You don’t have to be just one thing: Because my talent was writing, I always thought that’s what I had to do. At times, I felt myself beginning to resent writing because I was so unhappy with the type of work I was doing. When I saw an opportunity to flex my skills in a different way, it took some mental pushing to get myself to realize I wasn’t beholden to being or doing only one thing forever. I said “yes” to a new experience that has turned out to be fruitful and fulfilling because I was willing to let myself go there.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Linze Rice. Under 30 and already the owner of two businesses, Linze Rice is a journalist-turned-entrepreneur in Chicago who is on a mission to change hearts, minds and laws. She’s the owner of The TaTa Top, a swimwear line that promotes gender equality while giving a portion of each sale to women’s health charities. As a reporter, she covered the business — and today, she owns it. She also runs Pink House Media, a writing and communications firm, and is the photographer for The Girl Talk, an esteemed, live monthly talk show in Chicago featuring Illinois’ most influential women. It’s a lot, and yet she’s just getting started.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My entire life, I have always considered myself a writer and assumed that was how I would make my living. When I was a local reporter in Chicago, I began working on a story about a business called The TaTa Top that was in my beat, and immediately thought the idea was genius. It totally piqued my interest. I remember thinking at the time that if they were ever looking to hire, I would want to help run that business. A few years later, after our news company closed and I began my own writing and PR firm, Pink House Media, I saw that The TaTa Top’s owners were selling the business. Over the years, we had established a rapport and trust, and after some soul-searching, sleepless nights and negotiations, I decided to make an offer, and it was accepted. When I first wrote about it, I never dreamed in just a few short years I would actually own it! My prediction that it would be a huge learning curve immediately proved to be correct — but it’s also been a thrill to tackle a completely different industry and to flex different creative and strategic muscles than ever before. And, I also know that my business has a direct, positive impact on people through the boots-on-the-ground charities we work with that benefit women’s health and breast cancer programs.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The truth is that almost immediately, several important things within The TaTa Top went haywire. A big wholesale order fell through. Our new manufacturer fell through. Facebook and Instagram began aggressively censoring us and threatening to ban us or unpublish our pages. This was all within the first 30–60 days. But what I’ve learned is that each challenge is exactly that: a challenge; an opportunity to prove to yourself that you can step up to the plate and make it happen. I’m now at the problem-solving and solutions stages, but it certainly took an early onslaught of problems to get there. Trial by fire is real.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When we transitioned the company from its original owners, I believed I needed to obtain a new EIN — however, in this case, that was not necessary. I quickly learned from a tax professional we work with that I had technically created/registered two identical companies by accident — just with different tax numbers. That was a small mistake that ended up creating a bit of a headache right out of the gate in terms of record-keeping and banking, but we’re back to using the correct EIN now. I learned the importance of asking those who know more than you for guidance, and that I don’t have to take on everything by myself. Had I just clarified that with someone, I could have avoided an annoying and silly gaffe like mistakenly registering a mirror company.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
First of all, not many companies are out there making bikini tops that give the illusion of toplessness like The TaTa Top does (and they better not, because we have a patent!). So our product is naturally unique and compelling, and solves a problem that over half the U.S. population has — nipples that are considered illegal. We have the bravery and humor to tackle this issue in a way no one else is, and with a charitable component that no one else has.
At Pink House Media, my specialty is knowing a good story. I just know it when I hear it, and I have to act on it. People have no idea the powerful stories that they have until you get the right person listening to say, “Wait — why is this not all over the media? This is amazing!” My background in journalism helps me know what businesses and reporters both need to get a great story out there.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! The TaTa Top is working with a new manufacturer and we have plans to do new styles. Our classic triangle bikini has been a huge hit, but we’d also like to expand into styles that provide comfort and support to more busts and body sizes. For example, we’d like to do a sports bra, a one-piece and a halter top bikini in the future. We’re also engaging in more live events, such as Chicago Pride Fest this year! The TaTa Top is truly a product to see in-person.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Support them and they will support you. Give respect, and get respect. I always think you attract the best people and best ideas when those people truly feel like they have a voice and are valued.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I’m not sure, I’m part of a very small team! But having been part of large teams before — be yourself and don’t feel like you have to overcompensate or fit some kind of mold, such as a “male” leader. Define and own your own leadership style — those have always been the kinds of women leaders who have inspired me and stuck out to me.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Definitely. First, it sounds cliche, but the support of my partner, Connor, has been paramount. Things such as founding and investing in/buying an existing business aren’t decisions to be made lightly in a marriage. He encouraged me and believed in me, and helps uplift me when I’m struggling. Plus, he provides creative and honest feedback, and he helps me with certain aspects of the business. He’s also a talented writer and editor and has professional strengths where I have weaknesses, so I rely on him often to make sure what I’m doing makes sense.
Additionally, there are a core group of former co-workers who are now very close friends and mentors who inspired and helped me along the way. Ariel Cheung, Lizzie Schiffman Tufano, Justin Breen and Jen Sabella are all talented journalists and PR folks in Chicago, and continue to be essential pieces of my sanity and success. Between The TaTa Top and Pink House Media, they have helped me develop my brand identity, make connections, get clients, get press, create workflows, and provided countless hours of support and friendship. I have been fortunate beyond belief as an entrepreneur to have these people on my side.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
With The TaTa Top, we’ve donated over $40K since launching in 2014, and all that money has gone to charity organizations that provide health services to women and/or support for breast cancer education.
$3 from each top goes directly to our partners. And with Pink House Media, I’m getting press coverage for some incredible organizations, programs and entrepreneurs — many that are neighborhood-based — and the exposure really goes a long way to benefit the subjects. No matter what I do in life, I always want to make sure I’m doing something to help others.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- It’s OK to be hard on yourself — and it’s OK to let yourself rest: I was talking with another entrepreneur recently about the pressures we put on ourselves as business owners, whether real or imaginary. I think that stress can be a great motivator and that it can be good to fear failure, but it can also easily — and often — teeter into depression and anxiety, which is counter-productive. It’s all about trying to strike a continual balance and accepting a situation in order to overcome it.
- Talk to other entrepreneurs: I was (and still am) walking a path I’ve not walked before, so listening to other people’s experiences and insight has been extremely useful. Not only can I benefit from their experience, but we can also relate on a personal level dealing with the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and leadership.
- Be true to yourself: It may sound obvious, or perhaps in the corporate business world counterintuitive, but being authentic is key, I think. You have to be an ambassador for what you believe in and be willing to show your constituents and customers a bit about who you are and what you stand for. I’m 29 and I know that people my age care about engaging with brands they actually believe in.
- It’s not the end of the world: Though it’s definitely felt like it many times, no matter what happens, it’s not the end of the world. There are always solutions. If you need to take a moment to freak out that’s fine — but then do something to solve it.
- You don’t have to be just one thing: Because my talent was writing, I always thought that’s what I had to do. At times, I felt myself beginning to resent writing because I was so unhappy with the type of work I was doing. When I saw an opportunity to flex my skills in a different way, it took some mental pushing to get myself to realize I wasn’t beholden to being or doing only one thing forever. I said “yes” to a new experience that has turned out to be fruitful and fulfilling because I was willing to let myself go there.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Personally, I would love to use my influence and business to start a body-positive movement that seeks to normalize and de-stigmatize women’s bodies, so that we may achieve more equality in the U.S. I believe men and women, and any other gender — or lack thereof, for that matter — deserve to be treated equally under the law, and unfortunately right now that’s not the case. My idea would be to see a movement that supported that idea, and that through the sale of our top, we could fully sponsor a big event where we would partner with an organization that provides post-mastectomy tattoos, and hold a tattoo marathon that is paid for by The TaTa Top. It would be amazing if we could make it a regular event and even branch out across the U.S. There are so many breast cancer survivors who would really enjoy that, and it would help give them a sense of comfort in their new bodies. Plus, tattoos are expensive, and if we could lift that burden while also being part of a movement that dignifies all bodies equally, that’s the ultimate goal.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two:
- “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” — Elenor Roosevelt. I have this tattooed on my arm so I can remind myself of it often, because the reality is that being an entrepreneur can be a difficult, isolating experience filled with self-doubt. That quote reminds me that I am brave enough to walk through the fire and that I will come out the other side.
- “Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” — This is a REAL Maya Angelou quote! How can that not inspire you?
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
So many. Interestingly, I have a page called “Inspiration” on my personal website just dedicated to honoring some of the women I love. I have great respect for Lori Grenier (a Chicago woman!) and Barbara Corcoran, not just because of Shark Tank, but because of their personal stories and leadership styles, which are totally different. They each use their strengths to their advantage, and have to completely different approaches. Plus, they are champions of women entrepreneurs. I also really admire Erin Robertson, creator of Ta-Ta Towels — a company that shares many of the same values as The TaTa Top!
There are also so many incredible women who I love for their outspokenness and compassion, such as Jamella Jamil, Ellen DeGeneres, Amy Poehler, Lizzo, Heidi Stevens (who I have had breakfast with!) and, if they were still alive, Frida Kahlo and Eleanor Roosevelt. Actually that sounds like a dream line-up!