Ashlee Piper is the 35 year old eco-lifestyle journalist, blogger, television personality and creative copywriter. The Chicago based girlboss is an alumni of Brown University (B.A. Gender Studies/Religious Studies) and University of Oxford UK (MSW/MSc Evidence-Based Social Intervention) who kicked off her career in the political sector, working as a strategist and cabinet-level advisor to high-profile politicians (think Mitt Romney and Deval Patrick) and with governmental organizations like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (think universal healthcare, child welfare and public housing). But when the call to serve the Earth in a bigger way became too loud to ignore, she shifted gears, and in a big ole way. Since then she’s been a champion of the eco-friendly movement, dedicating her talents, time, knowledge and words (her insight has appeared in many of our favorite outlets, like Thoughtfully Magazine, Apartment Therapy and Refinery29) to human and animal rights, and the environment. And for that we couldn’t admire her more. Ashlee is totally impassioned about everything she does, clever as hell (follow her on social and you’ll see what we mean), unafraid, and has a drive that we strive to achieve everyday. Plus she’s a dogmom (hi, Banjo!), vegan, and has pledged to not buy anything new (unless it’s secondhand) in 2017. From sharing the best career advice she’s received and how she stays organized to what she collects, we’ve charged Ashlee with 20 of our favorite questions.
1. What was your first job out of college?
After grad school, I returned to the U.S. and set my sights on moving to Boston. I booked a flight and spent a week job hunting there. Thinking I’d be a social worker, someone at a non-profit took me to a hearing at the State House and I was like “holy crap, this is where stuff happens.” So, I went to Kinko’s, made 200 copies of my resume, and personally delivered them to every office in the Massachusetts State House. By miracle, moxie, or some combination thereof, I got a gig as the youngest fiscal policy advisor to the Governor, who at the time was Mitt Romney. It was probably the best, most fun (amazing people), and educative gig I’ve ever had.
2. When you were in college, what did you think you’d be doing today?
I wanted to be a public service attorney working with victims of domestic violence. The prospect of law school debt and my abysmal performance on the LSAT had me thinking otherwise, and I found social work as an avenue to help vulnerable populations.
3. What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
I received two awesome nuggets:
One was from my first ever adult-job boss, who continues to be a mentor today, who told me that if I can find fulfillment in my work and make my boss’ life easier, I can ascend the ranks and be successful anywhere. It’s true, and I often find when I work with younger folks entering the workforce, they sometimes struggle with thinking big and tackling the innovation that fulfills them with doing the minutiae that makes their higher-ups’ lives better. When you learn to balance both, your work satisfaction and performance are basically in the bag.
The second piece was from a former Commissioner of the Massachusetts Agency for the Blind. He was unfairly ousted during a political change-of-guard, was a visually-impaired elderly veteran, and was one of the coolest and kindest dudes I’d ever met. At his retirement party, he told us all that he plans to still wake and dress for the day at the same time he does now, because the key to work and life happiness is “keeping busy.” He said, “I’m not going to become some old man frittering away my time,” and that really stuck with me.
4. Can you recall the moment you felt like you hit a groove in your career?
When I was working for the Governor, at age 24, I created a program from scratch that provided career and life supports to youth aging-out of the juvenile justice system, which was kind of unprecedented for my role at the time. I got the chance to present it to the Governor and Lt. Governor, and I was beyond scared shitless/ The presentation and idea were so well-received, that they both committed $300K in state funding to pilot. The program still exists today and serves thousands of youth each year. Even though I’ve changed directions in my career, I went back to Massachusetts recently and met some of the kids (who are now adults) who went through the program a few years ago, and to see the positive impact it had on their lives, made me remember to never stop pushing my comfort zone, because making a difference makes me feel like I’m hitting my stride.
Also, I was recognized in Dallas one day at Whole Foods. The cashier said, “I saw you on TV and now I only buy cruelty-free beauty products,” and I, 1) wished I had worn makeup that quick trip to the store, and 2) was like Bless Up because it felt amazing to know the stuff I do reaches people and changes the way they think about animals and the environment.
5. What’s the first thing you do when you get to the office every morning?
I have a Panda Planner that I’m obsessed with (seriously, everyone needs one right now). So, after I say hello to my coworkers, I sip my iced coffee (that I bring from home in my jar), write out what I’m grateful for, and make a list of things to tackle for the day.
6. What’s one thing you do daily to stay organized?
The Planner helps a bunch. I also try to plan the logistics of the next day as much as possible the night before so I can be flexible without feeling crazy. Before I go to bed, I pack my lunch and lay out my clothes for the following day. It’s totally nerdy, but not being a morning person has shown me that if I don’t plan in the evening, I will basically be a hot mess by the time morning comes.
7. How do you sign off emails?
Depends on who they’re for, but either “xo,” “all best,” “rock on,” or “many thanks.” Nerd alert.
8. What’s the one character trait that’s vital for success in what you do?
Perseverance / Persistence. Now that I do journalism and television, I pitch all of my own stuff (which you know as a PR extraordinaire is a full-time job and so so so tough). You have to have confidence and a strong message, but the key element to success with that is just keeping at it. I like to tell myself that success is inevitable if I just keep going. And, generally, in my experience, I’ve found it’s right when I’m about to give up and I push a little harder, that stuff breaks through.
9. Can you share a career goal for 2017?
I have so many. I’d like to do more national television segments. I’d also like to get my book on stylish, sustainable living published and out into the world. I’m also exploring a run for public office, so I’m attending lots of trainings and conferences to network and research that.
10. What’s your favorite magazine?
I really like magazines, and I love writing for them, but oddly, I have zero subscriptions because I’m trying to cut down on paper and trash that I make. That said, I will always happily hunker down with a copy of Dwell, Real Simple, Mother Jones, VegNews, Vegan Lifestyle Magazine, and Noveaux (the latter two are German ethical lifestyle mags that are so so so beautiful).
11. Do you have a can’t-live-without beauty product?
Dry shampoo (probably every woman’s answer?), jojoba oil, lip balm, red lipstick, and perfume (right now, I’m loving Twinkle Apothecary’s Duchess Fragrance).
12. What’s your go-to cocktail?
I’m embarrassingly Texas-trashy (my hometown is Dallas, TX) when it comes to alcohol. I adore (like, really ADORE) cheap flavored vodkas like cake batter and whipped cream (yes, the bottles that are dusty on the bottom shelf at the liquor store…). I get the most ridiculous flavor a bar has with soda water and a lime. If I know I’ll get side-eye for that selection, I’ll go with a Moscow Mule or red wine. No shame in my game, though.
13. Do you have a wardrobe staple?
I have four things I always seem to reach for: My old Levi’s jean jacket, my vegan leather moto jacket, skinny jeans, and a black blazer. I own other clothes, of course, but every outfit seems to feature one of these at any given time.
14. Do you have a spirit animal?
It depends on my mood. My shelter dog, Banjo, is my soul mate, so if I was a mythical Game of Thrones-style cool witch, she’d be it (and she looks like a little blonde fox, which ups the cool factor). If I’m feeling like throwing shade, Rep. Maxine Waters is my choice. And if I’m generally crushing life and feeling myself, I definitely relate to a honey badger.
15. Do you collect anything?
Just memories. 🙂
16. How do you stay healthy?
I feel my most electric when I eat a nutritious (whole foods, plant-based, no oil or sugar) diet, drink loads of water, rest when I need to rest, do some walking and yoga, hang only with inspiring, kind peeps, and listen to lots of Chaka Khan. Much as I love late nights dancing in dimly-lit clubs, swilling flavored vodka and sodas, chain smoking, and eating late-night nachos, none of those behaviors ever made me glow or feel on top of my game. Such is the folly of life, eh?
17. What’s the best hashtag of all time?
These days, it’s #resist.
18. What’s your decorating style?
Minimalist, second-hand, Scandinavian (as in, I surround myself with things that bring me joy, are beautiful, and have a purpose – everything else is clutter to me).
19. What do you eat for breakfast most days?
Smoothie with greens, a frozen banana, almond milk, frozen pineapple, probiotics, Sea Buckthorn oil, and ground flaxseed. Or Ezekiel bread with avocado, Bragg’s Aminos, onion powder, and Texas Pete hot sauce (I love that shit).
20. Do you have any secret talents?
I consider myself (and have reports to corroborate) an excellent karaoke partner. I’m also double-jointed, which is probably more grotesque than cool.