Renya Nelson on How Utah Can Change to Stop Alienating Top Female Talent

Renya Nelson is the founder of Brand+Aid, a branded-merchandise agency headquartered in Salt Lake City. After graduating with a degree in international business from Westminster College, Renya went on to work for before venturing out to LA to pursue an opportunity in the music industry. After the market crash of 2008, her career took a sharp turn into marketing, where she led global brand efforts for Pepsi and Kraft. 

Renya’s love of design, branding, and manufacturing led her to launch Brand+Aid in 2011. Brand+Aid has designed product collections for some of the world’s largest brands, including Nike, Beats by Dre, Adidas, and countless others, including local companies such as Westminster, Publik, the University of Utah, and more.

Renya’s passion for her community and the arts compelled her to spearhead the murals project in the Granary District where Brand+Aid’s main office is located. Renya's loves include being a mother, all things design, the Rolling Stones, community art projects, huge parties, 90’s rap, comedy, boxed wine, stellar branding, and all things business.

What has been the most rewarding thing about running your own business? And what has been the most challenging?

I’ve been a business owner for almost a decade now, 2021 will mark our 10th year in business! I decided to start my own business due to the fact that my ideas were ‘hushed’ at all of my previous jobs. The most rewarding thing about running my own business is the endless creativity I get to express. Being a business owner is extremely challenging once you start to grow. The greatest challenge for me was migrating from doing the ‘work’ and being creative, to training and managing. When you’re getting ready to launch a business, it’s critical to find someone who loves to do what you don’t. Meaning, if you're the creative visionary type, it's imperative you find someone that can handle operations, HR, etc.

Tell us about Brand+Aid and who are some of your clients?

Brand+Aid is a merchandise agency that builds product collections for brands, companies, etc. We’ve made everything from custom shoe medallions for Lebron James to custom fanny packs for Redbull. We work with over 3,000 factory partners around the world that help us manufacture products for our clients, which include Nike, Adidas, Redbull, University of Utah, Westminster, Goldman Sachs, Visa, Publik, and so many more.

If I remember correctly, you ran Brand+Aid in LA for a few years, what made you want to set up shop in Salt Lake City?

I started my business out of my second bedroom in Venice Beach, California. I initially reached out to my former colleagues at different agencies I had worked for and before I knew it, I was in business. I decided to move back to my hometown of Salt Lake City after a breakup. I bought a small house next to Trolley Square and my plan was to rent it out and head back to the City of Angels. After a few short months, I had fallen back in love with Salt Lake and opened up shop at Artspace in the fabulously gritty Granary district. With the majority of our clients being based in Los Angeles, we decided to open a second office out there to host three employees out of a WeWork in Playa Del Rey.

Do you feel people have treated you differently being a female entrepreneur and business owner, especially in SLC? What do you feel we have to do to make Utah move up the ranks in terms of being more competitive and friendly for women?

I had a pitch meeting with a large gas station chain back in 2014 that absolutely blew me away by how disrespectful they were. I was completely prepared and felt that I nailed the presentation. When I looked up to gauge their reaction, only one of the three men was looking at me. It was my first experience being treated that way and I was damn certain it was because I am a woman. Fortunately, it hasn’t happened since. Looking back on that experience, I am able to see clearly that we weren’t the right ‘fit’ as a vendor for them. It was a fabulous lesson for me.

I feel that Salt Lake City has so much room to grow when it comes to closing the gap between men and women. I feel that the old school principals of our dominant conservative community are embedded deep in the culture of Utah and until they loosen their conservative reigns, we will continue to see Utah companies alienate top female talent. In the meantime, I think women should really analyze companies they want to work with to make sure their cultures are made up of people of equality, diverse backgrounds, and mixed cultures.

Also, to allude to this a bit further, we recently hired someone who came from a large start-up in Lehi. Our new hire was more excited to work with us than the larger company due to the fact that we have a diverse and open culture at Brand+Aid.

What is a typical day off for you in SLC? Name some of your favorite spots. And, how has motherhood been treating you?

A typical day off for me is filled with visits to some of my favorite spots, Publik, The Stockist, NPS, the Antique Mall, and Red Butte Gardens. I am very social and I love hosting large parties and BBQs.

Becoming a mother has been the greatest gift in the world but it also comes with its challenges. I used to work 50 hours a week on my business and travel to visit clients nearly every other month. I am now juggling being a business owner and a new mother, and it is the hardest job I’ve ever had. I hope that more women feel safe in saying that they miss working despite how much they love motherhood. We’re not all meant to love staying at home, but I am so grateful to have the opportunity to do it at this current time.

What do you most value in your friends?

I most value trust, creativity, and big picture conversations in my friendships. I am the type of person that loves collaborating with my friends and family on creative projects. I am so fortunate to have a large friend base from a variety of backgrounds. My friends are my family and I value them to the utmost degree.

Who are your favorite writers?

I am a huge fan of Mark Manson, David Sedaris, Chuck Palahniuk, JK Rowling, Richard Branson, Erik Barker, and all of the women at the Skimm.

Who is your hero of fiction?

Scout Finch, Sherlock Holmes, Matilda, and James Bond

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Winston Churchill and Coco Chanel.

Who are your heroes in real life?

Dave Chappelle, Mick Jagger, Richard Branson, Amy Schumer, Annie Leibovitz, Coco Chanel, Iris Apfel, and my Mom and Dad. :)

How are you managing during this time, changes that you've had to make in your business and how the community can help and support either you or our local businesses?

These are the toughest times we’ve ever faced as a society. The emotional ups and downs are the new norm for me, but I am managing the best I can by meditating and being grateful for everything I have. We are one of the thousands of small businesses that have felt the effects of this and we’re so extremely grateful to all of our clients who have continued to place an order with us during this time. If you’re a business in need of custom face masks, please give us a call! We are donating PPE supplies to the VOA Youth Shelter, as well as masks for front line workers.


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