Shay Mitchell Shares Why Supporting Female Entrepreneurs Is So Important

Photo Courtesy of Gemma Warren for Shopify Studios

You might know Shay Mitchell as Emily Fields from Pretty Little Liars, or Peach Salinger on You, but now, prepare to meet Shay Mitchell, entrepreneur. After founding her travel accessories line, Béis (pronounced 'base') in 2018, Mitchell connected with other female entrepreneurs to learn about the industry, and is encouraging others to do the same.

"It’s amazing I’m able to do something that I genuinely love to do so it doesn’t ever feel like work," Mitchell tells Bustle.

Mitchell had the opportunity to meet and learn from other female entrepreneurs in "Unpacking Business with Shay Mitchell," featured on Shopify Studios' International Women's Day playlist, which showcases female business owners. Impressed by their authenticity, Mitchell sought out advice from each of the women she met.

"Doris Raymond, [founder of The Way We Wore, told me,] 'If you keep following trends, you’re just going to be chasing it the whole time'. And I couldn’t agree with that more," Mitchell says. "That really stuck with me. So I am not following trends. I’m following what I like and what I know I would find really useful while traveling."

Mitchell says the video is a model of how to support women in business — identifying products you love and seeking women owned and operated businesses to connect with and support.

"What we showcased with this whole project, is connecting with other women owners of different companies," Mitchell says. "It’s a really supportive world out there, you have to make an effort to go out there and find other women that are killing it, and sit and talk with them. Everybody loves to share advice, everybody loves to share their stories, I just think that making those connections is super important."

Mitchell has connected with other female entrepreneurs through working with Girl Up, an organization that supports young female leaders. Mitchell has spoken at a Girl Up conference, and part of Béis' proceeds are donated to the organization.

"Before anything, before the designs on the plane napkins, it was important to me that there was always going to be a give back with Béis, forever, for its entire lifespan," Mitchell says.

Photo Courtesy of Gemma Warren for Shopify Studios

Mitchell says that creating an affordable travel brand that could encourage more people to explore the world was a natural fit for her entrepreneurial venture.

"Travel has always been my first love," Mitchell says. "I think that travel is one of the most important things that you can experience as a human. Like get out there, go see the world. You learn so much about yourself and about your surroundings by traveling and getting out of your comfort zone."

If you happened to be seated next to Mitchell on a plane, you would find her drawing up designs for bags and travel organizers on plane napkins, imagining how to make traveling more comfortable. What may seem like an innocuous way to pass the time has become the backbone for Béis.

"Whenever I would get a plane napkin, I would doodle on it and I actually have all of those drawings which is how I came up with a lot of the ideas," Mitchell says. "I was just doodling on the plane and I added it to the drawings I had, and that’s how Béis came to be. It was just a bunch of my ideas that I finally put all together."

She makes it sound simpler than the reality. Mitchell was hands-on every step of the way from doodle to duffel. That meant going to China to personally select fabrics, zippers, wheels, and testing products over and over again until they were perfect. Mitchell says the hardest part of launching Béis were the times she couldn't immediately control every aspect of production. But seeing someone wearing her backpack "out in the wild" for the first time was an amazing and truly unique feeling.

"It’s just kind of unreal," Mitchell says. "It’s a different feeling from anything else that I’ve had. [...] This is something that came from literal blood, sweat, and tears [...] and it’s just really cool to see people enjoy that."

Mitchell sees passion as a key component to success, no matter what industry you're in. She says people can tell when you're not passionate about what you're doing, but when they see genuine enthusiasm, they will get excited about your work.

"I really think that true success comes from when you do something you’re super passionate about," Mitchell says. "When I talk about each of the products, or I’m designing them, people really do get the idea of how much I care because you can’t fake that."

Photo Courtesy of Gemma Warren for Shopify Studios

And as for the future of Béis, Mitchell hopes that she can continue making items that people love and can afford.

"I’m able to create these items that I feel really good about, that are affordable, that are really functional, and people are loving it. And that’s why I did it," Mitchell says. "I just didn’t want your luggage to cost an arm and a leg too, it doesn’t need to be that expensive. So [the affordability] is one of the things I’m most proud of."

Mitchell still considers herself a novice as an entrepreneur, but she hopes that she can encourage others to adopt her "why not" attitude, and make the world their own.

"All I can say, to anybody who’s passionate enough and wants to start something on their own is just go for it. Why not?" Mitchell says. "Try it, and if you’re super passionate about it, then you’re going to do well. Or you’re going to learn something from it, and pick yourself back up, and do it again, and do it better. I just think that life’s too short to not take a chance on something you’re super passionate about."