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.”