Jillian Ryan: Saying Thank You with Ethical Gifts

Published November 23, 2020 at 11:44am
Interview by Mary Martin. Photos courtesy of Marie Mae Company.

As writers, we may be a bit biased, but the notebooks, stationery, and curated boxes from Marie Mae Company are some of our team’s favorite give-back gifts! We reached out to founder Jillian Ryan to learn more about her journey into corporate gifting, how gifts can reflect values, and some of her favorite local products for the holiday season.

With a background in international business, how did you make the choice to start a stationery company?

This is a question I get quite often! I did a full podcast episode on it here, but the short answer is, I chose corporate gifting as it is hands down the best and easiest way for a company to make an impact with money they are already spending.


What does it mean to you to have products and a company culture that support social good, both locally and globally?

The belief that business can and should be used as a force for good around here runs deep and wide. It’s at the core of everything we do, and WHY we do what we do. We’ve tried hard to make sure social impact is literally baked into every facet of our business. For us, that includes being very particular about our supply chain, who we will work with, and how we show up for our business school students.

You host The Good Office Podcast—what have you learned as you’ve interviewed other social entrepreneurs and business leaders about their give-back strategies?

I’ve learned that ‘doing good’ definitely isn’t the easy strategy. You not only have to ensure you are baking social impact into everything you do, but also have to ensure the business fundamentals work. And this balancing act is not the easy route. It’s very doable, but you have to be intentional about it and make sure your full leadership team is on board.

When you were a student, did you ever imagine this career path? What inspired you to begin this type of work?

I’m showing my age here, but after 9/11 (and the show Alias), I was determined I was going to go work for the CIA to help make the world a safer place. But then I fell into an amazing job in DC—so amazing in fact that I turned down an offer from the CIA when I received it—and decided I could do more good from the business side of things. There is so much good, and empowerment, that can be done through business if you are just intentional about it.

What does this holiday season look like for your team? How have the circumstances of 2020 and COVID shifted the way you work?

When everything shut down in March, I must say I freaked out. We had just start experiencing hypergrowth in the fourth quarter 2019, and had actually sold out of literally everything at an event the week before the shut down. Then our supply chain from New York to Haiti to Rwanda was shut down, and we were entering a global pandemic with no products to sell.

Thankfully though after a few weeks of hiding, I realized our corporate clients were actually reaching out more than ever as they were looking to send gifts to their employees and clients to help ease the transition to working from home. So thanks to a business coach, I pulled it together and started thinking, what can we sell? Who has inventory on hand?

I immediately thought of all my friends in the social entrepreneur space that had stocked up for Spring at the Silos (that was then cancelled), and put together two new curated gift boxes—the At Home productivity kit and the At Home wellness kit. And we ended up having our best month yet! The name of the game this year is pivot. You have to. And in the process, we ended up being able to support so many of our small business friends AND put together some great gifts for our clients.

Appreciation is at the core of your business. What does it mean for companies to use your products as a gift?

It’s so important for your employees, your clients, and your community to see that you share their core beliefs and are trying to do what you can do to help in this environment—especially this year. So not only are you giving an amazing gift to your team, you are giving the gift of real impact—and the recipients notice.

The Cozy Luxe Box from Marie Mae Company.

The Cozy Luxe Box from Marie Mae Company.

What new products are you most excited about for the holiday season?

Oooh, this is a tough one. We launched a brand new gift box collection about a month ago with themes very relevant in 2020—the Cozy box, the Work from Home box, a Wellness box—and it’s my favorite collection yet. Precisely because of what I mentioned above. We included so many of our favorite small businesses in these boxes. Personally my favorite is the Cozy Luxe. It’s perfect for snuggling up on the couch with cookies, tea, and a good book.

What other give-back or fair trade brands should we check out for our gifting this year?

There are so many! I really do encourage people to shop small this year and shop to make an impact. It’s so vital to help those in this space to make it through this rough year, and they are often times the ones that get stuck in the middle – as they don’t want to raise prices because they know their consumers don’t want that, but they also can’t cut back on all of their do good initiatives. So shop small! My favorites include Calyan Wax Co for candles (their Home and Holiday is my favorite!), Savhera for essential oils (Divine Dreams has helped so much during this stressful year), and Tribe Alive for the most comfortable/stylish clothes (their everyday pants have been my uniform for the year).

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