From entrepreneurs to trademarks attorneys, we’re proud to feature such talented people.
Salary Transparent Street
Hannah Williams is tackling one of the last taboos – salaries. In fact, she’s doing something most of us have never done: asking people to share their specific salaries.
A graduate of Georgetown University, Hannah’s mission is financial transparency. She feels comfortable sharing the exact salaries of her past jobs, and encourages others to do the same. Hannah believes that salary transparency empowers employees and prospective employees to know their worth. Without this data, we often undervalue our value in the marketplace, which includes accepting lowball offers. Salary data, therefore, equalizes the playing field so that workers are empowered to ask for – and receive – their financial worth.
Salary Transparent Street, Hannah’s company, has already made a big impact. Specifically, Hannah travels to different parts of the country, and asks individuals to share their job and salary. Asking a stranger for job and salary information is no easy feat. What is notable, however, is just how casual and comfortable these conversations feel to the viewer – almost as if Hannah is asking about the weather. She creates a nonjudgmental and supportive rapport with the strangers to enable them to feel comfortable sharing information that is traditionally guarded as private. In doing so, she continues to break the salary taboo, one conversation at a time. And, it turns out, others are interested in learning more about specific salaries, too. Her videos have gone viral on social media as followers continue to crave salary content.
Hannah’s branding is central to the success and virality. “Salary Transparent Street” summarizes not only the actions in each video – in which Hannah asks strangers in public about salaries – but also evokes the larger theme of transparency that is central to her mission. Fortunately, after her initial videos went viral on Tik Tok, Hannah filed for the federal trademark rights to Salary Transparency Street – a decision that protects her brand from social media copycats.
Hannah’s success is a reminder that companies are often influenced by a larger theme or purpose – and that brand execution is essential to building growth and customer loyalty.
We like to say that Ash + Ruin was born from a determined reverence for chaos. In March of 2020 we were quarantining in rural Vermont during the dead of winter. We were trapped inside, constantly refreshing our phones for more bad news, and every new update seemed like confirmation that the world was ending. Plagues, riots, whole swaths of the world being consumed by fire, murder hornets. At one point a Bolivian orchestra was trapped in a haunted castle surrounded by hungry wolves. I mean, it was almost comically apocalyptic. We’d started playing around with making candles and were burning them every day as a habit, to try and bring some light (both literal and figurative) to the situation. And something about the ritual—striking the match, the spark of combustion, watching something beautiful burn—felt very purposeful and anchoring, almost primal. The world is on fire and you can’t control that, so you light your own. You make something beautiful, and then you destroy it.
At the same time we realized we wanted to start sharing these candles with people, we were really grossed out by the branding that had become overwhelmingly popular during quarantine, this bland, innocuous palette of minimalist colors and san serif fonts. It felt like trying to put out a blazing chemical fire with a shot glass of milk. So we started brainstorming about what it would look like to reject that type of branding completely. We weren’t lighting candles to forget the outside world, we were lighting them to acknowledge that things were completely out of control, as a kind of nihilistic meditation. So we said: ok, it’s pretty clear from the news that the world is ending. Lighting a candle every day, performing that rite, perfuming the air—there’s something celebratory, almost reverent, about the whole thing. What if the candle was both an ornament and an instrument of the apocalypse? If lighting it was part of a daily practice of accepting chaos? We believe there is value in noticing and honoring the uncontrollable. Meditation doesn’t have to be neutral-colored and boring.
We’re a mother and daughter team, and the company began as a way for us to do something together that was creative. We needed something to do with our hands, a way of processing our anger, our fear, our general ennui, like everyone else during the early days of 2020. Most people made bread. We made candles.
Early on during quarantine we started noticing that all these brands were rushing to commodify the emotional experience of quarantine and sell people escapism. We were inundated with targeted marketing that felt very patronizing. Lots of insipid visuals, very minimal, almost childish simplicity of design. A constant subliminal messaging that was saying: this product will help you escape your existential dread because it has no strong identifying features. The idea that you could buy something—a candle, some body wash, a pastel sweatsuit—and be transported away from your insanely painful reality was ridiculous; it wasn’t a lack of pretty things that had everyone sheltering inside, falling apart, terrified. It was a confluence of horrible things outside their control. It felt almost sinister, to be preying on people’s doomscrolling and reduce their experience to something as simple as: buy this thing, you deserve it, you’ll feel better about all this crazy suffering if you just fill your shelves with pretty items from the billion dollar wellness industry. We figured, if we’re going to make something and ask people to buy it, we’re going to make something that is adamantly not about escaping darkness. It is not going to be banal for the sake of not alienating an audience of consumers. It’s not going to be beige, the aim will not be for it to blend in with any décor. It’s going to be weird, and gorgeous, and not for everyone.
We both have backgrounds in art and art history, we both love scent and perfume, we love stories and botany, and we’re very close. We’ve traveled the world together in pursuit of adventure and beauty. And we both share a predilection for gallows humor, a tendency towards cynicism. We had fun looking at a lot of historical artistic depictions of cataclysmic events and emotions, and we had the time of our life crafting the olfactory story behind some of the apocalyptic narratives we’d begun imagining, things like the smell of the last melon grown on earth, the last pine forest burned to ash, the experience of lighting incense at an altar while you’re praying for clarity or salvation. We basically decided: if we’re not trying to pretend things are fine, what does that look like, can it smell incredible? Shouldn’t it be haunting, and vaguely sacerdotal? And shouldn’t the label involve a snake eating its own tail?
Most importantly, the idea that escaping reality should always be the end goal of self care products—that is something that we think is super problematic. Avoiding feeling bad things doesn’t make them go away, it just makes you less tolerant for feeling bad. Finding the inherent beauty in chaos, taking control of your discomfort as an act of self care instead of avoiding it: our company really evolved from that belief system.
The Ash + Ruin brand is, first and foremost, a rejection of the oppressively boring aesthetic that most luxury DTC brands seem to have fixated on. This idea that inoffensive minimalist decoration is universally soothing feels like it assumes your audience is some kind of angry toddler that needs to be swaddled and whispered to. When the world was on fire, we craved gothic archness, a reverence for entropy. Something that captured the exquisite experience of living in a dying world, not something that tried to cover it with an oatmeal-colored blanket.
At the end of the day, we’re a luxury candle company. We’re not doing open heart surgery. We’re very aware that we make non-essential goods, and at the same time we believe that you shouldn’t have to justify purchasing non-essentials by wrapping them in the façade of wellness. The truth is, candles are not going to make you forget about your problems, and any company who says otherwise is lying. They’re not saving lives. But we do think there’s something almost darkly comedic about marketing candles, like many “self-care” items, with these artifices of wellness culture. You shouldn’t have to justify purchasing something that you want, something that exists to be pretty, or smell good, by framing it as something for your mental health. Worship at the altar of late-stage capitalism if that’s your bag, whatever. But the industry insists on selling us these things with language that graciously forgives the sin of indulgence. So we poke fun at that. We talk about how our candles are crafted by acolytes of the apocalypse, that they are wrapped in poetry and anointed with sacred oil before they’re sent to you. We give absolution to our customers, we offset the purchase with the ideology that you’re lighting this candle to practice radical acceptance of the total annihilation of world. We ended our first press deck with a pseudo-spiritual credo: We reject the notion that lighting a candle should aim to distract us from the chaos and suffering inherent to life. Make the spark of combustion a daily rite for your ceremonial rejection of the self-care zeitgeist. Lean into the darkness. Greet the inevitable pain of mortality with anticipatory relish. Enjoy the impending apocalypse, burn your fear to ash, and rejoice in the smoldering ruins of the old world.
We still hand-mix and pour every single candle ourselves, underground, in a very cold, very lonely stone basement. It’s spooky and fun and occasionally infuriating, and sometimes we still wake up and feel like the world is ending. We highly recommend it anyway.
We also make Spotify playlists for all of our candle scents.
A graduate of UCLA and UCLA Law, Byron Barahona is now an associate attorney at Reed Smith LLP. He focuses his practice on all aspects of trademark prosecution. As a law student, he developed an interest in trademark law through participation in a Trademark Clinic, which exposed him to the importance of registering and policing trademarks.
Prior to private practice, Byron worked as an Attorney Advisor at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) where he reviewed thousands of federal trademark applications to ensure compliance with the Trademark Act of 1946. He also argued before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.
Byron’s professional trajectory reminds us of the importance of flexibility. For instance, he moved from Los Angeles to Virginia – where he did not initially know anybody – to begin employment at the USPTO. Unlike broad practice areas, trademark prosecution is somewhat niche. As such, it is often difficult for attorneys, particularly recent graduates, to gain experience in this area. In law school, Byron did not envision himself practicing law on the East Coast. However, he was willing to make this personal sacrifice in order to gain substantive experience and training at the USPTO. He is now able to leverage his internal knowledge gained at the USPTO to advise private sector clients.
As the first in his family to attend college and law school, Byron was not initially sure which area of law to practice. By taking a wide variety of courses and clinics, however, he was able to pinpoint his passion for trademark prosecution. Now, he is able to counsel both small businesses and international companies on protecting their Intellectual property assets. Byron is described as both calm and comprehensive by colleagues, and has a genuine curiosity to solve complex IP issues for clients.
Outside of work, Byron enjoys spending time with Dr. Winston, a miniature dachshund, weightlifting, traveling, and trying new IPAs.
Entrepreneur and Inclusivity Leader
A graduate of Boston College and Harvard University, Molly Levitt did not initially expect to devote her career to entrepreneurship. While working as an elementary teacher in a high-needs classroom in Boston, however, she discovered a problem. Throughout the day, she often took handwritten notes in an effort to differentiate students –a well-intentioned approach that nonetheless would get sidetracked by the constant juggling act of teaching. Drawing on her own experiences as a teacher, she founded BrightLoop, a software tool that tracked qualitative feedback on students. She soon found herself moving to the West Coast to participate in Y Combinator, and changing her trajectory to entrepreneurship.
Molly’s success as an entrepreneur shows the importance of developing strong communication skills. Molly has the ability to make people immediately feel at ease with her outgoing personality and humble nature. As a former special education teacher, she knows the significance of both verbal and nonverbal communication. In a business context, this skillset translates to being able to succinctly pitch her ideas and vision to a wide variety of stakeholders. She also understands the importance of patience in both recognizing and celebrating the incremental progress of students and startups.
For Molly, the “Why” behind her entrepreneurial journey is clear: expanding access and inclusion to those with disabilities. She is the founder of Camp Linda, a fully inclusive summer camp. She is also the Director of the Remarkable, a startup accelerator and community that empowers companies striving to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities. Put simply, Molly dreams big – and executes big. She is a reminder of the power of harnessing entrepreneurship to tackle big problems, and using our own unique strengths and abilities to include and empower others.
Anne and Jeffery Kearney
Lunch with Locals
We love DC and believe this city has so much to offer visitors, below and above the surface. The intention of our company is to alleviate initial anxiety. For many, not knowing someone in a particular locale is just enough of a hurdle. We started this company to remove that hurdle and invite visitors who would otherwise hesitate, to also feel welcomed. Our hope is to foster a genuine affinity for DC the world over.
The goal of our company is to serve as the unofficial DC welcoming committee. We cater to travelers who are unfamiliar with The District and seek a more personalized introduction to this outstanding city. We represent that friendly, comforting face in an unfamiliar setting. We query our guests grub preferences and plan a delicious meal and conversation that addresses whatever questions or needs that may arise.
We support local and thrive in the distinct flavor of extraordinary only found here. There is an abundance of greatness occurring in DC. We encourage those who have not come to this great city in a while to consider coming back to visit. Rediscover all the awesome things that encompass DC culture. No judgment of preferences or ulterior motives. Just the option of a fun, worry-free gathering.
We believe the best description of our company is a joyful, curated convergence of local grub and conversation. The setting you’ll find yourself in is social, yet comfy. We highlight memorable gems (both hidden and in plain sight).