Natural Life founder Patti Hughes prefers working in the middle of the action at the company’s colorful headquarters across the street from The Avenues mall, where she recently opened her first retail store. Natural Life products are sold internationally in about 10,000 stores. Photos by Laura Jane Pittman. Purchase this photo
The formula for Natural Life has “been pretty simple,” says Hughes. She bases her products on what inspires her and makes her own three girls and others happy. The corporate environment she has cultivated appears to be collaborative, artistic and colorful. Photos by Laura Jane Pittman. Purchase this photo
Hughes developed her gift, accessories and clothing line in 1996 from a love for photography and positivity. “The brand evolved based on things I wanted in my life and what made me and my girls happy,” she says. The company’s headquarters has product displays, drafting tables for collaborative working and inspiration walls. Photos by Laura Jane Pittman. Purchase this photo
Natural Life, along with Community First Credit Union, is sponsoring its second music festival in March. The lineup has five bands and a “Crafternoon” featuring nostalgic arts and crafts activities. “The event is bigger than ever but we have kept admission free because this is really our gift to the community of a fun, wholesome, family event,” says Hughes. “Being able to have more sponsors and donate proceeds to local charities is just the icing on the cake.” Photos by Laura Jane Pittman. Purchase this photo
Hughes adds to the inspiration wall at the Natural Life headquarters, where she and her team hang fabric, pictures and items that have caught their eye and could be important for new product development. Photos by Laura Jane Pittman. Purchase this photo
Each Monday morning at the Natural Life headquarters, Hughes and her team have a “company huddle” to discuss new developments, share inspirations and, every few weeks, recognize the latest “Rockstar of the Month.” Photos by Laura Jane Pittman. Purchase this photo
One of Hughes’ favorite wall hangings at her office is a 1960s newspaper clipping of her artist mother that includes a photo of Hughes when she was 3 years old. “I found this article about eight years ago in my mom’s closet, right after I had developed some products out of mattress ticking. She was very, very proud of this because women were not in the newspaper very often back then.” Photos by Laura Jane Pittman. Purchase this photo
by Laura Jane Pittman, Contributing Writer
Patti Hughes, the founder, CEO and chief creative officer of Natural Life, has developed her accessory, gift and clothing line into a $20 million business with products in more than 10,000 stores around the world.
Hughes has a marketing degree and began her career as a Hallmark Cards Inc. sales representative, all while becoming interested in photography. She began selling artsy prints in frames at craft shows and later branched out into making accessories, gifts and clothing with a handcrafted, free-spirited style.
“I didn’t realize I had a creative side until I was 28 — I had more of a business mind. My mother was a painter and made greeting cards, so I’m glad some of it rubbed off on me,” said Hughes. “I love both sides of it — I enjoy making things and running a business.”
The process of developing Natural Life products is two-fold, says Hughes, who started the company in 1996. She finds inspiration for the format of new items all around and is particularly drawn to ideas and items that remind her of childhood.
Then, she works with her team of three artists on styles. About 80 percent of the products are adorned with sentimental or positive quotations.
“I can be walking through Walgreens, on a trip to Guatemala or looking at a wooden spoon or chip clip in my kitchen and I think, ‘I could take that and make it better,’” she said. “I think one of the reasons people love our brand so much is its positive message. I hope it inspires young people to know they can make a difference, to go for their dreams.”
Natural Life opened its first retail store last year in The Avenues mall and she said it has been more successful than she imagined.
Hughes is in talks with St. Johns Town Center operators about opening a store near Nordstrom, which is scheduled for completion in fall 2014.
“I have never been so close to the end consumer before, and it has been amazing hearing our customer’s passion for the brand and how it makes them happy,” Hughes said. “I had a little girl about 11 years old in the store tell me that Natural Life gave her hope that there was still plenty of good in the world.”