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VOL. 42 | NO. 41 | Friday, October 12, 2018

Faith, fashion and feeling good

Church can be a dressing room for Roland’s niche business

By Nancy Henderson

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For most of her corporate career, Christian image consultant Donna Roland never even considered the second-act profession that now fits her like the perfect garment. But, she says, “I always kind of had a flair for fashion.”

As Roland grew up in Knoxville, her mom sewed most of her dresses, along with matching purses. “I always enjoyed having fun with my clothes,” says Roland, 57, who now lives in Sevierville, helping women find figure-flattering attire and delivering motivational speeches at business seminars, church events and retreats across the country. Even now, she says, “I do like my purses.”

Although she took a few non-credit courses in human resources and marketing/media relations at the University of Tennessee, Roland never earned a college degree. At 16, she got a job at an insurance agency on a recommendation from her high school business teacher. Upon graduation, she says, “I married the only person that I ever dated in high school and thought that was going to be my wonderful life with the white picket fence.

“It turned out not to be so at all, in fact, just the opposite.”

The marriage ended (she later remarried) and the single mom worked her way up the corporate healthcare ladder for 22 years at what is now Critical Home Care Solutions, a home infusion company, where she focused primarily on human resources, training and development and employee retention.

Roland also rolled out FISH!, a national team-building program inspired by Seattle fishmongers who demonstrated stellar customer service, to the company’s 65 branch and satellite locations. And she discovered an innate ability to motivate people, “from delivery drivers to highly educated pharmacists.”

“I’m a firm believer in treating people the way you want to be treated,” Roland says. “It’s just a passion to go to work with people and to encourage them, to help them be the best that they can be.”

In 2007, after helping a few friends organize their homes, offices and special events, Roland launched Faithfully Organized as a sideline business. “I would see such a difference in women whenever I would help,” she adds. “It’s so much more than just cleaning up clutter. It was how they felt about themselves once we got that clutter cleaned up.”

But Roland was feeling burnt out in her day job, so in 2010, when she was offered a newly created position as corporate director of training for Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, she took it. Six months later, her employer pulled the plug on the program and laid her off.

Donna Roland, speaker and stylist of Faithfully Fashionable, helps her client, Nancy, to pick out new clothes for her wardrobe to empower her and bring out her inner beauty.

-- Photos By Adam Taylor Gash | The Ledger

Although the venture didn’t last long, she says, “It was God’s way of pushing me to get me to where I am now. … Otherwise, I would have stuck where I was, where I was comfortable in that healthcare job. I thought the [Dixie Stampede job] was the end, but it was just the means to get me to where I needed to be.”

One day while reading a Christian magazine, Roland spotted an article by Shari Braendel, a Charlotte-based Christian image consultant and author of Good Girls Don’t Have to Dress Bad.

“It just intrigued me, so I did something totally out of my comfort zone and picked up the phone and called her. We instantly just connected.”

Braendel, who offers certification courses in Christian image consulting, taught Roland how to do color analyses, and the two became best friends. Around the same time, Roland attended a weekend workshop led by Stacy London, a fashion consultant featured on the hit TLC reality show, “What Not to Wear.’’

In 2011, Roland officially formed her own consulting business, Faithfully Fashionable, which she rebranded last year. She now markets herself simply as “Donna Roland, speaker and stylist,” with services that include head-to-toe personal styling, girls’ night out parties, personal shopping, wardrobe assessment and closet organization. She also hosts Beauty Boot Camp makeover retreats each year with Braendel.

“The thing that’s made me most successful is that I’m relatable to so many women,” she adds, noting that she’s seen her own share of setbacks and challenges. “I feel I have an ability to really understand and empathize with women where they are and to be able to encourage them. What a waste if I don’t share the things that have happened to me if that’s going to help someone else overcome something they may be going through.

“I counsel them from my heart,” she continues. “I’ve worked with women who have broken down in dressing rooms with me, who tell me their stories, because they feel pretty for the first time in a long time. Women struggle with so much. They struggle with not knowing what to wear. They struggle with how they feel about themselves. They want to hide behind their clothes. I can help them pick out things that don’t have to be expensive. They don’t have to spend a lot of money.”

Roland also enjoys speaking to crowds at Christian women’s, professional and corporate events – an irony for a girl who was voted Shyest Person in her high school senior class. “I am so far the opposite now,” she says with a laugh. “Now I speak for a living. God has a sense of humor.”

So, does she, apparently. “People think I’m hilarious on stage because I’m a klutz,” Roland says. “It’s just who I am. I think that what makes me relatable is that I’m not Barbie standing up on the stage and telling them, ‘You need to do this’ and ‘You need to do that.’ I’m very real.”

She does get nervous before a presentation, she says, but once she starts talking, the words begin to flow. “I love being in front of an audience and just sharing what I love,” she says. “My passion is just to help women feel confident in their lives and be who God created them to be. … Every woman has a story.”

Making a good first impression is vital, she points out, especially in the business world.

“We all like to say we don’t judge, but in the first seven seconds of meeting someone, we pretty much sum them up, and it’s basically based on how they look because that’s all we know so far. That doesn’t mean that every woman has to be a size 2 model. My whole goal is not to dress you to be something that you’re not. I just want to enhance the beauty that’s already there.”

Roland defines her own classic style as “sweet and sassy Southern” kicked up a notch by accessories, jewelry and the purses she still can’t get enough of.

Marketing, she admits, is not her forte, so she mostly relies on word of mouth to reach new clients. One thing frequently leads to another, she adds; often, after she speaks at an event, an audience member will schedule an appointment or a style party for a group of friends.

Roland also says she believes in giving back. She serves on the boards of the Smoky Mountain Area Rescue Ministry, which helps residents in need, and the Dr. Robert F. Thomas Foundation, the nonprofit arm of LeConte Medical Center. (Dolly Parton is the foundation’s honorary chairperson.)

Debbie Dowling, the foundation’s executive director, describes Roland as positive and gracious.

“I’ve worked in the nonprofit world for a long time and I know the value a great volunteer brings to an organization. It’s immeasurable,” Dowling says. “Donna Roland is the perfect volunteer. She never considers any task too menial or any challenge too great, and she’s with you to the bitter end.”

Positioning herself as a Christian image consultant has nothing to do with being exclusive or preachy, Roland explains. “It doesn’t mean that I work just with Christians by any stretch of the imagination. I work with anybody who wants to work with me.

“I’m pretty open in my faith, but because I have my background in HR and I work with professional organizations, I’m not allowed to talk about that. Fortunately, we live in the Bible Belt here, so it doesn’t take people very long to figure out where I stand. What I do is not a big Bible study. It’s not a real religious kind of thing. It’s just that I want to share the love of Jesus around women.”

Regardless of whom she is working with, Roland is in her element when she’s helping women grow in confidence. “I’m so thankful that God allows me to do that for a living now, that I get to do what I absolutely love. I probably work harder than I’ve ever worked in my life – and I thought I used to really work hard – but I’ve never been happier.”

To other women who are thinking of changing careers in mid-life, says Roland, who was 50 when she started her own business, “Go for it. If you feel like you’re supposed to be doing something, then don’t be afraid to take that leap of faith. That’s totally what I did.”