There’s something to be said for getting out and experiencing the world – going and visiting different countries and learning more about other cultures and communities. The more that we can expand our horizons, the more we can learn to appreciate the beauty of this world we live in and see other people through God’s eyes. Today’s guest shares how her experience of living in six different countries has shaped who she is today and why she started her business. Deanna Cook is a global change maker and development professional with extensive international experience in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America. Her latest project, LIYA Collective, is a sustainable accessory brand of minimalist pieces ethically made around the world. She loves yoga, travel, spending time outdoors with her puppies, and all things conscious living. My conversation with Deanna was such a breath of fresh air. She encouraged and inspired me in so many ways, and I know you’re going to love learning more about how her life and business.
Deanna has always been interested in the world around her and learning about other countries and languages. When she was a kid, she told people she wanted to be a lawyer for the United Nations because she wanted to help people all around the world.
When she went to university, she studied international business in an interdisciplinary program where she also learned French and Spanish as well as studying aboard in Spain. After she graduated, she interned with a small nonprofit in Canada that helped woman artisan groups around the world learn about entrepreneurship.
When the internship was over, Deanna moved to Taiwan and taught English for a few years. She even learned Mandarin, but knew she wanted to get back into the nonprofit space. She moved to Tanzania and worked as a marketing and fundraising coordinator for a small grassroots nonprofit that worked in the local community to support children and families affected by HIV/AIDs and poverty.
Deanna also worked with small, sustainable businesses in the community including a school program with the nonprofit and some larger-scale environmental initiatives. At the same time, she also experienced transformation in her personal life that caused her to examine her purchasing habits and consumption and how that all ties into a bigger global picture.
Her experiences in Tanzania shaped the way Deanna wanted to live and the brands she wanted to support. After working for so long with nonprofits and schools, she started exploring how business could be used to affect change in the world.
Around that time, Deanna was offered an amazing opportunity to work on an international development project in Thailand. At the end of 2018, she left Tanzania and moved to Bangkok to work with USAID on a project on education and employability in STEM fields.
In her free time, she also learned about traditional Thai handicrafts and textiles. This was the beginning of connecting the pieces that had shaped her life so far: sustainable business, ethical products, and global supply chains. She started to meet with production partners to co-create products she wanted to see in her own life.
When her USAID contract finished in mid-2019, Deanna moved to Costa Rica with her partner who’d started a teaching job there. Deanna continued working on the business that would later become LIYA Collective. In April 2020, preorders for LIYA Collective were launched for their first collection, sustainably made, minimalist Thai silk scarves.
Living aboard in many different places has helped Deanna recognize the effects of the second-hand supply chain industry. Our rapid consumption in America greatly impacts small businesses owners in other places. Deanna tries to look at things in more of a global context now.
There are many conversations around waste and fast fashion, but many people don’t consciously realize where things go when they are thrown away. It’s easy to forget this when waste is very out of sight, out of mind in our country.
Deanna’s experiences traveling and living abroad have framed the way she takes care of what she already owns and how she disposes of things that may no longer serve her. She considers whether she can hold on to things to reuse them, repurpose, or re-wear them. She tries to buy locally from small businesses where she is rather than ordering from Amazon and having it sent to her.
Conscious consumerism doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy things. It’s saying to be aware of how you buy and the way you dispose of things.
Deanna carefully considered whether to launch during Covid-19. The biggest reason for deciding to continue forward with the launch was based on the fact that their production partners in Thailand were counting on the order that had been in preparation for an entire year.
Deanna knew postponing or canceling the launch would have left the partners in the supply chain without a significant income they’d been counting on for so long.
LIYA Collective launched a simple collection of one design in three neutral colors. Deanna worked with the partners to decide the right weave, silk, and colors of the scarf. The goal is to create an accessory you can invest in that won’t go out of style and can be worn for years to come in many different ways.
In the future, Deanna is interested in warmer textiles, hats, and handbags. Her big dreams also include expanding partnerships to more countries.
Find out which country is Deanna’s favorite of the ones she’s visited, whether she has any “usual” talents, something that’s important to that she doesn’t get to talk about often, and her answer to what it means to her to run a business with purpose (pssst, spoiler alert, you don’t have to be perfect to do it).
10:51 – “When you live in other cultures, you’re going to make mistakes, you’re not going to know what’s happening a lot of the time, you might not understand the language right away. I think that’s a beautiful thing to be able to listen and to learn from others, and to come with an open mind.
16:00 – “It’s not a black and white thing and I am far from perfect…it’s being conscious about what is coming into your life, how you’re taking care of what’s already there, and what happens after it leaves your home.”
17:49 – “I want customers to really love what they’re buying, to really take care of it and invest in pieces that they’re going to treasure.”
26:37 – “I think this is a turning point where we can reimagine what global partnerships might look like, even if we have to do more work remotely.”
About Deanna Cook:
Deanna Cook is an experienced marketing and communications professional with a diverse history in the social impact and sustainability sectors. Originally from Canada, she’s spent the better part of the past decade living around the globe, working on a wide variety of projects from the World Cleanup Day environmental campaign in Tanzania to multi-million dollar USAID initiatives in education and employability in Thailand. As a freelancer, Deanna has had the opportunity to work with a number of local, national, and international changemakers and organizations, including SheWorks!, CIVICUS, Gradian Health Systems, Personify, and Earthing. She also founded an ethical fashion accessory brand, LIYA Collective, and is passionate about emerging movements in wellness, entrepreneurship, sustainability, and tech. In the digital marketing realm, Deanna particularly specializes in the verticals of social media, email marketing, and strategic communications, with the goal of helping organizations streamline their messaging and thus amplify their impact.
Connect with Deanna Cook & LIYA Collective:
Leave a comment below with something you learned from this episode.