Lee Rhodes Shares Glassybaby Success With Others
Maybe you've heard of Glassybaby already. If you haven't, there's a wonderful story behind it. It's a story that begins with cancer and ends, or rather begins anew, with candles. It's the story of Lee Rhodes, who started Glassybaby, which is now both a product and a company. It's the tale of how something borne of a low point in Lee's life became the means of lifting up so many others.
You see, fourteen years ago, Lee was raising her three small children and beginning a seven-year battle with a rare form of lung cancer. According to Wikipedia, she had previously given her then husband, Emery Rhodes, glass blowing lessons, and in them he created small glass cups, or “baby glasses,” which she would light with tea light candles to find solace during the difficult cancer treatments. Her friends started asking for them, so she hired local glassblowers in 1998 to produce more "glassybaby," and began selling them out of her garage. In 2001, the Glassybaby company was officially formed, with the small, but durable, and colorful glass votives as their sole product.
Four years later, Martha Stewart received some glassybaby as a gift, and decided to have Lee appear on her show, and sales increased dramatically. In 2007, glassybaby moved to a studio and retail shop in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood. In 2009, they opened two more stores in Seattle and a store in New York, and Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos purchased a large stake in the company because he was so passionate about the product. By 2010, sales hit $4 million and were up 50% from the year before. Sales grew more than 30% in 2011, despite the fact that naysayers said a company with a handmade product and goodwill mission would fail. Earlier this year, 2012, Lee was named Entrepreneur of 2011 by Entrepreneur magazine, the first woman to have won that award.
Needless to say, meteoric success has played an important role in this story. But what is more fundamental to its meaning, is the fact that, since its beginning, part of Lee's vision has been for glassybaby to bring peace to others, not only through the warm light the candles emanate when lit from within, but also through actual donations made by the company to various nonprofits related to health, healing, and quality of life. They make those donations in three ways: 1) giving 10% of the gross sales of certain glassybaby directly to charities or organizations chosen each year, 2) donating the use of their studio and "hot shop" to nonprofits, and 3) donating glassybaby to different charitable organizations to both decorate their fundraising events and to auction off the glassybaby to support their cause.
The ultimate motivation behind all of this is that, during her cancer treatments, Lee met many other patients who could not afford even daily needs such as bus fare, childcare, or groceries. Today, most of the money donated by glassybaby goes directly toward meeting those basic needs. To date, Lee's company has donated more than $900,000. The more glassybaby sold, the more money is given away to charity, with the eventual goal being to give away 10% of all revenue (as opposed to profits) to charities.
Like Megan Faulkner Brown, who we talked about recently, Lee has tasted not only the sweetness of success but of service. She says, "The reason I do this is to give back. We believe that if you commit to your mission, people will commit to you. Our mission is to help people find what they need to heal. We have built a community that loves and shares our mission." And as she's done so, she's built a life that bespeaks triumph over the challenges that used to beleaguer her: summiting Mount Kilamanjaro last year after surviving cancer, and building a successful, charitable company despite the odds.