to unplug too, right? Kirsten and her family have since moved into a home in the countryside of Austin, and continue to practice their slow-living and conscious lifestyle on a daily basis.

“It didn’t make sense on paper, but made sense in every other way to us,” Kirsten jokes. Brave and adventurous moves in her family are the effect of Kirsten and her husband’s general approach to life. They practice something they refer to as a “palms-up approach.”

This mindset frees Kirsten to take risks both in life and in business because she doesn’t try to control or hold onto anything too tightly. “It’s about being OK with messing up a lot. If you are holding on too tightly and you are holding onto this company, and ‘it’s mine’ and ‘it has to be this way,’ then it becomes a stress and that is when you want to micromanage everything that is around you. But if I can hold onto it loosely and know that it is a gift to be shared and protected, you can remain open to moving it forward.”

For Kirsten and her team, practicing a palms-up mindset is about being a risk-taker, but in a good way. It gives her the “freedom to try new things and to take the next step when it is right, even though it is scary.”

Key Application: Don’t hold on too tightly to your company and try to control it; see it as a gift to be protected but shared with others so you can move it forward.

Let Go of What Is Not Working

Kirsten’s palms-up approach is what led her and her husband to move their family to Austin and transition the company to a for-profit, benefit corporation model in 2013. Kirsten was still early with the social enterprise, B Corp movement though. Back then, access to impact investment and women-led funds were just starting to gain momentum, so it was hard for Kirsten to take off her nonprofit hat and replace it with a CEO one. But she knew that if she was going to keep fueling the bigger vision, making the switch to a for-profit model and defining it with a strong mission was going to allow Raven + Lily to be a catalyst of growth for her nonprofit partners’ microenterprise programs.

Kirsten says this “palms-up” decision is an example of how she continually tries to “lean into what is working and letting go of what is not over the years.”

Their structure as a B Corp allows Raven + Lily to best fund the work that their nonprofits are doing, instead of depending on donors. “I wanted to come alongside and be a great cheerleader for the nonprofit, and support that arm of the nonprofit work that really is empowering women.”

Their microenterprise partners around the world are also leaning in and letting go as needed. “Some of our groups I started with have had to separate out their nonprofit work from the business work that we order from, because it became a tension legally for them to stay a nonprofit. So, we employ women through the for-profit arm, using fair trade standards, and then donate back a portion of sales to their nonprofit arm.”

Key Application: Letting go of what is not working, and leaning into what is, will require giving up experiments that didn’t yield the right results or dreams that no longer make sense over time. But, it will keep fueling the bigger vision. So, let go and lean as needed… Continue reading inside Issue 8 of Rank & File Magazine.

Rank & File is a digital publication for purpose-driven entrepreneurs
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Photo courtesy of ©Raven + Lily

Rank & File is a digital publication for purpose-driven entrepreneurs

Get Rank & File for Free
Photo courtesy of ©Raven + Lily