Meet Gage Mitchell of Modern Species
I knew there had to be something more to life than squeezing a few hobbies into my free time, and more to work than making rich people richer. So my fiancé and I quit our jobs, sold all our stuff (including our condo and cars), got married, and left the country with no plans and no set return date. We learned a lot while traveling the world on a shoestring budget but two things bubbled up to the top of my mind when we returned broke and needing a career reboot. The first was that I’d realized it is possible to work for companies and causes you care about. The evidence was everywhere because everything is (or can be) designed, so I just needed to get picky. The second was that as I designer I had a lot of influence over businesses and consumers, and with that power comes a responsibility (in my mind at least) to use that power to make the world and people’s lives better. So I set out to run my business and provide my services in way that felt more regenerative than extractive. Where that would lead, I hadn’t the first clue, but I was ready to find out.
The business we (my wife and I) started was a “sustainable brand design studio”, now called Modern Species. We started out working with small, local businesses who focused on social justice, health and wellness, sustainable food and other causes that we felt good about contributing to with our design super powers. Overtime we found a niche in sustainable products and developed a deep expertise in sustainable design and the natural and organic food space.
Fast forward eleven years and we’re still focusing on the same basic mission (helping sustainable product brands launch, evolve, and grow) but we’re expanding beyond design services to also build a learning community called Evolve, and toying with the idea of launching some of our own mission-driven products.
For a long time I thought that once I had been in business for ten years I would finally know what I was doing. I’ve passed that mark and I’m sorry to say that the road still ins’t smooth because the problems change as your business shifts or grows, and the environment in which you run your business is always changing. So constant evolution is the only way to survive—but that also means pushing yourself out of your comfort zone regularly, and doing your best to learn along the way.
Some of the stand out struggles for me personally have been in managing employees who each need a different management style to thrive (not just me managing them the way I always wanted to be managed), navigating rough patches in the economy, dealing with disaster projects or difficult clients, and finding the time to work on the business instead of getting caught up in the business all the time.
Modern Species helps sustainable product brands launch, evolve, and grow through design, strategy, and community because we want to live in a harmonious world where healthy, happy, and sustainable lifestyles are the norm. We have deep experience in mission-driven brands, the natural and organic market, and sustainable packaging though we love all sorts of challenges.
I suppose what sets us apart is our commitment to impact and our niche in sustainable products. We don’t have big evil clients who pay our bills while we do some feel good work on the side. We only work with impact-driven brands, always push for more sustainable solutions, and do our best to run our company according to our values—including being B Corp Certified, 1% for the Planet Members, Wind-Powered (and many more things).
Success, for me, is having the ability (privilege, freedom, focus, and necessary skillset / mindset, etc) to do what I love for companies I believe in while working alongside people I enjoy and respect. Considering we spend the vast majority of our non-sleeping time working, enjoying what you do is huge.
Beyond that I’d also say that it’s good to keep setting goals because short-term measures of success like awards, recognition, strong results on a project, etc are nice fleeting moments of joy but looking back on how much you’ve achieved over time can also be a good measure of success.