Katie Ruddell is the mastermind behind Chinatown’s go-to plant-based spot, Kokomo. Before launching the cute eatery that promises “good vibes you can taste” with a side of summer year round, she was the brand lead at Lululemon. Read on to find out how Katie manifested her vision and how her time at Lululemon served as a catalyst to getting her to where she is today.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and the career you have created.
A: I was born and currently live in Vancouver, but am inspired by all of the warmth and waves I’ve felt across the globe. My five year goal is to live in one of those countries and swim in the ocean once a day. My background is in brand strategy, most recently as brand lead at lululemon - until April, when I left to pursue my vision of serving up delicious plant-based bowls to the community in a sun-filled space. I am now the owner of Kokomo in Chinatown.
Q: What has been your biggest struggle so far with building your business?
A: Culture is everything to me. I moved to Singapore from Vancouver when I was 11 years old and experienced first-hand the variance in cultures that exist, and how culture is so directly related to our lives. I also learnt that my family had it’s own unique culture, that was constant no matter what environmental culture we were exposed to. So, culture is everything to me. It was the primary focus of my dreams about what a day in the life at Kokomo would be like. Even though I am so obsessed with it, and maybe because I am so obsessed with it, the biggest struggle has been creating a culture from virtually nothing. No one to grandfather anything in! It’s ours to create! It felt overwhelming and I had no idea where to begin, and how to execute it. It is still the work that we are in, but it’s no longer daunting and instead energizing and freeing. In fact, our culture is actually about how we get to create it for ourselves. And realizing that we aren’t creating from zero - it was actually initialized way back when I first set the goal to open Kokomo by 2018. (Hint: Goal setting is in our blood, it’s why we exist and is therefore a key component to our culture. That and being brave, having fun and eating good food together).
Q: What is your vision with Kokomo?
A: The Vancouver community is up to major things, leading massive lives all day long. The purpose of Kokomo is to support and nourish Vancouver via the physical body, energy and heart. Inspired by the life-giving, community building power of the sun, we create accessible plant-based meals and a warm environment for our community to connect inward and outward with each other. Essentially, we are here to support and love everyone. I had a ten year vision when we opened the doors four months ago, but it has shifted as Kokomo has become it’s own living and breathing thing, off the pages of my business plan. I could never have planned or imagined the magic and energy that is created each day. But now I know, and I’m in the work of exploring what the next ten years look like. Stay tuned :)
Q: Have you had any standout experiences in your past that helped lead you to where you are today?
A: Absolutely. My current life is a true product of my past, even the smallest historical moments have in some way opened me up to what I know today. I am beyond grateful for all of my previous experiences and the people that played a part in them. A few that stand out include my time at lululemon, some of my leaders along the way and traveling.
I have daydreams where I imagine running into Chip Wilson and trying to summarize in words my gratitude for him and what he indirectly created for me. Basically, lululemon was a catalyst. I knew it would be my last ‘job’ before opening my own business, and I even said so in my interview. But what happened along the way - throughout my 4+ years between that interview and me leaving to open Kokomo - propelled my leadership, self awareness and connection with the community, creating the capable, confident human I am today. I hope I can be this catalyst for the Kokomo team.
There are some specific leaders who took a stand for me, and held me to my highest self. They were also some of the toughest leaders, and I probably cried a lot in the moment, but I now thank them every chance I get.
Travelling gave me perspective from a young age and this helps me stay grounded today, while reminding myself that I am in choice about the life I choose daily. There is an entire world out there and I get to choose how I show up, where I live and what I do in it. I am not confined to this path because this is how it is, this is where I was born or this is how my parents did it. Although, my parents are the reason I traveled when I was younger, so it wouldn’t be so bad...
Q: What advice do you have for the wimmin in our community who are starting their own business?
A: Trust in yourself. Lean heavily on your community. Ask for support. Ask questions. Don’t be scared to fail. Know you will fail. Be human. Know that you will never have a clear inbox again. Be open and allow it to all unfold and continue to check in and adjust as it does. Have perspective. Love yourself. You are not alone, but it can be very lonely. Take baths with crystals.
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